I was talking with a colleague with whom I share a case (she sees the wife individually) and she talked about her approach to couples counseling. She said that when she does couples counseling, she works with each partner’s individual issues. This is an approach that I frequently hear from couples who have previously done couples counseling.
I think of working with individual issues in couples counseling as a missed opportunity. This is not to say that partners don’t have individual issues. All partners bring their individual issues to couples counseling. However, if a couples therapist is working on those individual issues, he or she is missing the opportunity to work on the crux of change in couples counseling—changing the interaction between the couple.
Couples need to have respectful and responsive conversations about their difficulties. When couples can’t do this on their own, the role of the couples therapist is to reshape their conversations so they are productive and successful. Couples counseling is the place to deal with couples issues and individual counseling is the best place to deal with individual issues. I wouldn’t want you to miss that opportunity.