As a therapist who does a lot of couples therapy, I am often confronted with an angry potential or actual client who exclaims “You don’t need to see me! Fix his (her) problem, and we will be fine.” This statement falsely assumes that a relationship problem can be reduced to the behavior of one of the two people.
In the Western world, it is much too common to assign blame for a problem, and to believe that there is a quick fix, as if every problem has one cause. This all-or-nothing dichotomous thinking is at the heart of many relationship arguments and problems. These people naively think that all you have to do is fix one person or give one person a magic pill, and all will be bliss.
None of this is reality. I always see both people separately before I see the couple together. I learn critical information to frame the relationship issues, so I know where to put my energy in a carefully and individually designed treatment plan.
In almost all cases, both partners contribute to conflict and hurt feelings, and it requires effort from each person to solve the dilemma. Sometimes a couple does not come in for an appointment because one of the two assumes it is the other’s fault, and they should come in and solve their problem. I sometimes see one to get the other to come in too, but sometimes the couple never comes in because one partner refuses to admit that he (she) is part of the problem—and part of the solution.
Blame does nothing but perpetuate a relationship dysfunction. Blame makes people spin their wheels in the sand, with no progress. Without understanding and accepting that any relationship involves the way two people interact, a relationship may be doomed. I have followed some of these “It’s Your Fault” couples, and they too often end in separation and divorce. As the old saying goes, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”
Some of these couples could have been helped if both parties committed to therapy and to a treatment plan crafted to resolve their conflict and unhappiness. Rigid minds assure that there will be an ongoing and often escalating conflict in a marriage or another intimate relationship. My challenge is to free up their minds, and I do this through cognitive-behavioral therapy and through working on communication and emotional issues.
More rational thoughts and emotions unblocked by rigid thoughts are the key to a solution. Until distorted and negative thoughts are exchanged for more rational thoughts, feelings and behavior remain unsteady and conflictual. Thoughts are the basis for emotions and behavior. Although there are feedback loops from feelings and behavior to thoughts, changing thoughts to alter emotions and behavior is often productive.
If there is a sexual concern, it is nearly impossible to solve the issue without doing my assigned homework and taking my suggestions. For example, if the man has an erection problem, he may not totally solve the problem by popping Viagra and working alone with me. In most cases, I have to work with his lover as well. This provides a solid basis for an enduring solution, rather than quick fix that is often temporary if it works at all. If he does not have a lover, I of course focus on preparing him for new lovers.
Getting beyond the blame game opens the door to a commonsense resolution of relationship and sexual problems. Life is too short to point fingers and yell and pout. If both partners are not actively seeking a solution, it is not likely that anything will improve. Sometimes it is more fruitful to consider Plan B—to leave or redefine the relationship and find lovers who are more willing and interested in giving as well as receiving so they are truly on the same Pleasure Team.