One of the things that binds me and the boyfriend together is our extensive experience with depression. Because of our shared illness, we’ve definitely accumulated some unresolved issues that influence how we think, and ultimately influence how we interact with each other. Nothing is really going wrong in the relationship, but I really felt like our wounds from the past would heal—and thus lead to a better relationship—if we discussed our problems and concerns more openly.
That’s why I asked him to come with me to my therapy sessions. And he agreed.
My therapist also specializes in couples therapy, so we decided to show up together every other session (I still need some time to myself on the other weeks). I don’t really know what I expected, but so far, it’s been a learning experience to have another person incorporated into the session. Yes, I do think that it’s already made our relationship stronger by airing out our laundry in this format, but I also think that I’ve learned something about making a good relationship.
First, you really have to listen to what the other person is saying. I think one aspect of couples therapy that is totally different from individual therapy is that, well, obviously there are two of us (plus the therapist) in the room, and it’s not just you now; you must listen to what your partner is saying. Sometimes it’s easy to tune out the other in an ordinary setting, but therapy teaches you to be attentive to your mate.
Second, you must be ready to respond to what your partner has just said. Listening isn’t enough. I’ve learned that when the boyfriend has brought up a certain issue to the table, it’s my responsibility to react in some way. In order to solve a problem, I can’t just be quiet. It’s no longer my problem or his problem. It’s our problem, and it takes both of us to solve it. And while what the therapist has to say is important, our own feedback is crucial.
Third, you have to learn to communicate clearly. At home if I’m annoyed by something, I could just give a vague reaction. In a therapy setting, I must be able to express what it is that I’m annoyed about. That means digging down and organizing my thoughts about a certain issue before opening my mouth. Therapy teaches me to be precise about how I feel and communicate those feelings to my partner.
Finally (for now), you have to keep talking. I tend to just stop talking if there’s another person in the room that can do the talking. This does not do the relationship any favors. I realized that in bettering communication, I must do the communicating. The fact is that if I don’t say what’s on my mind, I can’t expect the other person to figure it out.
So far, I believe this experience has been a valuable part of building this partnership, and I hope I can keep learning more about creating a better relationship. But what’s a huge bonus from going to therapy together? There’s a Mexican popsicle shop (Las Paletas) on the same street. Nothing like a post-therapy ice-pop to decompress from an hour-long session.