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Flying Solo to Couples Counseling: Can it help?

Question of the Day: Does the old hip-hop classic by Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock get it right when it comes to working on a relationship? (I’ll just wait right here while you enjoy that link. You’re welcome.)

Does it indeed take two to make things go right? Is it necessary for both people in a relationship to attend counseling in order for things to improve? Or is it possible to see positive change in the relationship with only one person seeking help? Can a relationship or marriage ever improve if only one person is “working on it” aka, attending counseling?

Let’s unpack this topic a bit to see if Rob Base gets it right or wrong when it comes to improving relationships.

Systems Theory

A basic premise of family or systemic therapy is this concept of systems theory. Imagine a crib mobile. It has multiple tiers with multiple objects hanging off each tier. Each piece of the mobile responds to movement together and they all balance each other. If you touch one piece, every piece responds with movement as if it had also been touched.

Close relationships react in the same way to movement or change. If one person in the relationship introduces some change (either positive or negative) all members of the relationship or family feel the effects and respond accordingly, even if unknowingly. Change brings about shifts in the relationship, even if we aren’t able to put our finger on what is different. Therefore, it stands to reason that any one person striving to bring about positive change in a relationship will cause positive effects in the relational system.

To what extent a single member of a relationship can bring about positive change to the system largely depends on the type of change is desired. We can’t solve every relational issue with just one of you attending counseling. We won’t learn “better ways to control your spouse” and effectively manipulate your way to a happier marriage. We can, however, focus on your role in the situations you’re not liking. We can assess what you’re bringing to the table that’s not working, and make adjustments to how you’re communicating your preferences, expectations, thoughts and emotions.

It takes 2 to make a thing go WRONG.

Both people in a relationship contribute to the negative relational patterns, argument pitfalls, or negative communication cycles that tend to decrease relational satisfaction.

You can’t argue with a lamp post, so to speak. So if one of you changes the way you argue, the argument cycle has changed tremendously. Responding differently to the same situation will bring about a different result.

The more objectivity you bring to the relationship, the more objectivity your relationship has. The same is true with self-control or any positive attribute you’re seeking in your marriage/partnership. Your relationship will never be worse off with one of you engaging in these traits. Bringing more of these traits to the table are gifts that you give to yourself, to your partner and to the relationship. These are gifts that don’t backfire, only bless.

When it comes to relationship counseling, work is work. If you work on your relationship, even if it’s alone, your marriage will reap the benefits.

It takes two to make a communication habitually derail. It takes one to make an improvement in connection.

Rob Bass did get it right on this point, though:

It takes 2 to make it out of sight.

Plenty of the finer points of a relationship can’t necessarily be addressed without both partners working toward vulnerability and transparency. So, maybe Rob Bass and DJ EZ Rock got it halfway right…maybe it DOES take two to make it “out of sight.” But when it comes to the communication style that is making your relationship unduly negative, one person committing to positive change is better than no one being committed to positive change.

The bottom line:

An individual working on a relationship in counseling is not going to solve all of the issues of the relationship. It all depends on your goals and circumstances. If you’re in a relationship in which both parties are committed to working things out, just having a difficult season, individual counseling for relational improvement can do quite a lot of good.