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How to Support Your Husband During Individual Therapy

September Trent, MS, LPC

You might be surprised that your husband needs or requested to see a therapist or counselor. Or maybe you have been waiting a while for your husband to seek professional help for emotional issues.  If you are like most women, you probably are already thinking about the ways to be supportive of him during his treatment.  The following are a few tips on how to be supportive of your husband during individual therapy.  It is useful to point out this article is for spouses of individuals who are struggling with anxiety, depression, and social issues rather than sexual issues such as affair recovery or pornography addiction.

Give Him Space

Let me repeat myself.  GIVE HIM SPACE.  If you have been encouraging him for some time to seek professional help, you may be overly anxious to support him.  In your need to be supportive, you may push him away from you or even therapy itself.  Therefore, wait for him to be ready to talk with you about therapy.  For example, when he discloses he is going to therapy it is helpful to make a statement such as “I am proud of you for taking this step.  I want to be supportive of you, please let me know the best way I can do that.”  After making this statement, do not continue to question him about therapy.  Do not ask him how each therapy session went.   You need to wait for him to be ready to tell you about his therapy sessions.  If his counselor believes it will be helpful for you to join in on the sessions, the counselor will talk with your husband about the logistics of this. For now, your job is simply letting your husband know you are supportive of him, and he can let you know how you can be supportive in his own time. 

Think About How to Change Your Own Behaviors

You may be thinking “What do I have to change?”  It is important that rather than seeing your husband as the problem, you focus on unhealthy behaviors you may be engaging in. You should not change behaviors to enable your husband to make unhealthy choices or to stay in his depression, anxiety, or social issues.  Rather, are there ways you are communicating or treating him that are not helpful?  Take a minute or two to think about this statement.  Self-evaluation is difficult.  Here are a few examples:
  • Statements such as “Why don’t you do (fill in the blank)?”  “You never do (fill in the blank) right.”  “Why can’t you just be like (fill in someone’s name)?” can all be negative statements.  These statements, if said continuously in the right tone of voice, could impact how your husband feels about his abilities.
  • If he uses negative statements toward you, and you do not set boundaries.  It is time for you to set boundaries with him.  Good resources are Boundaries and Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud and John Townsend.
  • If you help him avoid anxiety-provoking situations, this increases his anxiety.
  • If you overly function for him when he is depressed, his depression will not improve.

Encourage Therapy, Don’t Function For Him

It may be very difficult for you not to schedule therapy sessions for your husband or remind him of therapy sessions.  Maybe you scheduled his first therapy session for him.  While this may seem helpful, it is not.  You are functioning for your husband.  If your husband does not want therapy or have the motivation to attend therapy for himself, therapy will not be useful for him.  He has to be willing to do the work in therapy for it to be effective.  Therefore, if you make appointments for him, even drop him off at therapy sessions, no progress will be made unless he listens to the therapist and completes the work of therapy.  You cannot control your husband; you can only control yourself.  Even though you may be very tempted to function for your husband, it is actually detrimental to the therapy process. 

Seek Your Own Individual Therapy

If you find yourself wanting to function for your husband, it may be helpful for you to seek your own individual therapy.  Also, if you find there are behaviors you need to change, it can be constructive to speak to a therapist about it.  A husband’s difficulty with depression, anxiety or social issues often has a great impact on a wife and the marital relationship.  It‘s important for you to seek your own counselor to discuss these issues. 
If you find yourself in doubt on how to help your husband during his work with a counselor, the best thing is to ask him how you can be helpful.  When he gives you specific ways you can be helpful or supportive, listen and follow his suggestions.  Remember, give him time and space to be able to answer this question. Do not pressure him to answer right away!

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