Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Can Therapy Help You Find A Marital Partner?

Not infrequently, someone comes to my office complaining that they can't find a mate. Usually the person is a woman, but sometimes a man. Typically,  the person also complains of  anxiety or depression. What I have found is that when someone's anxiety and depression are alleviated,  barriers to dating and finding the "One" often go away. People who are depressed or riddled with anxiety aren't attractive to most people. They can be difficult to be around. Depression also saps energy and self-confidence, which are necessary to tough it out in the New York dating scene.

Several patients I've worked with found marital partners while they were in therapy. I am convinced that in most cases, it was the alleviation of the person's depression or anxiety that was the key to helping them find a mate. In some cases, looking at reasons why the person had chosen dysfunctional mates in the past also played a role in helping the patient find someone.

Coming to therapy for no other reason than wanting to find a mate may not work. I recall a patient, who I'll call Patient X, who came to my office with the complaint that her friends were getting married and she wasn't, and she felt left out.  She didn't mention any other complaints.  I had the sense in our first session that she might be depressed, and that there might be other issues she wasn't voicing. I decided that although I'm not a match-making service and can't find someone a husband, the patient would benefit from therapy. In retrospect, I never should have agreed to work with this person. I should have listened more closely to what she said in our first meeting. What I mean is that the patient never said that there was anything wrong with her.

Like most therapists, I want to help everybody. I am also trained to listen for what people aren't saying and to look for unconscious motivations. When I see someone in front of me who shows evidence of a clinical problem that I am trained to treat, I want to help that person. But every course of therapy is based on a "contract." This is the verbal agreement between patient and therapist about what they're going to work on. It isn't usually written out, but just discussed in the first session. Sometimes, patients only voice that they want to feel better, or that they feel "stuck" in their lives, which usually means that they are having difficulty with motivation or making decisions. Regardless, as long as the patient admits that there is something wrong with them and asks for help, they can usually be helped. But if the patient frames the problem as something in the outside world, I can't help them, because I can't change the world.

Patient X stayed for a few months and I thought we were working on some real issues. Then one day I received an email from her telling me she was dropping out of therapy with me. She implied in the email that I didn't agree with her quest for a high-status mate and therefore, we weren't on the same page. I am sure that I never stated such a thing, although it was true that I was somewhat puzzled by her criticisms about men she dated. The mistake I made, however, was in not telling her in the first session, "if you have no other issues you want to work on  besides lack of a husband, I can't help you."

It occurred to me that the patient's inability or unwillingness to talk in person with me about what she perceived as a conflict between us was probably related to her problem finding an intimate relationship. Relationships all involve conflict and require discussion and negotiation. If you can't do this with a therapist, it's unlikely you'll be able to manage a more demanding type of relationship. This illustrates a sad paradox of psychotherapy: Many people want help with relationships, but therapy itself involves a relationship with the therapist. Often people enact with the therapist the same behaviors and patterns they experience in their relationships with other people. This can be useful if the patient is willing to discuss and examine the behavior. These discussions can lead to insights.

In short, therapy can help you find a marital partner, it you admit that you might have a problem or two and if you are willing to engage in an honest discussion with the therapist about what these problems are.