For Men Who Worry About Going to Couples Counseling
Men are often anxious about going to couples counseling. In this post I will give some reasons why, and offer assurance to men who may have one or more of these concerns. I’m going to speak directly to men.
Men often worry a female counselor will align with their partner
The vast majority of therapists and counselors are female. This is just the reality, and it often leaves men concerned that a female couples counselor will naturally align with the female partner. Of course this is possible. On the other hand, a good couples therapist, especially one who has been trained in one or more of the main couples counseling approaches popular today, will understand that alignment with either partner against the other will increase the odds of the therapy failing. Like people in other professions, couples counselors do not want to fail. Our job is to help salvage relationships and we have every interest in making sure we don’t drive one partner away by ganging up on them.
If you are concerned about this, you will do well to get involved in the process of selecting and interviewing the therapist who’ll be working with you, helping to make sure the therapist has been trained specifically in couples counseling. While this won’t rule out the possibility that a female counselor could align with your partner, it will significantly decrease the likelihood.
It will also decrease the likelihood that a male couples counselor will align with you. For couples therapy to work best, neither partner should be considered the client — the relationship is.
Women are often quite used to living in a world where many of the professionals in their lives are men. (Many women are even very comfortable seeing a male OB-GYN.) This world, dominated as it still is by men, is very familiar to them. As a man, you also are probably used to having males as your doctors, lawyers, college professors, and in many other professional roles, and therefore may be less comfortable seeing women in these roles. I have noticed when women prefer having a female doctor, it is often because they have had multiple male doctors in the past and felt unheard and invalidated, whereas men often prefer male therapists simply because they are not as comfortable with women in professional roles–at least not in the role of counselor.
Men often worry they are going to be blamed for everything wrong with the relationship
This is similar to the concern above, only it’s not just about the therapist. Men tend to worry that their partner already blames them for everything. Though this is sometimes the case, in my experience it is not common. Women who want their partners to go to therapy with them are often willing to listen to the therapist and accept responsibility for their own shortcomings. They tend to be more concerned about saving the relationship than with presenting one partner as being completely to blame. In fact, I have noticed women whose partners are concerned about this actually behave in precisely the opposite way, that when I need to turn my attention to their partner (you!) for a moment, they tend to defend him and align with him. Women frequently are aware of their partner’s anxiety about this and want to do everything possible to help him be comfortable with the process.
Men sometimes want a male therapist because they believe a male therapist will take their side, or at least understand them better
While a good couples therapist will not take sides or align with one partner against the other, they should be able to serve as an interpreter of each partner to the other. I do a great deal of this interpretation work, helping each partner understand how the other partner thinks, feels, and experiences the world and the relationship. A well-trained couples therapist, whether male or female, will be skilled at this, as it is essential in doing the work well. You don’t want a female therapist who will align with your partner, and a male therapist who aligns with you won’t be any better.
Men sometimes worry their partner has the home court advantage
Men are often aware they are not as good with words as their partner, that she has the “home court advantage,” and are concerned that they will have a hard time explaining their perspectives and feelings. This is a valid concern, as women often are better with words (especially words about feelings), though of course not always. Again, here, the most important thing is that the therapist is trained and experienced, because they will be able to not only help you articulate yourself better to your partner, but often will help you to better understand your own thoughts, feelings, and reactions.
As the therapist helps you articulate yourself better to your partner, they will also be helping her to better understand how you think and feel, and where you are coming from.
Keep in mind that although she may articulate her own perspectives better, repairing a broken relationship involves a lot more than being eloquent/talkative. It involves understanding, patience, insight, willingness to work to change old habits, self-control, and many other important things, some of which you will likely be advantaged at over her. It is important you not view yourself as having less to contribute, or being uniquely disadvantaged in therapy. The whole idea of relationship is that both of you are bringing your own strengths and challenges to the table.
A man whose partner has asked him to attend couples therapy will do far better focusing his energies on whether the therapist is specifically trained and experienced in working with couples, rather than whether the therapist is male or female. It is perfectly fine if he feels more comfortable seeing a male therapist, but he should know that a skilled therapist of either gender will align with neither him nor his partner, as that makes for ineffective therapy.
Men need to be aware, as I stated at the beginning, that the vast majority of counselors and therapists are female. Further, only 11% of all counselors and therapists have been specifically trained in couples counseling. These two facts combine to make it difficult to find male therapists who are skilled in couples therapy. A man seeking couples counseling needs to understand this and be aware that the training and experience of the counselor is far more important than their gender. If your partner wants you to go to couples therapy with her, but you cannot find a skilled male couples therapist, you will be better off seeing a trained female therapist with your partner than refusing to see a therapist who is not male. As long as the therapist is trained and experienced, it should be fine.
Finally, I want you to know I understand these issues. I get that men are sometimes hesitant to see female counselors. I do hope the fact that I am male can help you relax in therapy and feel more confident you will be given a fair shake. Having said that, it is not primarily my gender that will assure fairness, but my training and experience.