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Ask A Therapist: Is Relationship Therapy Only For Couples?

Have you ever asked yourself if relationship therapy is for you? Here are some insights that may help you make an informed decision.

Have you ever asked yourself if relationship therapy is for you? In this month’s Ask A Therapist, The Expansive Group provider James Ramseur III, LMSW, shares about the value of relationship therapy and busts myths about who it’s for.

Two married people, typically a man and a woman, who work with a therapist in person. They sit next to each other on the couch, arms crossed, the tension and resentment is palpable. Their conflict is explosive and they throw around the threat of divorce. They don’t hear each other, they aren’t attuned.

Perhaps this is how you’ve imagined relationship therapy, or more accurately, how you’ve been shown what relationship therapy is. Scholarship and the media have historically represented relationship therapy with a narrow scope, focusing on white, married, monogamous, cisgender, heterosexual couples with relationship difficulties.

Contemporary shows like “Couples Therapy” and podcasts like “Where Should We Begin?” have made strides in painting a more accurate picture of relationship therapy, often with more diverse clients and more variety in the types of relationship structures they work with. And yet, we rarely see examples of relationship therapy beyond the two-person romantic dyad.

As James Ramseur III, LMSW, explains, “When we consider barriers to pursuing relationship therapy, I find a major one is that people think outside of marriage they should somehow be able to work out their issues or conflicts without support.”

Relationship therapy is for people who are in relationship with one another, which can encompass all different kinds of connections. It’s also not only for high-conflict relationships—just like you don’t have to be in crisis to seek out individual therapy, people don’t have to be experiencing relational conflict or crisis to seek out relationship therapy.

James shares, “I like to help clients consider how these tools can benefit the other important relationships in their lives, and encourage normalizing relationship therapy for a diverse set of connections.”

The world of relationship therapy is quite expansive, and while it can absolutely be for couples, it is also for:

Friendships & Chosen Family

Friendships can be deep, meaningful, and connected bonds. In American society, the romantic relationship is often treated as the most important—we consistently emphasize romantic partnership, especially marriage, over other meaningful relationships. However, for many people, friendships can be some of the most significant relationships in their lives.

And when something is significant, we want to invest in it, care for it, nurture it, maintain it. Ruptures in friendships can be extremely destabilizing, especially if that friendship is one that provides you with support and connection. Just like other types of relationships, you may want the support of a therapist or coach to navigate rupture, or just to ensure the sustainability of your friendship.

“While families of origin can be great candidates for relationship therapy, the same is also true of chosen family! You get to decide how your family is defined, and seeking out support is a testament to how you value those relationships,” says James.

Non-Monogamous & Polyamorous Relationships

Practicing Ethical Non-Monogamy (ENM) may feel like freedom, connection, abundance, and deep care, and it also may bring increased desire for support in a therapeutic context. Working through communication dynamics, establishing boundaries, navigating the hetero- and -monaganormative world as polyamorous people, and coping with feelings of disconnection, jealousy, and hurt might be some reasons why ENM folks seek therapy or coaching.

James elaborates, “I find my polyamorous clients may even be so used to resisting the norms of compulsory monogamy that they feel pressure to navigate conflict on their own.”

ENM people may also want therapy for all of the same reasons monogamous people do: deepening intimacy, navigating conflict, repair after infidelity, desire differences, reconnection, parenting, investing in their relationships, etc.

“Even the most self-aware among us can benefit from a mirror to reflect back our blind spots or help identify where something is getting lost in translation,” says James.

The overemphasis on “couples therapy” demonstrates the ways in which the structure of healthcare in the U.S. is not built to support non-traditional relationships. However, clinicians are increasingly seeking knowledge, experience, and clinical competence in working with ENM relationships. If you identify as polyamorous or non-monogamous and/or are exploring ENM, you may want to look for a therapist who has experience or training in working with people in ENM relationships.

Sexual, Play, and Kink Relationships

Relationship therapy is not only for folks who have committed to each other in particular ways. Folks who connect through sex, play, and kink may also benefit from support in relationship coaching or therapy, particularly when the relationships involve consensual power exchange.

James shares about his experience as a kink-aware therapist, “Clients who participate in dominant/submissive power dynamics express that it can be helpful to speak with someone who understands the significance of the language, ritual, and agreements they bring. When you work with someone who can listen without need for justification, you’re freer to collaborate on improving communication and connection.

Other Non-romantic Relationships

Other relationships that may benefit from relationship therapy are: business partners, work colleagues, siblings, parents, cousins, caregivers, advisors or supervisors, coaches, and any other relationship in your life that is meaningful to you.

James summarizes, “Almost any relationship can benefit from therapy because our relationships are as dynamic as the people in them.”

If your interest has been piqued and you’d like to connect with James or another member of our team, please fill out our intake form.