Dear Dr. Hurd:
My boyfriend and I have been living together for 8 years. Overall, we’re happy (or at least I thought we were).
A couple of months ago he started seeing a therapist. I have no idea why. Now, every time we have a disagreement, he says things like, ‘My therapist says that you should’.’ Or, ‘Well, my therapist said you’d act like this’.’ Blah, blah, blah’and I’m sick of it.
This therapist guy doesn’t even know me—and he’s talking about what I should do?
I’m thinking of calling him. You’re a therapist. Tell me what to do.
Dr. Hurd replies:
Don’t call the therapist. He won’t talk to you without the written permission of your boyfriend.
Furthermore, this isn’t a conversation you and the therapist need to have. It’s a conversation you and your boyfriend need to have.
Much of the time, people hear what they want to hear. When you talk to a therapist, there’s a lot of listening and validation going on. Some of it is explicit, like, ‘Yes, you’re right. ‘ But some of it is subject to interpretation.
In some cases, the client will misinterpret the therapist’s generally supportive stance as agreement—even when it isn’t. I’m always surprised when a client says, ‘I know you think such-and-such,’ or, ‘I know you said such-and-such’ when, in fact, I never thought or said such a thing.
A lot of misinterpretation stems from wishful thinking.
This is not to suggest that your boyfriend is lying. It might even be possible that the therapist did say whatever your boyfriend says he said. But it really doesn’t matter: It’s not about what the therapist thinks anyway—it’s about what your boyfriend thinks.
For example, if he said, ‘My therapist thinks I should open my own business,’ it really doesn’t matter (to you) whether the therapist actually thinks it or not. What matters is that your boyfriend thinks it.
I advise my clients against handling things the way your boyfriend has. We all need to ‘own’ our opinions and conclusions. If a therapist agrees with him, fine—but he still has to take responsibility for the idea, and not hide behind some authority figure. If there’s any conflict, it’s between you and your boyfriend. Work it out with him.
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