Dear Dr. Hurd:
After many years, I finally coaxed by boyfriend to go into therapy. He didn’t really want to do it, and in truth he’s doing it more for me. It’s been a few months now, but I don’t see him changing. Should I speak to his therapist about it? Or my boyfriend? I’m not sure which way to go.
Dr. Hurd replies,
Here’s the problem: It’s your boyfriend’s therapy, but you’re treating it as your own. People consult a therapist because they want to change their thoughts, emotions or behavior. What you might seek to change for your boyfriend isn’t necessarily the same as what he chooses to change. Regardless of who’s right, his life isn’t yours to change.
If there’s something you don’t like about his thoughts, emotions or behavior, then you should consult a therapist yourself. Perhaps the way you’re responding to him implies some sort of conflict, contradiction or issue within you. If that sounds familiar, then by all means explore it.
I frequently get requests from people to become their son’s, daughter’s, spouse’s or otherwise significant other’s therapist. The first thing I say is, “Have him or her contact me.” Also, I do my best to warn the mother/father/family member/spouse/partner/whatever making the referral: “He’s going to select his goals for change; not necessarily yours.” People might act like they understand this, but experience has shown that they often don’t.
Even highly intelligent people take the loved one’s problems as self-evident, like a sore throat or a broken arm. “Well, isn’t it obvious? The therapist will see what the problem is, and correct it.” It doesn’t work that way. If everybody saw things the same way, there would be little need for therapy in the first place.
Frankly, it’s naïve and arrogant to assume you know what he needs. If you want your boyfriend to have happiness, leave it to him to figure out what that is. No therapist is going to make him happier. He can only do that for himself. A therapist can only help him articulate it and guide him toward what he considers happiness. A cognitive therapist like myself will focus not only on emotions, but also on facts and what’s reasonable.
When you care about someone and you believe therapy might help, then by all means suggest it. If you’ve had good experiences yourself, tell him about those experiences. But don’t expect him to diagnose and treat everything the way you would. It will only lead to frustration and disappointment.
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