Your Partner is Not Your Therapist

Woman sitting next to sculpture on the phone

When you are feeling down, it is natural to want to turn to your partner for love and support. Our partner is the person who often knows us best, and who can be counted on to take our side and have our back. This can make us feel very loved and taken care of, but it can also mean that, under times of stress, we rely on our partner too excessively.

Why is this unhealthy for a relationship and how can you tell if you are treating your partner like your therapist?

Red Flag 1: You Confide in Nobody Else

One red flag that you are relying too heavily on your partner is if you have nobody else that you confide in. Maybe you used to talk to your friends, but you have gradually stopped calling, texting, or hanging out. Maybe you in fact never had much of a support network in the first place, and your partner has been a vital virtual therapist from the very start of your relationship. Either way, being the sole person that listens to your problems may quickly begin to feel like a heavy burden for your partner.

Red Flag 2: Your Statements are Mostly Negative

Another sign that you are treating your partner as your therapist is if you recognize that you are primarily discussing negative things with them. A balanced relationship includes talk of victories, happiness, and events that you’re looking forward to, in addition to things that upset you. If your texts include a high ratio of complaints or negative statements as compared with positive ones, this is an indicator that you may be using your partner primarily as a sounding board for your grievances.

Red Flag 3: You Become Codependent

While it is entirely healthy for your relationship to be interdependent, you are at risk of codependence when one partner treats the other solely as an emotional caretaker.

When you lean on your partner for constant support and reassurance, you are placing a great deal of pressure on them. They have to be there for you at all times, and often place their own needs behind yours. Often, they may stop themselves from sharing their own problems with you because they don’t want to put anything else on your plate. You begin to seem fragile to them, and they stop viewing you as an equal and more like a child and themself as a guardian.

Red Flag 4: It’s Red Flags All the Way Down

There are other negative consequences to the dynamic of one partner acting like the therapist within a relationship. The couple’s romantic or sex life often begins to suffer, because the general tone of the relationship feels stuck and negative rather than fun and positive. The partner who acts as a therapist may begin to feel bitter and resentful. Also, the couple may progressively get more and more isolated, as discussing problems starts to take more and more of a central focus, versus socializing or engaging in outside activities.

Therapy is the Real Answer

If this post resonates with you, it is important to ask yourself why you are caught in this unhealthy dynamic with your partner. It is probable that the roots of your therapist-client relationship dynamic are rooted in your upbringing.

Perhaps you saw one parent complain to the other all the time, or maybe you were thrust into the therapist role with a parent who was struggling emotionally. Often, children of depressed, anxious, or substance abusing parents end up taking a confidante role with this parent, listening to complaints or hearing stories that are not developmentally appropriate. If this sounds like your childhood, you may have learned a pattern of toxic oversharing with those who are close to you.

Working with a therapist can help you understand how you got into a dependent therapist-client relationship with your partner, and how you can extricate yourself from it. Additionally, beginning to work with a real therapist can help you move away from the toxic codependent pattern that you have unintentionally entered into with your partner.

Knowing that you have a trained professional to talk to every week about your issues allows you the freedom to treat your partner more like your partner and less like your therapist. You’ll stop leaning on them excessively for emotional sustenance and endless encouragement. You may be able to create a more equal, positive dynamic in your relationship, which can be freeing to both you and your partner.

Published by

Dr. Samantha Rodman

Clinical Psychologist