Seeking out therapy has many potential benefits for those who choose to give it a try: Improved communication skills, feelings of empowerment, and the development of healthy coping strategies are just a few things to be gained from seeing a mental health professional. Encouragingly, people have become more open to therapy and mental health management, though stigma surrounding mental health is not yet a thing of the past.
However, beyond being potentially beneficial to the individual, therapy can also make a big difference in personal relationships, particularly romantic ones. That’s what we set out to explore in this study. Surveying both Britons and Americans currently in relationships, we asked about their experiences with individual therapy and how the act of one (or both) people in the relationship attending therapy impacts them. We also surveyed those in relationships where neither party had ever done individual therapy about their openness to giving it a try. Keep reading to find out what we gleaned from their insights.
Therapy in Relationships
We first wanted to get an idea of what experiences people had with therapy of all kinds, including couples therapy. Almost 60% of the people in relationships we surveyed said they’d done couples therapy with their current partner, though Americans were much more likely to report doing so than their British counterparts. Counter to what people often assume, attending couples therapy doesn’t mean a relationship is in trouble. While it can help resolve conflict and other issues, couples therapy is also helpful in learning about each other.
However, our main focus was on how many people had done individual therapy on their own and how it impacted their relationships. About 60% of people in relationships said they’d been to therapy at some point. Additionally, we looked at their partners, and 56.7% of people in relationships said their partner had attended therapy before.
Going to Therapy While Coupled Up
While you always hope that you can be open and honest with your partner, continuing mental health stigmas can make disclosing individual therapy potentially nerve-wracking. Of the people in relationships we surveyed, most reported disclosing their therapy routine to their partner within the first six months of being together, though women were much more likely than men to tell their partner even earlier within the first three months.
While mental health stigmas may still be something society has to grapple with, many people felt sure in their choice to seek help within their relationship. Roughly 47% of people in relationships said they never worry about their partner judging them negatively for going to therapy. Unfortunately, the flip-side of that is the 53% of people saying they sometimes or always worry about their partner judging them.
Potential Impacts of Therapy
Regardless of why they chose to start therapy, what likely matters most to many people is the results they see in their everyday life. Among the people surveyed who reported doing therapy on their own, 64.8% of them said they had decided to start therapy, at least in part, due to issues in their romantic relationships (either past or present).
Emotional intimacy in a relationship relates to how connected a person feels to their partner on a deeper level – one involving feelings, vulnerabilities, and trust. This seemed like a fitting way to evaluate how therapy impacts romantic relationships.
There were a fair number of differences in responses from Britons and Americans. On the whole, Britons were much more likely than Americans to report poor emotional intimacy with their partners, regardless of whether anyone in the relationship had done therapy or not. But the Britons in relationships where no one had attended therapy were nearly twice as likely to report poor emotional intimacy. As for Americans, people in relationships where at least one person had tried therapy were slightly more likely to report good or excellent emotional intimacy, compared to relationships where no one had gone to therapy.
An important thing to remember when considering these findings is that people often overestimate how self-aware they are. There are many ways to build self-awareness (also sometimes used interchangeably with emotional intelligence), with therapy being one. Therefore, it’s possible that respondents in relationships with at least one person going to therapy have more self-awareness about themselves and the state of the romantic relationship than people in relationships where neither party has participated in therapy.
Lastly, we wanted to look at people in relationships where neither person had tried individual therapy and what they thought about potentially giving counselling for their mental health a go. Britons in relationships who had never done therapy before were far less likely to be open to it than Americans, with 33.1% of them saying they aren’t open to it at all. Americans in relationships who hadn’t tried therapy before were also nearly twice as likely to say they were extremely open to it, compared to Britons. However, Britons may be coming around, albeit slowly. There are indications that people in the UK are coming around to the idea of therapy, especially with members of the royal family speaking out about mental health.
Interestingly, people’s feelings tended to change when considering their partner. Nearly 55% of people in relationships where neither person had therapy experience thought their partner would benefit from seeking counselling. There are many reasons why people may play the “blame game” in their relationships, but the fundamental attribution error could also be at play. The fundamental attribution error describes humans’ tendency to excuse themselves for behaviour, chalking it up to external factors outside their control, while criticising the same behaviour in others by deeming it a character flaw.
Putting Therapy on the Table
Whether for the good of themselves or their romantic relationships, therapy can be a powerful tool for people. Encouragingly, over 60% of people in romantic relationships reported having done therapy at some point. The people in relationships who had participated in individual therapy largely reported being open with their partners, and 46.7% reported never feeling negatively judged by their partner for seeking counselling.
There’s still a ways to go, though, toward destigmatising therapy – both as an individual and as part of a couple. At Superdrug Online Doctor, we understand that conversations around mental and physical health can be intimidating at times. You can feel confident in discussing your physical and sexual health with a physician through the privacy and convenience of our digital consultations. Regardless of what you need assistance with, we believe in providing the support you need. Visit Superdrug Online Doctor today for more information.
We initially surveyed 1,068 people with the goal of finding out how many people in relationships had gone to therapy before. From there, we narrowed our focus and surveyed a total of 974 people in relationships (352 Britons and 622 Americans). Of that total, 224 people (124 Britons and 120 Americans) were in relationships where no one had ever participated in individual therapy. The other 650 people in relationships (228 Britons and 502 Americans) we surveyed either had done therapy themselves, their partner had done therapy, or both they and their partner had participated in therapy.
The respondents in relationships with at least one person in therapy were 52.5% women and 47% men. Four respondents were nonbinary. The average age of those respondents was 37.2 with a standard deviation of 11.7. Respondents in relationships with neither person ever attending individual therapy were 66% women and 34% men. The average age of those respondents was 38.2 with a standard deviation of 12.2.
The data we are presenting rely on self-report. There are many issues with self-reported data. These issues include, but are not limited to, the following: selective memory, telescoping, attribution, and exaggeration.
Fair Use Statement
Deciding to go to therapy can be a daunting decision, especially while in a romantic relationship. If someone you know would benefit from the information in this project, you can share for any noncommercial reuse. Please link back here so the entire project and its methodology can be viewed. This also gives credit to our contributors, whose efforts make this work possible.