When one partner wants counseling and the other doesn’t, this can ..." /> When one partner wants counseling and the other doesn’t, this can ..." />

Encouraging a Reluctant Partner to Try Counseling

Young Couple QuarrelingWhen one partner wants counseling and the other doesn’t, this can become yet another power struggle in the relationship. Attempts to convince, persuade, or cajole may lead to a pursue-and-distance pattern between people and actually increase discord.

If you want to go to counseling and your partner hesitates, choose a time to discuss this when you are both relatively calm, not when you are arguing. Acknowledge your worries and concerns about the relationship without blaming. Emphasize your desire to do your part to improve things.

Make a brief list of four or five of the problems you see in the relationship and what you’d like to improve. Show it to your partner and say you’d be curious to see his or her own list.

See if you can find out exactly what reservations your partner has. Previous negative experiences with therapy, stories about other couples’ disappointments or divorces, or fear about the potential outcome—whatever the reasons, listen to and acknowledge them.

Some questions to ask about common worries people have in anticipation of relationship counseling:

  • “Are you concerned this could make things worse between us?”
  • “Have you heard of other couples where marriage counseling led to divorce?”
  • “I know television and movies make it look like it is just refereed fighting. Are you thinking we will just go in and pay to argue in front of a stranger?”

Your partner may envision that you are going to use counseling as a forum for pointing out all the things he or she does wrong in the relationship. Avoid provoking defensiveness. Assure your partner that you see you have a part in the problems between you.

Other helpful ways to present the idea of counseling:

  • “I think this could help us find solutions. I certainly know I could use help talking about things more objectively.”
  • “I can’t really make sense of what keeps going sideways, because I continue to care about you. My goal is to understand what keeps us stuck. I’m pretty sure we could do some things differently and be happier.”
  • “This is not about me getting my way. This is about both of us getting more of what we want out of the relationship.”
  • “If we get help to tackle the problems and meet weekly for a while, there would be a lot less to fight about when we’re together at home. It would be great to relax and have more fun in our lives again.”

If your partner refuses to engage in discussion about moving forward with research on therapy, here are some things you can try:

  • Stop bringing up therapy for at least two weeks. Be as pleasant and cooperative as you can. Engage in small, considerate gestures without asking for recognition or praise. Seek opportunities to make life easier for your partner. Keep busy with your own pursuits and activities to demonstrate that you are reasonably happy and self-sufficient. Revisit the discussion at a time when you observe your partner to be reasonably calm and receptive.
  • Do some research online or ask a trusted friend or doctor for some referrals. Then you can approach your partner with specifics: “I checked this person out online. They might be a good match for us. Would you just look at these two websites and see if you like what either of these people have to say?”
  • Ask your partner to consider interviewing one therapist on the phone, or going to one session. Make it clear that you are not expecting any particular commitment, but you do request that he or she take your idea seriously and take at least one step with you.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kate McNulty, LCSW, Gottman Method Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Dara

    October 24th, 2013 at 12:14 PM

    I want my husband to go with me to try counseling but he is so hesitant about it that there are times that I feel like that’s my answer, that he doesn’t wnat to go, so he’s not fully invested in the relationship so maybe that means that this is time to call it quits./

  • Stacy

    October 25th, 2013 at 3:51 AM

    Dara_ I wouldn’t give up just yet, at least not until you have convinced him that he should at least try some counseling with you once or twice. It might just all be a matter of finding the right person to work with but there could be a solution out there for you guys, you just may not have found quite the right one for you yet. You have to understand that there are always going to be those people who are more open to therepsy than others are for whatever reasons and we have to accept that, but that doesn’t mean that this person doesn’t love you and doesn’t wnat to be with you. It just might mean that the two of you have to find some other ways to communicate with each other and breakl through the issues that you could be having. I just want to encourage you not to give up until you feel like you have exhausted all of your options if this person really is someone who means a great deal to you.

  • trace

    October 25th, 2013 at 2:31 PM

    I think that I am on the flip side here because I am the one who doesn’t want to go . I just don’t feel all th at comfortable airing all our dirty laundry to some stranger and she doesn’t seem to get that.

  • MollyA

    October 26th, 2013 at 11:12 AM

    If I found myself in this situation, I really think that I would just go ahead and at least start going to counseling by myself. I would tell my spouse that this was what I was doing and that he was invited to come at any point when he felt ready and comfortable but that I was going to go ahead and start with or without him.

    I think that nine times out of ten once he starts seeing just how much progress you are making and how good you are feeling with going then he might come around pretty quickly and decide that this is something that he would like to try too.

    And if he doesn’t? Then oh well, you might just have to determine that you were meant to evolve and grow without him

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