When 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, therapist in Portland, Oregon
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