Amy Winchester, MA, LPC: It’s a frustrating scenario for many partners who feel that if they only got a little help, things could be better, and yet their partner is unwilling or ambivalent about receiving this help.
In my experience, there are many reasons why someone will refuse to go to couples therapy with their partner. In many cases, therapy is a last-ditch effort to save the relationship, and sometimes I’m contacted after it’s too late. Usually after one person in the relationship makes a decision to move on, there’s nothing that can be done to change their mind. For those couples that aren’t on the brink, however, a partner may have negative preconceived ideas about therapy, be unwilling to “expose” themselves to strangers, or feel that therapy is something for you, rather than for them, because you’re the one who needs to work through your stuff.I frequently tell people that if your partner isn’t interested in coming to therapy with you, there are still things we can work through to help support you in your relationship. Some of these things may be about communicating your needs to a partner who you feel isn’t as invested in the relationship as you are, or developing appropriate boundaries for yourself in a relationship where you feel blamed or overly responsible for the dominant dynamic. Your partner may not like feeling vulnerable in front of people, and if this is the case it’s also likely an issue in your relationship. There are things therapy can offer you, individually, to help you understand and work with a partner who is very protective of their inner world.
The bottom line is that we can’t make our partners do something they don’t want to do. If it’s not too late, and your partner flat out refuses to go to couples therapy, you need to reconcile with this fact and decide for yourself if it’s something that’s a deal breaker, or if you’re willing to do some work on your own. In the end, this is all you can do.
Deb Hirschhorn, PhD: Some partners are willing to come. Others are reluctant. When you’re thinking about first seeking couples therapy, it’s often as simple as that.If you feel like your relationship will benefit from couples therapy, but your partner is hesitant about attending with you, here are two approaches I recommend:
- Say, “This is not for blame. It is so the therapist gets to meet both of us.” This statement may work if your partner feels like you are dragging them into a therapy session so that you can figure out who is to blame, or if they have an ill-conceived notion of therapy in general. Couples therapy is not about who is right and who is wrong. It is about giving you what you need to work on developing a stronger partnership.
- Or say, “The therapist will want your side.” In fact, I use this statement all the time. I say, “Please tell your partner that I would like his/her input and to hear his/her side.” That usually works.
Jeffrey Kaplan, MA, LMFT: Everyone has different beliefs about what therapy is. The notion that you may be bringing very serious and personal issues to a stranger may certainly make many partners relatively reluctant to enter into sessions. In particular, men tend to have a lot of resistance to therapy, as it may confront their belief that they are problem solvers who don’t need help. Simply entering into therapy may be a sign that they are admitting failure, and may prove to be too much to manage.
A potential way around this is to be very upfront with both your partner and the therapist. The therapist’s role is to help the couple solve their own issues. It is not to place blame, or pick sides, or to repair a relationship that is dysfunctional and toxic.
A quality couples therapist will capture the couple’s inner strengths and highlight ways that they are able to solve issues. The therapist may offer new tools and methods of coping with their experiences. However, a therapist may only provide a tool—it is up to the couple to use it. As a result, a reluctant partner may be pacified with the knowledge that he or she will still be the one solving their own issues, only with professional assistance.
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