What to Do If Your Spouse Won’t Go to Counseling

The scenario of one spouse recognizing that therapy might be useful to look at a troubled relationship while the other is resistant has several possible explanations.

It may be that your partner may be too anxious as a product of interpreting your request for counseling as a sign that the relationship is in serious danger, and may only have the strength to defend against the anxiety by denial and non-participation. Your partner may also feel too threatened by the notion that he or she is to blame for your relationship difficulties, and visualizes a therapy session as one in which you persuade the therapist of this unilateral conception. The fear here is of you being the complaining, “righteous” partner who co-opts the therapist in a biased alliance against him or her. In addition, your resistant partner may not feel as competent to present his or her case to the therapist as you might, since after all, you are fueled by pain and indignation of one kind or another. Again, for this mate, refusing to go to therapy is a way to reduce anxiety, at least short-term.

If you find yourself in this situation, it is useful to examine your emotional stance in the relationship with respect to judging and blaming. Dominating your partner with blame only serves to maintain a power imbalance and your sense of being victimized and deprived. If your partner is the source of blame and judgment and paradoxically still won’t attend sessions, it may be that this person feels hopeless about the possibility of change or too vulnerable to relinquish the role of blamer in order to learn more about the contributions that he or she makes to the problems that are straining the relationship.

Solutions to this problem may be emerge through the use of compassion, an emotional attitude sometimes not easy to find in the midst of the acute pain and anger that are ordinary products of disappointment in love. Recognizing the dynamics presented here may serve as a framework for re-shaping your attitudes about your resistant partner from helplessness, disrespect, and judgment to interest and care about what is very likely to be underlying fearfulness and vulnerability. If you can do that, then you may be able to have conversations with your partner that are characterized by a softer tone, and more demonstrations of true empathy – the ability to de-center and put yourself in your partner’s shoes. This act will have healing potential and effect some change even before you both arrive at the therapist’s office.

If your partner still refuses to attend therapy sessions with you, it is advisable for you to go by yourself. There is much helpful work that you and your therapist can accomplish regarding how you live in the relationship, and as you become stronger, so, like ripples formed by a stone being dropped in water, the positive energies that you bring home may be helpful to both of you, whether or not your partner ever attends.

© Copyright 2007 by John Gerson, therapist in Katonah, New York. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

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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  • Therapist Hebden Bridge

    Therapist Hebden Bridge

    December 12th, 2007 at 8:16 AM

    To add another reason someone may not want to go to counseling: he or she may be afraid that the therapist will coerce him or her into talking about past painful situations. Or, the partner may be afraid that some secret such as an affair will come out in the open. If any of these fears do arise, it can be very difficult to break through them.

  • Therapist Huntington Beach

    Therapist Huntington Beach

    December 13th, 2007 at 6:37 AM

    I like that the author gave some concrete suggestions for encouraging a partner to go to therapy. I have found that the reluctant partner, once in the door, is often the one who does the most work and sees positive changes in his or her own behavior. The challenge, of course, as this article states, is getting them in the door for that initial session. But,as the author notes, it is very important for at least the willing partner to come in and talk things over. That way, at least one person is committed to improving the relationship. Once the reluctant partner sees positive change, he or she may be more willing to go to therapy.

  • Therapist Indianapolis

    Therapist Indianapolis

    December 13th, 2007 at 6:39 AM

    I’ve often seen therapists talking “at the water cooler” who are indignant that someone wouldn’t want to come into their office to bare their souls. So, I think that another lesson to be learned is to not take reluctance personally. If someone doesn’t know you, how can you blame them for being reluctant to see you? It doesn’t make sense, but I’ve seen it time and again!

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