What to Do When Your Partner Won’t Go to Therapy with You

unhappy coupleAt least once a week, we get a call from someone who says, “I know our relationship needs work, but my partner won’t go to therapy with me. What can I do?”

More often than not, when one partner (not always the guy) suggests going to couples therapy, the other partner hears an alarm. Danger! Danger! A tsunami of anxiety floods the mind. Fear abounds. Automatic thoughts start racing: “I’m not talking about our relationship with a stranger. How are they going to fix our problems? What could they possibly say that would make a difference? If you would just (fill in the blank), our relationship would be fine. Who is this therapist? What are they going to think of me? Will they like me? What if they tell me I’m wrong? We can fix this ourselves.”

In response to this resistance, the first partner either escalates the conversation, resulting in an argument, or stops talking and walks away feeling frustrated and hopeless.

So how can you convince your partner to go to therapy with you? Here are five suggestions:

1. Address the objection or fear. Beneath the surface of defensiveness is fear. If it’s not obvious, you might ask your partner, “What concerns you about us going to therapy?” Once you identify that fear, you can address it. A sample conversation:

Him: “I don’t want someone telling me what to do. We can fix this ourselves.”

Her: “I wish we could, but we have been trying to do that with no success. An objective point of view would be helpful.”

Him: “How is a stranger going to fix our problems?”

Her: “I read about the therapist on her website, and she works with other couples just like us. Let me send you the link.”

Him: “If you would just (fill in the blank), our problems would be solved.”

Her: “I know I have a big part in resolving our differences, but it takes two people to have a conflict and two people to solve it. It’s important for each of us to look at our part and how we can improve our partnership.”

2. Describe the benefit to your partner. Think from your partner’s perspective. What would he or she get out of going to therapy? For example: “If you went, it would make me very happy; it would show me you are making an effort; it would make me feel like we’re truly partners; it would help us understand each other better; we would learn some new skills/techniques that would decrease our arguing so we would feel closer and be able to have more fun; if we felt intimate more of the time, I would feel like having sex more.”

3. Pique his or her interest. Find an article, podcast, or YouTube video and ask your partner to read, watch, or listen. You can use this as a conversation starter. Ask your partner what he or she thought about it or what part he or she related to. Then share your thoughts. Make your partner the expert on the topic and ask if he or she thinks most men/women feel that way.

4. Use a “coaching” model. Often, people think couples therapy is only for people who are deeply troubled. Describe going to the sessions as “relationship coaching,” putting the focus on learning skills and techniques, not changing him/her or his/her personality. Many men in particular often can relate to a coaching metaphor, as sports teams need a good coach to be their best.

5. Ask your partner to go just once and try it. Assure your partner that it is fine if he or she doesn’t want to go back after the first visit. He or she may resist less if it’s understood that he/she doesn’t have to commit to the therapeutic process. After the first session, he or she may see the value and want to continue. Also, this moves the fear of the unknown out of the way.

You might want to use one or several of these ideas when you approach your partner. The bottom line is that one person can work on his or her part of relationship issues, but there is much more that can be accomplished when both partners avail themselves of the process.

For more information about helping a loved one who needs therapy, click here.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lori Hollander, LCSW-C, BCD, therapist in Owings Mills, Maryland

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.

  • 15 comments
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  • Zuri

    Zuri

    April 22nd, 2014 at 2:29 PM

    Am I the only one who would have to play a little hard ball here?
    I think that if the marriage is important enough to the partner then he or she will go to therapy with you, no questions asked. They will want to what they can to make the relationship survive. I think that if they don’t show that kind of gumption then all that tells me is that they are not as into me as I must have thought and that perhaps I should consider moving on. And I think that I would have to tell him that to his face.
    I mean, I am making the time and effort but this is not a one way stree. Either you are in or you are out and if you aren’t all in, then I am the one who will be on the way out.

  • gregg

    gregg

    April 23rd, 2014 at 6:54 AM

    There are naturally going to be those people who are wary of the whole therapy scene and not because they think that there is something wrong with it but just because they ae unfamiliar with it. I think that if you were to approach it that way and ask him to go once and then if he didn’t like it or didn’t connect that you would also be willing to try something different. I don’t think that it is too much to at least have someone try it once.

  • Vance

    Vance

    April 23rd, 2014 at 10:59 AM

    I like the idea of trying to frame it more as coaching then therapy. I think that there will be a whole lot more men who would respond to that and be open to that if you don’t say that you are going to counseling, but just trying to do something to make the relationship a little stronger. You don’t even have to say that it is because something is missing or lacking but just that you would like to use this as a way for the two of you to come a little closer together. In my humble opinion I think that a lot of men would be into that and would be willing to try it if it wasn’t like they were doing something wrong and that you were trying to get him to go to therapy because of something that he is doing that you feel the need to change.

  • Bonnie Kennan

    Bonnie Kennan

    April 23rd, 2014 at 5:14 PM

    A couple of things come to mind. First, ask your reluctant partner to speak to the couple’s therapist by telephone first and ask any questions he/she has. Let the professional help you to soothe your partner’s anxiety and allow him or her to buy into the decision about going to therapy and who to see.

    If partner is not willing to do that, go to the couple’s therapy by yourself first. Get curious about your partner’s complaints about you. Consider how you might change your half of the way you are interacting. Sometimes, if you make the change your partner has been asking/wishing for he/she will get curious and want to join you. Most people will eventually respond to the “What’s-in-it-for-me” principle.

  • wendy t

    wendy t

    April 24th, 2014 at 3:33 AM

    It would be great if you could discover why all the hesitation and animosity about going to counseling. When you know the WHY then it is often easier to then address going.

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    April 24th, 2014 at 10:20 AM

    Zuri,
    I heartily agree with you! Problem is that some people are not willing to “do whatever it takes” or don’t believe therapy is the answer, and when children are in the picture it’s not that easy to just leave. Thanks for your comment!
    Lori

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    April 24th, 2014 at 10:22 AM

    Gregg,
    I absolutely agree! Thanks so much for your comment.
    Lori

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    April 24th, 2014 at 10:27 AM

    Vance,
    I really appreciate your perspective and from what I have seen over the years, I agree. Men generally are adverse to thinking a therapist is going to tell them they are doing something “wrong” or that a therapist is going to try to “change” them. Coaching is something they can relate to and are familiar with.
    Lori

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    April 24th, 2014 at 10:34 AM

    Bonnie,
    Excellent advice! And I like your use of the word “curious.” I actually use that word in therapy/coaching often when people don’t understand each other. Being “curious” about your partner’s different or opposing thoughts/feelings is a very inviting and positive way to start a constructive dialogue. Thanks!!
    Lori

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    April 24th, 2014 at 10:36 AM

    Wendy,
    Exactly! Usually under the resistance is fear. When you uncover what that is you can respond to it.
    Thanks for sharing!
    Lori

  • Vern

    Vern

    April 25th, 2014 at 3:53 AM

    If someone won’t make that jump to go with you, then maybe you could try going on your own. This would show that you won’t back down from what you think could be a good solution and it could also show them that you are willing to learn and grow on your own. It might take that little leap of faith to put a little fear into them, like if you progress and start becoming something better that you may tire of them and leave them behind. This could be a little motivator for them to at least go one or two times to try to work on this with you.

  • Elliott

    Elliott

    April 27th, 2014 at 4:57 AM

    It shouldn’t be that hard to at least give it a try one time if you love this person.

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    April 27th, 2014 at 6:00 PM

    Vern,
    I appreciate your thoughts! Great ideas.
    Lori

  • Lori Hollander

    Lori Hollander

    April 27th, 2014 at 6:00 PM

    Elliot,
    Thanks for your comment!
    Lori

  • Carol Herndon

    Carol Herndon

    May 5th, 2014 at 10:21 AM

    An alternative to therapy is participating in workshops and courses led by people who have devoted years to studying relationships and leading others to explore with them. Therapy appears to suggest something is broken. Workshops are for curious and adventurous couples. Communities of couples support each other in keeping their focus on what they most deeply want in their lives together, and noticing where they are sabotaging that very thing. Please check out the websites listed above for examples of these two resources.

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