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You’ll naturally feel frustrated if you’re advocating for couples counseling and your partner is unwilling to go. Often this disconnect isn’t about his love for you. It sometimes stems from his difference in feelings about the quality of your relationship and/or his perception of counseling.
Some common reasons your partner may be resistant include: investment in time and finances, worry about being blamed by you or the counselor, or belief that problems should be able to be solved without professional help.
Understanding your partner’s view, getting on the same page about the meaning of counseling, reassuring him of your intentions, and setting expectations can provide motivation to begin counseling together. You can’t control anyone else’s behavior but your own, so trying to force your partner to go to counseling will only create a further wedge. What you can do is be open to mature, thoughtful, and supportive dialogues to deepen your understanding of each other, and use effective communication strategies to reach a resolution.
Below are five strategies for encouraging your partner to go to counseling with you:
Approaching this topic with anger, threats, and ultimatums mid-argument is only going to push your partner away and create defensiveness. It’s best to bring up the topic of counseling from a loving place, using positive, collaborative, and calm language that depicts that you care and want your relationship to be better. Make sure you feel calm when you bring up the topic, use cooperative language, and avoid assigning blame.
Also, give your partner a chance to process the idea of counseling by bringing it up at an appropriate time and then giving him space. Having a series of conversations is a better approach than bombarding him with questions and information, forcing him to agree instantly and giving him a hard time if he wants or needs to think about it.
It’s natural to desire an explanation if he’s reluctant. Simply hearing a no from him without any reasoning or information is bound to leave you feeling even more frustrated, alone, and distant.
To ensure you receive an honest explanation from him and gain an understanding of where he’s coming from, ask him open-ended and non-judgmental questions about his feelings and concerns. Your role here is to ask questions and listen attentively without arguing, interrupting him, or trying to change his mind.
This step is geared toward gathering information so you can participate in a productive dialogue. Determine if any of the reasons mentioned above resonate with him, and get a feel for his view of counseling and your relationship, and anything interfering with his openness about going.
While you may not agree with your partner’s view of you, counseling, or the relationship, it’s important to try to understand your partner’s concerns, feelings, and opinions. If you’re already feeling like enemies or players on the opposite team, you may feel unmotivated to understand his view and show support. However, validating where he’s coming from, regardless of whether you feel the same, is a must.
As he shares, be sure to show understanding and let go of an argumentative stance. Acknowledge that he’s allowed to feel whatever he feels (just as you are), and what’s most important is how you communicate. If he’s struggling to open up, continue to ask questions (e.g., Are you concerned counseling could make things worse? What worries you about seeking professional help? Is there anything I can do to make it more comfortable for you? How do you feel about counseling, in general? Have you had any negative experiences with counseling?) without being pushy, aggressive, or confrontational.
Choosing a counselor or psychotherapist with whom you’re both comfortable is imperative to your success in counseling. If you’re uncomfortable or don’t feel your counselor is a good fit, you’ll be less likely to open up, share intimate feelings and be present in the experience. Therefore, it works best when both partners have a say and agree on the counselor.
Consider your counselor’s qualifications and experience as well as your gender preferences when selecting someone with whom to work. Research prospective therapists together, and start with the less overwhelming goal of meeting with a therapist for one appointment and then working together to assess if that person is a good fit. Utilizing websites, such as PsychologyToday.com, and asking trusted friends or family for recommendations can be helpful in finding a qualified provider.
Reassure your partner that you’re not seeking counseling to play the blame game and you’re hoping to make the relationship more satisfying to you both. Counseling isn’t about getting your partner to shape up without you taking accountability for your part or pinpointing who is wrong and who is right. In fact, a good therapist will want to hear and examine both sides and aid you in discovering your individual and relationship strengths as well as areas to improve in.
Even if it doesn’t feel like you’re a contributor to the current relationship issues, you’re half of the relationship, and acknowledging your role is part of moving forward to happier times. Be sure to state your own intentions in a way that doesn’t provoke defensiveness in him. For example, communicate that your motivation to seek counseling is to learn how to be a better partner to him and create a healthy, loving relationship. If he is reluctant to join due to stigma around counseling, feeling weak or crazy, take a proactive approach while reminding him that strong, healthy people seek counseling, and getting professional help does not signify you are crazy.
In fact, couples attend counseling together to try to resolve different issues, and participating in counseling has numerous benefits. Remind him that you are on the same team and counseling is a safe place to work through issues interfering with relationship satisfaction
If your partner is unwilling to go to counseling despite your entreaties, you will have to decide if his choice is a deal-breaker for you. You can also seek out individual counseling for your own support and well-being, which can be very helpful during distressing times in relationships.
Again, you can’t make your partner attend counseling with you, but you can ensure you are communicating in ways that promote closeness, openness, and connection. By bringing up counseling in a calm way, giving him room to breathe and process the idea of counseling and offering reassurance, the hope is you can turn a reluctant partner into a willing participant.