Portland Therapy Blog

Portland Therapy Blog

Local experts share the latest information and resources on all things mental health.

6 Ways to Convince Your Resistant Partner to go to Couples Counseling

Posted: August 08, 2014 by [email protected]

If you are concerned about your relationship’s future marriage counseling or couples therapy can be a healthy solution. The challenge arises, however, if your partner or spouse decides that they aren’t interested in seeking counseling. Maybe they see it as a waste of time or money, or they’re afraid it will make things worse, or just a way to forestall the inevitable.

Sharing emotions is something some of us can do as second nature; yet for others, this can feel threatening. For folks less accustomed to emotional vulnerability attempting counseling can be an overwhelming fear.

So, how do you convince your partner that couples therapy is truly worth it?

1. Start by being direct. Tell them you have concerns and want to make your relationship work. Make sure they know your attempting to resolve the issue and move forward in a positive direction.

2. Change the conversation. For many clients I reframe counseling, instead of working with me as someone who dredges up negative feelings I use the following metaphors:

When we set up a business in our culture, we negotiate contracts with our partners and stakeholders, then we hire consultants (lawyers and/or coaches) to help negotiate terms and share expertise as we found our mission and strategic plan. Every three to five years we revisit our contracts, roles, and agreements to amend them as needed with the help of a neutral third party consultant. Counseling is a way to do the same kind of negotiation in a relationship.

Every one of us brushes our teeth daily and yet when we go to the dentist there are tiny patches of buildup that need to be removed. We can put of going to the dentist, but there are just some pieces we overlook or miss due to our long-standing habits. Going to get a routine check-up is one way to clean out any build up and leave feeling shiny clean. It means we have a lower likelihood of needing a root canal later. Coming to counseling can be that easy routine check-up your relationship needs to remove tiny pieces of build up and decrease the likelihood of long-term damage.

3. Focus on the fix-it aspects instead of the talking-through-feelings aspects.
Keep the language squarely in “mending” mode with the following phrases:

Finding solutions.
Uncovering ways to communicate more openly and accurately.
Exploring fixes to things that seem stuck now.
Coming up with ways to do things differently.

4. Focus on it as an investment in your marriage success. Simply say that you really want them to do this for you as a favor and a sign that they care about you.

5. Write a list of questions and concerns that you have. Show your partner your list and ask them to compile their own. When they see how practical this is, it may be an incentive to participate.

6. Get them to agree on trying one session and see how it goes from there. Agree on a trial period you are willing to give sessions (I recommend at least three). Promise that there is no need to keep up sessions after the “trial period” if they feel it isn’t helping.

Try another option.

If couples counseling is an absolute no-go for your partner try one of the options below to change your patterns.

Attend a retreat. This is not the same as therapy, but many couples retreats can be therapeutic and can deepen your connection over a few days away from home. It can be easier to get together when you get away for a weekend. Retreats can also be a way of helping your partner become more comfortable doing therapeutic work. Click here for information on my upcoming Authentic Relationships Couples Retreat on the Oregon Coast.

Complete and online course. Again, not the same as therapy in session, but many e-courses for couples can be a great way to create change in your interactions without bringing another person in as a consultant. They can also open the doors to future work with a therapist if your partner becomes comfortable with this kind of work.

Read a book. There are a lot of great books out there for couples, many of which include activities for your to try at home. This is nothing like attending actual therapy with a qualified mental health provider, but it can help both of you learn and grow in significant ways.

Two other options:

Go it alone. You may not be able to get your partner to go with you, but you can create change simply by transforming the role you play in the relationship dynamic. Call a therapist and make an appointment for yourself.

Just do it. I don’t actually recommend this, but I have had clients just book an appointment and tell their partner on the way to the session. While it may be effective to get them in the door, it doesn't help the therapy session’s efficacy one bit.

Tags: mood and feelings, relationship and family, anxiety