What to do When your Partner Won’t go to Couples Therapy

what to do when your partner won't go to couples therapyIt can feel frustrating and hopeless when your partner won’t even give couples therapy a second thought.

Maybe you have tried to address the issues in the relationship, read some books, talked to friends, fought over and over, and have decided that it’s time to give couples therapy a try. But, you are met with a wall when it comes to getting your partner to go.

Let’s be clear – you can’t make someone do something that they will not do. Even if you give ultimatums, your partner is likely to feel forced and not really open to the experience. The best tactic is to tap into the very thing that’s keeping him or her from wanting to come.

There are a variety of reasons for not wanting to go to couples therapy. Your partner might be experiencing many different fears, but here are some of the common ones:

  • Being afraid that the therapist will blame them for the relationship problems, or that the two of you will gang up them.
  • Honestly believing that YOU are the one that needs help, and internally blaming you for what’s going wrong in the relationship.
  • Being worried that counseling is going to literally be a painful experience.
  • Thinking that there are no issues in the relationship, and that couples therapy isn’t necessary.

One Tactic to Address all of These Concerns

Going to couples therapy takes courage, and anything that takes courage naturally comes with discomfort. But, here’s a way to put a dent in all of those barriers that your partner is experiencing with one tactic.

Discuss what you will get out of therapy, how it will help you become a better spouse, and why you need your partner’s participation in that.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that you are to blame for the relationship problems. But the fact is that every couple has two members, and every relationship problem has two players. Your contribution to your relationship issues may be as simple as how you respond to your partner’s poor relationship behavior. This still involves you. Tell your partner that you want to go to couples therapy so that you can find tools to use that will help you improve as a spouse. Talk about how much the marriage means to you and how willing you are to do whatever it takes to make it better. And make sure your partner hears how important their help is in doing this.

This is not about taking responsibility for your partner’s behavior, or blaming yourself. Especially if you are in an abusive relationship or have the habit of taking on too much responsibility for changing everything in the relationship. But in my experience, many people don’t tell their partner how they themselves are willing to change. They focus on what their partner needs to change, and engage in unhelpful tactics such as arguing, begging, distancing, and giving ultimatums. Doing something different such as expressing the reasons you personally want to improve with the help of a couples therapist could be a fresh take.

If your partner is worried they will be blamed or that you and the couples therapist will gang up on them, this helps to show them that you are approaching this with some level of personal accountability. You aren’t merely looking for a referee or someone to help you convince your partner that they are to blame. The fact is that a good couples therapist does not play the blame game, and would rather have you both ganging up on the problems rather than on each other. But, your spouse might just need to get into the first session to be able to see that this fear is, well, just a fear.

If your partner really does think that you are to blame, then they might be more open to giving therapy a try if they think that you are open to looking at what role you do play in the relationship issues. This isn’t setting you up to take responsibility for everything. As I mentioned above, a good therapist doesn’t do that. But, if it gets your partner to consider coming to therapy you can both work on taking responsibility for your own contributions to the patterns once you’re there.

If your partner is worried that it will literally be a painful experience, having some alleviation of the other fears could go a long way toward helping them cope with their avoidance of dealing with issues. Couples therapy isn’t easy, but neither is anything that is so important. Being a good spouse and parent, advancing your career, creating a healthy lifestyle and taking care of yourself – none of this is easy.

And lastly, if your partner doesn’t think that there is anything in the relationship that could benefit from couples therapy, perhaps hearing from you what you want to get out of it for yourself would be something that your partner would be willing to hear.

This is by no means a comprehensive list of ways to create a more positive and inviting story around couples therapy, but it’s one that can be pretty effective. The truth is that a couples therapist is going to help both of you do your best to create the kind of relationship that you want, and taking the first step in thinking about that will go a long way toward avoiding or repairing attempts to blame and force a reluctant partner into couples therapy.

And if all else fails, having some therapy for yourself can greatly improve your relationship. Most relationship issues can be explored and approached in different ways even by just one person. A couples therapist can help you discover ways to improve your marriage even when your partner won’t go to couples therapy. If you are interested in exploring how couples therapy or individual relationship counseling can help, please reach out to us and have a free consultation.

Kat Mindenhall, LCSW, is the Director of A Peaceful Life Counseling Services in Lakewood, CO. She specializes in helping people create vibrant lives and relationships.

Reader Interactions

Comments

  1. Hi Kat! Love this post….I think so many couples can relate to the fears you describe. I think many couples as well as individuals seeking counseling can relate to the fear of being blamed or not having hope that anything can change the problem. I like the accountability factor that you describe in talking with your partner about the benefits of therapy. Being willing to be vulnerable and open can deepen the connection in the relationship and give the sense that “we’re in this together”. Great, accessible post!

    • Hi Kate! Thanks for commenting! You hit the nail on the head – describing what you hope to get out of therapy for yourself and your relationship is definitely a vulnerable thing. It’s much easier to be angry and blaming. Thanks for the insight! If even one couple can use my post to find deeper connection and enter couples therapy together in a respectful and together way then I’d be so happy. I guess I’ll never know that for sure – that’s why we put this stuff out there though, isn’t it Kate?

  2. One scenerio I wonder if you could talk about. “I’m NOT going to therapy because it just means a divorce is on the horizon. I went with my ex-spouse and they just ended up leaving. Only later did I find out about the affair when (s)he moved in with a lover.”

    Obviously, therapy means divorce. Any suggestions?

    • Hi Brenda! Thanks for commenting!
      That’s a tough one, and I think that it’s a really common thing to have the kind of thinking that “This always means that” or “I’ve been through a different thing, and this will be the same.” I would be curious about what other evidence there is that a divorce is on the horizon. It seems like if a divorce were on the horizon, it would happen without the benefit of therapy, don’t you think? As in, “If your marriage is doomed already, why not divorce now?” If that’s not true, then there’s more strength to the marriage, which would mean that it’s maybe not doomed, and something like therapy wouldn’t really doom it either. You and I both know that avoidance of pain doesn’t really mean you are getting the most out of your life, so it’s such a shame when people choose protecting what they think they will lose rather than striving to make what they have great. I’m wondering if I can bring others in on this conversation, I’d love to hear what more people think because there are as many ways to approach it as there are clients and therapists! Do you mind if I pose this question on some of our forums to engage more folks? This could be another blog post, it’s so good.

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