Working with couples on such a regular basis, it is not unusual to receive phone calls from couples where one partner is reluctant.
Sometimes this is because the partner doesn’t believe in counseling.
Sometimes a partner is resistant because he or she feels they are too angry, or they don’t have hope for the relationship. This happens when couples have had longstanding problems, or have waited until the ‘breaking point’ to seek help.
There is no ‘trick’ to get your partner to join you in couples counseling. While the following tips may help you to encourage your partner, they are not ways to manipulate your partner. In fact, you will find that many of the strategies below can only be effective if you are not trying to manipulate your partner, and only if you, yourself, are dedicated to improving the relationship, and willing to improve yourself as an important part of the process!
Are you ready? Here are a few ideas of ways that you can help encourage your spouse to join you in couples counseling:
1) Don’t Wait Too Long
When possible, couples counseling should be a first or second line of defense – not a last resort – to a helping a relationship. For example, if you are experiencing a problem in your relationship, the first step is to try and talk with your partner to see if you can find a solution together. If you can’t come to an agreement that works for both of you, the second step would be to consider getting some help. Often just a couple of sessions with a counselor will help resolve an issue in a healthy way.
Too often, couples begin considering couples counseling as a last resort – when the relationship is at a breaking point: after destructive words have been said, after an affair, or during or after a trial separation. While this is a harder place to begin, if you are in these circumstances, don’t be discouraged! Marriage therapists can often help couples in crisis make amazing progress.
2) Ask for a Favor or Make a Trade
Your partner may not want to attend counseling because he or she doesn’t “like the idea of it,” or doesn’t think it will help. If this is the case, instead of trying to convince your partner that counseling can help, simply ask your partner if they will accompany you to counseling as a favor to you.
Depending on how things have been going between you, there is a chance that your partner might not feel like doing you any favors. In this is the case, consider whether there is a favor or concession that you could give to your partner, in exchange for his or her attendance at a couples counseling appointment.
Note: this is not blackmail! This is not extortion! The idea is to go above and beyond what is fair, as a way to encourage your spouse or partner to accompany you to couples counseling. Is there something your partner has wanted from you, that you have been unwilling to provide?
3) Focus on Your Change
Sometimes when one partner recommends couples counseling, the receiving partner can feel they are being told that something is wrong with them. If this is the case, resistance to counseling is to be expected.
To increase the odds that your partner will accompany you to couples counseling, tell your partner that you want to change the way that you are being in the relationship, and that you want your partner’s help in your self-improvement process.
Don’t lie. If your partner asks if you think that they need to change, be honest! But tell your partner that you are 100% interested in first investigating how you can to change to be a better partner.
4) Show First, The Change in Yourself
Often, when someone avoids couples counseling it’s because they don’t think it will be effective in facilitating real change in their partner or relationship. Counter this worry by helping your partner to see that you’re not only willing to change, but also that you have already begun improving yourself.
Going to counseling on your own is a good way to show that you are serious about committing to a self-improvement process - share with your partner what you have learned about yourself, this a great way to show your partner you are serious about growth.
5) Emphasize Partnership
Remind your partner that, while your relationship has difficulties, you want to “Partner” with him or her to improve the relationship together. Show solidarity, and an openness to do whatever is necessary for a healthy, happy partnership.
6) Make Sure You Mention the Counselor is Neutral
If you have spoken with a couples counselor by telephone, or perhaps even met with a counselor, make sure that you stress to your partner that the counselor is in no way “on your side” but will work with the two of you impartially.
If your partner is worried about the counselor being biased by his or her preliminary contact with you, offer to balance things out by having your partner meet with the counselor alone to “tell your side of the story.” Alternatively, offer to see a new couples counselor, that neither of you have had contact with, as a way to start counseling fresh, together.
7) Suggest a Simple Phone Call
If your partner is nervous about counseling, offer that he or she talk with the counselor by telephone to help him or her get comfortable. A telephone consultation is a great way to ease into the idea of going to couples counseling.
8) Ask, What do you want to get out of Counseling?
If you suggest couples counseling, your partner may have some resistance because it was “your idea” . Help to make couples counseling a shared idea by asking your partner, “Hypothetically, if we were to go to couples counseling, what would you most want to get out of our sessions?” This question may also help your partner to begin thinking about his or her potential gains from couples counseling.
9) Mention the "Even If"
Your partner may say that he or she doesn’t want to go to counseling because there is no hope for the relationship. You can respond to this argument by using “even if.”
The idea here is that “even if” the relationship has “no hope,” counseling can still help the two of you to part on good terms, and may help each of you to learn from the experience so that you don’t make similar mistakes in future relationships.
If your relationship is a marriage, divorce can cost tens (or hundreds) of thousands of dollars if the separation isn’t amicable. Counseling can—at a minimum—help you and your partner create a plan for a civil separation with less litigation.
10) Capture Hope
Hope is everything. Talk to your partner about how you think couples counseling can help. Mention that even though things have been difficult, and even though there is work and repair to be done, you still have hope for the relationship, and for a happy future together. This positivity is a huge first step.
I hope that you have found this information helpful. If your relationship is in distress, discord, or simply could use a little help around particular issues, there are many ways to find an excellent couples counselor in your area, including contacting local counseling associations, or by asking for a referral from your primary care doctor.
Dr. Anthony Centore
Dr. Anthony Centore is a Counselor, Private Practice Consultant for the ACA, and helps counseling practices across the US thrive. For more information go to http://www.thriveworks.com