Couples counseling can be challenging, even for a seasoned therapist. It’s challenging because couples usually come in for therapy as a last ditch effort to save their marriage, instead of coming in at the first signs of trouble. For many, the warning signs were present years ago, but the couple never sought professional help. All too often I hear a spouse complain, “I tried many times to get us help but they just wouldn’t go to therapy”. The sad reality is that by the time that partner realizes that the marriage is in major trouble and they are finally willing to make much needed changes, the relationship has usually died a death of a thousand cuts, and one or both parties are ready to end it. Once they realize that that the marriage is indeed over, my role often changes from trying to help save the marriage to counseling the couple through divorce proceedings.
I believe that many of these marriages could have been saved had the couple sought help early on. For the ones that couldn’t have been saved, even with the help of a trained therapist, early intervention can often be the difference between a civil parting of the ways, and a contentious divorce that can be very costly and emotionally exhausting.
Before I get into how to talk to your partner about going to therapy, it is important to understand some of the reasons they probably doesn’t want to go in the first place. Let’s start with the fact that people like to fix things themselves, and going to counseling means having to admit there is a problem that needs fixing, that they haven’t been able to fix themselves. Most are generally not very good at expressing their emotions, and feel inadequate talking to their spouse about how they feel, let alone adding another person into the process. If your significant other is the controlling type, they definitely have little interest in having a therapist point that out, and risk losing control. Some may have had a negative experience with counseling in the past, so they have the perception that all counseling is ineffective. And last, but certainly not least, therapy does cost money and they may feel there are competing financial needs that have higher priority.
So how do you increase your odds of getting them to participate in the process? I would start by saying that timing is everything. You wouldn’t ask your boss for a raise when they were in a bad mood, would you? The same advice goes for approaching your spouse about counseling. Try to find a time when emotions are low and logic is high, when they will be more receptive to your message. The middle of a major blowout is never a good time to bring up counseling, unless, of course, you enjoy rejection. Let your spouse know that you don’t want to go to counseling to bash them for their shortcomings, but to allow a trained third party professional to assess and help treat the dynamics between the two of you, which are keeping you from having a happy marriage. If they still refuse, it is important that you question why they do not want to go. Sometimes they may not even know why. Make sure you use “I” statements when you discuss your feelings, instead of the accusatory “you”. You may also suggest that they take an active part in the process by choosing the gender of the therapist your spouse feels comfortable with, or let them decide whether they would prefer to go to an office or have the therapist come to the home. Giving your partner choices will help them feel in control of their participation.
If all else fails, you can always go to therapy yourself. Because a marriage is a “system”, a change in one person, often effects a change in the system. That is if you are willing to look at your own issues and how they contribute to marital discord, and not just blame everything on the other half. Ironically, some actually start going to therapy after they see positive changes in their significant other.
Whether you decide to try counseling as a couple, or by yourself, finding the right therapist for you is important. Let Coherence Associates be your first stop in the process. If we are not the right fit, we will help you find someone who is. The most important thing is that you get started; waiting too long has the potential to further damage the relationship. We all know relationships can be challenging, and they take time and investment to run smoothly. Anything of great value in life requires attention, and tools to grow with. Focusing on your relationship, as a top priority in your life, may be the greatest investment you’ll ever make!