Research shows that the average couple waits through six years of unhappiness before seeking help. Life is short, but six years is a long time to feel resentful or unsettled.
Relationship counseling can help couples improve communication, strengthen intimacy, and increase their overall quality of life. Even just a few sessions can make a significant difference in learning new ways to interact and respect one another.
But what happens if your partner refuses to go? You might feel annoyed, but should you keep bringing it up? Should you reevaluate the relationship altogether? Here are some helpful tips to remember.
Get curious about their resistance
Validate their concerns
Assert why you want counseling
Emphasize the investment
Ask if they’re open to an alternative
Look for a therapist together
Ask if they will go once
Go to therapy yourself
Know the risk of an ultimatum
First things first: why don’t they want to go? You might think you know the answer, but it’s imperative that you hear it from them directly.
There are many explanations for why someone doesn’t want counseling. Your partner might think it’s too expensive. They may have had a bad experience with a therapist in the past. They may think you two don’t need it, or they don’t want a stranger hearing their problems.
Try to listen openly and curiously to these explanations. Don’t jump on them and tell them why they’re wrong. Don’t criticize or laugh at their feelings. Instead, show your genuine desire to understand their motives.
Once you understand their resistance, it’s helpful to validate their feelings. For example, if they feel annoyed by the cost, you might say, Yes, I know we’ve been struggling with money lately. I completely get where you’re coming from.
Of course, don’t say something you don’t mean. Validation needs to be authentic and genuine. But if you care about your partner’s well-being, you should be able to find the compassion to recognize their fears.
Be direct with why you think it’s essential for you two to work on your relationship. Outline your concerns explicitly. In doing this, aim to be objective and responsible for your own emotions.
For example, it isn’t helpful to say, You’re always flirting with other people. I’m pretty sure you’re cheating on me, and that’s why we need therapy.
Instead, you should consider using an I-statement and reframe the situation by saying something like, I feel insecure when you flirt with other people. I’m worried about trust and boundaries in our relationship. I know that I struggle with fearing abandonment, but I’d like for us to get counseling to discuss reasonable limits with one another. I love you so much, and I genuinely want us to be happy together.
Make it known that you aren’t blaming your partner for all the relationship problems. Instead, you should acknowledge your part in the dynamic. After identifying that, emphasize how you want to work on bettering yourself.
Relationship counseling is an investment in short-term and long-term happiness. While there are no guarantees in therapy, couples who commit to this process often:
- Identify problematic patterns that they want to change
- Learn healthier methods to express their needs to one another
- Cultivate more insight into their partner’s triggers and needs
- Discover new ways to connect and restore intimacy
- Come together as a united team when encountering stressors
When broaching the topic of counseling with your partner, make sure to emphasize the benefits that matter most to you. Highlight that you are committed to growth and willing to compromise and even make sacrifices to improve your relationship.
No matter how much you want relationship counseling, forcing your partner will almost always backfire. If that’s the case, consider exploring different options. You might even say, I hear that you don’t want to do relationship counseling. What can we try instead?
Maybe, for instance, they’re willing to try a couples retreat, life coaching, online counseling, or another form of mental health support. Perhaps they agree to read a relationship book or complete a couples therapy workbook with you.
In most cases, trying anything is better than doing nothing. Try to give your partner the benefit of the doubt by giving their option a chance.
Some people feel nervous about starting counseling because they aren’t sure if they will mesh with a potential therapist. They might worry about being judged or someone taking sides.
Looking for a therapist together may alleviate some of this stress. Ask your partner if they’re willing to search for providers with you. You can both narrow down what’s most important to you (i.e. location, cost, therapist modality, therapist age) to make an executive decision.
Your partner might assume that counseling is a waste of time or money, particularly if they’ve had negative experiences. These are legitimate concerns. But, at the very least, asking your partner if they’re willing to attend just one session may be beneficial.
You might say, I know you’ve voiced being against this idea, and I really respect that. But it’s so important to me that I give it a chance. Would you be willing to just go one time, and then we can reassess?
If your partner agrees, make sure that you thoroughly check in with them after the session. What did they think of it? How do they feel about moving forward? Do they need anything else to feel more comfortable with treatment?
If your partner continues to refuse counseling, you should still consider seeking your own support. You cannot control your partner, but individual therapy can help you process your relationship issues and focus on your own healing.
Even if you ultimately want to improve your relationship, individual treatment can support this goal. Therapy can teach you more about your own triggers and patterns and help you develop better skills for managing stress.
You naturally take these insights and skill sets home with you, and that can evoke positive change in your relationship. This, in turn, may even motivate your partner to seek counseling themselves.
If you are struggling in your relationship, you may be tempted to issue an ultimatum if your partner refuses counseling. But before you do that, you should consider the following.
You must be 100% willing to implement the boundary: Ultimatums are truly only effective when you do what you say you will do. Threatening a breakup or divorce becomes meaningless (and toxic) if you don’t intend to end the relationship.
Some partners will agree to attend therapy but won’t participate: Nobody likes being pressured to do something they don’t want to do. Your partner might oblige to your request, but if they refuse to open up to the process, you’re wasting your time and money.
If this is an ongoing pattern, it may be time to reevaluate the relationship: If your partner has no desire to grow or change, you need to consider your priorities. How happy are you in this relationship? If they refuse to get help, do you still want to be with them?
Relationship counseling can be extremely valuable for couples looking to strengthen their connection. But if your partner isn’t on board just yet, it’s essential to balance patience and compassion with assertiveness.
Remember why you’re with your partner, and keep reminding yourself why you love them. Likewise, make it known that you want to continue prioritizing your relationship to its full potential.