One partner is adamant about starting couples counseling while the other is against it.
This is super common!
Handling this depends on the underlying reason behind the resistance to couples therapy. The most common ones I’ve seen fall into 3 categories.
Lack of Knowledge
One common reason for not wanting to attend couples counseling is a lack of knowledge about what actually happens in couples counseling.
For many people, their idea of couples therapy comes only from TV and movies. And given how it’s been portrayed in the media, I don’t blame your partner for not wanting to come!
If this is the case, more information about what real couples therapy looks like may help. Encourage your partner to be open to reading up on it here, and talking with me by phone about the couples counseling process.
Also, ask if your partner is willing to attend at least one session of couples counseling.
To be clear, results cannot be achieved with just one session. But after the first session of couples counseling your partner will have a feel for how it works and can consider if it’s something they would be willing to continue.
The Therapy Room is a Boxing Ring
Another common reason for resistance to couples counseling is fear that the therapy room will become just another weekly outlet to fight about the relationship problems.
Many have concerns that it’ll become a second place (outside of the house) for their partner to hurl blame and negative accusations their way. And in fairness, when couples counseling is not conducted appropriately – oftentimes due to an inexperienced therapist or one who isn’t well trained in couples work – this is exactly what happens, session after session.
Problems will need to be discussed during sessions and complaints will be brought up. But couples counseling should not be used to constantly beat your partner over the head with everything you feel they are doing wrong.
If your partner is concerned about this, validate his or her concern. And let them know that you plan to take your fair share of responsibility for the relationship problems.
Oftentimes, people are far more willing to attend couples counseling if they know that they partner will take a hard look at their own faults and work hard to make sure their needs are met as well.
Sample of One
Another common reason for not wanting to do couples therapy is what I call the “sample of one” problem.
Basically, your partner had this one friend who once went to couples therapy with his or her partner, and they ended up splitting up or divorced!
Yes, that does happen. Couples do attend couples therapy and later end up apart but not usually for the reasons people may think.
More often than not, this happens to couples who were having severe problems for a long time (several years in many cases!) and waited too late to get help. So while it may look like “couples therapy caused they’re divorce” it’s not quite that simple.
Remember, back in college… research methods 101: “correlation does not equal causation.”
That’s not to say that there aren’t horror stories out there and therapists who have no business working with couples! Sadly, there are rare cases when couples therapy may have caused more harm than good.
However, if your partner heard one or two stories where therapy didn’t help it may be helpful to take a closer look at the situations that are scaring them off and put them in context.
How many people do they know who have actually done couples therapy? With a licensed therapist with specific training in couples therapy? And how many sessions did the couple in mind actually attend? Did they have marital problems for 10 years, try 2 sessions, and declare to everyone they knew “it didn’t work!”
While these are fair questions, it’s also fair for your partner to have concerns. Opening up your relationship problems to a stranger – even if they are a trained professional – is not for the faint of heart. And admitting that you need help is hard for all of us. Be patient and try to validate your partner’s concerns!
Decisions to Make
- Am I willing to hear my partner’s concerns about therapy are talk through them with him or her?
- Can I be patient if it takes my partner some time to be open to the idea of couples counseling?
- Am I willing to focus on the things within my own control and work on my role in our relationship if he or she never says “yes” to couples therapy?
In the end, if your partner is completely unwilling to attend couples counseling with you please know that it is possible to work on relationship problems in individual therapy. See more on how to do that here.