How Do I Get My Partner To Come To Couples Counseling?
I’ve been working with couples for over 25 years and to be honest, it is usually one fed-up partner that forces the issue and brings the sometimes reluctant other into counseling. This doesn’t always bode well for the outcome, as in general we participate more fully in activities that we jointly choose.
On the other hand, the research shows that the majority of couples enter counseling on average six years after they determine that they have a problem. Delay never helps to create a good prognosis for treating the relationship. On the bright side, seeking support at any point is better than not seeking support.
So how to support your partner to commit to couples counseling? I’d begin by doing some advanced work in seeking out a few experienced couples counselors and making sure one or more of them feel like a good fit for you (contact me if you need support in how best to do this). Once you have some options, you are ready to have the “talk” with your partner.
First, timing is everything. Don’t initiate this conversation when you’re angry or hurt or reactive or they are. Wait until you’re both in a relatively stable time and hopefully in a positive mood.
Don’t point fingers or blame at them. That is the worst way to have someone open up. In fact, they will most likely become defense and shut down. Begin the conversation by acknowledging that the relationship has some issues and that you would like to work on them. Share how important the relationship is to you, how important they are to you. Speak of the good that you’ve shared. speak of your positive feelings, about you love.
Next, own your part in the issues, in what isn’t working. Take responsibility for your contribution to what isn’t working. Share your fears and concerns. Be vulnerable and honest and it is more likely that your partner will as well.
Admit that you feel that you’ve tried everything you can to improve the relationship, and that you feel stuck, yet still hopeful. State that you believe that the next step is to seek outside support from a professional.
Now, pause and be quiet! Listen to how your partner responds. Listen with your ears, with your eyes, with your heart.
They may agree. They may disagree. They may have many objections to starting counseling. Some that I have heard include:
- It’s not that bad, we’re doing okay.
- I’m a private person, I don’t want to share my dirty laundry with a stranger.
- I don’t have time for that.
- I don’t have money for that.
- It’s too late for us.
Don’t address their concerns, simply listen to them. When they are done, remind them of all the reasons that you want to have a better relationship, what the benefits would look like, what the benefits of a better relationship would feel like.
Next, let them know that you’ve spoken to several experienced couples counselors that you feel might be a good fit. Ask your partner to speak by telephone to one or more of them so that they might assess if it might be a good fit. In general, I like to connect with both partners before scheduling a first couples counseling session, to make sure both members are “buying in” to the idea of counseling. I imagine other counselors would do the same. If they are not willing to, they might not be the best fit for you.
If they are not willing to either consult with a counselor by telephone or simply commit to at least one session, you have a decision to make. Just as when I am working with my clients, I sometimes have to have a “sh*t or get off the pot” discussion to challenge their commitment or lack of commitment to the process, you might have to do the same.
I don’t recommend making hard ultimatums, yet sometimes that is the only strategy left. . Reiterate how important this is to you, how important your partner and the relationship are to you. Let them know you speak of this from love, yet you also love yourself enough to push the both of you past your comfort zone to get the support you believe you need.
It’s not always easy, yet couples counseling, sooner than later, CAN make a difference. Please contact me if I may support you any further in this uncomfortable, yet so very important issue.
Dr. Adam Sheck