Perhaps your partner can't shake a perceived stigma of therapy, has a sense of shame in the (false) notion that seeking a professional means they can't fix an issue themselves, or fears being vulnerable and expressing emotions in front of a third party. Whatever the reason is that your partner won't go to therapy, they may be reduced upon remembering that there's always room for improvement in romantic relationships—even decidedly healthy ones.
“If you want [the relationship] to thrive and grow, you have to tend to it, nurture it, and help it flourish." —Tracy Ross, LCSW
For instance, going to couples therapy can be helpful for breaking repetitive patterns, navigating issues related to intimacy and sex, and merely wanting to improve communication. “Most, if not all, long-term relationships could benefit from counseling at some point in time,” says couples and family therapist Tracy Ross, LCSW. “If you want [the relationship] to thrive and grow, you have to tend to it, nurture it, and help it flourish."
With that in mind, read on for five expert-backed strategies to convince your partner who won't go to therapy to give it a try.
If your partner won't go to therapy with you, these 5 strategies may change their mind
1. Listen to your partner’s reasons for not wanting to go to couples counseling.
If your partner's already expressed that they don't want to go to therapy (and it sounds like that is the case here), broaching the subject may well lead them to get a bit defensive. To keep the conversation productive, make sure to listen to their point of view rather than steamroll them with yours.
Your partner may have their own ideas about what therapy is, and those ideas might not align with yours. For this reason, Erika Moreira, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family counselor, says it’s helpful to provide a compassionate space for your partner to share their concerns.
When we genuinely listen to our partners (rather than being ready to refute), Ross says “they are much more likely to loosen up on a position.” From here, she says a useful tactic is to “emphasize that you want...to improve the relationship just as much as you want your partner to [and] give examples” of some of the areas that you feel have room for improvement.
2. Find a therapist you’re comfortable with, and ask your partner to have a brief chat with them prior to your first session.
This strategy can help convince your partner to try couples counseling because there’s no real commitment for actually going to therapy just yet. Additionally, this provides the opportunity to talk to an expert and get potential misconceptions straightened out.
“A good couples therapist should be very clear that the counseling isn’t about taking sides and should never ever make anyone feel they are in the one down position,” says Ross, who also encourages couples to try individual sessions with a therapist before committing. Solo sessions provide an avenue for each person to express their fears or objections without external reaction and an opportunity for your partner to ask questions and share concerns about therapy itself.
3. Suggest starting with a limited number of sessions.
There’s a reason many folks dip their toe in a pool before jumping in: It's human nature to want to know what it is we're getting ourselves into. So, if your partner is hesitant about couples counseling, suggesting a limited number of sessions to start can help ease their anxiety about the ongoing process. Ultimately, this can lead your partner to have an open mind about going to therapy. And since, again, all romantic relationships can benefit from couples counseling, it’s likely that your partner will see the positive impact of counseling, which can be encouraging as you reassess your therapy needs.
4. Consult friends and family who have gone to couples counseling.
“I would encourage you to...have a conversation about how [couples counseling] was for them,” says Moreira. “Sometimes, this normalizes couples therapy, and partners are willing to give it a shot.” Talking to people you know and love about their experience with couples therapy can help your partner move away from the stigmas that they associate with therapy and help them see that it does help.
5. Reiterate that couples counseling ultimately aims to improve the relationship.
Ross says there’s a lot that gets brushed under the rug in the name of avoiding confrontation and vulnerability—which, in many cases, stems from the fear of being judged or the relationship ending.
“I’ve had couples reveal or bring up things in sessions that they have been keeping from their partner for years,” says Ross. “The fear is that the withheld information will be met with anger, disbelief, or a feeling of betrayal.” However, she adds, this is hardly ever the case.
“Most of the time, the partner is so relieved to finally hear what’s been going on,” Ross says. It makes sense; talking with your partner about what you’ve been thinking and feeling means that, as a couple, you can actually do something about it and start working toward improving the relationship.
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