Choose a time of day when your partner is able to listen and consider your request without distractions, such as at dinner one night. Do not begin the conversation in the midst of a problem, unless there will be clear agreement that you both need help. Do not discuss problems in the bedroom, or as you are going to bed.
The day after a fight is concluded, when the emotional response is cooled but the memory of the pain of conflict is still there, is a good time to start a motivated conversation that could go like this.
You can even avoid the words “therapy”, “therapist”, “counseling” or “counselor”, which to some people imply problems, fault-finding, blame, or even mental illness (mistakenly of course!)
Avoid ultimatums and threats, which may seem to succeed in forcing them to attend, but typically create a great deal of resistance and non-cooperation that is extremely difficult to overcome. It is better to focus on the positive, rather than on the negative. Suggest that you want to attend because “there is some stuff between us that could be easier, or more problem-free”, and “make our relationship even better.” You might say “Sometimes I don’t know how to best support our relationship. Is that also true for you? I want us to learn how.”
Men in particular may have a dislike of what they imagine therapy to be, particularly if they see it as challenging their competence, shaming them, or focusing on feelings too much. Ask for their help, and give them a chance to have their input and fix the situation. You may present it as a couple tune-up, where they will learn procedures and techniques that make their life and relationship flow more smoothly and have fewer problems. Do not put on a big “sales job”, but allow them to explore this web site on their own. Afterwards, ask them and see if it makes sense for them, or what they would prefer. In addition to this service, you may provide another alternative practitioner, or offer that they can suggest their own.
Ask your partner what improvements they might want to see in the relationship. Offer the idea that getting along better means more for your partner as well as for you: perhaps more or better sex! Invite them to come and have a say.
Start by assuming they will be a hero for agreeing, rather than a disappointment for refusing. If you like, tell us when booking that your partner is reluctant, and it would be better if he or she had a “pain-free” session. Tell them that there is a no-charge introductory session, and that they are not under any obligation to return.
If necessary, tell them that you could attend on your own, but it would be so important to you to have them come along. Lastly, you can escalate that you will go alone if necessary, but you feel it is a chance for beneficial change, and you do not want to leave them behind. If you make a commitment to therapy, the relationship is bound to change, regardless of whether or not your partner participates.
Soon after you attend any individual session, find an appropriate time to tell them in a conversational way what you learned. This will keep them up to date, show them that it is not threatening, and not about you vilifying them. Especially tell them about how you are working on making the relationship better for them, giving examples of that, and asking them for their help in you doing so. If they criticize or make fun of it, do not react defensively or counterattack. Just inform them of that you are finding it helpful in making things run smoother between the two of you. And tell them they are quite welcome to come with you next time, and that would really please you.
It is unfortunate that those people who can most benefit from counselling are often most reluctant to use it. Why would that be?
People who are stuck in pain, distress, and dysfunction often want things to change. But, they do not want to change themselves, because that would feel like correction, which would imply that some incompetence or moral failure, something “wrong” with them. Particularly at times of stress, we can all confuse our superficial thoughts, words, and actions with our core self. And we all have powerful natural defenses against feeling shame like that.
It’s much more comfortable for us to dismiss the problem, or blame it on someone else, especially our intimate partner.
But good counsellors do not think of that as a moral failing, since the tendency to protect oneself is a completely natural reaction.
It may help to realize that counselling is not correction — it is support. However, it is not support for maintaining the unhelpful thoughts, feelings, words, actions that keep us stuck. It is support for understanding and acknowledging the beneficial desires, values, and intent that make our core identity, leading to support for change in those more superficial aspects of ourselves. We can become better selves, growing through our natural desires to improve ourselves, and appreciate, , and connect with others.
“Marriage is our last, best chance to grow up.” — Joseph Barth
In many ways, your intimate relationship reflects how you deal with the world at large. During the process of working on your relationship, you also have an opportunity to learn about yourself. You may also come to understand why you have been having these problems to begin with, and become able to remove other obstacles to progress elsewhere in your life. There is no stronger base for improving yourself than someone who knows and supports and loves you completely.
Some people continue to dart from one partner to the next, setting sparks, hoping to find the one that sets their heart on fire so intensely that they think the flame will never die. They never get to the real enduring warmth of the embers that is true committed love.
What’s remarkable about our culture is that most rom-coms and pop songs are not really about relationships – they are actually about the start of relationships. That blissful period of discovery and possibility represents and encourages an idealized view of relationships. It suggests that love is all you need, love will keep us together, and love conquers all. The couple overcomes the obstacles (often their own comical obtuseness) that kept them apart, and the wedding at the end caps the theme that the couple is a single entity held together solely by the power of the force, love. It’s a beautiful fairy tale I call “The Illusion of Mutuality”.
IRL, of course, the wedding is actually a beginning, and of a whole new phase when the force of love is often not enough. When the inevitable stumbles occur, the illusion is broken, and new couples may be shocked to find the support of their love that seemed so steady and surefooted disappears, at least for a while.
A sudden sense of panic, a demand to bring back that loving feeling, may help couples bounce back after a short while and regain their footing. They apologize and make up, maybe stifle their desire for better in order to keep the peace, and hope for the best in the future. They think they have learned how to get along, but what they may have learned is what topics to avoid and how to compromise their dreams, or what they have to beware of losing and how impossible their spouse can be. For too many, repeating and worsening struggles or coldness eventually produces such prolonged dysfunction and damage, they can’t do it any longer.
Too bad the wedding and romance industry won’t allow advertising about pre-marital counselling anywhere near their happiest-day packages. Few newlyweds are willing to taint their dream by imagining that they could possibly be in the half of couples that eventually divorce.
Why bet against the odds? Get some insurance to improve your chances.