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What To Do When Your Partner Won't Go To Couples Therapy

Written By Ashley Gray, LCSW, MFTC

That stinging, aggravating feeling when you know your relationship is stuck, you have no idea how to get out of the rut and then your partner absolutely REFUSES to consider therapy is enough to make you want to scream. Maybe they are putting it all on you. "When you figure your stuff out, then we'll be okay." Or maybe they don't think therapy can work. Maybe they are concerned about the time or cost investment. Or they think that therapy isn't valuable or too touchy-feely. Or maybe they simply think that there isn't a problem at all. It can feel incredibly lonely, scary, confusing and sad to have your partner choose to not be on the same page as you. Especially, when the problem or maybe even the beginning of the solution feels so obvious to you.

Three Options For When Your Partner Won't Go To Therapy

It is hard to know what to do when your partner won't go to therapy. It can feel particularly befuddling if you're someone who typically knows what to do. You know how to take charge and make things happen. Then suddenly, you hit a wall with your partner's refusal to go to therapy. You have a few options though. When your partner won't go to therapy you can either 1. Consider asking your partner to join you in engaging in relationship-related courses, books, podcasts, etc 2. Try stating your needs and feelings about attending therapy from a more collaborative stance 3. Go to therapy on your own. I provide more details below.

  1. Asking Your Partner To Join You In Engaging In Relationship-Related Materials

The scariest part of considering therapy for some people is airing personal issues with a stranger. It makes sense that that would feel uncomfortable to some people. However, if your partner is open to books, podcasts, courses or other mental health couple therapy-related resources, this could allow them to learn new skills without the fear of facing a stranger. I encourage you to engage in resources that are created by therapists as therapists are required to get years of education and continuing education and research based skills/tools.

2. Stating Your Needs And Feelings About Attending Therapy From A More Collaborative Stance

Letting your partner know how you feel about where the relationship is at right now in a collaborative way, can make all of the difference. The Gottman's state that 96% of the time, the way that a conversation starts is the way that a conversation will end. Therefore, if you go into a conversation being accusatory it will end with defensive and disconnection. However, if you start out with "I feel" statements and allow space for your partner's needs and perspective, you're far more likely to have a good conversation where you leave feeling connected.

3. Go To Therapy On Your Own

If your partner still isn't ready to go to therapy with you, you can go on your own. I suggest going to a couples therapist even for individual work because they are very knowledgeable on relationship patterns and have a lot of tools related to these patterns. Something that I tell all of my couples, is how important it is to "keep your side of the street clean." What I mean by this is that instead of always focusing on what your partner is doing wrong then, you can look at what you're contributing to the situation. A relationship is a dynamic, so it takes two sides. If your partner is not ready to look at their side of the street, you can still work on your side and see how that impacts your dynamic. Because when you and your partner have created a set pattern in your relationship and one of you does something that deviates from the usual pattern, that opens up the possibility for different reaction. For instance if one of you is often criticizing and then the other becomes defensive, when one of you decides to stop criticizing, then the other may stop being defensive. When one person stops being defensive then the other might feel like they don't have to criticize. For more tips on this read this post and this post. Sometimes when someone sees their partner making changes, putting in the work, this inspires them to do their own work. This, of course, isn't a guarantee.

How you bring the work home can make a difference too. If you're coming home saying, "My therapist thinks that you may be emotionally avoidant" then your partner might just think that your therapist is a judgmental jerk and they are being identified as the problem. This could cause them become even more closed off to the idea of therapy. If you come home and own the anxious parts of your couple pattern that may lead to your partner feeling like they have to become avoidant in response, then they might feel like they have more space to feel like they can make a different decision. Or you can come home from therapy and say, "I'm learning more about attachment patterns and how they might be impacting us, would you be open to hearing about it and trying something new with me?" This is more collaborative as it acknowledges that you each have a part in this and you're inviting your partner to be a teammate in finding a solution rather than talking to them as if they are the problem. If you would like to start to work on your the patterns of your anxious or avoidant attachment, you can learn more from a blog post I wrote here and find free tools to help you calm yourself when you're in your attachment patterns here.

If you're still holding hope for your partner to go to therapy with you, but you know they have fears, consider sharing my blog post "Nervous About Starting Therapy? Read This..." with them. It can help them identify some fears and give them some different ways to think about therapy as well as some ways to go about finding the right therapeutic fit.

The Benefit of Couples Therapy

Your hope for going to couples therapy is valid. Some of the biggest benefits of couples therapy are having a non-biased party present to identify your patterns, you blind spots and give you evidenced-based tools in real-time that can start to change your pattern. It isn't focused on just one person changing their behaviors, it isn't about figuring out who is to blame. It is about identifying the pattern and figuring out how to create a healthier pattern that allows both partners needs to be met. While you're right to think that couples therapy could be helpful, I still encourage you to be patient with your partner while they are experiencing hesitations. You can do this by being gently curious about what is holding them back, validating their emotions and experiences and collaborating with them in problem-solving around those problems. This understanding from your side of things allows them to see your kindest and feeler safer in the relationship. When we feel safe in relationships, we are more likely to feel safe enough to take a risk like going to therapy.

If You're The One Who Feels Skeptical About Going To Therapy

They say the best time to go to therapy is when your partner asks you. And I do mean the first time that they ask you. I understand why you may have some trepidation. It is a difficult process. You have to interview different therapists, put in considerable time, energy and money into the process and then have many difficult conversations as a part of the therapeutic process. It is a lot of work. I can also tell you as a therapist and someone who has been a therapy client themselves, who you get to be on the other side of the work and what you get to experience is incredible. I would not be the person I am today without therapy. I wouldn't have the healthy relationships in my life that I cherish so much. I would not have experienced some of the most breathtaking adventures that I have experienced. And I wouldn't be able to trust myself and others in the way that I can now if it weren't for therapy. If you still have some nerves, consider reading this article about facing your nervousness regarding the start to your therapy journey.

It is okay to feel scared about starting your journey with couples therapy. It is also okay to do it while you're scared. You don't have to wait until everything is perfect to finally go to therapy. If you're waiting until things are perfect, you'll never go. When you go when you're scared you help yourself learn that you can do hard things and build your confidence. Also, when you go to couples therapy sooner rather than later your more likely to still have some warm feelings toward your partner (and them towards you), which makes it easier to do the work. The longer you wait, the more resentment that could accumulate to make the work harder and cause you to be in therapy for longer as you have to spend more time trying to rebuild things like trust and friendship. Therapy may feel like a risk, but it is also a risk to allow things to continue as they have. The risk of change that comes with therapy also allows for the possibility of positive growth in a way that doing nothing does not allow. I hope you choose a way forward that allows both you and your partner to experience brighter days.

I'm wishing you the best on your healing journey! :)

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This post is written by individual and couples therapist, Ashley Gray of Arvada, Colorado. Ashley works with her clients using Gottman Method Couples Therapy, EMDR Trauma Therapy, Prepare and Enrich, attachment focused therapy and techniques from Emotionally Focused Therapy, Couples Intensives and EMDR Intensives. As a therapist, she is passionate about helping people build healthy relationships and supporting people with the resources they need. In her free time, Ashley hikes, paddle boards, reads, spends time with her husband and her cuddly dog. For more information about Ashley and her practice, click here.


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