How to get a Reluctant Partner to Counseling

You cannot make anyone do anything.  Most people who don’t want to come to counseling fall into one of the following groups:

  • Don’t want to be blamed for everything wrong in the marriage or relationship
  • Don’t want to be embarrassed in front of a counselor
  • Believe couples should be able to solve their own problems
  • Who does a counselor think he or she is to tell them how to do their marriage or relationship?
  • It costs too much.
  • It’s not going to do any good anyway.
  • Don’t want to fight in a counselor’s office
  • Don’t think the marriage or relationship is so bad, so you must be the one who needs help.

Here I’m going to focus just on “how do you get a reluctant partner to counseling?” 

1)  The first thing is to tell your partner you want to talk about something important related to your marriage or relationship and ask if it is a good time to talk for 5-10 minutes.  If it is NOT a good time for them, try to suggest a specific time frame within the next 24 hours.  For example, “can we do it after the game?”, or “how about tonight after you get the kids to bed”, etc.   This helps them not feel ambushed.

2)  When you sit down to talk, tell your partner that your marriage or relationship is very important to you, that there are some things that are going well (find at least one example or more).  However, there are also some things bothering you that you want to fix so that you, and perhaps, they can be happier and more fulfilled in the marriage/relationship.

3)  Tell him or her that you are not interested in pointing fingers, and that you know that both of you create the quality of the relationship by everything you do, say or fail to do and say.  It’s never just one person.  (Trust me, this is true, even if you think it is just the other person’s fault!)   If you know something you do that is probably not helpful to the quality of the relationship, own it.  (For example, “I know that one of the things I do is __________   nag, criticize, don’t always show appreciation, am stressed out at work and bring it home, etc.)

4)  Say (if it is true), that you have tried to make things better, and maybe they have too, in their own way, but that you want your marriage/relationship to be more fulfilling, fun, alive, connected.  You would like the two of you to go together to a marriage or relationship counselor to learn more tools and skills to help both of you make the relationship better for both of you.  You don’t want to feel more and more disconnected or feel like you both have to walk on eggshells (or whatever is true for you).

5)  Assure them that this is not about blame or shame or who’s right or wrong.  It’s about how to make the relationship better for both of you.  (At least, that’s what it is about in my office.  I cannot speak for other counselors.)

Often, when a partner realizes that it is not about finger-pointing and making each other the ‘bad’ one, they are more willing to go to counseling.  They also are more likely to attend when they realize that you want to help the marriage or relationship because you value them and your life together, and that it needs to be more of what you BOTH want – even if you want different things.

6)  Tell them the kind of counselor you are looking for, that you have done some research (if you have) and that you would like them come to at least one session at the very least to help the counselor hear their perspective.  To hear only one side of the story is not helpful.  It is very important for a counselor to hear the concerns and experiences of BOTH partners, not just one.  After the first session, both of you can decide whether or not you want to continue or not, or whether they want to find another counselor if it is not a good fit for either of you.

Listen to their concerns:

7)  When your partner objects or says they don’t want to go, do not interrupt or defend.  Instead, be curious.  Ask what their concerns are about getting some help.

8)  If they just blurt out something like “I’m not wasting time and money on that”  (or whatever the objection is), take a breath and try to step into their shoes.  Try to imagine why it makes perfect sense that they think or feel the way they do.    For example:

Example A: 
“It makes sense you don’t want to waste time and money – we both work hard and with the economy the way it is, it goes out quicker than it comes in.  It also makes sense that you don’t want to just throw it at something that you’re not even sure would help.   Is that right?”

Example B:
"It makes sense you are reluctant to go. It is scary, especially when we don't know the person yet. You might worry about being blamed or it just turning into a fight. I also know that you pride yourself in being a person who takes charge of things, you're a private person and you think we should just handle our own issues. Is that right?"

Work to make sense of what they are saying, whether or not you agree.  Then after you make sense, say why it is important to you and to your relationship with this person you love – and if you have any ideas about how to meet both your concern and theirs, suggest it.

Sample response to Example A above"I respect your concerns and I know the economy is tough right now. I don't want to waste money either. At the same time, I want us to be closer and happier and we have tried what we know but it hasn't worked. And I agree that we should just throw money at something that might not work. I think we should both discuss it after the first session to decide if we think it can help us, discuss with the counselor about how long -- and then make our decision. Our marriage/relationship is too important to both of us not to try to learn some tools to help us. It's like hearing a noise in the car. You might ignore it a little while, but if it continues or gets worse, we spend the money to fix it. I think our marriage is making some noises (even if it is silence!)"

Sample response to Example B above"One of the things I like about you is your strength, independence and desire to fix things that happen in our life. But I know you've tried in your way and I've tried in mine, but I think we both can make this happier for both of us with a little help. I'm not interested in blaming or fighting either and I want counseling that is not going to do that. I think we can learn some skills and tools to work more effectively together in those touchy places we have. I don't envision it as a long term thing. We learn some things and then we CAN work more on our own. I would like you to come to one session and see and then we'll decide later if we want to continue. Are you willing?"

10)  If they have questions or concerns, feel free to call me at 631.692.9689.

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