- Isabelle Morley, PsyD
It Takes Two- Part 2: How to Encourage Your Partner to Try Couples Therapy
Now that you know why your partner isn't excited about couples therapy, here are some ways to gently encourage them to consider it.
Perhaps you have a better understanding of why your partner isn't interested in going to couples therapy, but you still want to try it. Remember that it's not uncommon for one person to be excited to try therapy and their partner to be, well, not excited. If that's the situation you find yourself in, below are some strategies that might make them more open to considering or trying couples therapy.
Hear Them Out
After reading Part 1 of this series, now you know some of the reasons behind their hesitation. Before you dive into convincing them why you think they're wrong, stop and really consider what they're saying. If they're willing to talk about their concerns and worries, listen to what they're saying. Validate their perspective, explain that you understand them and that their feelings make sense.
Remember, validating another person's perspective isn't the same thing as agreeing with that perspective. You can have a very different point of view, but still validate your partner's feelings. Validation means that you see their side, that they aren't crazy for thinking or feeling the way that they do, and you can understand why they feel a certain way even if you don't feel the same way.
Try One of Their Ideas, Too
Does your partner think you should try making a new routine as a way to solve issues with scheduling? Go ahead, establish a clear routine and see if it helps. Do they want to trade off who does the dishes each night, or who takes out the trash, or who is in charge of feeding the dog? Try trading off chores for a week or two. Did your partner read about a strategy for communicating that they think will help? Next time you're arguing, use the strategy with them.
If you're willing to try some of their ideas for how to make things better, chances are they will be more willing to try your ideas, too. Meeting in the middle is an effective strategy (and good practice at compromise). So go ahead and try something that they think will help. After all, what's there to lose? As long as their idea isn't something that could damage your relationship, try an approach they suggested. Remember, you are both trying to improve your relationship even though you might have different ideas about how to do that.
Let Them Find the Therapist...
If your partner is nervous about couples therapy, maybe they'll feel better if they pick the therapist (or a few) that looks promising. That way they have some control over this process, plus it might make them feel more invested. Another perk? Therapists usually schedule a brief phone consultation prior to a first session so that they can make sure they are a good fit for what you need, and if your partner does this call they won't worry that the therapist is biased against them.* If your partner speaks with the therapist for the initial consultation, they can share their perspective and feel reassured that they won't be seen as "the problem" going into the first session.
* A good couples therapist won't be biased. Even if they only hear from one person before the first session, they know there are always two sides to each story. The goal for the therapist is to support the couple, not an individual.
...Or, You Find the Therapist
Perhaps your partner has agreed to try couples therapy but they're not interested in doing the work of finding and vetting a therapist. If that's the case, why don't you take the lead? Research therapists, ask friends or other therapists for referrals, and schedule some phone consultations. You won't be sharing the burden of finding a clinician with your partner, but if trying therapy is important to you (and not so much to your partner), then taking the lead will be worth it. Just remember, don't get hung up on the fact that your partner isn't helping with this. Instead, focus on your goal: to find a great therapist and start couples therapy with your partner.
Decide on a Therapist Together
You might find a therapist that you think is great but... your partner doesn't agree. If this happens you'll need to hear them out about why they don't like the therapist, and then talk about finding a different person to meet with. Reassure your partner (before you start therapy) that they can veto a couples therapist if they don't feel comfortable with that clinician. Tell them that you both need to agree that the therapist is the right fit.
Now, that being said, you also want to avoid "therapist hopping," where you have 1-2 sessions with lots of different therapists, since this will prevent you from making any progress in your goals and might leave you both feeling discouraged. But if you have an initial session and your partner can tell right away that they don't want to keep working with that therapist, it's time to look into some other options. After all, you'd want a veto in the same scenario.
Create Shared Goals for Therapy
If your partner decides to try couples therapy with you, spend some time discussing shared goals. Do you both want to communicate better when you're arguing? Do you want to feel closer to each other? Do you need to make a big decision together, like whether to not to have children? Whatever the problem might be, find what you both want to change or improve.
During this discussion, avoid focusing on one-sided goals. For example, maybe you think your partner isn't ambitious enough and needs to work harder at their career, or you think they're selfish and should help more around the house. It's perfectly valid to feel that way and want that change, but talking about these partner-specific things as the goal of couples therapy is likely to make your partner feel attacked, defensive, and less interested in therapy (where they imagine two people will gang up on them). You want to keep your partner invested in therapy by framing it as a chance for both of you to get what you want- better communication, more intimacy, forgiveness for past transgressions, whatever it might be.
Find things that you both want to change or improve. State the goals in a positive, solution-focused way. Don't engage in blame or defensiveness. Instead, be a team while you decide how to make your relationship the best that it can be.
What if They're Still Not Interested?
If you've tried everything and your partner still doesn't want to do couples therapy, you can't force them. Even if it's a choice you don't agree with, you need to respect their autonomy. Don't badger or bully them, don't threaten or coerce them, and don't engage in any abusive behaviors to try to get your way. These are never appropriate responses to not getting what you want.
If your partner isn't willing to try couples therapy and nothing else has worked, remember that you always have the option to leave. It might not be the outcome you were hoping for, but it's important to remember that you always have a choice.