By: Cassie Finegan, MFTC
Relationships are beautiful, but they’re also challenging at times and these challenges can be difficult to overcome without the resources to address and work through them. When both partners are open and honest about these challenges and willing to face them together, couple therapy can be a wonderful resource to overcome their challenges. When solvable problems become unresolved issues and lead to disconnection, the security and comfort that relationships provide can fade. This may be the point at which one partner is ready to seek professional support from a counselor but is receiving resistance from their partner.
So how do you begin to approach your partner about attending couple therapy before it becomes too late? And remember, couple therapy doesn’t have to be a last-ditch effort before the dissolution of the relationship; couple therapy is also often used as a preventative measure to improve communication skills and understanding, address your sex life, resolve issues or arguments you’re stuck in, and generally reconnect with the love that exists within the relationship.
Timing, Timing, Timing
Researchers suggest that the best time to discuss beginning couple therapy is not during or shortly after an argument. Begin this discussion when you are free of other various distractions, rather than suggesting it in response to an argument or conflict in the moment as this may result in your partner feeling blamed for the conflict or falling short in some way. In other words, suggesting couple therapy during moments of tension can put your partner on the defense and they may reject the idea of couple therapy in order to protect their own feelings of insecurity and vulnerability.
When approaching the subject, you’ll want to avoid placing blame on your partner which may mean reframing some of your challenges into areas of growth. For example, instead of stating “We should go to couple therapy because we can’t stop fighting about how to spend our money”, you could reframe that as “Honey, I think we could both really benefit from some support in shifting how we talk about our financial differences. It can be really difficult to discuss this when we’re both stuck in our own beliefs and opinions on the subject, maybe some outside perspective and guidance could be beneficial”.
After bringing up wanting couple therapy, ask them what they think/feel about this idea. It’s possible they will be hesitant or even resistant to the idea, so give them space to explain why this resistance is showing up. For example, “…how does this sound to you babe?” and they may reply with a negative response toward the idea. That’s okay – give them the space to explain why rather than making assumptions about their resistance and listen openly and with empathy.
Rather than immediately trying to convince them, try to understand them and don’t prescribe your assumptions onto them. It could be they’ve had a past negative experience in therapy, they are worried about the vulnerability that occurs in therapy and what might be uncovered, or maybe they are feeling the stigma that can come with therapy and are worried about what others might think or what that means about them and the relationship that they could be needing therapy.
Remind Your Partner of Their Importance
Return back to the “why?” of couple therapy: why are you wanting this support and change after all? You care deeply about your partner, you love them, and you want to repair and preserve all the love, care, joy, and fulfillment that your partner and the relationship provide. It may be helpful to return back to this when and if your partner questions the importance of therapy. After all, you probably wouldn’t want to spend the time and commitment to therapy if this relationship and partner wasn’t extremely meaningful and important to you. It’s the care and value you place on them and the relationship that leads to wanting improvement and positive change.
Give it Time
Most likely this will not be a one-and-done conversation, it may be an ongoing conversation that takes place over time. Beginning the conversation is the most important first step but remember that you may not receive a “yes” right off the bat and that’s okay. Your partner may need time and space to process what this means to them, the emotions that are coming up, and where their resistance is coming from. Give them the time and space to explore and process this for themselves and return to the conversation when they’re ready. You may need to approach it from another angle, stating different feelings, and different possible benefits or outcomes to your concerns within the relationship. Maybe approaching differently even means providing different options or steps to starting therapy.
This can look like searching for a therapist together or starting by committing to a set number of sessions to start with and checking in throughout that time, maybe it means looking for virtual sessions rather than in-person or looking specifically for short-term couple therapy approaches. All of these options may allow them more time and flexibility to warm up to the idea of therapy and navigate it to their comfort level.
Asking your partner to join you in couple therapy can be really challenging, maybe even a daunting conversation to have, and that’s okay. Remember that when and how you approach this conversation with curiosity and compassion can go a long way. It’s never too early, nor too late to begin the process of couple therapy.
AAMFT American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy