Updated: Jan 7, 2021
Do you want to work on your relationship in therapy, but have a partner who just doesn’t want to go? Well, you’re not alone.
This is a super common and frustrating problem.
The bad news: You can’t generally “make” people want to go to therapy, and even if you technically get them in the door, it’s really, really, hard to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.
The good news: You may have some other alternatives. Let’s take a look:
1. Re-assess the way you’ve tried bringing up the subject. If the only time you suggest going for help is when there’s a fight or one or both of you are angry, then that’s setting this up for failure. Also, if you’re demanding or hinting as opposed to requesting, this probably won’t go well either. Wait until there is a calm moment, ask permission to bring up a sensitive subject and then say something like this:
“I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it would mean a lot to me if we could revisit it with open minds: I love you, and I love our relationship. Still, there are some aspects of how we ___ (talk, function, argue, parent, make love, spend money etc.) that I feel could use some improvement. I’ve tried to figure out from my end what could help. But I believe it would be helpful to get some help from a professional. I know from the past when I’ve brought this up that you didn’t seem very into the idea. But I’m asking you to please consider going- not because you agree that we need it, but because I know you care about me, and this is something that’s important to me.”
2. If after reasonable, respectful, non-accusatory, not-controlling, non-judgmental discussion, s/he still doesn’t want to go, you could say something like:
“I don’t want to pressure you to do something you’re so opposed to doing. But I feel like I need some help here. So I’m going to make an appointment for myself. I do hope you’ll reconsider and join me. But in the meantime, I’m going to speak with someone to get some insight about my end of things.”
Is it possible to do couples therapy with only 50% of the couple?
Yes and no. Yes, because when one person changes up the dance moves, the other person will almost definitely need to adjust in some way, and sometimes that’s “the difference that makes the difference.” Sometimes discussing even a one-sided angle of the issues with a third party can yield ideas, suggestions, and insight that can be plugged back into he relationship in a useful way.
But also, no, because it’s not the same thing as having both parties present, the give and take, the surround sound perspectives, and that three-way dynamic. But we do the best we can within the limitations we have.
3. Discuss the possibility of finding ways to work on the relationship that are not therapy: A couples’ retreat, a workshop, an online course, a lecture series, even getting a marriage book or workbook and going through it together. None of those is a true replacement for a licensed professional, but it can be a first step, and it might help to some degree.
4. Assess your boundaries and emotional needs: Depending on how far into your relationship you are and how serious the issues you need to deal with are, ask yourself whether this is a red flag. In general, one of the most important qualities in a partner is a willingness to acknowledge and address problems- a partnership of any kind. No one is perfect, and no life is without bumps in the road. It takes wisdom and humility to acknowledge our limitations and ask for help. When we’re not feeling well, we see a doctor. If we need legal advice, we ask a lawyer. And if a mental health or relational issues arises, there are trained, licensed professionals available for that too.
If you are still early on in the relationship, and deciding whether you want to commit, this might even be a deal-breaker. (It also might not; that’s up to you and the context. But it’s not necessarily an overreaction to see it this way.) Even if you committed and established together, if the issues are serious enough that you feel it’s unhealthy for you or your children, you may want to set up a boundary: “I want to be in this relationship, but I’m really only comfortable to do so if we are working on this, with help.”
It’s a tough situation when one partner is more complacent than the other, and therefore resistant to change. But at the end of the day, the connection is only as strong as its weakest link. Your feelings and needs matter too. While you can’t (or shouldn’t) force your partner to go for help, you also shouldn’t force yourself to stay stuck with issues that can be treated. There might be other ways to try addressing your concerns. In a healthy relationship, both parties are willing to hear and support the needs of the other, and that begins with dialogue.
If you're thinking about starting therapy either individually or as a couple, you might want to check this out.