Sometimes I receive a phone call from a person who is frustrated by serious issues in their relationship, and further frustrated by the fact that their partner is unwilling to go to couples counselling to try to work through the relationship issues. Many of these callers contact me in a state of desperation, and most of them believe that nothing can be done to either change their situation or persuade their resisting partner to try couples counselling.
Sadly, in some cases the caller is correct in their belief that nothing can be done. That is, their partner’s resistance to counselling is an indication that the relationship is either over or nearing an end. If you believe that your partner refuses to attend couples counselling because they have no intention of continuing the relationship, it might be advisable to seek individual therapy to gain support for the emotional turmoil that can accompany the ending of a relationship.
If, on the other hand, you believe that your partner wants the relationship to continue but is simply reluctant to participate in the process of resolving difficult issues, there are several things that you might be able to do. If it feels comfortable for you to do so, offer to let your partner choose the couples counsellor. By interviewing prospective counsellors on the phone, your partner might begin to feel that counselling is a safe place to talk about difficult relationship issues. By allowing your partner to choose the counsellor, he or she might feel more in control of a situation that is otherwise making them feel uncomfortable.
Another option is to suggest that the two of you agree to attend one couples counselling session so that you can talk in a safe place about how you each feel, and about what options you might have for your relationship. Finally, you might want to consider telling your partner that you intend to see a couple’s counsellor by yourself to talk about the relationship. This is an effective strategy that has worked well for several of my clients. After a few individual sessions, the counsellor can contact the resistant partner to invite them into therapy. My experience has been that, in some cases, the simple act of one person starting couples counselling compels the other partner to begin attending joint sessions. At other times, a phone call or a letter from me has been a supportive form of reassurance for the apprehensive partner.
In the end, however, it is important to remember that you have no control over your partner, and there is nothing that you or a couple’s counsellor can do to force your partner into counselling. So, remember it is easier to attract bees with honey than vinegar.
David Nielsen is a couple and marriage counsellor in Canberra