My partner won’t come to couples counselling
Rescuing a relationship that has got into deep trouble requires that both of you work at it. The work is not necessarily massively difficult. People imagine it must always be a titanic struggle with many tears. Well, often there is laughter too. But you must both be up for it.
Often one partner is keener on counselling than the other. In that case, here are a few scenarios and how we might work with them. These may reflect your own position, or might not, and are generalisations – everyone is unique – but will hopefully give you an idea of the number of options that are available.
You and your partner both realise things cannot continue and are both are willing to invest the time, effort, money and emotion into making a change.
Such couples are normally good candidates for relationship counselling. This works on how you relate and communicate together, and particularly how you express your needs and what you do when those needs aren’t met.
You and your partner both realise things cannot continue but the level of angry or violent behaviour is such that there is a danger of some sort of tragic outcomes, such as the complete end of the relationship, or even personal injury, or arrest and conviction.
Such couples normally need a short course of couple’s counselling to put in place a set of boundaries and norms – so that you at least pay each other the courtesy you’d give a stranger. And then once the relationship is stabilised, often work separately with different counsellors on the issues that might be fuelling this conflict.
You and your partner both realise things cannot continue, but your partner does not want to invest the time, effort, money and emotion into making the change, or does not believe that counselling would work.
Partners can be reluctant to enter therapy for a number of reasons:
They might feel at a disadvantage when talking about emotions because they feel less emotionally fluent. there may also be an imbalance in the relationship, where one partner feels more confident and has a greater influence on the direction of the relationship. Actually, we would work to equalise the emotional exchange and balance emotional communications.
Fear of being judged:
They might feel that the therapist would gang up against you and blame you for the situation or tell them off for their “poor behaviour”. Actually, I assume both partners are trying their very best to make the relationship work, albeit unsuccessfully.
They might fear that a therapist of the opposite sex will take sides – e.g. A man might fear that Sheila will naturally take the woman’s side. Actually, much of a counsellor’s training is directed towards separating my “stuff” from yours, so that I do not consciously or unconsciously take sides.
Fear of dredging up the past:
They might fear that “talking about it” would simply bring it all up again – surely putting the past in the past would be better? Actually, the pace and direction of the work are agreed by both of you. If the past is too difficult or shaming to bring up, it will only be investigated when both partners are ready. There is always more than enough in the here-and-now to work on.
They might feel ashamed about their behaviour and be reluctant to expose it to a stranger. This is perfectly understandable. I believe that all behaviour, even inappropriate behaviour, is an attempt to get our needs met. I take the stance that people are fundamentally OK, and are trying to do the best they can. People often engage in self-defeating behaviour – doing the very thing that will ensure that they won’t get what they actually want.
Feeling you have passed the point of no return
This is very hard to talk about and so many couples will deny this reality. In this case, couples counselling can help to untangle the relationship and create a new – separate relationship, outside of the highly costly process of going to solicitors and the courts.
When is it best to come for individual counselling instead?
You’ve asked your partner to come for counselling and, for whatever reason, they refuse to engage in therapy,
They come to counselling only grudgingly in a way that often sabotages the process, by not turning up or changing their mind about coming at the last minute
Your partner won’t accept that the relationship is over, no matter how you tell them. In this case, you could benefit from help to clear your head, organise your priorities and prepare for life beyond the relationship.
You will not be able to change your partner, but you will be able to change yourself and examine your part in the relationship. Even if you feel you are not “the problem”, changing you will usually also have a major impact on the relationship, changing it in the process.