My partner won’t go to counselling, what should I do?
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My partner won’t go to counselling, what should I do?
This is a common tale in the realms of hetero-sexual relationships. The female partner wants to go to couple counselling, but the male parttner does not.
Can it be the other way around? Absolutely it can, but the male partner not wanting to go, is so common it is worth exploring here. We are generalising, but these roles can be reversed. If it is the other way around for you, or you are in a same sex relationship, many of the tips below will still be relevant.
If your partner won’t go to counselling, I feel for you. This is a frustrating situation to be in. You, no doubt, see that your relationship is in trouble and you want to save it by doing the most obvious thing available to you, yet your partner adds, it seems, insult to injury and refuses. You are left feeling more hopeless than ever about the future of your relationship.
Clearly, this is a big problem. But, if you feel like the relationship is worth saving (it feels safe and there is a foundation of connection), don’t despair. There is hope.
In this post I answer the questions; why are our men so resistant? And what are your options?
Before we get started, let me reassure you. Firstly, you are not alone in this, and secondly, you are not crazy in thinking that you have a problem that needs help even though your partner can’t see it.
Your partner has their reasons for not wanting to go to therapy and perhaps understanding these can help you find a little bit of hope.
Here are 5 reasons they mightn’t want to go to counselling.
- They don’t see the big problem
Men are different to women. (breaking news!!!)
Women are most often the emotional regulators of the relationship. This means that they are the ones who tend to manage the emotional well-being of the relationship/family. Thus, women are the first to see/feel the problem and to want to do something about it. According to the American Sociological Society 2016, 70% of all divorces in the USA are instigated by women. In other words, women feel it first.
Men, on the other hand, tend to be a lot better at enduring discomfort than women.
Whether it be emotional or physical discomfort. An example of this is the millions of young men who have sat in trenches in war times over the years, or perhaps closer to home, those who go to work in a suit and sit in an office day in and day out (I know women do these things too but men, in much larger numbers). Their problem perception radar is set to much higher levels. Have you ever noticed that men don’t seem to think about where their next meal is coming from until they are actually starving? It is the same kind of idea.
The statistics show that when couples do finally get to couple counselling they are generally 4 years too late. So, while your partner may be dragging his heals, the statistics say that you are most probably right and it is time for therapy.
- They are intimidated by exploring their emotions
I am sure the culture of parenting around this is changing now but if you have a man of adult years (which I truly hope you do) unless they were brought up by emotionally intelligent progressives, the likelihood is that your partner was shamed out of his emotions. This means that sharing or being in touch with his emotions was made to feel wrong, weak and shameful.
The idea of going to counselling for such a man is akin to asking him to explore a part of himself that is locked away in the shame dungeon (we all have those parts). You know, the parts of us that are closed up and exiled and we have thrown away the key. You are asking him to choose you over the most vulnerable parts of himself that if exposed can feel (at least to his nervous system) like a question of life or death.
Women by comparison are often comfortable sharing emotions. Women have been engaging in this kind of activity from a young age (and yes, I know there are many exceptions to this rule!), chatting to friends in the playground, calling in support, sharing our hearts with friends.
Quite possibly your partner’s only experience of exploring emotions, unless he has done some inner work, is being made a fool of, told he was weak, and being emasculated.
Can you blame him for being a bit reticent? Can we be a bit more understanding with his hesitancy?
- He is on the back foot
The fact that you are the one who wants to go to counselling first, puts him on the back foot.
This is your idea; you are happy with it. It scares the shit out of him – which makes him feel like he is already on the back foot and you have all the power. Counselling is the realm of the unknown for him– he has no idea what to expect. Also, as it is your idea, he might feel like he will be ganged up on by your people.
- He is defensive
You telling him that you want to go to couples counselling feels akin to you telling him that he has screwed up. The little boy inside him likely feels like he is in trouble; he has does something wrong, is being criticised and it puts him (again) on the defensive.
When we are defensive, we are not open to input. A defensive stance is natural. As humans, it is our job to protect ourselves and keep us safe from attack but when your partner is defensive they are closed off. They will not be able to hear your points or your reasons.
In order for an idea like this to be taken on board, your partner would need to feel safe and supported first. Acknowledging where he is, and how he sees things will help him feel safer.
- Therapy is the last resort
If your partner is dragging his heals it is quite likely that he sees counselling as something to do only when the situation is dire and catastrophic. You may be thinking, “Yes! But this is dire and catastrophic!”.
You may feel like you have told him how much your are struggling. You have been hinting, but he doesn’t really know the truth of how important this is for you and your relationship. Perhaps it is time to get the point across in a way that he really can hear.
- He is old school
Not so long ago, especially in Australia, the idea of going to counselling or therapy was a sign of weakness. This is changing (thank God) but therapy can still have a stigma about it.
Perhaps your partner is terrified of what people would say if they found out. Could a simple confidentiality pact do the trick?
So there you have, 5 reasons your partner may be uncomfortable with the idea of therapy. The next question is, what can help?
Here are 5 things to try to help the situation.
What should you do?
- To give or not to give an Ultimatum
In my opinion, ultimatums are a powerful tool but should only be used as a last straw and only if you really mean it. For some, the shock of, “If you don’t come to counselling with me, this is over!” is enough to wake them up and get them to the therapy room.
If the concept of “therapy” doesn’t appeal to your partner. Could you brainstorm together to find something that could work for you both? Approaching it as a team could help him feel more involved in the process and less on the back-foot.
One client of mine found a work around with her partner who was closed to therapy but open to the “team building” idea.
Offer your partner understanding. Give him time, love and acceptance. The whole experience of making this decision could be a bonding, getting to know you experience. It is easy to get mad, but that doesn’t help. Instead get curious about him, his fears and values and why he is so against it.
- Other forms of support
There are so many great resources out there to help couples. Books, podcasts and online courses to name a few. Exploring these is something you could do together that may not feel so scary.
Check out my free resources, my Relationship-smart women podcast and my ‘do together’ couples communication course.
- Take responsibility for your part
You are 50% of this couple. Sure, your partner is not perfect, but neither are you. If you do your part; take responsibility, heal your wounds, learn communication skills and shift your energy input to the relationship, you can change a lot. Yes, ideally you would go to therapy together, but there is another way. I coach individuals to transform their relationships by guiding them to bring out the best in themselves and their partners. There is so much you can do without needing the,m to be involved.
I know that being in the position of having an unwilling partner is not a nice place to be. You want to feel like you are both invested in making this work.
I hope this post has given you some hope and guidance for how to navigate this tricky patch and bring out the best in both of you.
If you know someone who could be helped by reading this post, please feel free to share it with them. If you need more help or guidance in this, drop me an email.
Hi, I'm Nicole Mathieson, a relationship and body image coach, couple therapist and author.
My relationships blog helps couples learn practical ways to cultivate a deeper understanding of one another, find safety and connection in relationships, navigate difficult conversations and repair after conflict.