By Dr. Melissa Estavillo, PsyD
If your relationship with your spouse (or significant other) seems to be crumbling, you may be considering couples counseling to sort through your distress. You might be wondering,
“How do I suggest therapy without upsetting my partner?”
Wanting to get therapy is a big leap for some, which means it could be a sensitive topic for both you and your partner. If you are unsure of how to approach your spouse with the idea of counseling, follow these tips to help you discuss couples counseling with your partner.
Your partner may be weary of attending couples counseling because they might fear that the relationship has no hope for recovery if counseling is needed. However, it is quite the contrary. For your significant other to feel secure in trying couples therapy, they need to be assured that seeking help does not mean the relationship is over. You can assure your partner of this by focusing on the positive outcomes of therapy, rather than the negative aspects of your relationship.
For example, you can discuss potential goals with your partner that you would want to achieve during therapy. This shows that the relationship is worth fighting for (which may be what your partner needs to hear). Some goals that you could approach your partner with are improved communication, stronger connectivity, or reestablishing intimacy. Think about goals that you would like to set and share those with your partner.
Another way to instill assurance within your partner is to discuss the pros of therapy, then explain how it could benefit your relationship. You can analyze some of the problem areas within your relationship to show them that you would like to improve those areas. For instance, if you argue a lot, you can say, “We could learn how to meet each other’s emotional needs to eliminate some of the arguing in our relationship.” This would show your partner a clear benefit of therapy.
Although discussing the benefits of therapy is useful, avoid calling it a “last chance to recovery.” It may feel like you have exhausted all options, but if you consider it an alternative (rather than a last chance) it can give you more motivation to make the relationship work. By believing you have no other options than therapy, you could be creating a stressful situation where you feel forced to make it work in therapy.
Alleviate Fears of Criticism
Many people are afraid to be criticized in couples counseling, which could be a reason your partner may feel uncomfortable with it. You can ease this concern by clarifying to your partner that the therapist’s main goal is to heal the relationship; it is not to hurt or blame anyone for the issues within it.
Since couples counseling involves you and your partner, there may be concerns that the therapist will choose a side; this is NOT the therapist’s role. The therapist that you work with wants to understand the source of distress within the relationship and find solutions for you to overcome those obstacles. Therapists help you achieve your relationship goals by building a positive relationship with you and your spouse, motivating you to achieve your goals, and understanding your needs as clients.
Essentially, your partner needs to understand that therapists are never to shame or antagonize their clients; therapists are to support your relationship needs and goals. To help your partner feel more comfortable with this fact, you can agree (as a couple) to find a new therapist if one of you feel victimized or targeted during your counseling session.
Show a Willingness to be Open
If you are expecting your partner to be open to couples counseling, you need to be open with them about their concerns to participate in counseling (if there are any). It is critical to make it clear to your partner that it is an attempt for both of you to be open and make change; it is not meant to “fix” anyone.
Like mentioned before, counseling is not meant to attack anyone or blame one person for the issues within the relationship. The purpose of couples counseling is to mend the communication and connection between a couple. This means you should not approach your partner by blaming them (or saying they are the cause for needing therapy) because it may increase their fear of being criticized during counseling.
Instead, show your partner that you are willing to be open to their concerns, and reveal some level of vulnerability. Express that you are inclined to change too, and that you are confident in your ability to grow and heal together.
Although expressing yourself openly is important, it is equally important to listen to your partner. Be empathetic to their concerns or opinions and let them know that you understand where they are coming from. Deciding to attend counseling is a big decision, and it is not yours alone. Give them time to consider counseling as an option by allowing them to process the pros and cons for themselves.
Overall, taking a step to get therapy can be difficult for anyone in any situation, but when it involves your spouse, you need to consider them, as well as yourself. Do not let fear keep you from talking to your partner about getting help. If you are honest, positive, and considerate of your partner, they should be more receptive of your wants and needs for therapy. Don’t give up – help your spouse to see that you simply want to heal the relationship.