When working with individuals I often find that people would appreciate the support and participation of their partner in counseling, yet the partner is reluctant to participate in counseling. This article is based on a book by Mark S. Komrad and will help by giving you practical ideas to assist you in encouraging your spouse to take part in couples counseling. It is important to remember that timing is everything.
Choosing the Right Moment
Ecclesiastes 3:1 states, “to everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Prepare your spouse by letting them know you would like to have some time to talk rather than blindsiding them by a sudden approach. Let me start by giving some examples of when not to mention this sensitive topic:
- Potentially Defensive Times: When your spouse is under the pressure of a deadline, crisis, or when awakened in the middle of the night.
- Family Gatherings: When families get together there is often tension and many individuals want to look “okay” to other family members. Even in a private setting do not mention the topic during family gatherings such as birthdays, celebrations, holidays or events such as weddings or funerals.
- When Arguing or Right After: This is not a good time to bring up counseling as your partner is most likely feeling intense emotions which causes them to be unreceptive and self-protective.
- By Email or Text: An email or text is much more likely to be misinterpreted than a face-to-face conversation. You have much less control over the message you send making confidentiality uncertain. Not only this, but the recipient can read it at any time and in any mood or state of mind.
How to Approach Your Spouse
Now that you understand that timing is crucial, let’s consider ways in which one can encourage their partner to attend couples counseling. According to Komrad, the process of negotiating counseling is like helping someone walk across a bridge that spans from how things are now to the initial counseling session.
The key is to lovingly convincing that person to walk across that bridge with you. The following six approaches can be incorporated into the process.
- Use active listening: It is important to understand that your loved one will need to know that you are listening and not just telling them what to do. Komrad states that this will take negotiating skills that involve being receptive and receiving what the other person has to say. Staying open to listening, even when the other is experiencing intense emotion, including anger, is an excellent starting point for communicating your concerns.
- Make your spouse feel safe: It is essential to make your spouse feel safe to talk. Try using language that shows your care and concern for that person. You don’t have to figure out what’s wrong with your loved one. Just help your spouse recognize that something is wrong and that a professional can help figure out what, if anything, is the problem.
- Instill hope: Consider sharing your own counseling experience to leverage your goals. Maybe you can share your own reluctance to seek counseling. Share how you were able to get through that reluctance. Share your experience of the initial session and how you managed that anxiety. Assuming that you have made changes on your own, share how counseling has helped you overcome obstacles. Shared experiences can offer hope for change.
- Ask for a gift or a trade: It isn’t uncommon for a spouse to accompany you to counseling as a favor or to support you in your own journey. You request a session as a birthday gift or Christmas present. Be creative and consider making a trade. Maybe there is something you’re partner has wanted from you and you’ve been unwilling. Becoming willing can help in this exchange. Make an appointment and go along. Make it as easy as possible for your loved one. Offer to make the appointment and drive them when the time comes. It can be helpful to select a counselor in advance and be able to explain that you have good references. Consider asking for a one-time visit and not a commitment to counseling.
- Don’t give up: One of the most common mistakes is to give up too early. Be persistent. This is not necessarily a “one-time-effort”. Instead it’s an ongoing process. In situations that are not urgent or dangerous, find a way to keep the door open and revisit it periodically. Sometimes just letting a few weeks pass will allow your love one the space to change their mind.
Follow the Example of Christ
Above all, remember that the above approaches are not meant to be done with manipulation or control. It is important to use Christ-like humility, compassion and love. Keep in mind that if your spouse really does not want to go, you can’t force them to go to counseling. In addition, if your spouse agrees to attend but isn’t willing to commit to change, counseling sessions may offer little benefit.
Christian Counseling for Your Marriage
Most counselors would agree that if a spouse truly won’t attend counseling, the person who wants to attend should still go. Individual counseling may help you more clearly define your own needs and issues. If the reluctant spouse notices that you benefit from counseling, he or she might be more open to it in the future.
If you and your spouse are interested in beginning your journey toward a healthy marriage, consider making an appointment with a professional Christian marriage counselor.
Komrad, M. S., You Need Help: A Step-by-Step Plan to Convince a Loved One to Get Counseling (City Center, Minnesota: Hazeldon Foundation, 2012).
Images cc: office.microsoft.com – Shadow on the ground of a couple holding hands and Two people swinging on playground swings.