Couples Counselling: How to Ask Your Partner to go to Therapy
Making the invitation for change
"If we go to therapy they are just going to tell us what is wrong with us. We just need to make more of an effort and commit to change ourselves. We don't need a therapist."
I have a confession to make.
That was me speaking many years ago in my own relationship and like a typical guy, I believed that we just needed to make more of an effort and we would get back to being us, the good us.
I was resistant to seeing a professional. I felt shame about being in the counselling and personal development field and needing help in my own relationship.
Why couldn't we figure it out on our own, I thought.
The truth is that a lot people who talk about getting help don't and it is often because one partner is just too resistant to getting help from a professional.
Seeing a professional can be intimating and telling a stranger your problems feels even more daunting.
One day I know this will be different and with more people being open and honest about their lives this will certainly change.
I truly imagine that one day we will be at a stage in our culture where going to a therapist for relationship strategies and couples therapy retreat will be just as normal as going to the gym, something that is considered good for your health and well-being.
So what does the resistant partner need in order to agree to go to counselling?
The answer is a mixture of encouragement, security and a gentle nudge to at least give it a try.
I suggest framing counselling as learning skills to build up your relationship muscle and ability to communicate more effectively.
I remember my teacher shaking her head at me with a gentle smile saying, "Ken nobody teaches us this stuff. It is not in the school systems, most of us did not have parents that modeled great communication and so how would you know how to recover (repair) and break these patterns"?
She was right and I knew it.
Since then my humility for the practice of creating good relationships has dramatically shifted.
First I needed to let go of pride, let go of the denial that things were going to change without new skills and see that could I really grow from the right help.
I had a sophisticated mind that had a great ability to rationalize, bargain and distance myself from the change I needed.
This is why I promote so much humility in the work I do with couples.
I share my own stories because I know we all get messy in relationships and I want to walk beside my clients as I teach this work and practice.
I do this so that my clients feel deeply aligned against what they do (behaviors) and not confuse that with who (self-worth) they are.
Seeing a professional feels like a really big deal and for many people it is. Often there is one partner that is leading the couple towards seeing the therapist and the other person is reluctant to go for professional help.
I believe that people's resistance to seeing a professional is because of shame and pride (sometimes control). People do not want to face the parts of themselves that show up when they are hurt, when they are angry and so on.
We need a paradigm shift in the therapy world that looks at couples therapy as something that is empowering and healing. Instead most people see marriage counseling as a relationship failure.
Humility, in my mind, equals freedom and if both partners do this at the same time it can be quite liberating. What I mean by this is speaking the truth and speaking from your heart is a powerful catalyst for deeper connection and intimacy.
If you are having trouble starting the conversation try these tips. Remember this an invitation.
7 Tips for Inviting Your Partner to Therapy
- Take a good inventory
Get a journal. Write down all your main points that you want to share with your partner. Remember to include what is positive and what your main points of desired change are and focus on those points.
Clarity is power. The clearer you are on where you stand, what challenges you face and your vision of the future, the greater the chance of you communicating that to your partner.
Remember this about capturing all your thoughts and ideas to help you get clear. Do not worry about the delivery yet.
2. Plant your feet and get grounded
Most of us lose our words and good senses when we are triggered or emotional. To get grounded take time to breathe deeply and know that you're choosing a different path today when you speak.
Tell yourself you are going to speak with love, compassion and understanding.
Plan ahead and tell yourself what you are going to do. For example "I am going to remain calm even if my partner gets triggered.
- Timing is everything
Support yourself by giving your partner the right amount of space and time to consider all of the options. When you are ready to address your relationship with your partner always ask them when is a good time (co-creating) for you both to talk with one another.
Avoid ambushing your partner, that will always be a win/lose scenario.
- Make your request an "Us Thing"
You want to communicate to your partner that this is not about blaming them for what is happening. Rather you want them to firmly understand that you are on their team, you want both of you to learn new tools and strategies to access the best of both you.
Approach with 'we created this dynamic together' and seek to understand their perspective once you are in the conversation.
- Try not to get offended
If you hear your partner say "no way" or something that resembles defensiveness, try your best not to join in that energy of resistance. It is easy to get triggered if your partner first rejects your first attempt to request counselling.
One of the hardest practices in any relationship is not joining your partner when they are upset or resistant.
- Remember you are always communicating
If you want your partner to sense that you are on the same team, then you will need to remind yourself who your partner is to you before you talk to them.If we are being judged, we feel it. If we are being blamed, we feel it.
Exercise: Before having this conversation try taking a photo out from a time when you were deeply in love and remind yourself that your partner is someone of significance to you.
- Don't hold a gun to your partners head
Try to approach softly and detach from outcome. Give them a chance to join you. If they do not share your truth about what you perceive will happen if things do not change in the relationship.
If you do this properly, this will be perceived as an honest statement (goal is as an invitation) rather than a threat. The goal is have your partner receive this as an invitation for positive change.
I cannot tell you how often I hear "I wish we started this a long time ago".
Share with your partner that therapy is about learning new positive tools and skills to communicate better.