A couple has a serious conversation sitting on the floor representing how to talk to your partner about couples counseling

So, you want to know how to talk to your partner about couples counseling. You’ve come to the right place! 

As a marriage counselor and relationship coach, I know that having “The Talk” is crucial, but it can also be hard. Getting into high-quality couples counseling is often a turning point in relationships… but you can’t get into couples counseling until your partner sees the value in the experience and is ready and willing to give it a try. 

If you are currently the only person in your relationship who’s even remotely interested in trying counseling, that’s 100% normal. The impetus for positive change in relationships always begins inside of one partner. When you lead by example, you can show your partner the value of growth, and what your relationship could feel like if you grow together as a couple. This is not only the path to getting your partner to say “yes” to couples counseling, it’s also how you create the kind of relationship where growth can flourish. 

Even if your partner is hesitant about going to couples counseling, you can still use this heart-to-heart as a launch pad for positive change, and I’m going to tell you how. Do it well and odds are that both of you will walk away feeling energized about the idea of couples counseling and hopeful about your future. 

If you would prefer to listen to this one, I’ve also created an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on “How to Talk to Your Partner about Couples Counseling.” You can find it in the player below this article, or on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts.

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Begin with Your Own Mindset

Being the change you wish to see in your relationship begins with your mindset. Unfortunately, many people enter couples counseling with mindsets that are not helpful. Many more never make it through the door because their mindsets are barriers to getting started. 

This is what these unhelpful mindsets can sound like: 

We should both want to go to couples counseling. 

My partner doesn’t care about our relationship as much as I do. 

If they wanted to change, they would. 

My partner is completely closed off to counseling and they always will be. 

The problems in our relationship are my partner’s fault. They need to change. That’s why we need to go to counseling. 

Do any of these resonate with you? If so, don’t worry — we all think this way sometimes, and beginning to change that is a big part of how couples counseling works. But you actually need to start shifting away from these mindsets before you even broach the topic of counseling with your partner, and I’ll tell you why. 

When you carry a negative mindset into a difficult conversation, it throws a wet towel on your own feelings of hope and motivation, and your partner will be able to feel that. It’s also bad news for your relationship in the long run. Quiet, insidious shifts like these are like the first microscopic cancer cells that will eventually consume the body of your relationship. 

Relationships fail because people begin to lose hope that growth, improvement, and satisfaction are possible. They stop fighting for change and start emotionally withdrawing. If your mindset is telling you that there’s no point in even trying to get your partner to go to counseling with you, then you actually have the demise of your relationship brewing inside of you already, whether you know it or not. Scary I know, but also true.

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The biggest mistake you could make is approaching this conversation with a mindset that says the problems in your relationship are all your partner’s fault. Blame is the single most significant obstacle to getting your partner on board with couples counseling — even when blame is subconscious, which it often is. 

So ask yourself. Do you believe on some level that the reason you need couples counseling is so that the therapist can finally help your partner understand what you’ve been saying all along and teach them how to change in the ways that you want them to change? If so, you need to adjust your expectations about couples counseling, before you talk to your partner. They will pick up on your agenda, even if you’re not saying it in words. They will hear something like, “I’m going to take you to the judge / jury / relationship police and they are going to scold you and side with me, and tell you that you need to be different,” and your partner is not going to want to do that with you. Because, who would?

If your mindset is a little blamey, that’s nothing to feel bad about. We all find it much easier to see other people’s shortcomings than to reflect on our own. I’m not immune to this either. When my husband and I went to couples counseling over 20 years ago, I can tell you that I believed that I was the innocent victim in our relationship, and that we needed to go to couples counseling so that he could change. I was surprised to learn that I was actually contributing to the problems between us — surprised and maybe a teensy bit defensive, but then, empowered. Because if I had a role to play in creating our relationship dynamics, I had a role to play in changing them. This revelation was so beneficial to my own personal growth that it was a big part of what inspired me to become a marriage and family therapist. I wanted to help other people who were struggling in their relationships and feeling powerless to create change, because that is how I once felt. 

If you’re worried about your partner refusing to go to couples counseling, the first thing you can do is shift your mindset away from defeat and blame, and toward hope and responsibility. Next, I’ll show you how. 

Cultivating the Right Mindset to Talk to Your Partner about Couples Counseling

The best mindset you can carry into this important conversation is a growth mindset. 

Having a growth mindset means believing that the obstacles in your relationship are simply reflections of the skills that you and your partner have had the opportunity to develop up to this point — not reflections of who you are as people, or your potential to be good life partners for each other. When your relationship is feeling hard, that’s an indication that it’s time to grow, not an indication that it’s time to call it quits or turn on each other. 

It’s important to have a growth mindset in your relationship because there is no other life circumstance or situation that fosters greater growth and transformation than the relationships we have with our partners. Why? Because our partners are connected enough to our authentic selves to experience the reality of our rough edges, our baggage, neuroses, unrealistic expectations, core beliefs, and personality styles. They also care enough about maintaining a relationship with us to fight with us about it. Nobody else is going to do that with you. 

Approach your partner with humility, take personal responsibility for your own side of the relational fence, and express your sincere desire to grow, for the benefit of your relationship and your partner. That is the kind of message that will make someone want to go on this journey with you. 

Here are some mantras that you can bring into this conversation with your partner:

  • I know that we are creating our relationship dynamic together. 
  • Even if I don’t always understand them, my partner has valid reasons for how they feel, what they think, and how they behave — just like I do. 
  • Getting involved in couples counseling will require me to examine how my way of being might be challenging for my partner. I know it will sometimes feel hard, and so I can have empathy for how my partner feels about it. 
  • I have a more positive perspective about diving into growth work than my partner does right now. That’s simply because my partner has not had the same life experiences or cultural messages about getting help that I’ve had. 

Talk to Your Partner About Couples Counseling

Now you’ve got your mindset right and you’re ready to talk to your partner about couples counseling. Fabulous! Here are my pointers for how you can talk to your partner about couples counseling in a way that lands, and gives you the best shot at getting the help your relationship needs. 

  1. Pick the right time

Start this conversation at a quiet time when neither one of you is feeling angry or stressed out. Do not shout “I WANT TO GO TO COUPLES COUNSELING” in the middle of a horrible fight, for example. If a particularly nasty fight is the impetus to get into counseling (as it is for many couples), wait until the dust has settled, and offer your partner a sincere apology as an olive branch before discussing your desire to go to counseling. 

  1. Own your crap

Instead of going into this conversation armed with a list of complaints about what your partner is doing wrong, enter it with a list of the things you want to do better. Talk about how you want to work on your communication, or your attachment patterns, or anything else that you think might be contributing to the difficult dynamics in your relationship. If they’re used to feeling blamed, they’ll be all ears. 

  1. Talk about your hopes for the relationship

What do you want your relationship to feel like? What are your hopes for the future? What’s your vision for what your relationship will be like on the other side of counseling? Talking about this with your partner will help you create shared goals and motivation to work toward them together. 

  1. Be real about your challenges

Maybe you’ve been feeling lonely in your relationship. Maybe all the fighting is breaking your heart. Maybe you’re starting to feel drained and disconnected. When you share your vulnerable feelings with your partner, rather than blame or anger, you are giving them the information they need to understand that this is important, in a way that they can hear.  

  1. Be curious about what this is like for your partner 

Your partner is also having an experience in this relationship. Ask them how they’ve been feeling and what their challenges are. Listen to what they tell you without getting defensive, and express your desire to make things better for them. 

If your partner shuts down or says everything is fine, when you know there’s more to the story, that’s an indication that there’s some very important work to be done. 

  1. Find their noble intentions

Your partner wants love, respect, caring, and understanding just as much as you do. When they’re being an irritating weirdo, these are their deeper motives, I promise. Highlight that you understand that and that you believe going to couples counseling will help you both give these things to each other. 

Understanding the Obstacles

It’s also a good idea to spend some time thinking about the obstacles you might encounter during this conversation. 

The most likely obstacle is defensiveness. If your partner feels blamed, or believes that the point of going to couples counseling is to figure out who is to blame (it’s not!), they are not going to want to do this with you. 

The second obstacle is a belief that couples counseling is for people in terrible relationships. This belief will keep your partner from wanting to acknowledge that you need to go to couples counseling, because if they did acknowledge that, it would mean something scary is happening in your relationship and they don’t want that to be true. Reality is on your side here: The best time to get couples counseling is before relationship problems get big and scary. That’s how happy couples keep their relationships strong. 

A related obstacle is believing that, if you go to couples counseling, that means that one of you must have serious issues. Your partner doesn’t want to be “the partner with the problem,” and I’m sure you don’t either! Thankfully, that’s not what going to counseling means, at all. But for people who want to steer clear of anything adjacent to clinical mental health “treatment,” relationship coaching is a great way to work on your relationship in a setting that is 100% growth focused. 

Expense can be another barrier to getting into couples counseling. Many people believe that the cost of couples counseling is beyond their means, when in reality, there are highly qualified providers who accept clients at sliding scale rates. More often, the couple has the means to pay for counseling, but one partner doesn’t understand the value. Helping your partner put the cost of couples counseling in perspective can help if concerns about cost are the obstacle. 

Another obstacle can be having a DIY mindset. This mindset says that, if we just read enough books, watch some YouTube videos, and listen to some podcasts, then we could fix this ourselves. You actually can learn a lot from resources like these. I host a podcast on personal growth and relationships, so I would never turn up my nose at DIY. But it’s really not a substitute for the insight, accountability, and support that you will get from working with a third party relationship expert. 

If your partner is attached to the idea of doing this on your own, make a 30-day plan to learn about the changes you want to make and begin putting them into practice. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, then there are trained experts who can help you in a way that books and podcasts cannot. 

The final obstacle is the way you manage yourself. It can be hard to have this conversation, not only for your partner, but for you too. Make sure that you have the right mindset, you listen more than you talk, you approach your partner with the goal of understanding them, you mobilize your empathy, and you manage the effects of emotional flooding. Doing all of this is an exercise in emotional intelligence. It’s not only how you get your partner to go to counseling, it’s how you create the emotional safety that makes change possible in your relationship. 

Empowered Growth for Your Relationship, With or Without Your Partner

Here’s the good news: You have the power to create change in your relationship, whether or not your partner agrees to go to couples counseling. 

When you enter growth work on your own for the purpose of improving your relationship, it is likely to succeed. Your partner will feel you changing in positive ways, and it will change the way they respond to you. This is how relationship systems work. It may even inspire your partner to do their own growth work, especially if you talk to them about what you’re learning and how you’re applying it in your relationship. 

You will also stop participating in unhelpful patterns that are enabling problems to persist in your relationship. This will either help both of you feel better, or it will help you feel better, while putting “natural consequences” in place that will support your partner’s growth. 

Either way, you will experience a transformation that will either 1) change your relationship for the better; 2) encourage your partner to engage in the process with you after all; or 3) grow you away from someone who does not wish to evolve with you, which is also okay. It’s certainly better than not growing at all, and continuing to spiral down. 

I hope that you will embark on your own growth journey, whether your partner joins you or not. And if you would like to do this work with a knowledgeable clinician on my team, I invite you to schedule a free consultation


Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

P.S. — For more advice on having courageous conversations, healing your connection, and creating positive change in your relationship, check out my “Growing, Together” collection of articles and podcasts. I made it for you!

Music in this episode is by Annie Hart with their song “Stillness.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://anniehart.bandcamp.com/. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.

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How to Talk to Your Partner about Couples Counseling

The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby: This is Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby and you’re listening to the Love, Happiness, and Success podcast. Everything can change for the better in a relationship when two people really begin growing together, ideally with the support of a very competent couples counselor. But sometimes getting in the door with your partner can be one of the biggest obstacles of doing that growth. How to talk to your partner about couples counseling is what we’re tackling on today’s show, and I’m so glad you’re here to join me.

A very common question and pain point I get for people getting in touch with me through my website growingself.com or through social media is, “Dr. Lisa, so into what you’re saying and completely agree. I would love to be able to apply all of these things that you’re talking about with my partner, and they do not seem receptive to the idea of doing this with me. How do I talk to my partner about couples counseling to help them see the value of it and want to do this?” And I totally get it.

This is a very common pain point, and I know that having the talk is crucial in some ways, and again, that first step, and I also understand that it can be difficult. And you can’t get into couples counseling until your partner sees the value in the experience and is ready and willing to give it a try. And you know what? The willing part is operant here. Even if you badger, force, harass your counselor, or sorry, your partner into attending couples counseling with you, if they are really there against their will and they do not want to be there, they are skeptical, they’re not motivated to participate.

It does not matter if they are physically sitting on the therapy couch next to you or with you in a zoom call. They’re not really receptive to the growth experience. So it doesn’t matter if they’re physically present. Engaging in meaningful growth work isn’t an action, it’s a mindset. You’d actually be surprised how many people, including individual clients for that matter, are in some ways window shoppers. They like the idea of doing growth work, and it feels good to say, yes, I’m working on myself, I’m in therapy or I’m in coaching. And they’re not really there in the sense of having a contract for change.

So, for example, even somebody who’s in counseling through their own volition saying that they want to make changes or work on things, if there’s even a mindset of it is my job to fix them, that I am going. To say or do something that will change something about the other person’s inner experience. That is, I am responsible for their change. That isn’t going to work either.

So I mention this because generating understanding and enthusiasm and motivation by and for and with your partner is more than about just getting them to agree to attend a session with you. It’s really about how to help them understand what growth is, how it works, and how you guys can do that together for the benefit of your relationship, but not even just your relationship, for the benefit of each of your well being and growth as individuals. And then certainly if you have children for the well being of your family and for your future. So there’s a lot here.

And today on our podcast, we’re going to be talking about the different variables and facets and things that can create obstacles to your partner’s understanding and motivation to do couples counseling with you so that you can first of all wrap your head around what the problem might be on a deeper level than just saying my partner is resistant and is being obstructionist to talking to somebody. No, that’s not really what it is. Like, yes, okay, on the highest level, that’s what it is. But underneath, people always make sense.

There are always reasons and good reasons for why people do what they do, why they feel the way that they do. And so understanding that getting insight into your partner can help you be a more effective communicator and help generate understanding and a shared understanding, shared goals for this growth process, it can help both of you really get what it is that you want, which is a happier, healthier, more satisfying relationship. So we’ll be talking about many things.

And just to dive right in, it starts with you. Actually, my very first tip for you in how to talk with your partner about couples counseling is doing some exploration of your own mindset with regards to couples counseling.

So, for example, many, if not most people, individuals who are the ones kind of driving, we need to do something about couples counseling. We need to go and do this. One of the mindsets that is actually unhelpful is this we should both want to go to couples counseling. Why am I the one that has to be a driver for this positive change?

Another one could be, my partner doesn’t care about this relationship as much as I do, as evidenced by their unwillingness to do couples counseling with me. Yet another could be if they wanted to change, they would, or my partner is completely closed off to couples counseling because they are immature, emotionally stunted, perhaps they don’t have the same values that I do around growth and change, and they always will be.

And lastly, and this one, this one is tough is a mindset that says the problems in our relationship are my partner’s fault and my partner is really the one that needs to change. If they were more like me, if they were receptive to my ideas, if they saw things from my point of view, things would be better. And that is why we need to go to couples counseling. It’s really to change them.

And so I just wanted to bring this up because these are all very common mindsets in the person who wants to go to couples counseling and is like, how do I get my partner to do this with me? And the reason that I wanted to just bring these up and illuminate these for you is that these are all obstacles to creating shared motivation with your partner to do growth work, believe it or not.

If these are true for you, do not worry because I think we all think this way sometimes. And beginning to change that on your side is actually a big part of how couples counseling works. But you need to be aware of and begin shifting away from these mindsets and develop a new narrative for yourself before you can even effectively broach the topic of couples counseling with your partner.

I will tell you why. When you carry a negative mindset or a blaming mindset into a difficult conversation, it really, first of all, can throw a towel like a wet towel over your own feelings of hope and motivation.

But also your partner can feel the truth of what you believe, which is that it’s your fault. And we need to go to couples counseling because this is your fault. There is something wrong with you that needs to change in order for this relationship to be better. And you haven’t been receptive to me trying to talk with you about this. So I’m going to drag your butt in front of a marriage counselor who’s going to agree with me and tell you that this is basically all of your fault and is going to tell you all of the things that you need to do differently in order to be a more pleasing partner to me. And then between the two of us, we’re going to get your butt into shape.

Even if you don’t say that out loud, if your mindset if your inner narrative kind of basically agrees with that idea a little bit, your partner is going to be able to feel that and understandably justifiably and legitimately will not be eager to do that with you. And honestly, when you look at it from that perspective, no one can blame them.

Would you want to do that if your partner is like, hey, there’s something wrong with you and I’m going to take you into the mental, emotional, psychological mechanic to fix that according to my definition of what needs to be different here. No, nobody would want to do that. And also it’s very, very important here that we have compassion and understanding for how this energetic process works.

And just to be totally transparent, I think I’ve talked about this on other podcasts, but my husband and I went through a terrible rough patch. It was a few years after we were married and we had just moved and there was a lot of stress and like financial stress and just so many different things. It was so hard to talk with each other. I feel like anything I said, it was just not received well. Vice versa. I mean, it was not great.

I had started going to individual therapy on my own, and my therapist said, Lisa, you need to do something about this relationship. If you don’t, you’re going to be really bitter. She’s like, I can already feel you getting really angry and resentful about what’s happening here, and so it’s going to be important for you guys to do couples counseling. And I took that in and was like, yeah, we really do.

I can’t actually remember how hard I had to work to get my husband to be open to this idea. And honestly, in looking back, I think that he was probably reluctant to do it. He had not done anything like that before, and I don’t remember how long it took to get him to be open to that. I think I might have honestly just made the appointment when we were doing this, and he came because he wasn’t happy either.

But I know for a fact that he was quite skeptical of the whole thing. And looking back, though, I can tell you that at that time, I was firmly convinced that I was the innocent victim in this whole situation. I had a list of 37 things that my husband was doing wrong and that I was not happy about.

I fully believed that we were going to go to the marriage counselor and talk about all of those things, and she was going to be like, oh, my gosh, Lisa, I’m so sorry. You have put up with so much for so long. And Matt, I don’t even know where to begin. Okay, let’s just begin from the beginning. And Matt, here’s what you need to do first in order to be a better partner for Lisa. That’s what I thought was going to happen, and to my shock and dismay, that conversation went differently.

Certainly we both had opportunities to talk and kind of go into how we were each feeling in the relationship. But one of the things that I learned from that experience that was difficult was that my husband was not really enjoying me that much because of how I was showing up in the relationship.

Like, what? How dare you? And with the support of a really effective marriage counselor, was able to let that in and really think, you know what? I haven’t been very supportive of him. I’ve been very focused on myself and my feelings and my own experience and really not understanding what he’s been going through lately and the pressure that he’s been under and how I’m really, in many ways, failing fairly dramatically to meet his needs in this relationship and be a good partner for him. And so here are the things that I need to work on in order to help him feel loved and respected, to improve our communication, to show up in a different way emotionally and thankfully, and I think this was early enough in our relationship that we still had a lot of love and goodwill. Things hadn’t gotten too damaged. Right?

We also worked with a skillful couples counselor who was able to help us talk about those things and also able to help teach both of us, I think, what to do differently. And so certainly part of that was communication. Also, though, a lot of it was like day to day strategies to help us manage difficult conversations differently, how to engage with each other emotionally. There was a lot of fighting at that time over, and I think we hadn’t been married very long and like many couples, we were still trying to figure out how to negotiate roles and responsibilities in a way that felt equitable in terms of balance. 

I think I felt like I had too much responsibility in some ways in the relationship. And in looking back, there really were things that needed to be reshuffled there. But we were able to do that and in a very constructive way. And I’ll tell you, that was like the mid 90s when we did that and we probably went eight or ten times. And to this day we still use some of the tools and techniques that we first learned in that course of marriage counseling. It was really impactful and helpful and I firmly believe that it changed the trajectory of our entire relationship. I think if we had just kept going in the direction that we were going in, it would not have ended well. I mean, it would not have gotten better on its own.

But I think really the biggest takeaway from that whole experience, one that I certainly had and also one that Matt had, was the takeaway of really empathy and understanding and the biggest mindset, the biggest shift was really one around acceptance and appreciation for the other person’s experience. Whenever relationships get strained and difficult it is because, well, it can be triggered by a lot of different factors.

But one of the results is that people get very, very focused on their own experience and become increasingly unable to really see the relationship through their partner’s eyes. That is just simply part of what happens. And so I wanted to go into all of this, first of all, just to help you understand that I understand and I have empathy for you if you’re kind of focused on your partner right now, because I’ve been there and it’s normal to do that. If you would like your partner to do this growth work with you, the first and most important thing that you can do to help ensure that happens is to focus on shifting your own mindset and your own perspective now. That is we are both having experiences in this relationship that probably neither of us like.

The degree to which I’m hyper focused on what my partner is doing or not doing is making me feel increasingly resentful and angry and also making me probably feel yucky to them emotionally. And for me, if I would like us to grow together, it means that I need to first of all believe that growth and change are possible. I need to understand that my partner has reasons for showing up in the way that they are and that I’m probably doing things I am operating in a certain way that doesn’t feel great for my partner either. 

When I take responsibility and ownership over the way that I’m showing up in this relationship, it is going to improve our dynamic together. And so when we go to couples counseling, I want to go to couples counseling in order to learn how I can be a better, more supportive, more satisfying partner to this person that I love so much. So blame is probably the single most important obstacle to getting your partner on board with couples counseling, even when that blame is subconscious, which it often is. So to ask yourself, do I believe on some level that the reason we need couples counseling is so that a therapist can finally help my partner understand what I’ve been saying all along and then teach them how to change in the ways that I want them to change? And if that is true, like 99% of most people who want to do couples counseling, that is true. But then adjust your expectations about what this is going to be before you talk to your partner. If you don’t, they’re going to pick up on that agenda, even if you’re not saying it in words. That would be my very first piece of advice.

The other thing that I would like to share is that it’s extremely important that you do have this courageous conversation because relationships are engines of growth. There is no other life, circumstance or situation that will foster greater growth or transformation than being in a relationship with our partner, right? And that is because in our intimate relationships, our number one person, we are connected enough to them and care enough about them and they care enough about us that we can be authentic with them in ways that are difficult to be in any other kind of relationships.

So that when in that kind of relationship, in a marriage or in a committed partnership we are showing up with the reality of who we are, right? They get a close up view. They see our rough edges, all the baggage that we’re carrying in our neuroses, our core beliefs, our personality styles, our expectations and living with us day to day or we living with them day to day. They see all of that and have the intimate experience of that to the degree that they’re impacted by it. With friends or coworkers or family members, we’re much more distant. We are on our best behavior sometimes in those relationships.

So people don’t fully get the entire picture of who we are. But with our partners, they see it. They experience the whole thing, and nobody else is going to care about us or how we are showing up to the degree that they’re going to fight with us about it. And so when there is conflict in a relationship and your partner is saying, I don’t like this. This doesn’t feel good to me, I’m having a negative reaction to you. That is such a gift.

It is such a special thing because in other relationships, there’s not the intimacy, there’s not the knowledge, there’s not the level of commitment that somebody else is going to go through the trouble of fighting with us. They just back off. They’re like, yeah, no, I’m going to put some of my time and energy over here. And they usually don’t have that experience with us in the first place.

And so again, I wanted to bring this up too, for both of you to understand that it is because of this intimacy, because of this connection, because of the commitment, this becomes a vital engine for growth that every relationship has. Every relationship. There is not a pairing of two people in a committed relationship in the world that doesn’t have some of this friction because of the kind of relationship it is, because of the intimacy. It’s like two people in a relationship like this are like two rocks that both have their own variations of rough corners, right? And you would never know about your own rough edges if you were just rolling around the world by yourself.

Yeah, you’d bump into something periodically, but two rocks with sharp corners tumbling around with each other in the same day, in the same life, in the same home constantly, that’s when you really feel it. And in this dynamic, we’re always more aware of our partner’s rough edges than we are of our own. But you both have them. And understanding that you have yours and that those are creating a non-ideal relationship experience for your partner, too, is the way to grow together because it brings in that component of personal responsibility that not only supports relationship growth, but it is also the key component to engaging your partner in that growth in the first place.

So when you are able to take ownership for your own issues and communicate those to your partner in an authentic and vulnerable way and communicate your intention for doing this work is to work on yourself and hopefully understand their perspective of you and understand how you can be a better partner for them. And your commitment to really doing that work like 100%, that changes the whole narrative because all of a sudden it becomes very valuable and meaningful for your partner as well to think, oh, I am not going to be blamed. I’m not going to be called out on the carpet. This is a very sincere and brave courageous intention that my partner is saying that they are really wanting to be better with a better partner.

For me, that is so inspiring and also motivating for a couple of reasons. Not only are you communicating to your partner that you’re going to be working on finding ways to get them more of what they want. Right. But it’s also like being an example of the kind of change that you wish to see in your relationship is when you go first and you say, here’s what I intend to do in order to make things better between us. You become an example of what growth in action looks like that your partner may not have been exposed to before.

Our default setting is to blame other people for whatever’s going on. It’s certainly safer and easier. And this idea of extreme ownership is so inspiring. It’s so inspiring and so the mindsets that will save you. Here we are co creating this relational dynamic.

Even if I don’t fully understand my partner and how they’re experiencing me, I am choosing to believe that they have absolutely valid reasons for how they feel and behave just like I do. And that getting in growth work requires me to examine how my way of being may be challenging for my partner, too.

And is that going to be okay with me? Am I feeling nervous or apprehensive about talking to a marriage counselor who’s going to say, actually kind of shining that spotlight on opportunities that I have to grow that I might not have been aware of previously? Does that make me feel a little bit nervous? Probably, yes. And gosh, how much empathy is in that, right?

And then to be able to say to partner, I’m feeling a little bit nervous about what I might learn about myself in these conversations too, just so you know, and to have a more positive perspective about diving into your own worth growth work, to be able to say to yourself, I understand the growth process differently than my partner does. I have been listening to podcasts like this one or maybe reading books or trying to educate myself on how these things work. And that doesn’t make me a better human.

That doesn’t mean that I am smarter or morally superior or anything. It simply means I have different knowledge than my partner does right now. Maybe they haven’t had the same kinds of life experiences that I have. Maybe their way of learning or the things that they’re around is different than the stuff that I’m around. I mean, that was certainly true between me and my husband.

I grew up, my mom had every self-help book that was ever written. By the time I graduated from high school, I had read everything that Tony Robbins had ever written, and so I was very familiar with this concept, and my husband had not been exposed to any of those things. And so just the fact that I believed that this was worthwhile to do was really an artifact of my own cultural upbringing as much as anything, as opposed to some kind of shortcoming on his part.

I think it’s important to understand those differences too, because, again, it’s very easy to get judgy or morally superior if somebody is different from us in that regard. So to keep that empathy open and to really be shifting that narrative is like, I understand things differently about this situation than they do.

So again, those are some things that can help. And I also hope, too, that communicating what I shared to you a little bit ago either I don’t know if your partner might want to listen to this podcast or if you want to be communicating the idea that literally, all couples bump into each other and have stuff to work on. 

To grow together is a much more, I think, normalizing and positive conversation to have. Because another mindset that can be very, very scary for people on the other side, there can be a negative narrative about doing personal growth work or getting involved in any kind of counseling or coaching that sounds something like this: going to therapy or talking to somebody is something that really damaged, dysfunctional people do.

The only people that go to couples counseling are the ones who are on the brink of divorce and who are so bad off or struggling to such a degree that it’s like they have to do this. This is a very extreme thing. This is something that only the worst case scenario situations require. And because we are not that I don’t view us as being damaged or fundamentally dysfunctional or broken to the degree that we can’t figure this out ourselves, I don’t want to participate in that because doing so is not congruent with my self concept of the fact that we’re both fundamentally healthy. There are many things going well in this relationship. There’s a lot of good happening here, and it’s not that bad. So because of those things, I don’t see why we should have to go to couples counseling. And I feel very troubled by the possibility that you feel otherwise.

So it’s almost like this flight into health, the old Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy reference of hiding your head in the sand. If I can’t see you, you can’t see me. If I avoid the possibility that there is a problem, then there is no problem. And so engaging in couples counseling, if I were to open myself up to that, it would be accepting the fact that there is this terrible problem. This is a very negative, bad, scary thing. I do not want that to be true. Therefore I do not want to participate in it.

That’s a very limiting obstacle, a very limiting mindset. And it’s also very, very common, particularly for people who do not have a lot of experience or familiarity or comfort with personal growth work that needs to be addressed directly. What is true is that literally every human has stuff to work on. And our relationships are the primary vehicles of growth in our lives because it is only through our relationships that we will get real feedback.

We will experience the reality of ourselves, our current way of being to a much greater degree than we will in any other scenario. And it is through relational conflict or friction that our growth opportunities are illuminated. It’s just the engine and it’s such a powerful reflection of our own growth opportunities. And what is true is that people who do well in relationships and who do well in life honestly are the ones who are the most self reflective, self aware and engaged with the idea that there is always room for growth and improvement and have a very positive, hopeful and enthusiastic perspective of doing that work.

There’s gratitude and appreciation for the privilege of being able to do that work. I think of it as somebody who really cares about their health and their wellness. Would love the opportunity to have a personal trainer, have a nutritionist, have a fantastic not doctor to treat diseases, but like a health professional who’s like, okay, here is how to optimize your physical well being. And we’re going to talk about how you can be the very best version of your physical manifestation that’s possible. Somebody who is into health and wellness would say, oh my gosh, I would love to do that.

I would read all the books and think about how I could grow in these areas and what can I be doing day to day in order to have more energy and feel more healthy and have my body last 100 years as opposed to kind of squeaking by at 70.

So that kind of example, another wonderful example might be education. I think there’s a lot of corollaries between education and personal growth work or relationship growth work. I don’t know about you, but for me to have the opportunity to go to college and understand deeply different facets of a subject matter that then I could use to build a career on, that was interesting to me. I was engaged in it, did the work, was excited about it and learned so many things that I didn’t know before. It also helped me develop myself to have the skills you need to get through college as part of the growth experience, aside from learning the subject matter and being knowledgeable on something.

And so if you have invested, I don’t know, four, eight years in post high school education in order to develop a substantial career, why would you think that you would just be able to roll out a bed and know everything that there is to know about how to have a healthy relationship with another person without doing anything to better yourself or gain knowledge or understanding or insight or self awareness on that. The way that you would anything else. I mean, even financial literacy. If you’ve spent time and energy on learning how to manage finances in an effective way, that helps you achieve your long term goals.

I mean, there’s everything in life. It requires engagement and a willingness to learn and grow. And so I think that embracing that idea and awareness that personal growth, work or doing something like couples counseling is exactly the same thing, except this is how people take care of and create the lifetime goals that they care the most about. I mean, if I were to ask you what is really most important in your life? Would your very first thing be my career or how much money I have?

Or I mean, physical health is always important. If we don’t have health, we don’t have anything. But most people that I talk to, what is the most important thing in your entire life? It’s my marriage, it is my family, it is the well being of my children. It is like a center of my life. It is to love and be loved. And without that, nothing else matters, really.

But there’s this weird mental block around the idea of I need to take care of this relationship in a very proactive way that involves me learning and growing and committing to that growth process. So the new idea here when it comes to talking with your partner about couples counseling is to attempt to understand first what is their current operating core beliefs around what it means to go to marriage counseling or couples therapy, what are they telling themselves about it? And so to have an effective conversation, we must seek to understand as opposed to try to be understood.

So the recommendation here would be to say something like I think it would be so helpful for us to really invest in learning how to be great partners for each other and learning how to operate a little bit differently so that we can avoid some of the friction and conflict and unhappiness that I know we’ve been experiencing lately. I think it would be really helpful for us to do this together. But it seems like you have some concerns or maybe negative core beliefs about this. And I’m really just curious to understand, would you be willing to share those with me and then stop talking and just listen?

I would refer you back onto some of the other podcast episodes that I’ve recorded about how to be an emotionally safe listener. Emotional validation that even if your partner says things about their current way of thinking that you do not share that you may disagree with, you see things differently. You would like them to view this differently too. Step one of being able to connect with somebody in a meaningful way is simply to see this situation through their eyes and really listen to what they’re saying.

And if it seems negative, if it seems expensive. If they don’t understand the value, why should we go have the same fight on the therapist couch that we can have in our own kitchen? They don’t understand what this is and validate that. I hear what you’re saying and I can understand why you would feel down on the idea of going and talking to somebody if this is what it is through your point of view. If that was what I thought that this was going to be, I wouldn’t want to do this either. And really just helping them talk about their own feelings in an empathetic and emotionally validating way. And that’s a courageous conversation.

And so another tip I would have for you is to find a quiet time, a calm time, to have this conversation and to approach it with curiosity and not an agenda of in this conversation. By the time this is done, I am going to have convinced you that you’re wrong and I am right. And we’re going to do this. Now is to be able to really fully invest yourself in being the kind of partner that is willing to grow and invest in a relationship which is taking responsibility for yourself.

In order for my partner to grow in their understanding of what this is and seeing the value of it, I need to be the one modeling a growth mindset and be showing them how this can work by managing myself, managing my reactions, and working really hard to be emotionally safe and supportive of their experience. That’s what I’m going to be doing when we get into couples counseling. And so no time like the present to be working on that. Now begin that in that conversation.

It could also be super helpful to say things that really highlight your shared goals. Just ask questions like how have you been experiencing our relationship lately? And then wait for the answer. What would you like our relationship to feel like? If this were better for you, what would be happening? What are the hardest parts about being with me that you experience lately? And if the responses to those very sincere and heartfelt curiosity questions are things like, I’m fine. I don’t have a problem with our relationship except that you’re unhappy and I want you to be happy and I feel like I don’t know how to make you happy and that if you would just be more content, then I feel like things would be a lot better for both of us.

Like your partner might say that to you, which is an indication that they don’t really understand what you feel is a problem in your relationship and that’s also valid and there is a reason for that. So this can be a lot to take in, right? It can be a difficult conversation to have, but the extent to which you’re able to stay calm and to be curious and emotionally safe and help your partner talk about their feelings will lead to successful outcomes in your relationship growth.

If you start to feel defensive or blamed or angry in that situation, you might say, I can feel myself having big reactions to what you’re saying and I can feel myself starting to get angry right now. And this is one of the biggest reasons that I would love to do couples counseling with you is because I want to be able to really legitimately understand and respect your point of view. And sometimes I have a lot of trouble doing that.

So part of my biggest goal here is to figure out how I can understand your perspective better than I do right now. So that you feel loved and cared for and supported by me and so that you and I can really be in alignment around what we both want our relationship to be like and how we’re going to create this together as opposed to fighting with each other around the right way of being or the right way of doing things. Because that feels exhausting for me and I know it feels exhausting for you too.

And also as you help your partner talk about their own feelings if they communicate that they have obstacle sort of negative focused mindsets around couples. Counseling is for couples on the brink of divorce. And if we did this, it meant something terrible was happening. And that’s not true. Many times we’re just fine, so why do we need to do this? And it’s going to be expensive, blah, blah, blah.

Being able to put it into the context of I understand that whatever you’ve absorbed from the culture, from the world, is that the only people who work on themselves are the ones who have significant issues. And my understanding is a little bit different. The people who are most successful in life are the ones who are working to create the outcomes that they want, like their careers, their education, their financial well being, their physical health. This is just like relational wellness.

And to help them understand your perspective, but it requires first, again, helping them really feel respected, understood, validated. If you move into trying to get them to understand you and your perspective before you’re able to do a really good job of helping them feel validated and understood, it’s going to turn into an argument. So just keep that in mind.

And you know, what if they’re still like I don’t know or if they sometimes, some people can get weird about money when it comes to this sort of thing. And again, I think validating that and helping them understand, like, yeah, we are going to have to spend some money in order to be able to do this. I really think that it’s helpful to put this in context of values and life goals.

And really what’s more important, our family, our marriage is the most important thing in both of our lives. And think about how much we spent on our couch or that time we updated our kitchen cabinets or that vacation we took. Like, are we living our lives in alignment with our values or are we prioritizing other things? Was getting a newer car the most important thing? Because we’re going to pay a lot more for that car than we ever would for a course of really great marriage counseling. Like, what are we doing here? And just that reality that most, at least middle class families can do most of what they want, right? It’s just allocating and prioritizing those resources.

And so getting on the same page around are we putting our money where our values are or are we actually living in a way that is incongruent with what we say is most important to us? Because it’s probably not getting season passes to a ski resort. It’s having a stable, loving, emotionally safe, functional, wonderful feeling family experience between the two of us and for our children. So let’s just go ahead and put that to the top of the pile.

The number one thing that we want to spend money on is our shared life together and the safety and security and stability of that because that’s really the most important thing for most people. Okay. And if your partner is still like, I don’t know, that’s okay because there are a lot of different paths to growth.

I am a huge fan of doing growth work with a trained professional, a licensed marriage and family therapist who really knows how to shine the light on your blind spots, help you both understand yourselves and each other in a different way, and also provide education around, okay, if you want to get a better result, here’s what to try differently. But also like accountability and follow through. Those are all really important components of this.

And if through the course of these courageous conversations, you and your partner are able to say, you know what? We really want to work on this together, we’re both engaged and invested and committed to being better partners for each other. And you know what? You could also read a great relationship self help book together and attempt to take ownership of as I’m reading, I’m realizing that I’m doing all of these things and that I maybe could do something a little bit differently in order to be a better communicator, a better listener. XYZ so I’m going to be practicing this really consistently for the next few weeks and let’s see if we get a different response.

If you take the DIY approach and it is successful, that’s fantastic. And you’ve still achieved the outcome that you’ve wanted, which is growing together, whether or not you do that with a couple’s counselor, that’s fantastic. So go ahead and try that. I will say, and the thing to be aware of is that relational systems have their own power. Like a relationship between two people is more than one person doing things even two people doing it together that the system takes on a life of its own.

So for example, a system will often revert back. So say you read the self help book and you’re like, I’m going to commit to doing this differently. I’m going to show up in a different way for my partner. And you begin doing this and they do respond to it more positively and they have an old mindset narrative that leads them to respond in the same old way to you, even though you are trying to show up differently. That will push the system back into the old place because you’ll be like, oh, it didn’t work. It’s not working. Why should I try so hard? They’re not taking responsibility for their side of the street. So that’s very common.

And then additionally, there can also be, and usually is when it comes to the things that are actually leading people to behave in certain ways, communicate in certain ways, respond to each other in certain ways, interpret each other through those filters. They are often quite subconscious.

In the beginning of the work, people literally don’t know how they feel, what they think, why they do what they do. It requires a process of growth and exploration to pull those things out into the light in order to say, oh yeah, I guess I was doing that, or telling myself this about that situation. Which makes perfect sense because in my family of origin these things were true and I didn’t even realize I was kind of projecting this on my partner.

But I see it now and I can understand how that’s not really helpful. It leads me to react in a negative way or a way that doesn’t really support the well being of my relationship and I’m going to do that differently. So here’s a new mindset. Here’s me reconnecting with my values as an adult and the person that I want to be. And here’s instruction on how I can put this into practice and kind of stay the course to help be the person that I want to be as an adult in this marriage that is very difficult to do without somebody holding up that mirror or shining a light or helping pull those things out. So there’s so much here, there’s so much here.

So two last things I will also just say, and this is just big sisterly advice. So logistics here that you need to be aware of. I’ve talked about this on other shows. But one thing to be extremely cautious about is that most therapists do not have specific training and experience in marriage and family therapy.

So I am an MFT a marriage and family therapist. I am also a licensed psychologist. And so in my master’s degree for marriage and family therapy, I had all kinds of classes around assessment of family systems, family therapy theory and techniques, interventions and had a very different educational path than I did so after I graduated from my master’s program, but became licensed as a marriage and family therapist.

Then I entered a doctoral program to become a licensed psychologist because I was interested and I wanted to keep going. And it was fantastic. I learned so many things, and I did not learn hardly anything about family systems or marriage and family therapy. I learned about how to diagnose and treat clinical mental health conditions.

And so it’s extremely important for you to understand this as you’re thinking about who to reach out to for help. And I have an article on my website. So if you go to growingself.com/how-to-choose-a-marriage-counselor, there is an exhaustive article that goes into all of this and what the different credentials are, like, what kinds of therapists are out there in the world running around. And so an LPC, a licensed professional counselor, is typically trained to do clinical mental health and an individual and has counseling skills.

But again, the orientation is to work with a person and be like, okay, what is wrong with you? And what do we need to do in order to resolve your symptoms and help restore functioning? That is also true for a licensed psychologist.

An LCSW, interestingly, has a very different educational path even from those some LCSWs. So a licensed clinical social worker can have some education around clinical mental health and some basic counseling skills. But the role of a social worker in the mental health system is really around resourcing people.

So you will often find them, like, in community mental health centers, as being the person who is viewing an individual and their current level of function or dysfunction as being a reflection of how well resourced they are. So if somebody is really struggling mentally and emotionally, the resource might be to get connected to more community support groups or maybe some supported vocational kinds of things.

It’s like a macro level. How do we get this person plugged into things that would support their ultimate health and wellness? And the educational trajectory is very different. So I just mention this because if 95% of therapists offering couples counseling are focused on individual mental health treatment, when you and your partner show up into their office having no idea that they’re not an MFT who understands all the things that I’ve just been talking to you about, and you sit down in your matching swivel chairs, eagerly anticipating, like, okay, let’s talk about our communication and our attachment cycle and how we’re each impacting each other, particularly if you believe that you can or should use medical health insurance to pay for this.

What is going to happen, instead of relationship improvement work, is that your therapist is going to set about figuring out which one of you is the identified patient, which of you holds the diagnosis, and then how is their family therapy interventions going to be treating that diagnosis. So, for example, which of you is really the problem in the relationship? Which of you needs to be the focus of our treatment?

Because if you think you might use health insurance to pay for this, that is the statement one of you needs to hold a diagnosis. And your therapist must set about providing treatment for that diagnosis. And their case notes need to reflect the fact that that’s what they’re doing. We’re here because of Tom’s adjustment disorder and irritability. And so in our session today, we talked about how this couple can work together for the result of restoring Tom to functionality. And I’m sure you easily see the situation here and why that gets so problematic so quickly. Because in that paradigm, perhaps Tom has had this fear that if I go to couples counseling, it’s going to turn into being all about me and why this is my fault and my shortcomings and how I need to change and be different. That has been my secret fear this whole time.

And now we’re talking to a licensed psychologist who knows how to diagnose and treat mental health conditions and we want health insurance to pay for this. So that has to happen. And now my worst fear is coming true. This is all about me and my way of showing up and how this needs to be different.

So be very, very cautious about who you work with in this situation. For the love of all things holy too, if you have been an individual therapy, and if you’re thinking that, well, maybe I could just get my partner to come and talk to my person with me.

First of all, if your therapist thinks that is a good idea, it means that they are not a licensed marriage and family therapist and that they do not understand relational dynamics and they are the last person that you should be talking with your partner to, because again, an LPC might think that that’s, yeah, just fine. Why not? Because they don’t even know what they don’t know about why that would be so incredibly problematic for so many reasons. So just cross that idea off the list.

But really do check out that resource guide that I created for you, How to Choose a Good Marriage Counselor. It’s there for you at growingself.com and I really do hope that you would check it out.

You could also check out the article that I wrote of I think I called it Can I Use Insurance for Marriage Counseling? Which does a deep dive into all the things that I talked about with the dynamics that can come when you’re trying to frame for the purpose of utilizing health insurance. Why couples counseling is behavioral health care for the treatment of one of your psychiatric conditions is totally different than relational growth work again, but just so that you don’t accidentally wander into the wrong thing.

And then very lastly, if you take advantage of all of these different pieces of advice, communication strategies, ways of thinking, ways of being that will support your being able to talk to your partner effectively about couples counseling, what it is, why it would be great for both of you and if they are still like, absolutely not. I am not doing this with you. No. My last piece of advice would then be if you are still interested and committed to doing this for the benefit of your marriage and for your family, you can do it unilaterally.

Again, I would recommend that you seek out a marriage and family therapist to do this with and that the goal of your work with them is what can I learn how to do? What can I be focusing on within myself in order to have a healthier relationship with my partner and commit to that and see where it goes? It could certainly be focusing on the way that you show up in your relationship. It could be focusing on how do I become a better partner for this person, how do I have more empathy, how do I understand them differently, how do I communicate better, how do I listen better?

Could also be, do I need better boundaries? Are there things that I’ve actually been tolerating that I don’t want to do anymore? And how could me getting more clear and healthy within myself? That also can change a relationship system in a very, very positive way.

But again, it’s by working on yourself. Since you are a contributing member of this system, the system will by definition change. And a cool thing that could happen is that as your partner sees you working on yourself, doing things differently and having a very meaningful growth experience, they may either begin to feel increasingly uncomfortable in that relationship as you are doing things differently, that perhaps you’re working on yourself and becoming healthier will change the dynamic in such a way that creates more natural consequences and motivation for their needing to really step up and do their own growth work to bring that system back into equilibrium again. So that is certainly one outcome.

But they may also, and I’ve seen this happen so many times, be observing you and experiencing how you’re showing up differently and say, you know what, I really admire them. I can see how much they care about me, how hard they’re working on themselves. I know that this is challenging and so inspiring and I really want to do this for myself too.

And then so either getting involved in their own individual work to support this, or maybe at that point it might be time to connect with a good couples counselor who can help working with both of you together so that you can both be figuring out how to grow in this shared life you’re living.

Okay, so I know there was a ton in this podcast. There’s another long one, but there’s so much to say on this subject and I really really hope that you found ideas in here that will be helpful for you, because just even the fact that you’re listening to this says so much about you and I was happy to be able to do something to support your growth and well being in your relationship. So thank you for spending this time with me today and good luck in talking with your partner.

You can find all of the articles of past podcasts that I talked about on the website growingself.com. You’ll want to come into the Love Collection. So if you find the blog and podcast page, come into the Love Collection. You’ll find some of the different articles, but also at the bottom of each of those articles, like blog posts, I have this knowledge base with things like Can You Use Insurance for Marriage Counseling? How to Find a Good Marriage Counselor. How Much Does Marriage Counseling Cost? All of those.

I hope you take advantage of those knowledge base articles, and if you would like to share some of those with your partner as well or even just read them yourself, they are all there for you. I made them for you. Okay, thank you again for spending this time, and I’ll talk to you next week on another episode. Take care.

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