When Your Wife or Husband Refuses Marriage Counseling…

When Your Wife or Husband Refuses Marriage Counseling…

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

When Your Wife or Husband Refuses Marriage Counseling

What can you do when your partner refuses marriage counseling? It can feel really discouraging when you are eager to work on your relationship, but your partner is less than enthused about going to couples counseling or marriage counseling with you. But know this: Every couple who gets to marriage counseling does so because one of the partners initiates it. In your relationship, that person might need to be you. And that is okay.

I’m glad you’re still thinking about how to get your partner to come to couples therapy or marriage counseling with you, even if they say they won’t go. Many times, the reason why people won’t go to couples counseling is that they are feeling anxious about it. When you know how to talk to your partner about couples counseling in a way that helps alleviate their fears, it really helps.

Furthermore, even though it can feel disheartening to be the one who is pushing for couples therapy, it’s worth it because great things can happen once you get them in the door. The truth is that even the most reluctant partner will often open up in the first marriage counseling session. Why does this happen? Because a competent, expert marriage counselor is going to help them feel safe, heard, and understood. They might have the opportunity to say things they’ve been holding in for a looonnng time, and it feels good. They have just entered an emotionally safe environment where they feel seen, heard, and understood, and where expressing their feelings will not lead to an unproductive conflict.

Even the most reluctant partner will often open up in the first marriage counseling session.

Advice for When Your Partner Refuses Marriage Counseling

Having a productive conversation with a marriage counselor about issues that have been hard to talk about makes people feel hopeful and excited about the future of their relationship. It opens the door to a new era of your relationship where you both start to feel excited about the possibility of growing together. It’s often an incredibly positive, validating, and reassuring experience for them — as well as for you.

It’s been my experience that often the initiating partner is blown away by how much their formerly “anti” partner winds up sharing in the first meeting. We’re both bemused to see the person who initially refused marriage counseling, had their arms crossed, and a frowny face at the start of the session hanging onto the door-knob, eager to tell me “one last thing” before we have to end.

But the tricky part can be getting them into the office in the first place.

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Why Your Spouse Refuses Marriage Counseling

First of all, please set aside any stereotypes you may be holding on to about this being a “man thing.” At least 50% of the people who call us for a first free consultation are men, eager to get their wives into marriage counseling with them. Women can be reluctant to go to marriage counseling too.

Whether men or women, the root cause of marriage counseling reluctance is that people often have preconceived ideas about marriage counseling that hold them back from taking the plunge. They may worry about being judged or ganged up on by the marriage counselor. They may have had unhelpful experiences with past therapy, often counseling that was not evidence-based, or that was conducted by a “couples counselor” with little training in couples counseling — which is unfortunately common.

Sometimes the reason a partner will avoid marriage counselor or couples therapy is because they no longer wish to work on it. They may also have already decided what is and is not possible for your relationship in advance of the first meeting, regrettably. But that is the subject of a different podcast. Check out “When to call it quits in a relationship” and “How to stop a divorce” and “Discernment Counseling” if you’re concerned that your relationship may have passed the point of no return. 

THIS episode of the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast is all about understanding the common anxieties and misperceptions at work in people who are reluctant to try marriage counseling so that you can address them with empathy. Remember, helping your partner feel heard, respected, emotionally safe, and validated by you is always much more effective than telling them why they’re wrong.

So listen, and get insight and new understanding for a partner who says things like:

I’ll be helping you understand your partner in a new way, so that you can speak to their concerns. I hope this advice helps you help YOUR partner take the first step forward with you, and start growing back together again.

All the best,

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

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When Your Wife or Husband Refuses Marriage Counseling…

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

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10 Comments

  1. Loved this Dr Lisa, thank you so much.

    I appreciated how you explained the different reasons why spouses can be resistant.
    You have encouraged me to press on with trying to get marriage counselling when I had otherwise almost given up.

    1. Hi Jonathan! I’m so glad that this article helped you get some insight into what might be going on with your partner’s resistance to couples therapy. Yes, unfortunately the idea of “therapy” can be so fraught with anxiety and negative connotations that it’s absolutely paralyzing for some people to want to get involved with it. It’s so tragic to me, especially because harboring negative beliefs about what therapy is, or what will happen during counseling often deprives people of the opportunity to get meaningful help that could change their lives for the better. I sincerely hope that helping your partner feel safer can help them feel more open to the idea of working on things with you.

      Another thing that you might consider is listening to some of the podcasts I’ve done on relationships — particularly some of the communication podcasts — the next time you’re in the car together. Especially if you’re with a “withdrawer” (as I suspect) their hearing an ACTUAL marriage counselor talk about their experience with empathy could help them feel safer about speaking to one person. At any rate, good luck to you on your quest to create a happy healthy relationship with your partner! All the best, LMB

  2. The best gift you can give to a newly engaged couple-send them to marriage counselling. Some Churches make this mandatory. All of the above mentioned can help to learn what your partner is expecting, your expectations, how to handle important issues, if you are compatible or if the marriage is not ideal.

  3. I refuse to go to marriage counseling because I do not want to stay married. My husband suggests marriage counseling only because he is in denial about the fact that our marriage has been toxic since day 1. At this point, I don’t care if he lives or dies.

    I feel like your post, here, gives codependent people who won’t accept that they need to move on and let a person go even more fuel for their unrealistic hopes.

    Sometimes, the healthiest and best decision is divorce.

    1. Kate, it sounds like you are very clear about what you want and that is fantastic. I agree, particularly in cases where one partner initiates a divorce and the other person does not want to divorce, they can start grasping at straws in hopes that reconciliation might be possible. (And in many cases, you are absolutely correct — their hope is unrealistic.)

      It sounds like you are being clear and firm with your soon-to-be Ex-husband about what’s going to happen, and have a plan for a swift and final divorce. I am glad for that. While it can be hard to rip the band-aid off quickly, it’s really for the best. The sooner it’s over, the sooner both of you can start to heal.

      And… Kate. If I had to guess, I would imagine that if you and I could travel back in a time-machine to the first months and years of your relationship with your soon-to-be-Ex husband, I would guess that YOU were the one hoping that the relationship could get better. YOU were the one asking him to work with you, and take responsibility, and grow, and change. I bet you suggested marriage counseling on numerous occasions, and that your pleas were rejected or met with defensive denial.

      And that, over time, you (rightfully) decided that hope and change was NOT possible, and that you needed to end this marriage. And I bet the reason you are so confident in that decision is because you tried, really hard, for a long time, to make it better.

      So Kate, I 100% understand and agree with you and with your decision. But this article is not actually for YOU.

      This article was written for the person who is early enough in their relationship that it may still possibly be repaired. (Because as you and I both know, there is a point of no return). This article was written for the person who still has hope, and who, with the right support, could potentially get their spouse into effective marriage counseling that helps them create change. I wrote this in efforts to reach the couples for whom it is not too late.

      I am deeply appreciative of the fact that you shared your story with our community, because it serves as a great example of what the ultimate outcome is for people who (like, I’m guessing, your soon-to-be-Ex husband) refuse to participate in meaningful growth work until it’s too late.

      It’s too late for your Ex to get a re-do. But other couples reading your story may have a new found clarity about their likely future unless they get serious about making some dramatic changes. And I’m hearing loud and clear that YOU have confidence and clarity about YOUR future Kate, and I wish you all the very best as you move forward fearlessly into an empowering new reality.

      xoxo,
      Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

      Ps: For interested parties reading this exchange and wanting more information on the subject of whether or not it’s too late for YOU, here are two podcasts for you: “When To Call It Quits in a Relationship” and “How to Stop a Divorce and Save Your Marriage.”

  4. Loved this Dr Lisa, thank you so much.

    I appreciated how you explained the different reasons why spouses can be resistant.
    You have encouraged me to press on with trying to get marriage counselling when I had otherwise almost given up.

  5. Hi Jonathan! I’m so glad that this article helped you get some insight into what might be going on with your partner’s resistance to couples therapy. Yes, unfortunately the idea of “therapy” can be so fraught with anxiety and negative connotations that it’s absolutely paralyzing for some people to want to get involved with it. It’s so tragic to me, especially because harboring negative beliefs about what therapy is, or what will happen during counseling often deprives people of the opportunity to get meaningful help that could change their lives for the better. I sincerely hope that helping your partner feel safer can help them feel more open to the idea of working on things with you.

    Another thing that you might consider is listening to some of the podcasts I’ve done on relationships — particularly some of the communication podcasts — the next time you’re in the car together. Especially if you’re with a “withdrawer” (as I suspect) their hearing an ACTUAL marriage counselor talk about their experience with empathy could help them feel safer about speaking to one person. At any rate, good luck to you on your quest to create a happy healthy relationship with your partner! All the best, LMB

  6. The best gift you can give to a newly engaged couple-send them to marriage counselling. Some Churches make this mandatory. All of the above mentioned can help to learn what your partner is expecting, your expectations, how to handle important issues, if you are compatible or if the marriage is not ideal.

  7. I refuse to go to marriage counseling because I do not want to stay married. My husband suggests marriage counseling only because he is in denial about the fact that our marriage has been toxic since day 1. At this point, I don’t care if he lives or dies.

    I feel like your post, here, gives codependent people who won’t accept that they need to move on and let a person go even more fuel for their unrealistic hopes.

    Sometimes, the healthiest and best decision is divorce.

  8. Kate, it sounds like you are very clear about what you want and that is fantastic. I agree, particularly in cases where one partner initiates a divorce and the other person does not want to divorce, the partner being left can start grasping at straws in hopes that reconciliation might be possible. (And in many cases, you are absolutely correct — their hope is unrealistic.)

    It sounds like you are being clear and firm with your soon-to-be Ex-husband about what’s going to happen, and have a plan for a swift and final divorce. I am glad for that. While it can be hard to rip the band-aid off quickly, it’s really for the best. The sooner it’s over, the sooner both of you can start to heal.

    And… Kate, back to the subject of “what to do if your partner refuses marriage counseling….” If I had to guess, I would imagine that if you and I could travel back in a time-machine to the first months and years of your relationship with your soon-to-be-Ex husband YOU were the one hoping that the relationship could get better. YOU were the one asking him to work with you, and take responsibility, and grow, and change. I bet you suggested marriage counseling on numerous occasions, and that your pleas were rejected or met with defensive denial.

    Over time, when he refused marriage counseling and refused to learn and grow with you, you (rightfully) decided that hope and change were not possible, and that you needed to end this marriage. And I bet the reason you are so confident in that decision is because you tried, really hard, for a long time, to make it better.

    I wish that your soon-to-be-Ex had come across this article and podcast years ago, and that it would have helped him understand how important it was for him to work on the relationship with you while he still had the opportunity to do so. He didn’t, and now we’re here. It sounds like you’ve been through an awful experience with him, but I am glad that the final outcome for you was one of clarity and confidence that you’re making the right decision.

    Sometimes people teach us who they are and what they’re capable of by what they don’t do, right?

    Thank you for sharing your story Kate, and I wish you all the very best.

    Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby

    Ps: For interested parties reading this exchange and whether or not it’s too late for your relationship, here are two podcasts for you: “When To Call It Quits in a Relationship” and “How to Stop a Divorce and Save Your Marriage.” I hope these resources help you.

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