What Can I Do If My Partner Won’t Go To Couples Therapy?

There’s no getting around it. Your marriage is in trouble and it’s time to get help.iStock_000025095355XSmall

Yet, despite all the good reasons you offered and how nicely you asked, your spouse is dead set against therapy and is unwilling to budge.

Maybe you’ve tried therapy before and it was so useless or awful that he won’t dare go again.

Maybe she’s not as unhappy as you are and thinks you’re aiming too high. Maybe he feels thoroughly hopeless and is convinced nothing will help.

Then again, maybe the idea of letting an outsider see how screwed-up things are seems far worse than continuing to just slog through the mess.

Whatever the reason, you’re now at an impasse and you can’t see a next move.

Before you resort to begging or bribery or thinking you’re doomed, consider this alternative: go by yourself.

Sure, you’d rather that the two of you repair your marriage together, but dragging a reluctant spouse into therapy kicking and screaming won’t do much good. Nor will nagging or complaining or doing nothing at all.

Don’t let your partner’s resistance keep you from doing what you think is best.

Going to therapy alone is an expression of commitment, not defeat. It says “I care too much about our marriage to sit on the sidelines and watch it collapse.”

Being the lone client is in no way an admission that you alone are the problem— even if your partner insists that you are. No matter what you have done or what difficulties you’re facing, your marital struggles cannot be just about you.Woman Carrying Stacked Cardboard Boxes While Standing On One Leg

Seeking help on your own simply means that you’re willing to make the first steps towards change.

Worried that you’ll be the only one making an effort?

That will likely be true, at least at the outset. I suggest that you toss out the notion of things being fifty-fifty and go ahead with your own one-hundred percent effort. Unfair and unbalanced though it is, the work that you’re doing will be making a difference.

Marriage is, after all, a system comprised of two separate partners. Systems theory dictates that when you change one part of a system, the rest of that system will change in response. All parts of a system are inter-connected and therefore inter-reactive. Whether we’re talking about a marriage or a family or a fresh water pond, cleaning up even one small part of the system will create the conditions for other parts to become healthier, too.

It makes sense, then, to shift the focus to yourself. Better to work toward changing the ways that you handle yourself in your marriage than to focus on your partner, whom, like it or not, you know you can’t change.

Though there’s no guarantee, as you grow and change and behave in new ways, your spouse is likely to change in response.

Here are some ways to set yourself up for success:

Find an experienced couples therapist who’s familiar with doing couples therapy for one. A couples-based approach will be far more effective than doing traditional individual therapy.

Be sure that you’ve chosen someone who won’t simply take your side. The last thing you need is a paid friend to commiserate with you about your partner’s pitiful shortcomings or the sorry state of your marriage. This may well push you in the direction of divorce.

Make it clear that your goal is to work on your marriage by becoming a stronger, healthier partner. If you have concerns about the viability of your marriage, a skilled therapist will remain neutral as you explore this.

Begin by identifying the behaviors you engage in that are causing trouble in your marriage. Ask for help in understanding the part that you play and work to formulate strategies for change.

Set clear goals for yourself such as I want to be less reactive or less argumentative. I want to have more staying power instead of withdrawing from conflict. I want to be more affirming and less critical. The clearer you are about where you want to end up, the easier it will be to find ways to get there.

Let your spouse know that you’re in therapy because you want a better relationship. Share what you’re working on and introduce the tools you’ve acquired.

When I work with people alone I try to get their spouse to come at least once so that I can get a more complete picture of what’s going on. Simply put: fifty percent of what people tell me about their spouse will be accurate, but I have no way of knowing which fifty percent that is.

If your therapist is open to this and your spouse will agree, I recommend this step. However, don’t do this in a way that your spouse feels that you’re simply tricking him or her into doing therapy with you.

asphalt road with white start signGoing to couples therapy alone because your partner won’t join you is both smart and courageous. And research has shown that it’s surprisingly effective.

I’ve seen people spend years trying to nudge a spouse into therapy while the relationship deteriorates. Then, if they do finally get some buy-in, they’re in terrible shape and the work is all the more difficult.

One of the best things you can do for your troubled marriage is to reach out for help. One of the worst things: to do nothing.

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9 thoughts on “What Can I Do If My Partner Won’t Go To Couples Therapy?

  1. Good advice! I’ve been there. I went to therapy; he refused. (He did go once and refused to go back). As I changed the way I reacted, it changed the way he he acted. Life is much better now…five years down the road, and we’re still married (almost 26 years). Thank you!


    • You’re welcome!
      People too often resist going alone. Even when both partners are in therapy the work is the same: change the way you react, learn to come from your best.
      Glad to hear that your marriage is going strong.


  2. Another winner, Winifred. Great application of the systems theory concept, especially how it encourages one to critically examine (and take responsibility for) one’s own actions within the marriage. Excellent job of explaining the benefits of going alone in a simple and engaging way.


  3. The focus on things within the person’s control is such an empowering way to look at marriage problems. One can stay in the victim role and do nothing, or take steps to do what they can to improve the marriage. And certainly seeking counseling in the way you suggest is a great way to go!


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