During the past year, many couples have been faced with a situation where they were required to quarantine together for an extended amount of time, with very little room for outside social outlets. Many couples saw an increase in disagreements and conflict, causing resentment to build and leaving partners feeling unheard, misunderstood, and quite alone during what would seem an ideal time to grow some deeper connections. But quarantine life brought about many other stressors, often leaving couples without the bandwidth to hear one another, or to show up for themselves and others.
Due to our isolation, lots of people began seeking out the support of a therapist, counselor, life coach or other kinds of support—including couples. Couples therapy is a great tool for couples to work on their relational health and mental health simultaneously.
But couples therapy often comes with a lot of stigma. Many believe that couples only seek out therapy when things are very difficult, or when couples are about to break up. Another common time for couples to seek out therapy is for “pre-marital counseling” to make sure they are compatible. While these are certainly good reasons to go to couples therapy, we need not wait until a crisis or a big life event to start couples therapy.
Other great reasons for going to couples therapy are: having a third party to moderate your discussions and disagreements, learn and build tools for better communication, closer connection, stronger intimacy, get insight on your relationship, sharpen your perspective, learn about your partner’s perspective, and develop understanding of one another to help you for the long haul.
But due to the stigma, it may become very difficult to get your partner to come to therapy. As a therapist in private practice for over 14 years, I have seen this happen too many times. One partner initiates and wants to come to therapy, and the other person, who would rather be somewhere else, comes in kicking and screaming or simply dragging their feet. There are ways to engage a resentful partner, if the therapist can create a safe place and draw clear boundaries around bias.
But, what if your partner simply refuses to come to therapy outright, or is just not open to it one bit. What can you do? What are your options?
Here are some ideas for how to move towards getting you and your partner in a space of working together, instead of working without or against each other.
Hearing the words, “Let’s go to therapy,” or “I think we need to see someone,” can be hugely activating.
Remember the Goal
The goal is to work together, not against each other. If your partner does not want to go to therapy, this is something that needs to be respected and honored. Say so. Let your partner know you respect their decision not to go to therapy right now, and let them know that you want to find a way to work together and that you are open to suggestions they might have that can help the situation. You will be surprised how often this works. The other partner may even bring up therapy as an idea later. If it feels like their idea, it might feel a little better. And, if they do bring it up, despite rejecting it initially, try to respect that, too. (You can always talk about it in therapy later!)
Plant the Seed
I am a huge fan of dropping hints if someone is not ready to hear it yet. Hearing the words, “Let’s go to therapy,” or “I think we need to see someone,” can be hugely activating. So if you do have to say so, say it once, say it when you are not angry or fighting, say it kindly and then let it gestate. No need to hammer the message in. You can bring it up again, but definitely wait a while. And again, you never know: They might bring it up themselves.
Make It About You, Not the Relationship
Go to individual therapy and bring them in as a guest. You need therapy and want their help. If bringing up the topic of couples therapy is just too activating for them or for you, you can see if they want to come to your therapy session and help you with your issue. This is often the best option as it feels the least threatening.
Start With a Couples Retreat or Workshop
You can make this suggestion and then find some connection and intimacy-building event together. Key word here is: together. Get on the internet and find things that appeal to you both.
Come Up With a Plan Together
Set aside a time, bring a notebook, and come up with a plan. I love the idea of setting aside time to have those tricky discussions. Maybe you constantly fight about money, so set aside time for a weekly money talk try to integrate some active listening skills. Once the meeting is over, table the money talks until the next meeting. Do this consistently.
You can also sign up for a mutual activity, like reading the same self-help book or taking a course together. Active listening skills are not necessarily something we are taught at school. Some of us may learn it in the workplace, but this is always something that we can continue to work on. Why not work on it together?
There are many things couples can do to try to bridge the communication and connection gap. Sometimes just the activity of trying to find a therapist, or finding that book to read together, is a bonding enough experience to bring couples back to a place of what we all ultimately want: mutual respect and to feel seen and heard.
Have Your Needs Met
Learn helpful tips to establish healthier communication in the on-demand workshop Couples Communication, led by Jor-El Caraballo, LMHC.