NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, March 26, 2022

What Can You Do If Your Partner Isn't Ready to Attend Couples Therapy?

In my prior article, I discussed how Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples can help a couple overcome problems in their relationship.  But what if your spouse or partner isn't ready to attend couples therapy? This is a common problem for many couples, and it's the topic of this article.

What If Your Partner Isn't Ready to Attend Couples Therapy?

Relationship Problems
Every relationship has its ups and downs.  

Many relationship problems, if they're not serious, can be resolved by the couple or, even if they're not resolved per se, the couple learns to deal with them without assistance. 

If you're considering couples therapy, chances are you and your partner have already tried to resolve problems on your own, but you haven't been successful.

Even if your partner agrees there are problems in your relationship, they might be uncomfortable talking to a therapist.

Starting Therapy Can Be Anxiety-Provoking At First
Going to individual or couples therapy, especially the first session, can be anxiety provoking (see my article: Starting Therapy: It's Not Unusual to Feel Anxious or Ambivalent).

Most experienced therapists know how to engage clients and help them to feel comfortable, but you and/or your partner might experience some of the following thoughts and emotions:
  • You might be worried because you don't know what to expect.  
  • You might feel embarrassed or ashamed to talk to a therapist.
  • You might fear the therapist will judge you.
  • You might fear that your friends or family members would judge you if you told them you're attending therapy.
  • You're aware that going to therapy is against your culture or religion, so you feel conflicted about it.
  • You don't know if therapy will be effective.
  • You're afraid of what you might find out about yourself (or your partner) in therapy.
  • You might worry about spending money on therapy if your budget is tight.
  • You might be afraid that therapy will stir things up and make matters worse.
All of these are legitimate concerns that people sometimes grapple with when they go for an initial therapy consultation.

What to Do If Your Partner Isn't Ready to Attend Couples Therapy
On some level, you probably know you can't change anyone else, so attempts to change your partner are often counterproductive.

Rather than nagging, arguing or threatening your partner, which doesn't work, you can try some of the following suggestions:
  • Accept You're Not in Control of Your Partner
    • Recognize that you can't control your partner because they are their own person.
    • Arguing, blaming and trying to force your partner to go to couples therapy will only make matters worse. You might get them through the therapist's door, but they might not be open to talking to the therapist.  
  • Get Curious About Why Your Partner Doesn't Want to Go to Couples Therapy:
    • Rather than being argumentative, get genuinely curious about your partner's concerns--even if you don't agree with them.  
    • Try to keep an open mind and really listen to what your partner has to say.  Arguing with a partner about couples therapy often makes the unwilling partner dig their heels in even more.  Sometimes it might be a particular issue rather than a general issue.  For instance, a partner might be more comfortable with a woman or a man as a couples therapist, which you both can take into consideration when you're choosing a therapist (see my article: How to Choose a Psychotherapist). 
  • Focus on Yourself
    • Once you realize you can't change your partner and it's counterproductive to argue, focus on yourself and attend individual therapy.  
  • Take Care of Yourself First:
    • Even if your partner isn't ready to go to couples therapy, you can still take care of yourself. 
    • You could benefit from learning new skills and new ways of communicating in individual therapy.  
    • You might even be surprised to realize that you're contributing to the problems, and you'll be able to make changes on your end.  
    • Sometimes, when the unwilling partner sees that their partner is in therapy and observes the beneficial effects of therapy, they become willing to participate in therapy.  This shouldn't be the reason why you go to individual therapy, but it can be an added benefit.  
I've seen too many couples where an unwilling partner, who comes to couples therapy, sits with their arms folded and refuses to talk.  

This not only makes matters worse, it's a waste of time and money.

You might feel that if you don't pressure your partner to attend couples therapy, you're giving up on the relationship, but you're not.  

What you're actually doing is stepping back, recognizing that your partner is a separate individual, and taking steps to take care of yourself.

Getting Help in Therapy
Working on yourself can help you to manage the stress you're experiencing in your relationship as well as in other areas of your life.

You can also learn new skills in individual therapy to cope and thrive.

Taking the first step of contacting a therapist can be the most challenging, but it's also the first step in taking care of yourself.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during regular business hours or email me.