This guide provides practical tips for discussing couples counselling with your partner. It covers understanding your motivations, communicating openly, using nonviolent communication, staying calm, showing genuine interest, taking responsibility, discussing relationship patterns, highlighting the benefits of counselling, conveying its importance, choosing a counsellor together, and exploring alternative options if necessary.
A Guide to Discussing Couples Counselling with Your Partner
Couples counselling can be a truly transformative experience for your relationship. In fact, the thing I hear most often about it is “I wish we’d gone sooner!” But asking for help isn’t always easy, and initiating the conversation with your partner might feel intimidating. The prospect of inviting a stranger into our most private conversations can feel quite daunting, so it’s very common for one partner to be ready to call a counsellor while the other is still unsure about it. If you’re wondering how to talk to your partner about going to couples counselling, you’re not alone. In this comprehensive guide, here are my top practical tips for discussing couples counselling with your partner.
Understand Your Motivation For Seeking Couples Counselling
There are lots of reasons to go to couples counselling, so begin by reflecting on yours. When you articulate your motivations clearly, it will help you to focus on your shared goals, which will help you to get the most out of your counselling sessions when you get there, too. When preparing to talk to your partner about going to couples counselling, it can help to break your reasons down into three components:
- The current state of your relationship (what you’re unhappy about and would like to change)
- Your feelings about how things are between you now
- Your desired relationship outcome
Taking some time to reflect on those three things can help you to feel prepared for the conversation and communicate clearly.
Communicate Openly And Honestly About Your Relationship
Situations where one partner wants to try counselling and the other is reluctant are common. And it often transpires that the first partner hasn’t given the second the full picture yet about how they’re feeling about their relationship. In fact “I want us to go to couples counselling” can mean any number of things. This is true for both the person who is saying it and the person who is hearing it. To encourage your partner to consider counselling, share your genuine feelings and concerns about your relationship. Being transparent about your emotions and what you hope to change can help your partner better understand your perspective.
Use Nonviolent Communication to Make a Request
Marshall Rosenberg’s nonviolent communication (NVC) model can be a helpful framework for discussing couples counselling. The NVC model involves four steps:
- Describe the situation as you see it
- Share your feelings about the situation
- Express your need
- Make a request
For example, you might say,
“When we have an argument and then don’t talk about it I feel lonely and sad. I’m scared we’re heading for a future where we brush things under the carpet until we get more and more disconnected. I need to be able to discuss our differences in order to feel close to you. Please can we talk about how we’re going to get better at that?”
“When we talk about our sex life, I feel frustrated and stuck. I need to feel some hope that we’re going to feel like lovers again, which is why I want to consult an expert. I see this as an investment in our relationship, because I love you. Would you be willing to discuss a way forwards with me?”
“Lately I just feel so hopeless and heavy. Ever since we’ve had the little one it’s so hard for us to get any quality time together, I’m worried we’re growing apart. I really care about our relationship and want it to be the best it can be. I know this is something couples counselling can help with, so please can we discuss giving it a try?”
“When we talk about this school issue, I don’t feel like we’re making any progress. I feel like it’s starting to become personal and like you’re rejecting me, not just my opinion. I want us to be able to resolve this without damaging our relationship. I would like to consult an expert because I think an impartial third party might help us both to see things differently. Can we talk about seeing a couples counsellor?”
Notice how these examples include a clear, positive rationale for going to counselling. Including this part will help your partner to understand that you see counselling as a positive move. This will help them to feel confident that it’s about supporting you to get to a better place.
Stay Calm And Understanding, Even If They Get Defensive
Understandably, your partner might initially feel criticised and react defensively when you suggest seeing a couples counsellor. Sadly it’s still very common to think that great relationships should just come naturally. This can make it can feel like a personal slight when someone acknowledges that yours isn’t. Try to be understanding about how your partner feels. Reassure them that you’re don’t see them as lacking. We consult experts about everything else, from dentistry to car repairs, and seeking help from a relationship expert is a normal and healthy decision.
Show Genuine Interest And Curiosity About Your Partner’s Concerns
If your partner has reservations about seeing a counsellor, take them seriously. Listen carefully and respond with curiosity and compassion. Temporarily set aside your goal of convincing them, and focus on understanding their concerns. Don’t say “yes, but…” – just listen! Trying to convince them that couples counselling is the answer will be putting pressure on both of you. So take the pressure off, and talk about your relationship more generally. Ask them what they would like to change about how things are between you.
Take Responsibility For Your Role In The Relationship
The idea of opening up about what’s been going on at home can feel overwhelming. We all say and do things in private which we would prefer not to share with a stranger. Your partner might feel like you want to take them there to get fixed. Or maybe to prove that they’re in the wrong. By acknowledging your contributions to the relationship’s issues, you can reassure your partner that you’re not seeking to assign blame. Empathise your desire to learn and grow, not to get them changed. They might need to hear something like, “I don’t care whose fault it is, I just want us to get on better and improve our relationship together.”
Discuss Relationship Patterns
One way to show that you’re keen to take responsibility and make changes is to talk about the patterns that you get into.
You might say something like,
“I’ve noticed that we get into a pattern where I get irritated, then you get defensive, then I get angry, then you shut down. I would love to learn how to break that pattern so we can just get on better, and I know that’s something a therapist could help with.”
Highlight The Benefits Of Couples Counselling As An Investment In Your Future
Your partner might (quite understandably) have an image of couples counselling as an absolute last resort. Some people even see it as one last stop that couples make on the way to the divorce lawyers. This isn’t true. I’ve worked with hundreds of couples, and the vast, vast majority have not split up. In fact, they usually attribute the ongoing success of their relationships to the work we do together. Tell your partner about strong couples you know who go to or have been to couples counselling. Therapy is not just for broken marriages. It’s for anyone who wants to invest in their relationship and learn how to make it healthy and strong. Relationship therapists are just people who have studied how to have a great relationship. Our role is to coach you in the tools you need to enjoy a closeness that comforts and sustains you both for years to come. And remember that the sooner you go, the longer you’ll enjoy the benefits. The most common thing couples that say at the end of their therapeutic journey with me is “I wish we’d come sooner.”
Tell Them How Important It Is To You
If your partner is refusing to budge, it might well be that you’re not being clear about just how important this is to you. Ask them to just get out of their comfort zone for just one hour to meet a therapist and see how it goes. (Often by the end of the first session the more reluctant partner has become the keenest!)
Choose A Couples Counsellor Together
The more agency your partner has in the process of choosing the person you’re going go to meet together, the less likely they are to feel like you’re dragging them there. You’ll want to feel like you’re in it together, not like one of you is bringing the other along to someone who is likely to take a side. So do the research together, or at least offer them a shortlist to look at before making the call.
If All Else Fails, Go On Your Own – For Now At Least
If you’ve been struggling to convince your partner to try couples counselling, you might feel like giving up. But don’t – remember you have other options. There is a huge amount that you can do to change your relationship form one side. As Harriet Lerner says,
“We cannot make another person change his or her steps to an old dance, but if we change our steps, the dance no longer can continue in the same predictable pattern.”
You can work with me to transform your relationship without ever getting your partner involved! For example you can book a one-off relationship coaching call, or complete my coaching program Love Happy Live Free. Once your partner starts to see the changes in you, they might well be more open to making some of their own.
Get In Touch
I work with individuals and couples who want loving, satisfying, joyful relationships, so they can enjoy their happiest family life. You can find out more about working with me here, and contact me here. Not ready to work together yet? You can join the mailing list for expert advice on relationships after kids here.