How To Talk To Your Partner About Going To Couples Counselling
Couples counselling is amazing. The thing I hear most often about it is “I wish we’d gone sooner!” But asking for help isn’t always easy. The prospect of inviting a stranger into our most private conversations can feel quite daunting. It’s very common for one partner to be ready to call a counsellor while the other is still unsure about it. So if you’re wondering how to talk to your partner about going to couples counselling, you’re not alone.
Here are a few pointers to help you if you’ve been struggling with how to talk to your partner about going to couples counselling.
Get Clear About Why You Want To Try Couples Counselling
There are lots of reasons to go to couples counselling. Getting clear about your motivation will help you to get on the same page with your partner. And it will help you to get the most out of the process 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:
- What your current situation looks like (what you’re unhappy about/would like to change)
- How you feel about how things are between you now
- How you would like things to be
Taking some time to reflect on those three things can help you to feel prepared for the conversation and communicate clearly.
Be Open And Honest About How You’re Feeling About Your Relationship
When one partner wants to try counselling and the other is reluctant, it often transpires that the first partner hasn’t yet given the second the full picture about how they’re feeling about their relationship.
In fact “I want us to go to couples counselling” can mean any number of things to both the person who is saying it and the person who is hearing it.
Want to convince your partner to try it? You’ll need to be honest with them about how you’re feeling right now, and what you want to change.
Asking For What You Need
Whenever you want to ask your partner for something, it can help to use the Asking For What You Need Model. This model was developed by Marshall Rosenberg in the 1960s to support us to get our needs met in relationships.
The idea is that you:
- describe the situation as you see it
- share how you feel about it
- say what you 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, supporting you to move towards a better place.
Keep Calm Even If They Get Defensive
Understandably, many people feel criticised if their partner suggests 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. You’re just looking for a bit of help from someone who knows as much about relationships as you do about… whatever you do for a living.
Get Really Curious About Their Reservations.
If your partner has reservations about seeing a counsellor, take them seriously. Ask them about them from a place of genuine compassionate curiosity.
Set aside your goal to convince them to try it for a little while. Really work to understand where they’re coming from. And show them that you understand their concerns.
Don’t say “yes, but…” – just listen!
It can help to take the pressure off convincing them that couples counselling is the answer, 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 Side Of Things
Part of what can feel overwhelming about seeing a counsellor is the idea of opening up about what’s been going on at home. 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 to prove that they’re in the wrong.
Reassure them that you’re not looking to do that by taking responsibility for your part in things. It can help to talk about how you want to learn and grow, not 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.”
Talk About 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.”
Couples Counselling Can Be 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 scores of couples, and the 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 really can’t convince your partner to go to therapy with you, try going on your own first. (You might like to choose a different therapist for this, as most couples counsellors prefer not to have a preexisting relationship with one partner.)
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
If you would like to join my waiting list for counselling (on your own or with a partner), or book a relationships after kids coaching call, you can contact me here, or hit reply if you’re reading this on email.