What To Do When Your Husband, Wife or Partner Refuses to Go to Couples Counselling

Couple after a fight considering couples counselling, separation or divorce due to relationship problems
Individual therapy may be a better first option than couples counselling for relationships in crisis.

Relationship counselling starts too late for most couples and when one of the partners decides they need help, it’s not unusual for the spouse to be resistant. So what can you do if your partner won’t attend couples therapy?


People often delay relationship counselling out of embarrassment or to avoid cost. Some partners will refuse as part of the power-play that is occurring in the relationship. As an English-speaking couples counsellor working in Sweden I find that couples therapy isn’t always the answer to saving a marriage or other relationship. There are alternatives for dealing with conflict in relationships when couples counselling is not an option.

1. Find an English-Speaking Therapist and Access Your Own Support.

If you are struggling with convincing your husband, wife, sambo, or särbo to see a couples therapist, there’s no doubt you can use support yourself. You see the signs that something is wrong in the relationship and feel unhappy. You are both arguing too often, sex is non-existent, or you discover your partner is ‘cheating’ on you (being unfaithful). You might be recognising the toxic signs of emotional abuse, criticism, manipulation or even gaslighting. And you might be exhausted from trying to make changes. Your anxiety is a sign there is something wrong. In this situation the best thing you can do for the relationship and for yourself is to seek your own counselling support.

Expats and others living in Sweden know we’re instructed to always put the life jacket and oxygen mask on ourselves first. Why then do we try to appease our partners or sacrifice our own needs in the hope that our partners see this and change? When change doesn’t happen it can leave us feeling hopeless and depressed. When you’re already struggling with Swedish culture shock, climate or work-issues your relationship or marriage needs to be a place of intimacy and comfort, not one of distress.

Looking after yourself through getting individual support from a counsellor isn’t ‘selfish’. You can’t help someone from a weak position. Being generous with yourself will refresh you and make it possible to either save the relationship or protect yourself if you need to leave. Being stingy with yourself and denying yourself the care you need is more likely to result in you feeling resentful or regretful in the future.

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2. Encourage Your Partner to Book into Supportive Counselling

Often, by the time couples agree on counselling, there is already a lot of toxicity in the relationship. It’s hard to come back to a loving relationship when so much hurt is being felt by just one of the partners, let alone both. When one person is resistant to couples therapy, even if that person eventually agrees to attend, it can take some time before they relax enough to trust the therapist and fully participate in the process. You might have more success in encouraging your sambo or spouse to see an individual counsellor instead pressuring them to attend a couples session. Going to relationship counselling together can present too high a threshold for some couples.

The suggestion your partner attends individual counselling will be more reasonable if you already have your own therapist. If you don’t, your partner might assume you are blaming them instead of seeing it as a shared issue. Be the person you want your partner to be and role model the self-care you would like them to take. When both partners access their own support each individual becomes clearer about their own needs. A relationship counselling session will be more successful when and if both partners feel ready to attend.

Speak with a Therapist from the Comfort of your Home or Office

3. Can This Relationship Be Saved? Is Separation or Divorce Necessary?

Relationship counselling has just two fundamental purposes:

  • To support the relationship or marriage to grow or…
  • To help the relationship come to an end and assist the couple to separate.

It’s not the job of the couples therapist to take sides or be a referee and support one individual over the other. If you are hoping this will happen in a couples session, it might be better to find a therapist just for yourself! Likewise, if one of the partners wants to end the relationship and the other doesn’t, couples counselling serves little purpose apart from providing the therapist with an income. In this situation, the relationship needs to end. Give yourself the support you need to transition into independence after separation or divorce.

If there is violence in the relationship, and especially if children are witnessing violence, there is no question: you and your partner must separate, at least temporarily. If it is your partner who is committing the violence and they won’t leave, contact the police but get out of harm’s way yourself in any case. No argument is worth risking your safety over.

A couple came to see me in Stockholm asking me to teach them how to ‘fight’ better. I told them it was not something I offered. If they wanted to remain together, I told them I could help them learn to listen to each other and also to be more assertive. There are never two ‘winners’ in a fight and more often it ends in both sides losing. Approaches like the Gottman Method or Marshall Rosenberg’s Non-Violent Communication can be used to train couples to approach each other differently. But these skills rarely work when all the goodwill has been eroded through fighting or toxic silences. This might be time to see a therapist about breaking up.

If you still feel love for your partner, and you know it is mutual, choosing an English speaking couples counsellor might offer a way back to intimacy and trust. But in any case, even if you are in doubt, don’t wait to get help. If you are experiencing unhappiness in your relationship, make an appointment with your own supportive counsellor or therapist today.

Couples Counselling and Marriage Therapy in Stockholm

couple walking together

couple walking togetherLooking to Find a Relationship Therapist Who Speaks English?

As an English speaking therapist in Stockholm I meet regularly with couples who are struggling with aspects of their relationship.

For expats, the stress of relocation and dealing with cultural and climatic differences does put pressure on relationships. Many who consult me have decided to live in Sweden because they have a Swedish partner. Others have arrived in the country with their girlfriend or boyfriend (or husband or wife) to take up a position in multinational company. And some people have arrived in Sweden on their own and met a special Swede (or someone else) in the meantime.

Each of these circumstances brings its own challenges. Within relationships it is not uncommon for everyday pressures to compound and start affecting the way partners relate to each other. Language barriers are obviously a factor here and non-Swedes can be, by necessity, at least for the first year or two, quite dependant on those close to them to get through the bureaucracy and procedures associated with employment, banking, tax affairs and residency requirements (just to name a few!). There is also the question of how to start establishing social connections. As expats, we are not only getting to grips with Swedish culture and language but developing a new identity and sense of ourselves as individuals and as partners.

What might get lost in all of this is the passion or tenderness of the relationship, sex or intimacy, the meaning of a marriage or the easiness of being with each other. Even living with each other as a ‘sambo’ can seem to get harder. The aspects of the partnership that were working previously might seem to have disappeared and even the memories of a shared past might seem very distant.

How Can Couples Therapy Help a Relationship?

There are a number of ways in which meeting with a relationship therapist can be helpful.

Firstly, counselling and therapy appointments provide a space for couples to step outside of the usual positions they take with each other. At my counselling room I try to make these meetings as relaxed as possible and if you could see us talking it might look like we were just having a conversation. But actually, couples therapy and marriage counselling conversations are like building a new platform from which to consider the relationship. A separate place away from the chaos, crises and mess of what has been going on. These therapeutic conversations can be like coming up out of a canyon or ravine and taking a new position at a scenic look-out. I invite people to discuss where they would like to be with the relationship, what they want to let go of and what they want to hold onto in making these shifts. And we also discuss practical ways you might get to this better ‘place’ for real.

Occasionally I am asked about what method or technique I use with couples. The truth is there isn’t one approach that works for everyone. If there was it would be in a single book that we could all read. But perhaps there are a lot of different formulas or approaches others have used and, once I get to know more about your shared situation, I am happy to talk about some of the ideas that couples have shared with me that have been helpful to them. I draw not only from my training, reading and years of experience working with relationships but also from the experiences and journeys that other couples have shared with me.

Resolving a relationship difficulty or crisis in a marriage or other partnership starts with a simple commitment to sit down together in the presence of a third person, the therapist. This in itself is significant because it is an acknowledgement that both individuals are interested in changing the situation. Therapists are witnesses to many of the forces that keep people together: companionship, respect, admiration, shared hopes and passions, sex, intimacy, trust, a sense of parental duty and love of course. When we start talking about what has happened and each person’s hopes or expectations of the appointments, there are a number of things I have noticed start happening. These include acknowledgement, recognition, remembering, recovering, renegotiation, constructing strategies together, making new efforts and regaining balance. Counselling consultations can contain defining moments for couples and the process of therapy can be a rite of passage in itself.

Therapy Together and Separately for Greater Understanding

Occasionally I am asked to act as a kind of umpire or judge as to what is ‘okay’ or ‘not okay’ in the relationship. This isn’t a role I am prepared to play because it denies the couple their own decision making skills (I often say that if I had wanted to be a judge of others, I would have studied law instead of counselling and psychotherapy!). However I am prepared to help explore individual standpoints in relation to what has been going on and create opportunities where each person can be heard with respect. I generally find this approach leads to greater understanding for everyone.

In the journey of settling into a new country and all the challenges presented by such a move, we often find ourselves facing personal tests that play into or disrupt our relationships, partnerships and marriages. For example, we might be reconnected with a vulnerability we have not experienced for years. Or revisited by a fear we thought we had already overcome. Most people can name at least one or two such ‘issues’ they have had to deal with at some stage in life. At this point I should say that I often find when the individuals in a couple start sorting out their own ‘stuff’ or ‘issues’ (so as to speak), the difficulties or ‘relationship problem’ tend to just disappear. This might be surprising given popular ideas that relationship counselling always needs to involve the couple seeing a therapist together. I’m not suggesting that the disappearance of the problem or difficulty happens in all situations where each partner attends individual sessions but it is definitely common. So if you are reading this blog post and both willing to try it, going separately to counselling or therapy might also be an option for you.

When I work with individuals and couples, one of the ways in which I work is to help people establish their own connections so they have support outside of the relationship. This can take some of the pressure off the relationship as well as assist to develop or reinforce each person’s own skills, abilities and knowledge.

Relationships change and evolve just like individuals. Changes happen when people move in together, when they are expecting a child or become parents, when someone starts a new job or a business, as we age and simply over the course of time. Meeting with a therapist is a chance to let go of what might have been holding the relationship back as well as to hold onto and acknowledge what is still important to you both.

I work with both straight and gay couples. Couples counselling is available face to face at Hornstull on Södermalm in Stockholm or over the net via Skype webcam. If you would like to give either a try and need more information about my fees and availability, please contact me here or call 08-559 22 636 and leave a message.

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