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.
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.
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.