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.

Book an Online Appointment with a Counselling Therapist

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.

Emotional Self Help Books for Expats and English Speakers in Sweden

I need help with Anger Management / Distraction / ADD / Overwhelming Emotions…(strike out what does not apply) …can you recommend something to read? 

Clients are often asking me for book recommendations. While self-help books aren’t the same as therapy or coaching sessions, they have their place and can sometimes be useful if reading is your thing. If you aren’t quite ready to attend counselling or want to try some things for yourself first, take a look at the categories below and try some of these titles. That’s also an inexpensive alternative. But don’t leave it too late to ask for human help. Often it is easier to recover when frustration or other emotions are not so overwhelming.

Here I’ve collected a few of the titles I’ve found to be useful and effective for dealing with anger, distraction, anxiety and out-of-control emotions. Some of these books were recommended to me by English-speakers who have come to live in Sweden. Others I discovered myself in the course of professional development.

Anxiety, Concentration, ADD and Mindlessness

Researching your condition on the Internet can hazardous! On many occasions I’ve been contacted by expats or other English-speakers who, after surfing around the net, fear they have ‘Adult ADD‘ (aka Attention Deficit Disorder). They talk of being easily distracted, having difficulty staying on task or constant forgetfulness. But neither ADD nor ADHD suddenly begin in adulthood. Unless you had serious problems with your schooling as a child, it’s more likely you are suffering from something associated with anxious states of mind or you just need to tone up your mindfulness.

Books for Improving Concentration and Attention (especially if you are worried about ADD or ADHD)

your brain at work coverYour Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long by David Rock.

This book provides, in simple terms, an in depth understanding of how the brain works and how to optimize use of your brain. Rock also discusses how and why the brain gets overwhelmed. If you are interested in getting a scientific understanding that can help you get back in control of your brain, this book could be helpful to you.
We live in a world with ever increasing distractions thanks to the Internet and technological revolution it has brought. This is no less true in Sweden than elsewhere. Modern communication seems to demand we are more accessible. Increasingly we find our attention divided between tasks. Rock exposes the effect of these demands on the brain. This is cognitive neuroscience, fairly detailed stuff, but explained in conjunction with practical tips.

Regaining Focus and Balance through the Strategy of Mindfulness

mindful path to self compassion coverThe Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions by Christopher Germer.

Many of us are in jobs that require us to use our intellect all day long. For some, the best way to tackle an overwhelmed mind is not by using our intellect to understand the science of the brain but to live more in the present. That starts with being kind to ourselves and also means listening to the body and allowing it to tell us what it is experiencing and what it needs. When we spend most of the day in our heads, we can lose touch with the rest of our body. Mindfulness involves strategies that can be learned. This book will assist you get back to the present and find a new balance.

Germer’s book is an easier read than Rock’s, and his approach is different. It’s less about understanding neuroscience and more about connecting with and awareness of sensations and emotions. If you see yourself more as a ‘feeling’ type of person than a ‘thinking’ type of person, this is probably the better book for you.

The Chimp ParadoxThe Chimp Paradox: The Mind Management Programme for Confidence, Success and Happiness by Dr Steve Peters.

The Chimp Paradox is really about managing emotions (a product of our inner ‘chimp’) and using reasoning (our ‘human’ quality). Peters is a psychiatrist who specialises in sports performance and he is concerned with helping people to understand and manage their emotions and thoughts. This is quite a quirky book that lies somewhere between the drier science of Your Brain at Work and the warm, feel-good The Mindful-Path. Peters teaching skills are clear: the book is full of diagrams and metaphors. His models are easy to understand and fun to read.

If you like the idea of being coached, and you are ready to take up a new perspective on your performance, The Chimp Paradox might be the best book for you. It has been described as a ‘mind programme’, so be prepared to start reprogramming the way you respond to your emotions!

Books for Developing Calmness and Responding to Anger

WildmindWildmind: A Step by Step Guide to Meditation by Bodhipaksa

People often ask me if I do ‘Anger Management’. Well the first step in managing Anger is awareness of it and the emotions which precede it. Meditation provides one of the best ways to develop awareness of emotions. Despite what some people say, anyone can learn to meditate. It doesn’t involve ‘blocking out thoughts’ as such but the practice of focussing. If you are willing to try focussing according to a set procedure, you will find that you are meditating.

I’ve had the pleasure and good fortune to have met Bodhipaksa (a Scotsman and veterinary science graduate formerly named Graeme Stephen) and can vouch he is a very decent chap! He has been practising Buddhist meditation for over 20 years and teaching for over 10 years. This is one of the simplest and easiest to follow step-by-step guides to meditation by an excellent teacher. It will tell you how to do the fundamental practices that help develop calmness and positive mental states towards others. These are proven techniques to respond to and reduce the influence of Anger and other emotions.

Guided Meditations coverGuided Meditations for Stress Reduction also by Bodhipaksa

This isn’t actually a book but a set of guided meditations on CD. There is also an audio-book version if you prefer that. So if you aren’t much into reading and prefer listening to a voice guiding you, you can use these audio tracks to help reduce your stress response.

Our thoughts affect our bodies both in terms of the sensations we feel and the emotions we experience. And what we feel in turn affects our thoughts. This cycling can leave us in a state of hyper-arousal or acute stress response (aka ‘fight-flight-freeze’). Focussed awareness can reverse this and bring us back to the present-moment experience. If you are struggling with stress, guided meditation could be a way forward for you. Try the CD and consult myself or a meditation teacher if you continue to experience difficulties.

CBT Books For Expats

Cover of change your life with CBTChange Your Life with CBT by Corinne Sweet

CBT means Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and it is ‘flavour of the month’ in Sweden right now. It’s not particularly new, having it’s roots in the 1950s and rising to prominence in the 80s and 90s, and is regarded as a ‘2nd wave’ therapy (we’ve experienced 2 more ‘waves’ since!). But psychoanalysis used to be the only talk therapy with credibility in Sweden and CBT is quite easy to justify through research evidence so more people have heard of CBT than Narrative Therapy. That’s not to say Cognitive Behaviour Therapy isn’t effective, because for many people it is. To an extent, CBT is also very favourable to self-help so there are a lot of books on the market to choose from.

I picked up Corinne Sweet’s book a few years ago on my way back to Sweden at the bookstore at Gatwick Airport. It is basic but I think it is one of the most accessible and easy to read texts on CBT. If you are suffering from mild anxiety, ‘catastrophising’ or various negative thoughts, this is a great starter for you to find out how to reduce fear and develop more happiness.

cover of Think Good Feel GoodThink Good – Feel Good: A Cognitive Behaviour Therapy Workbook for Children and Young People by Paul Stallard.

I don’t work with children these days but a colleague showed me her copy of this book and I’m not surprised that it is a best-seller. There’s not much around in terms of CBT workbooks for children and this book also provides very helpful guidance to parents and clinicians. I’ve had parents contact me to ask if I will work in English with their kids. I usually send them to a child specialist because I am an adult specialist. If the CBT model interests you, I’d recommend getting a copy of this workbook, reading it yourself and then using it with your children. Sure it costs a bit more than the average book, but it is packed full of helpful activities and will provide you with an excellent grounding in CBT if you decide to see a therapist or counsellor in person. Obviously, if the difficulties are very serious or urgent, it is always best to seek help from a practitioner as soon as possible. In that case, get in touch with a ‘BUP’ (child and youth psychiatry) clinic directly or through a GP at Vårdcentalen.

One last suggestion… This summer, get yourself an Amazon Kindle. Okay, I admit it I am biased. I am a Kindle convert! But it is so much easier than travelling with a stack of books. You can read all of these books on Kindle plus novels or other non-fiction books as well and the latest version even works in bed with the lights out! If you don’t have one already you can buy a Kindle at this link.

Amazon Kindle pic

I hope to post again with some more book recommendations for inspiration, motivation and commencing a new life in Sweden. Just send me an email if you would like to be informed of new articles. I’m also available for consultations online over Skype webcam, by phone or email exchange. In the meantime, happy summer reading!