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.

What’s the Purpose of Talk Therapy? 5 Different Reasons to Turn to Online Counselling.

Recently I was reflecting on all the requests I receive for online counselling, coaching and therapy. I’ve been providing therapy consultations over webcam and offering email counselling for several years now, and I’ve heard a diversity of hopes and expectations over that time. Here are some of them.

Strategies and Tools

One of the biggest reasons people contact me is to ask for ‘strategies’ or ‘tools’. The tools or strategies (or methods or approaches) they are seeking could be about improving confidence or happiness, better communication, managing mood (e.g. ‘anger management’) or coping with stress. You might have already tried some approaches you have read about or been told about previously but remain stuck or need some coaching. Or you might be looking to try something new. One size definitely does not fit all (even ‘CBT’ – cognitive behaviour therapy – can be many things to many people and, despite the claims, it doesn’t suit everyone). People sometimes arrive with an expectation that a therapist will fix or treat their mental health problem but generally the approach is collaborative: we treat it together, in cooperation.

Working Through Stuff (or working out stuff)

Life can be complicated. Self-help books only take us so far. But a conversation is dynamic and can take us therapeutically further than reading a book or doing the exercises it contains. When people talk with me about dealing with family relationships, for example, they sometimes need to modify the approach they have been reading about to suit what is happening at the time. Sexuality is another topic that can take some working out. Categories like ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ or ‘bisexual’ can seem very fixed at a time in one’s life when sexual identity is changing. Some dialogue can assist when working through our  relationship with our body, desires, public identity and the gender expectations of us. Talking about difficult topics can also make it easier for us to express ourselves. The useful thing about online counselling is that you have the option of requesting some notes from the session or you can exchange therapy emails as a way of holding onto your progress.

Interested in making an appointment to work out something? Click here to send an email.

Letting Go and Acceptance

When something changes, like a relationship or job or even something to do with our bodies such as an illness or disability, the adjustment can take time. We can benefit from some therapeutic conversations. Some people describe this as ‘grieving’ but this word might not fit for everyone. In seeking resolution, counselling can take an interesting turn. For instance, when someone special or close to us passes, we might be thinking of meeting with a counsellor as part of ‘letting go’. However I often find the counselling process leads people to start recovering their relationship with a loved one, and bereavement turns to remembering and holding the deceased close. With death as in life, there are many ways to resolution.

Getting a Sounding Board or Bollplank

When we are looking for answers, having someone experienced to help us ‘bounce around’ ideas, or ‘bollplanka‘ as the Swedes say, can be helpful. Many tell me that they are looking for someone impartial, unlike a friend or relative who might automatically side with them or play ‘devil’s advocate’. In a therapeutic relationship, it’s okay to ask for advice or reassurance. Counselling isn’t always about providing this, but even if it is not possible in a talk therapy appointment, we can explore what you are seeking and how you might get it professionally or on your own. Some people find that one or two webcam consultations are enough to find direction. Others meet with me regularly, like once a fortnight or once a month, simply because they find it helpful to throw around ideas before making decisions.

Making Changes in Life

Speaking of decisions, at certain times of life it can seem like we are at crossroads. Should I remain in the relationship or leave? Should I continue in Sweden or return home? Should I follow my career or take any job, just to earn some money / get into the society? People tell me that making personal changes can be easier when they hear some other perspectives. There are some stories I can share from those who have given me permission. But it is also helpful to explore the subject. Seeing our situations as ‘stay or go’ can produce more stress and often leaves it harder to make a decision about what to do. In this respect, the self-awareness and understanding we get from talking to someone else can open up the possibilities beyond what we had imagined prior to talk therapy.

Meeting for Talk Therapy Online

If you would like to meet online, there are several options available. Webcam conversations over Skype mean we can see and hear each other in real time. If you don’t have access to a computer or prefer not to be seen, you can choose telephone counselling if you don’t mind the additional cost of calling a Stockholm landline (I also have landlines based in London or Sydney, Australia you can call). Instant Message chat provides a slower, more reflective opportunity for meeting in real-time with the added benefit of not being seen or heard. It is entirely text-based conversation. Or, if you prefer to write in your own time, you can choose email counselling where you write me an email and I respond within 72 hours. You then receive an email you can keep referring back to in future.

For more information including my fees and availability, please contact me.

Did you think this was a useful post? Do me a favour and post it on Facebook or Tweet it on Twitter!

10 Questions to Ask Your Prospective Counsellor or Therapist Who Works In English

Questions for Therapists

Have you reached a turning point in your life and want to find therapy in English?

Do you need counselling for relationship issues, stress or a break-up?

Or would you like to find an English speaking coach to improve life generally?

Here are ten important questions to ask your prospective counsellor or therapist. I’ve provided my own answers to give you a sense of where I fit according to these criteria:

1. How long was your therapy training?

My therapy training commenced when I started training as a counsellor in 1989 and it has not stopped since! Over the last 20+ years I have undertaken Bachelors and Masters degrees in Social Work, specialist narrative psychotherapy training through the Dulwich Centre in Adelaide, Australia and completed many short courses and workshops in a range of therapeutic approaches. These include CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy), mindfulness, psycho-education (including motivational interviewing), stress management, relaxation strategies, problem solving, anger management, therapy for adult survivors of child abuse and couples counselling.

A good therapist does not stop his or her education simply when a qualification is achieved. Professional development must be ongoing. Each year I attend a number of training activities and conferences and regularly share the outcomes of these with my clients.

2. Under which title, coach, counsellor or psychotherapist would you be allowed to work in your own country?

In both Australia and England, I am allowed to use all 3 of these titles: coach, counsellor and psychotherapist. In Sweden the title ‘psychotherapist’ (or psykoterapeut in Swedish) is a protected title and only practitioners licensed by the Swedish National Health and Welfare Authority – Socialstyrelsen – can use that title. I have not applied to be licensed as a psychotherapist in Sweden and instead refer to myself as a samtalsterapeut (counsellor) or narrative therapist in my work. Psychotherapist training in Sweden is limited to certain methods or approaches and applicants for a Swedish license must demonstrate compliance with particularly Swedish requirements. I have found that most of the people who meet with me are far more interested in the benefits of a therapist who speaks their language and understands their culture than they are in meeting with someone who fits precise Swedish requirements or works through the Swedish healthcare system.

3. How often do you have supervision?

I generally attend supervision at least twice a month and my commitment to supervision meets the recommendations of the AASW and BACP. Supervision for counsellors and therapists is not the same as supervision in a management situation. It means something completely different. It is about discussing professional issues in a structured way and ensuring the counsellor or therapist is taking care of their own well-being. It helps counsellors, psychotherapists, psychologists and social workers ensure their integrity and ethical practice. Counsellors and therapists in private practice will generally be paying for private supervision from a more or equally experienced person. I have such an arrangement with a more experienced practitioner and also engage in regular peer supervision with colleagues.

4. How long have you been practising?

I began practicing as a counsellor in 1989 and have worked across the community, government and private sectors over the years. Since 2005 I have been specialising in mental health counselling and therapy. I commenced private practice as a therapist and mental health counsellor in 2008.

5. What is your theoretical approach?

My practice is informed by a range of theoretical approaches. When undertaking advanced therapeutic work with people, it tends not to be helpful to be limited to a singular technique or method. In Sweden, counselling and therapy is dominated by Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT or KBT) and Psychoanalysis but there are many other ways of working together if these do not appeal to you. I am particularly drawn to dialogical and narrative practices and the work of a number of well-known therapists including Harlene Anderson, Johnella Bird, Art Fisher, David Epston, Michael White. If you would like more information about these approaches, I would be happy to send you some links if you email me for details.

6. Do you offer a 50 or a 60 minute hour?

My standard appointments are 60 minutes but longer appointments (75 minutes or longer) can easily be negotiated. I generally leave at least 15 minutes between appointments and, if I have more time available, I usually don’t mind if we continue a little longer if it is helpful to you.

7. What do the initials behind your name actually mean?

Currently the initials after my name are: BSocWk, MA, MAASW (acc.). They stand for Bachelor of Social Work, Master of Arts and Member of the Australian Association of Social Workers (accredited).

8. Are you an accredited member of a professional organisation?

Yes, as above, I am an accreditated member of the AASW in Australia. This accreditation means I have a qualification awarded by a professional association as a specialist mental health provider and can offer focussed psychological services under the Australian government Medicare program when I am meeting with clients in Australia (similar to the services provided by psychologists that are reimbursed by the government there). The AASW supports my practice in Europe and represents my professional interests, however unfortunately Medicare will not reimburse appointment fees unless we meet in Australia.

9. Do you have insurance?

Yes, I hold both professional indemnity and public liability insurance.

10. Are you registered for tax in Sweden?

Yes, I am fully registered with Skatteverket, the Swedish tax authority and required to invoice moms (consumption tax) on my services in Sweden. If you require your invoice made out to a particular company name, please advise me in advance.

Extra question: How old are you?

Some people want to know how old I am and I am quite open about my age. I was born in 1969 so at the time of writing this, I am 43 years old.

You can read more on the About Ash Rehn page. If you are interested in making an appointment, please contact me by email or phone. I’m happy to answer any further questions you might have.