It happens on a regular basis: someone calls to make an appointment for marriage counseling and then calls the day of the appointment to cancel. “My spouse won’t come so there’s no point in keeping the appointment.” It’s aggravating because it’s just not true. One person can make a BIG difference in a relationship.
What to Do When Your Spouse Refuses Marriage Counseling
First we have to look at possible reasons for not wanting to attend marriage counseling. It may be the resistant spouse anticipates the therapist aligning with the other partner and blaming them for all the problems in the relationship. But there could be other issues:
- Denial of the problem(s). They are the one saying “I’m okay and you’re not”.
- Bad experience with counseling in the past. They’ve been to counseling and it didn’t help.
- Legitimate scheduling issues. “I can’t take off work” is sometimes true. Skipping out on counseling MIGHT mean the end of the marriage; too small a paycheck will DEFINITELY mean foreclosure, repossession, or utilities being cut off. (At Bowden McElroy and Associates we offer appointments in the morning, afternoon, and evening precisely because we recognize this. Counseling is supposed to help relieve stress, not create more of it.)
- The negative stigma of seeing a mental health professional is alive and well, if not in their social circle then at least in their own mind.
Sometimes the underlying assumption is that what is really wrong with the marriage is the other spouse. “If only he/she would change” has become the rallying cry of the partner interested in counseling. “I’m okay and you’re not” is the hidden message being communicated. I can’t blame someone for wanting to skip out on therapy if the expectation is the counselor will spend an hour emotionally beating up on them. I don’t think I would go.
The best thing you can do for your marriage and your own sense of well-being is to go anyway… even if your spouse won’t!
A relationship is, by definition, dynamic. If one partner changes the other partner will change the way they react. Think of it as a mathematical axiom: If you change something on one side of the equation what is on the other side of the equal sign must also change. As you learn to intentionally respond to your spouse instead of reacting as you have always reacted, the relationship dynamic changes.
Much of marriage therapy involves improving communication skills and learning collaborative problem-solving skills. Two people, both highly motivated, is the ideal but even if only one learns a new way of relating the marriage can be improved.
Always keep the goal in mind: it isn’t to make your spouse change. The goal is to understand the dynamic of the marriage and to gain insight into your role in the repeated dysfunctional behavior patterns. After 30+ years of providing marriage counseling I am convinced of two things: it is never all one person’s fault and it is rarely ever 50/50. Going to a marriage counselor by yourself will help you understand what your part is and how you can change.
One last thought: don’t confuse marriage counseling for one with traditional individual therapy. Marriage counseling with only one partner present is still focused on the marriage. It is still marriage counseling! That requires specialized training and a unique approach to therapy. Look for a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT) or a Clinical Fellow of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
I can be reached at 918-346-3665 for an appointment. Or, contact me by email.