My partner refuses to go to couples counselling. Now what?

Whether you’re married, dating, in a long-term relationship, or it’s something more complicated, we all experience life’s ups and downs as part of our partnerships. Few, if any relationships exist without some form of conflict. That could be in the form of an odd disagreement, bickering, or something bigger and more serious.

Couple holding hands over coffee

At some point, you may begin to question if things can last; your first instinct may be to try and work through any problems alone, or to deny that there’s anything wrong and to try and push through. But when our relationships start to cause us to worry, feel upset or have new levels of stress, this can affect our physical and mental well-being.

Speaking with an outside, impartial person can help to give you both the space to talk, explore what is really causing you issues, and find new ways you can work together on your relationship (and yourselves) to feel happier, more fulfilled, and able to face the world together.

But what happens if your partner refuses to consider relationship counselling? If only one of you is on board with trying couples therapy, what can you do to still support your relationship, without creating further hurt feelings?

What do I do if my partner won’t try couples therapy?

We spoke with relationship counsellor Beverley Hills, to find out more about what counselling can – and can’t – do for our relationships.

“Relationship counselling is not about fixing the relationship, like any counselling it’s more about helping you to facilitate change or indeed it could be about helping you reach an amicable breakup,” Beverley explains.

Relationship therapy, also known as couples counselling, is a type of talking therapy designed to give both of you a safe space to talk. It can help you to discover ways you can improve your communication, and resolve any issues that may be causing tension or strain in your relationship.

“If one partner is reluctant to come to counselling then the chances of ‘persuading’ them can often fail and no counsellor can work with resistance, which begs the question: how do you convince your partner this is the right course of action for you both?”

If your partner is reluctant to open up and speak candidly about why they aren’t keen to try counselling, it could be worth considering why this is. As Beverley explains,

“Consider framing the notion from the other person’s point of view. This is a good way to help them see you have their best interests at heart and is the basis of true empathy. Why would your other half be resistant? Well, they may imagine the counsellor and the partner will gang up on them.

“Assure them that ethically, the counsellor will be totally impartial. Whether they are male or female, therapists never ‘take sides’ and it will be a confidential safe space for both partners to express their feelings and opinions about issues which have made living together difficult.

“Perhaps they may feel as though they will be blamed for whatever is going wrong. Again, like most counselling, relationship counselling is not about blame but about circumstance. Together we look at the various events which led to this situation so you both become aware and share the accountability.”

If you have already begun research into couples counselling, what it involves, and how it can help, Beverley suggests it could be a good starting point to share this information with your partner. Getting them involved in the process can help them to feel more comfortable and included.

“Suggest sharing the resources you’ve found, so you can choose who you see together. Offering your partner collective power can often help them become less reluctant.

“In my experience as a relationship counsellor, the emotional healing process doesn’t happen overnight; imagine you’ve had all these years to get to this point so it’s going to take a while to understand how and why you got there, both as individuals and as a couple so I’d advocate patience with yourself and your partner. With the support of a good relationship counsellor, you will get there in the end.”

What is relationship counselling?

As with many forms of therapy, we can develop a somewhat distorted view of what counselling really involves, thanks in part to film and TV. Relationship counselling is designed to create a safe space where you can talk openly about specific or more general issues, improve your communication, and resolve any issues that may be causing problems.

Often accompanied by homework (such as specific tasks or discussions) for you to do between sessions, these are then discussed during your next session to help you explore how the experience made you both feel, as well as to talk about any challenges you may have experienced.

Typically, relationship counselling is attended by both of you together, however, you can also attend sessions individually with the same counsellor. This can continue, or can later move on to you both attending sessions together. It’s about finding what works best for you as a couple, rather than trying to fit into a rigid idea of what therapy sessions ‘should be’.

Dr Lee Valls discusses how couples counselling can help.

What should we expect from relationship counselling?

As counsellor Fe Robinson explains to Happiful, “Couples counselling isn’t a magic cure. It requires an investment of honesty, courage and humility.”

While your therapist will not ‘take sides’, it’s important to know that they also are not there to be passive. “Often, couples come into counselling blaming one another for their difficulties. It’s not unusual for couples to start arguing in front of the counsellor.

“Couples counsellors are not passive; they will intervene to focus the session on insight and action. They may help you learn to communicate differently, but will not give advice about life issues, or solve your problems. Rather, they will help you both to be heard.”

Working with a counsellor can help with any number of issues, from trust and jealousy to affairs, different values or goals, parenting or family conflict, sexual or emotional intimacy issues, or even work-related difficulties. Together, they can help you to discover new ways to communicate, compromise, and connect. With a little guidance, you can find ways of growing together and resolving disputes in a healthy way, that is mutually respectful and beneficial for you and your partner.

Beverley Hills and Dr Lee Valls explain more about couples counselling.

Is couples counselling right for us?

Only you can answer that. Every relationship is different. If you’re worried about your relationship and think you may be unable to make healthy changes by yourselves, couples therapy could offer you a number of different benefits.

It’s important to remember that you don’t need to wait or see relationship therapy as a ‘last resort’. Admitting you need help or could benefit from an outside perspective doesn’t mean that your relationship is broken or failing. Admitting you need help is never a sign of weakness or defeat. Talking therapies can offer a healthy way of recognising and addressing any underlying issues before they can escalate into something bigger or more worrying in the future.

If you’re considering couples counselling, it’s great to recognise that you are looking for new ways to strengthen and support your relationship.

To find out more about how couples counselling could help you, check out our relationship counselling page, read more related articles below, or use our advanced search to find experienced, qualified therapists online or near you.

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Written by Bonnie Evie Gifford
Bonnie Evie Gifford is a Senior Writer at Happiful.
Written by Bonnie Evie Gifford
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