Asking your partner to see a relationship therapist can be tricky. You and/or your partner might feel uncomfortable with the very idea of a third person knowing all about you and your relationship, but, as with many difficult conversations, it’s all about getting the timing and the tone right.
Finding the right time to discuss relationship therapy
Choosing a time to broach the idea of couples’ counselling when you are both calm is really important.
When we are overheated, tired, hungry, thirsty, agitated, distracted or stressed, we are often unable to think rationally and process ideas in a calm manner, so it’s a good idea to avoid sensitive discussions when either one of you is overwrought.
Often, people say to me that they hate to “rock the boat” when everything is calm, but this is the optimal time to pop the question and open up a discussion about relationship therapy – when you are on calm waters.
Find a time when you are both feeling okay and you won’t be interrupted for at least a few minutes (tricky with small children, but can be possible after bed time or during nap time) so you can each say your piece.
Common objections to relationship therapy
Your partner may have some resistance to the idea of therapy for your relationship. Some common objections that may be raised during this discussion are:
- “If we love each other, we shouldn’t need a relationship therapist. We should be able to work it out ourselves.”
If your partner has this belief, it’s helpful to talk about relationship therapy as being similar to coaching – if you were training for a triathlon but you were not a strong swimmer, you might engage a coach to guide you to better open-water swimming to improve this aspect of your performance. In relationship therapy, your “coach” will guide you to get a better result in the areas identified as weaknesses – they may include the way that you tackle disagreements with each other, how you negotiate and compromise as a couple, it might be related to sex or to parenting. Whatever it is, it is likely your relationship has some strengths and these will be highlighted and celebrated, and some weaknesses, and these will be improved on.
- “You’re acting like this is all my fault.”
Your partner may be worried about being blamed for the challenges you are experiencing. Blame is definitely not helpful and won’t be the aim of a therapist. The goal is to have each person take responsibility for how your marriage or partnership came to be where it is today and for you both to commit to taking steps to get it looking more like the marriage you both want.
Let your partner state their concerns and make sure you do not interrupt them with a counter-argument – they simply won’t feel heard. Take time to paraphrase (re-state what they have said, using different words) what your partner has said and convey your understanding and empathy by saying you can see why they might be worried about that, or feel that way. If your partner feels that you have genuinely listened, they may be more inclined to agree to seeing a therapist.
- “I don’t want our private business discussed with a stranger.”
Your partner might be concerned about how much “private” information a therapist will need to know. It is true that honesty is best, but your therapist is well trained and will let you each tell your story as you become comfortable. A skillful therapist will be able to put you both at ease and coax the whole story from you without it feeling too difficult (and it might even feel like a relief to tell it all to someone). Your therapist is likely to be pretty hard to shock, and being non-judgemental is the number-one rule for any person working in a counselling role.
- “We’ll just be rehashing old stuff.”
Sometimes people fear they will be going over and over old “stuff”. Whilst the issues of the past need to be resolved so that you can both move past them, your therapist will help you to do this quickly so that your progress can be swift.
A key goal of relationship therapy is to replace a pervasive negativity about the relationship with a more positive feeling from both parties. A couples’ therapy session is not a miserable hour of negativity, blaming, criticism or disregard – your therapist will ensure that these things are not present, or are quickly turned around when they pop up.
When your partner still resists therapy
If you feel you have answered any objections and your partner is still reluctant to commit to seeing a therapist, try negotiating some basics about the therapist to choose (location, availability, gender, experience) and perhaps ask for an agreement to attend four sessions and then review how you each are feeling about the progress of the therapy. Chances are, you will both already start to see and feel some positive changes and will be keen to keep your therapy going.
Book an appointment with The Bondi Psychologist for relationship therapy.
Read about my approaches to relationship counselling.