How to Talk to Your Partner about Going to Therapy
When I get a call from a couple needing help, the spouse or partner on the phone usually says that the relationship is in some kind of crisis. Couples can sometimes struggle for months, even years, before something happens that at last causes the relationship’s ground to give way.
When this finally happens and partners talk about going to therapy for the first time, it may not go anywhere. In fact, things sometimes get worse. Fights get louder and longer. One partner might storm off or leave and not come back for the first time. Words are exchanged that can’t be taken back. Each partner feels like there’s nowhere else the relationship can go. Neither can see a way of working it out. They’re both at the end of their ropes. The relationship is crying out for help.
If you’re considering couples counseling and want to talk to your partner about it, it can be a difficult conversation to have. Maybe you’re anxious about it or even dreading it. Talking about counseling with men especially can be challenging. As a general rule, men would rather get their fingers caught in a car door or get a root canal than go to therapy.
However, there are ways that you can talk to your partner about going to therapy that may make the conversation easier for both of you. First, though, let’s take a look at how you might have already talked about going to see a therapist and why it may not have gone well.
How Counseling Might Have Come Up Already
By the time one partner suggests therapy, it’s not uncommon that one or both partners might have thought about going to couples counseling already. Maybe it’s a private thought that’s held in confidence, shared only with trusted friends or a close family member but never with one’s partner. Not yet. The partner is likely trying to find a way to discuss this feeling with his partner.
Or maybe the idea has been dropped in anger, saying that the other person needs counseling. For instance, a spouse who’s been cheated on might think to herself, he had the affair, so he should go to counseling, right? Sure, the other person contributed to the problem, and maybe he even caused the immediate crisis. But not only is this a subtle form of anger and blaming, which masks the hurt that needs to be voiced for the relationship to really heal.
Or, as it often happens, the idea of going to counseling has been shared during a heated argument. “We need help,” says Partner A. Partner B, emotionally revved up and on the defensive, isn’t likely to be crazy about this thought. He’s not able to think about this suggestion rationally and is more likely to jump to his own emotional conclusions about what this comment means: “I suck as a husband, I can’t work this out with my wife,” or “She’s wanting therapy so she can get ready to leave me,” or “I could never be vulnerable with her, much less a therapist,” and so on.
It may also be that the couple has discussed counseling in quieter, calmer moments, but that one partner is reluctant, anxious, or afraid to go for reasons that are often not entirely spoken or understood. And so the same arguments keep happening. The relationship becomes more distant, each partner digging in their heels. They both feel stuck, and that “stuckness” feels more and more hopeless.
How to Talk to Your Partner about Going to Therapy
If any of this sounds familiar, you’re not alone. There are steps you can take to talk to your partner more freely about your thoughts about going to see a therapist together. My hope is that these thoughts can help you connect with your partner about what matters to you, so that the conversation about going to seek support can be a mutual decision made in love.
1) Find a time to talk about why you’re thinking about going to therapy with your partner. You may need to schedule this or ask to talk about it later (“I’d like to talk to you about something that’s been on my mind. Can we discuss that tonight?”). Whatever the case, it’s important not to wait. The longer you wait, the more the problems in the relationship may grow, and it can be harder for each of you to start therapy successfully during a real crisis.
2) Reflect on why you’d like to go to therapy with your partner, and consider how to say this to him or her. When you ask your partner to go with you to therapy, the conversation will probably be easier if you share from your heart about why going to therapy together is important to you. Let your partner hear from your authentic self. If that feels like too much, try taking a smaller risk; he’s more likely to listen to you when you’re expressing yourself as honestly as you know how.
Focus on how you see the relationship needing help and how going to therapy with your partner could help you. Avoid talking about how you think therapy might help your spouse. You might try something like the following:
- “I’ve been struggling for a while in this relationship. Sometimes I have thoughts that I’d like to talk about with you but that when I do, I get so angry and defensive. I don’t like it for me and I can see it hurts you. Maybe we can go talk to someone about it.”
- “Ever since you told me about your affair, I haven’t felt like myself. I’m really angry at you but also scared of losing you. I’m not sure what to do right now and think we could use help.”
- “I’ve noticed that we fight about the same things over and over again, and that things usually don’t go well. I end up feeling really pissed, but more than that, really alone and like you’re miles away. I want to figure out ways to communicate that are healthy, and maybe a counselor could give us a hand with this.”
3) Calm yourself before having the conversation, and if it’s possible, try to approach your partner when she’s calm too. It’s not a good idea to talk about therapy during an argument, even though that’s when you might be most aware of your desire to go. Of course, talking about it during an argument might be what’s best for some couples, so it’s not a hard-and-fast rule.
However, I think you’re more likely to have a constructive dialogue about how counseling might support the relationship when each of you are calm and relaxed. When we’re angry, hurting, or in some other way emotional, we react emotionally in ways that can ignite further conflict.
Of course, it may be that the relationship’s conflict has grown to the point where no time is a good time. If this is the case, any talk about going to therapy is likely to start a cycle of destructive, painful conflict. State your feelings and thoughts firmly and calmly while avoiding getting pulled into the conflict. Be prepared for your partner refusing to go and consider seeking out therapy alone.
4) Focus on shared goals for and values in the relationship. What common ground can you find that each of you can rally behind? Maybe you’re constantly fighting about how to raise your kids because you care so deeply about your children and want what’s best for them. Maybe you both are concerned about finances but approach your money differently. Talk about that and emphasize that going to therapy might be able to help you get on the same page while creating new respect and understanding of each other’s differences.