Think your relationship could use a little fine-tuning, but don't know how to talk to your partner about it? You're not alone.
Couples counseling gets a bad rap. Many people think that relationship counseling is all about fighting, confronting, and having huge emotional blow-ups. Truth is... it shouldn't be like this at all!
It should be about talking openly in a safe environment and getting some new ideas about how to improve your relationship, strengthen your communication, and work through any problems the two of you are having.
I recently sat down with a reporter to answer the most common questions people have about talking to their partner about counseling. I hope the following Q&A will help you navigate the conversation successfully...
What are some general signs that it might be time to talk with your partner about therapy?
Many people seek therapy when they are struggling to communicate, fighting frequently, feel disconnected, or feel like they've become roommates. I'd encourage people to come in sooner rather than later, because if you're struggling to fight fairly, that's an issue we can fix in 1-2 sessions (most of the time). If you let it build into deep resentment or some acting out behavior (i.e., and affair), that's a much bigger fix.
If someone is wondering if the relationship is working, or if it's really worth it anymore, that's a good time to reach out for some support.
If you've had a recent trauma in your relationship, i.e., found out about an affair or loss of baby, definitely time to reach out for help.
How can you best communicate your desire to go to therapy calmly so that your partner doesn't panic?
I think it's best to bring up this conversation during a calm time when you're both relaxed, i.e. having lunch on a Sunday. Approach the conversation from an "us" angle and that this will be a good thing. You might say, "So I have been thinking that we've had more fights recently and there might be some tricks we could both learn to make things go better, would you be up for going to talk to someone about it?"
Then if your partner does have any concerns, i.e., they went to therapy before and they felt very criticized or that it didn't help much, you can reassure them and tell them you'll look for someone together, you'll get some recommendations, and you'll only continue if you both feel comfortable.
How can someone best communicate that therapy can be positive and isn't a so-called "death sentence" for a relationship?
Oh this is sad... but many people DO think that couples therapy is a death sentence... and that's often because they've waited so long and let so much damage happen... that it's like waiting to go to the ER until you've stopped breathing and most of your blood has leaked out!
Definitely reassure your partner that this is not a death sentence for you two, that you are committed to the relationship, and that you want to learn some new ways of doing things so that you can nip the problem in the bud.
I really see my role as part cheerleader, part teacher, and part coach. A good therapist is going to want to help you feel safe and get better as fast as possible, they're also going to be positive and upbeat with you. Even when a couple is in a really dark place, I will tell them that things CAN get better and we have to work really hard to make that happen.
So look for someone who is experienced, who wants to teach you new skills and coach you on how to use those skills. Not someone who is just going to listen, nod their head and commiserate. A little of that is good, but that should not be the majority of what's happening in therapy.
What's the best environment or circumstances for the conversation to happen?
Definitely not during a fight or a time when you're really upset. Choose a calm, peaceful time in a safe, private place to broach the topic... and if your partner is resistant, it's ok... try to bring it up again in a few days. I'd highlight the positives, maybe share a story from a couple you know who had a good experience, and really emphasize that this is a going to be a learning experience for you both. That you won't tolerate a therapist who is mean to the other or makes either of you feel judged or "beaten up."
Also, don't bring it up when either of you is drunk, super stressed or hungry.... few real conversations go well in those moments!
What if your partner continues to be resistant?
Don't push or threaten or try to convince. Just leave it and try to bring it up again in a few days. If you've tried several times to encourage your partner to go and they won't, then you can go yourself and get some ideas to bring home and try. Once they see you are going, they might decide to join in.
You can also try a self-help book at home that you read together and talk about. There are tons of great online therapy classes too. Start wherever you can start and resist forcing or giving any ultimatums.
What can I do to set us up for success and make sure my partner continues to feel involved and positive?
Keep talking about it and look for someone together. You can ask friends, family, or colleagues for some recommendations... but most people prefer to just keep it private and do a google search. This is just fine! Google together, review different therapists' websites together, narrow the list down together. Check reviews online and if possible, read some of their blog or see one of their videos. Therapists have different personalities and you want to find someone you like and will feel comfortable with.
If one of you doesn't connect with the therapist as you're searching, move on to someone else. You both need to feel comfortable and that you had an equal say in the decision.
What specific language should I use (or not use) in these conversations?
I would really recommend that someone keep the conversation upbeat, positive, and hopeful. Highlight the strengths of your relationship and then pivot to how both of you can learn some new things to make your conversations (or whatever the problem is) go better. Stress that it's not about finding fault, it's about finding solutions!
Is there any point at which someone should "give up" on convincing a partner to go to therapy? What then?
If your partner is really resistant, don't push. You can keep talking about it, but don't nag and apply to much pressure. If they really don't want to be in a therapy session, the session isn't going to benefit them much. So, go yourself, get some ideas. Try online books and courses and talk about them together. Ultimately, if things aren't going well, you can ask your partner to find the solution... "So what do you think we can do to improve things? How can we figure out what's going sideways? How can we learn some new tricks?"
If the answer is that they are not willing to do anything or that you are the entire problem, you may need to give that some serious thought... and then talk about it with YOUR therapist.
More Free Resources For You
The Relationship Repair Kit - PDF
How to confront your partner about their affair
Dr. K's Blog
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