"My spouse doesn't want to come to counseling... What should I say or do?"

If your spouse refuses to join you in couples counseling, he or she will often invoke one or more "reasons" such as, "It's too expensive" (the money reason); or, "I don't see how it can help" (the effectiveness reason); or, "We can work on this without a third party" (the do-it-yourself reason); or, "I don't see the point, it's too late" (the hopelessness reason); or, "I don't know what to do" (the clueless reason); or some variation on these themes.

What should you do?

In the face of these objections, starting a fight, leaving the house, asking your spouse to leave, giving ultimatums, filing for divorce, or using physical force will NOT work to remove his or her objections. The best recommendation, as far as behavior is concerned, is to try and communicate with your spouse either verbally or in writing.

What should you say?

The communication should be centered around offering reasons why getting professional help is a good idea.

First, start by accepting that your spouse may not be motivated to work on the marriage "to make it better" but may be willing to try and discern whether the marriage should continue at all. To the spouse who is "leaning in," the fact that the other is "leaning out" may be a painful reality to contemplate. If you are the one leaning in, try and overcome the fear of "making it worse by talking openly about the possibility that the marriage may end." In fact, when ending the marriage turns out to be the final outcome, it is often because the spouses couldn't talk about any other option and divorce became the only option.

Second, respond directly to your spouse's objections.

MONEY: A contentious divorce (with emotional, physical, and legal fights) is the attorneys' gain and the spouses' huge financial loss. Ask your reluctant spouse if it wouldn't be better to resolve the matter in a way that uncovers the real issues, accepts the differing points of view, compromises on what is possible, and doesn't overlook any possible alternatives. Use the argument that successful couples counseling can actually help save assets, can reduce legal costs, and can minimize painful and damaging confrontations. The spouse who is leaning out and uses the money reason to back out of counseling may be persuaded by this argument that couples counseling is well worth its relatively low cost.

EFFECTIVENESS: Talking to an unbiased professional opens up the possibility of uncovering useful insights. It is hard to see things clearly and objectively from within a highly charged, negative situation. Moreover, none of us have all the experience and wisdom needed to address a life-changing event such as divorce in the most effective way, especially when we are stressed, tired, depressed, or anxious about the whole situation. Talking to someone who’s professionally trained to listen and to counsel may not be the easiest thing to do, but it is almost invariably one of the best choices. Not only do the spouses have a safe place in which to discuss their different points of view, but they also enjoy the benefits of a professional's wealth of experience in dealing with similar situations. Try and explain this to your reluctant spouse who uses the effectiveness objection.

DO-IT-YOURSELF: Some spouses believe that there is nothing that they can learn from talking to someone else and that a solution is always available from one's own resources. In fact, the opposite is often true. Talking and exploring the problem with someone who can understand and help can uncover ideas and reveal all possible strategies and solutions. You’ve heard the saying, “there is nothing new under the sun.” This happens to be true of all things human. Chances are, your relationship problem has been successfully solved by many other people with the same challenges and in the same circumstances. Talking about your particular situation may allow you to take advantage of the collective wisdom and someone else’s similar experiences. Tell your spouse that trying to fix it from within would be wonderful, then ask how he/she proposes to do it. Chances are, the do-it-yourself approach will not work. When your spouse realizes this, he/she may be ready for the next step, couples counseling.

HOPELESSNESS: In a household where the spouses are contemplating a potential divorce, depression and anxiety are frequent visitors. You and your spouse may both, at times, be suffering from negative, depressing, stressful feelings and thoughts. It is hard to think straight. It is hard to see a future. It is hard to even talk about the problem itself. Isolation, withdrawal, stonewalling, resentment, and conflict often get in the way of meaningful dialogue. Frequently, one or both spouses become hopeless and think, "Why should we even try to fix this? It's hopeless." Hopelessness is perhaps the hardest objection to overcome. Try and discuss with your spouse the antidotes that fight this poisonous way of thinking: communication, mutual compassion, thoughts of children and extended families, precious memories of happier times, the possibilities of a future either together or separately. A professional can facilitate this dialogue in the safe environment of couples counseling and can restore hope to an otherwise dire and gloomy situation.

CLUELESSNESS: If neither one of you has had any prior experience with divorce you may feel completely unprepared for the situation. Remind your confused spouse that telling the story to a trained listener, instead of just telling it to oneself over and over (also known as ruminating), can help both of you sort out what is often a confused mix of thoughts, emotions, opportunities and challenges. In solving a problem, the first step is to lay out as clearly as possible its dimensions, i.e., its scope, frequency and intensity. Talking about it in the right setting and with professional guidance can help you and your spouse take this first step much more efficiently.

What if none of this works?

If communication doesn't work in removing your spouse's objections to counseling, not all is lost. "No" may just mean, "not now." A decision such as divorce calls for the greatest possible effort at leaving no stone unturned, trying all possible avenues, and not giving up too soon in trying to bring about a successful resolution. While remaining realistic about the fact that not all marriages can be saved, wait to throw in the towel until you have exhausted all possible means and explored all possible alternatives. If this means waiting a little longer for your spouse to come in to counseling, wait--but continue to communicate your desire to resolve the impasse in the most cost-effective, compassionate, and smartest way possible.

Should you come in by yourself?

Yes, to learn how to communicate with a resisting spouse in the best possible way. You won't be able to get couples, i.e. relationship, counseling without your spouse being present and engaged in the process, but you may gain insights and skills to be able to bring about a resolution.

Let's talk about it

Unsure on how to proceed at this point? Can't decide what to do next? Are you afraid of making the wrong decision? Is your mind already made up but your spouse's isn't? Need discernment counseling? Call Dr. Z for an appointment at (678) 554-5632 or fill out the online appointment request.