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How to Get Your Spouse to Go to Marriage Counseling

Roy Milam

It’s not unusual for some spouses to be reluctant in getting professional help with their marriage, whether it’s to go to counseling  or to attend a marriage retreat or workshop.  If you are the one who is suggesting to your spouse that the two of you should consider getting professional help with your marriage, your approach and how you go about communicating the idea with your spouse is crucial. The manner in which you present the idea to your partner can be a major factor as to whether he or she will be resistant or receptive to the idea. 

Before suggesting that you and your spouse should seek professional help with your marriage, it is first important that you have a good understanding of the subject and be able to communicate about the most important aspects of seeking help. For example; why do you think that you and your spouse might benefit from getting professional marriage counseling? What kind of Marital help would be most beneficial for the two of you? What are the costs etc.  Of great importance will be; what your spouse’s concerns are about going to marriage counseling or to a marriage intensive.  The next step would be to provide your spouse with information that addresses those concerns.

Often, when a spouse says that they don’t want to  go to a marriage counselor or  a marriage retreat, it’s usually not that they don’t care about you or the marriage. More than likely it’s that they have some valid fears or concerns about marriage counseling or that they don’t have an accurate understanding of what a marriage intensive retreat is. Here are some of the most common fears, concerns and misperceptions I’ve heard spouses have:

  • They don’t want to be blamed for what’s wrong in the marriage.
  • Lack of  accurate information about Cornerstone’s particular marriage intensive retreat.
  • They think that couples should just be able to solve their problems on their own.
  • Fear of being embarrassed about having to tell someone about their problems.
  • Concerns about the cost.
  • They feel hurt and angry and have difficulty listening to much of anything  from their spouse.
  • Thinking;  “It probably wouldn’t do us any good anyway.”
  • They don’t think their marriage is that bad
  • They think that their spouse is the one who needs help.
  • We went to marriage counseling before and it didn’t work.

So, how do you get a reluctant partner to go to a marriage intensive retreat?” How do you know what their fears and concerns are?   By having a conversation with them, preferrably an in-person one, or if a not an in-person conversation, then a phone conversation. 

First, set up a time to talk.  Tell your spouse that you want to talk about something important regarding  your marriage.  Then ask when might be a good time to talk for 10-15 minutes. If now is not a good time for them and if he/she doesn’t suggest a time, then you suggest a time. Suggest it in a casual way, for example: “I’d like to sit down for a few minutes and talk about something that might be helpful for us.”  Suggest a time, for example, “how about tonight after we get the kids to bed”, etc.   This may help them to not feel so anxious about what you want to talk about.

Whenever the time comes to sit down and talk,  suggest to your spouse that you would like it if the two of you could hear each other out.  Express that you will listen without interrupting, and that you’d like to ask him/her to do the same for you.   Remind your spouse that he/she and your marriage is very important to you.  Acknowledge that  you realize there are some things that are not going well, and others that are, and that you realize there are things  that need to be fixed so that both of you can be happier.  Humbly express that you realize there are mistakes you have made and things that you need to work on (assuming you do realize that),  and that you believe and/or hope that both of you want to fix it.

If you haven’t already mentioned the retreat to your spouse,  provide her or him with some information about the it. Don’t try and explain it.  No offense, but your spouse likely needs to hear about it from some other source than you. Perhaps bring up the website (on your laptop or cell and hand it to him or her).  Or maybe provide him or her a copy of our email brochure. Mention that you have been looking at the retreat online and it sounded like it might be something that could be helpful to your  marriage. Don’t say too much. At this point, let the website do the talking. 

 The most important thing to do now, is to be quiet and listen  — without any coaxing, selling or persuading  and especially without any interrupting or disagreeing.  Don’t talk. Be quiet. Let your spouse talk if he or she wants to. Don’t ask questions. Your spouse may need some time to review the information. If your spouse says something… just listen… really  listen!  Seek to really understand what it is that your  spouse is saying. Try and understand how your spouse actually feels about it.  But keep in mind, that it would only be natural for anyone who just saw the information to be cautious about it.  So don’t be expecting too much at this point. In fact it is not unusual for a spouse who has just read about the retreat to not say anything for awhile. That’s okay. Nevertheless, when your spouse does decide to talk about it- listen, not  just to find out why he or she doesn’t want to go, so that you can present your side of the argument. Rather, ask yourself, “What concerns and feelings is my spouse feeling about this? Be quiet and listen, without interrupting?”

The key is, try to understand and to see it from your spouse’s perspective, and then validate his or her feelings and opinions, whether or not you agree. Their concerns probably DO make sense, from the way they see it. Express to your spouse that this important to you because you value your relationship with them.  Before you respond to any of your spouse’s concerns,  again try to imagine yourself in your spouse’s situation. Empathize with your spouse. Put yourself in your spouse’s shoes and try to understand why it makes sense that your spouse would have that concern. Then validate his or her opinions and feelings.  Then express that you understand how he/she could think or feel that way,  or how he or she might have that opinion, and that it makes sense, (whether or not you agree with it).  Remember, when you empathize and validate your spouse’s feelings and opinions, it says to him/her; “I understand and I CARE.”

If and when you have done the above well, then you are ready to adress each of your spouse’s concerns in a non-defensive manner. But don’t asssume anything.  If you are uncertain about something your spouse has said, courteously ask a question or two about it. This will also show that you are interested and that  you care. Then make a statement that addresses his/her concern.

If your spouse objects or says they don’t want to go, DO NOT interrupt and DO NOT  defend your position.  Don’t assume your spouse mean’s “no.” If they just blurt out something like “I’m not wasting time and money on that” (or whatever if any, their objection may be),  take a deep breath and pray. Allow your spouse to get things out and be heard by you.  Again, don’t argue.  Try to put yourself in their shoes.  Try to consider how they might feel the way they do. Validate their feelings and don’t rush to give an answer or to “fix it.” Instead, empathize and validate your spouse’s  feelings and concerns. Empathy and validation can also help minimize defensiveness and arguing.

Only afer you have done this well, will you be able to address your spouse’s concerns. Only afer you have done this well, will your spouse be able to listen and hear what you have to say.

Here’s an example of what the conversation might look like:  (After you have approached the subject and introduced the idea of the two of you going to a retreat)

Your spouse says :I don’t want to air our dirty laundry in front of somebody else. I feel very anxious about that. It could be embarrassing”

Your response:  I can understand  how you would feel anxious about airing our dirty laundry  in front of somebody else.  If we had to do that I would feel anxious and embarrassed too. And I  realize that you have a high value for privacy and that you don’t like to share our private livese – especially our problems, with somebody else.  I can understand how you might feel anxious about that.

And one of the good things I like about this marriage renewal retreat is that “nobody has to share anything about their marriage in a group.”  I read somewhere that they use a very private approach.

Your spouse says:  The thought of talking to a stranger about our difficulties would not be appealing. I just wouldn’t feel comfortable with that.

Your response: I can imagine how the thought of talking to a stranger about about our difficulties would make you feel uncomfortable.    When you say, ‘a stranger, are you referring to talking to a counselor?  Their website says that talking to a counselor is optional. Theirs is more of a coaching approach.

Your spouse says:  I think that we should be able to handle this on our own. 

Your response:    I think I know what you mean… that we shouldn’t need to get outside help, that we should be able to solve our own problems. Your concern makes sense. And I agree. I  just  think that both of us have been trying to work on our marriage without getting professional help, and it just seems like we’re not getting much closer to each other —  maybe even further apart and I don’t want that.  What I want is to get someone to help us who understands the kinds of problems of issues we’re having and give us some direction and supportl someone who can teach us skills and tools-  and help us to find better ways to handle our problems. 

Your spouse says: Well, it’s your fault that we’re even having these problems in the first place. If it wasn’t for you ….we wouldn’t have these problems.

Your response: I hear what you’re saying, and I can understand how you would think that.  I realize that I am a lot to blame for our problems. I agree, a lot of it is my fault.  Think of something that you do that is probably not helpful to the relationship and own it.  (For example, “I know that one of the things I do is __________   (nag, criticize, don’t always show appreciation, am stressed out at work and bring it home, etc.) And I’m getting help working on my issues.  

Your Spouse says: “I’m not wasting time and money on that

Your Expression of Understanding: “It makes sense you don’t want to waste time and money – we both work hard and it makes sense that you don’t want to just throw money at something  you’re not even sure would help.  Is that right?”

Finally, make a request: (1) I would appreciate it if you would just go online and look at this program and tell me what you think, and/or (2) Would you agree to just explore this possibility with me — then after that, we can decide whether not we want to continue?”

A  few other tips:

Somewhere in the conversation, tell your spouse (if it is true), that you think both of you try to make things better..  That’s perhaps why you would like the two of you to go together to a marriage retreat and learn more tools and skills to help both of you make your marriage better.  You don’t want to the two of you to feel more and more disconnected, (or whatever is true for you).

It’s about the two of you building together a happier marriage that you both enjoy.  Often, when a spouse realizes that the retreat is not about blaming or embarrassing them, they are more willing to go.  They also are more likely to attend when they realize that you want to help the marriage or relationship because you value them and your life together, and that it needs to be more of what you BOTH want.

Tell your spouse something about the marriage retreat. Let her/him that you have done some research.  Tell your spouse you would like them come to at least go online and look at it, and then talk to the people that are leading the retreat and see if it is a good fit for either of you.  After  talking to them, then both of you can decide whether to go or not.

We hope to see you at our upcoming retreat!

Click here for upcoming dates and locations.

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