What to Do When Your Partner Doesn’t Want to Come to Couples Counseling

when one partner doesn't want to go to therapyAll couples face challenges and problems. Perhaps there are problems in your relationship that feel too big to overcome alone, so much so that you’re thinking about getting help. Or maybe you’ve already talked with your partner about meeting with a couples therapist.


Either you’re not optimistic that he’s going to want to go to marriage counseling or couples therapy before you’ve talked with him, or he’s already expressed reluctance to meet with a therapist with you.


What do you do?


You’re Not Alone

I probably get at least one call a week from a couple that’s really struggling. One partner reaches out desperate for help and says something like this:

  • “I’m not sure he’s going to want to come.”
  • “He works a lot, so I’m not sure when he’ll be available.”
  • “She says that I’m the problem and so she doesn’t need to come.”
  • “I’ve tried talking with him about coming to see you, and he says that we can work it out ourselves.”
  • “He says that he just wouldn’t feel comfortable.”
  • “He doesn’t believe in therapy.”


If you noticed that most of the time so far I’ve used masculine pronouns, it’s for a good reason. In my experience, most of the time it’s husbands who are reluctant to go to therapy.


Men and Their Hesitation to Go to Therapy

Why? Well, that’s another blog post entirely, but there are some quick reasons we can identify for this, I think. Many men aren’t comfortable with emotional vulnerability. The idea of spilling their guts in front of a total stranger (even a trustworthy one) isn’t exactly appealing.


Many men feel shame about going to therapy, sometimes without realizing it.

Moreover, many men feel shame about going to therapy, sometimes without realizing it. That their partner wants to go to therapy means that they’ve failed in their relationship, that they’re at fault, or that (pardon my French) they can’t handle their shit.


I get it. Boy, as a man with family myself, I get it. Going to therapy is an incredibly vulnerable and courageous step to take for both partners. And trust me, most therapists (myself included) are just as nervous as both partners are during that first session of couples therapy.


Therapists wonder if and hope that they’ll be able to connect with each partner and help the relationship. Men especially wonder if they can feel safe with this person and if they’ll be heard and understood.


Couples Therapy vs. Individual Therapy

If your partner isn’t interested in counseling, you may have wondered if you should go yourself to work on your relationship.


Theoretically, it makes sense. If couples are caught in a “dance” that’s not working, it takes only one partner to change the dance. If one partner can change how he or she participates in the relationship, the destructive dance going on between partners will shift with it, or so this thinking goes. So maybe only one partner needs to be present for the relationship to change, right?


Well, yes and no. I can tell you from personal experience that working to improve a relationship with only one partner present is very difficult. One partner can change how they dance, but if the other partner keeps stepping on their toes and not looking at how they are dancing, it’s hard to imagine things getting better.


That’s not to say that if your partner doesn’t want to go to therapy with you that seeking individual therapy is a bad idea. Far from it. It simply means that the focus of the counseling is on how to support you instead of your relationship.


Individual therapy can be wonderfully helpful in a number of ways:

  • Therapy can help you sort out what your partner’s refusal to come to therapy means to you
  • You can consider the relationship’s future.
  • A therapist will help you understand your contribution to the relationship’s problems and how you can participate in the relationship in a healthier way.
  • If you decide that the relationship needs to end, therapy can help you grieve its loss and learn how to make better relationship choices in the future.


What to Do When Your Partner Doesn’t Want to Come to Couples Counseling

Let’s get practical. What might you actually do when you’ve had the talk but your partner still doesn’t want to come to counseling?

  1. Understand that his resistance is coming from how he feels. He’s presenting to you reasons why he doesn’t want to go, and they may or may not make sense to you. But underneath those reasons is emotion: He’s scared, vulnerable, feeling inadequate, or in some other way hurting, and he’s pushing back because he probably is either afraid or ashamed. He may not be ready to open up about these feelings, even though it might be helpful for your relationship for him to do so.
  2. Try to understand his resistance to coming to therapy. What is he saying about why he doesn’t want to come? How can you understand that with him? Did he have a bad experience in previous counseling? What does he feel that he doesn’t want to go? This can be challenging because it often means having the kind of open, honest dialogue that’s likely been missing in the relationship for some time. But even your interest may help him feel safer with you and more open to going to therapy.
  3. Find a therapist together. What kind of therapist might he like to see? A male or female therapist? What would be important to him about that therapist’s experience and credentials? Could you look at a few therapist profiles or websites together? Is he open to talking to one on the phone? Try to involve him in this process; it might be helpful for him to know that his thoughts and opinions matter to you.
  4. Consider going to a therapist alone if your partner doesn’t want to come with you. As I mentioned, going to see a therapist yourself can help you figure out what his reluctance means for you. It can be a way of sorting out what his ambivalence means for you and how you’d like to respond. Taking time to look closely at how you “do” relationships, and how you’ve participated in your current relationship, can make a world of difference.


Live near Ventura, Camarillo, or Oxnard, CA?

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Contact me today to get started.


Jeremy Mast

Jeremy is a licensed marriage and family therapist (CA LMFT90961) in private practice in Ventura, California. He helps those struggling with drugs, alcohol, and out-of-control sexual behaviors awaken to new possibilities for their lives. He lives with his wife, son, and cat in beautiful southern California.

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