WRITTEN BY Felicia Kashevaroff
When Your Spouse Refuses Marriage Counseling: A 5-Step Survival Guide
We often reach a point in our relationships when things just aren’t working. The joy and excitement we once felt have dimmed, and the stresses of life have started to get in the way of our love.
Maybe you’ve started functioning as roommates. You get along perfectly fine, but there’s no passion. The only meaningful conversations you have are about who is going to pay the utility bill and what’s for dinner.
Or maybe you’ve fallen into a pattern of relentless conflict, one where you can’t be in the same room without glaring at one another, and those mundane conversations turn into raging fights about the crumbs left on the counter or whether whose family you’re planning to visit over the holidays.
Modern life is tough; if we’re not careful, it will chip away at our love. When that starts happening to you, you may consider seeking couples therapy. Marriage counseling can be a tremendously helpful tool to rebuild your connection and take control of your relationship health. According to Well Marriage, 49% of couples who attend marriage counseling report overwhelmingly positive results.
But sometimes, your partner just isn’t on the same page. They might have had a bad experience with counseling in the past, or they don’t think your problems are big enough to warrant marriage counseling, which can be expensive, time-consuming, and emotionally challenging.
So, what do you do when your partner refuses marriage counseling?
Here’s a 5-step survival guide for when you’re unhappy and your partner won’t seek help with you.
Take Inventory of Your Own Baggage
It’s true when they say that the only person you can change is yourself. Take time to take a personal inventory of your family history and past relationship patterns. Be honest about whether the behaviors you bring to the relationship are helpful or harmful. Are there traumatic experiences in your past that need to be healed? You deserve to take care of yourself. Personal growth is empowering and helps you show up for your relationship in a more whole and authentic way.
Two books that are great for taking inventory of your own baggage are:
Loving What Is: Four Questions That Can Change Your Life by Byron Katie and,
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown.
Adjust the Way You Communicate
Communication is the number one challenge that my clients face in their relationships. Most of us default to blame, defensiveness, and reactivity. We shy away from saying what we feel and sharing what we need. We need to learn how to listen without jumping to conclusions about our partner’s intentions.
Making subtle shifts in the way you communicate can have powerful and positive impacts on your relationship. Try these three tips to communicate more effectively:
- Calm yourself before difficult conversations. Use deep breathing or centering techniques to soothe your nervous system.
- Assume good intentions from your partner. Remember that you love each other, and the goal of communication is to learn and deepen your connection.
- Listen without interrupting. Let your partner talk without thinking about what you’ll say next or interrupting to say what they’ve gotten wrong. Give your partner a chance to be more clear about what they’re trying to communicate by asking clarifying questions.
Be the Change You Want to See
Both partners are responsible for building a healthy relationship, but sometimes it takes one partner the act as the catalyst for change. By changing your behavior in small but significant ways, you tell your partner that you care and want your relationship dynamics to improve.
Sometimes when we demand that our partners go to marriage counseling, it’s implied that we want THEM to change. However, by showing that you are willing to make an effort to change your behavior, you’ll send the signal that you’re in this together.
Try Something New Together
If your spouse refuses marriage counseling, they may be open to spending time together in a different capacity. Studies show that couples who engage in novel activities together show more satisfaction and passion in their relationships.
Try suggesting things that allow you to work together as a team, like cooking classes or dance lessons. But keep the stakes low! You don’t need another excuse to argue if you’re in constant conflict mode. Ask your partner what sounds fun to them, and be open to trying things just a little bit outside your comfort zone. You might even ask them to teach you about something they love!
Seek Alternatives to Counseling
Marriage counseling is a powerful tool for struggling couples, but it’s not the only thing you can do to improve your relationship. Try reading a book about marriage together, or enroll in a course that teaches healthy relationship skills. Alternatively, you can try relationship coaching. Coaching is different from counseling in a number of ways. First and foremost, coaching is client driven, meaning a good coach knows that you and your partner hold the answers to a better, more successful relationship. Their job is to listen, ask meaningful questions, and help you and your partner set achievable goals to get you where you want to go.
When your spouse refuses marriage counseling, it can feel hopeless, like you don’t have any options to move forward in a positive way. But following this 5-step survival guide can help you to take control of your relationship and encourage your spouse to join you in trying new things to improve your relationship health.
At Tend Task, we believe that everyone deserves a loving, connected partnership. Join our newsletter to access helpful relationship advice, couple’s exercises, and free relationship workshops. Here’s to a more joyful and peaceful partnership!
FAQs for Frustrated Spouses:
What if my spouse doesn’t respond well to my attempts to change?
You and your partner have likely gotten into a rut where you expect conflict and discord from each other. Tell your spouse that you’re trying something new in how you communicate and working on yourself because you want to create more happiness and joy in your life and your relationship. Remind them that you love them and want to have a great relationship. Ask them to give you constructive feedback, not criticize your efforts.
I’m too tired and angry to try any of these suggestions. What should I do?
It’s normal to be angry, especially if you’ve been unhappy in your relationship for a long time. Give yourself the space to acknowledge your anger and time to rest before trying anything new in your relationship. Journaling is an excellent practice for uncovering the source of your anger. Remember that your feelings are valid, and anger can help us move toward action, but we must have the energy to move forward. Prioritize your sleep and anything else that recharges you; time alone, time with friends, and regular exercise. Be kind to yourself.
What if I’ve tried everything and my partner and I are still unhappy?
If you’ve been spinning your wheels for years and can’t make any progress in your relationship, it may be time to seek professional help for yourself. Therapy can help you see what you’re missing and determine what you want from your life. Check your insurance to see what your mental health coverage is, or use one of the many online therapy options. Online-Therapy.com offers 20% off your first month to Tend Task subscribers. Working with a coach is another great option. Sign up for a free 20 min discovery call to see if Tend Task Coaching is for you.