You've had it. The conflict between you and your husband has gotten so tangled and painful, neither of you can find your way out. It's time for couples therapy. It's your only hope. You're ready. But he's resisting. Why? How do you get your reluctant man to see a counselor with you? Well ... you may be asking the wrong question.
We spoke with Dr. Jeanette Raymond, a psychologist and the author of Now You Want Me, Now You Don't! Fear of Intimacy, about the problem of talking a resistant spouse into seeing a counselor with you. And what she told us is going to radically change any plans you may have had for "dragging" the mister to couples therapy with you.
There's a very good reason why guys don't want to sit on that couch with you. And Dr. Raymond sees it all the time.
"What I've found is when one partner asks the other to go to couples therapy, it's because they want to blame them," she says. "They want to have an outside authority figure validate how 'bad' their partner is and how 'saintly' they are." In other words, you want the therapist to make your man see how wrong he is, how much he's hurting you, and how right your position is.
It's not going to work.
Raymond says the appointment is often done "in a fit of rage." In her experience, "it's very rare that a member of a couple will talk with their partner about couples therapy because they really want to work on things as a team." Sadly, she says in most cases, there is no feeling of a team effort. And for that reason, therapy can drag on for a very long time. (And by the way, this is something husbands do to wives, too. It's not an exclusively female thing to do.)
Now before we go any further, I know it doesn't always feel as black and white as that. Hey, I get it! I've dragged a husband to couples therapy. I did not set up that appointment thinking, "I'll show him!" I came wanting to work things out together. I didn't see myself as his adversary.
But if I'm completely honest with myself, I have to admit, I was seeking validation for my injuries. And part of me did want the therapist to make my husband "behave."
Look, Raymond isn't saying that your pain isn't real, and that your husband doesn't do things that hurt you, or that he's never wrong. What she's saying is that in order to make couple's therapy effective, in order to meet the goal -- making you a stronger, more functional couple, right? -- you have to come to the table willing to deal with your flaws and issues and baggage, too. And you have to be willing to see things from his perspective.
There is no hope for you as a couple if you refuse to see your guy's experiences as real to him and if you're not at least curious about why he feels the way he does.
"It may not be that your partner is the only bad guy," Raymond says. "You may be the bad guy, too." That's a terrifying prospect. Are you ready to face that possibility? If not, you may be the one who's not ready for therapy. She has seen clients walk away because they didn't want to see their partner's side of things.
So examine your motives for therapy. Are you there to shame him, to control him, to prove you're right? Or are you there to understand what's gone wrong between you, why you're having communication problems, why you keep having the same problems?
One way Raymond helps couples is to see each partner separately for a time. She builds trust with each that way and lets each feel heard before they start working together. Or one partner will come in and work on her own "stuff," and at some point, she'll invite her partner to join her. "I'm working on this one issue. Would you be willing to join me in talking about it?" That way he sees that she's interested in working out her own issues -- not just in managing his.
That said, Raymond admits that less-ethical therapists will sometimes validate and support one partner over the other just to keep a client. (Ehrm, it's usually the paying client who gets the validation.) "Even therapists are human."
But you know you're working with a wise, ethical therapist if they make you both do the hard, messy work on yourselves and if they encourage you to see each other's perspectives.
So the question isn't "how to I get him to couples therapy?" The question is, "am I ready to take responsibility for my role in our relationship problems?"
Have you tried couples therapy? How did your experience work? What did you learn?
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