Most people don’t start their marriages planning on needing to attend marriage counseling at some point. For many couples, however, work, kids, financial issues, communication changes and life in general take their toll as the years go on, and the connection you felt at the beginning can break down. If this happens then marriage counseling can be helpful to get things back on track and strengthen the relationship. But what happens when one partner (usually the husband) won’t go to marriage counseling?
At Guy Stuff we see this frequently. A marriage is no longer what it used to be and one partner wants help while the other wants to ignore it believing everything will eventually be alright. It rarely works out that way, however. Below you’ll see a question from a woman in this exact situation - wondering what to do because her husband refuses to go to marriage counseling, and my response to her.
HELP! My husband and I have 4 kids. Well, I have 4, he and I have 2 (you'll see why I made the separation). The reason I chose to contact you is because I am pulling my husbands teeth (as we speak) to get counseling to happen! He does not believe in telling a stranger our problems, let alone paying a stranger to "fix" them. Simply put, we're on the verge of separation or possibly even divorce after 7 years married (ten together). Our issues range from financial (his primary complaint and excuse), to my older children (discipline, their Dad, etc.), his short temper/crappy attitude (my complaints). Things are out of control and the marriage has lost mutual respect and affection and been replaced with animosity and the cold shoulder. My husband won't go to marriage counseling. What do I do?" -Mary B.
Mary’s situation isn’t that unusual. It’s very common, for men especially, to assume that they can handle things on their own and that talking to a stranger is a sign of weakness. Mary’s correct though, without help it’s not likely that things are going to get better, so counseling is a logical choice. Below is my advice to her.
You're far from alone. A lot of women have got husbands or boyfriends who refuse to go to counseling.
There can be a lot of reasons why men don't want to go to counseling. Here are a few:
- Some guys have had past experiences with counseling that in their view hasn't been good or successful.
- A lot of men don't like to acknowledge that they don't know something or can't fix something themselves.
- Going to counseling means admitting there's a problem and something needs to change - another thing some men don't want to acknowledge.
- Some men refuse to go to counseling as a way to control their partner and the relationship.
A lot of wives suggest marriage counseling for years, ask their husband to go over and over again, and even find a "guy friendly" counselor like me, but they never end up going because every time they mention it, he refuses.
A wives contacted us this week to schedule an appointment for her and her husband, but when he refused to go she gave up -- "Unfortunately, my husband will not come so I will not need the appointment time. Thank you and I'm sorry I wasted your time."
Here's a powerful concept that a lot more women need to grasp - you don't need him to go to counseling for you to go yourself or for your relationship to change.
Here's what's happened when women have come by themselves for marriage counseling:
- Some husbands end up coming after she does to tell "his side of the story" and set the counselor straight.
- The wives learn skills and tools they can use to change their relationship -- and their relationship starts to change (see the article How to Save My Marriage - When I Can't Get My Husband to Change for a real example from Carrie).
- Women also empower themselves, and their children, and start to take better care of themselves.
- All of the women learn that marriage counseling doesn't require both partners in order for it to work.
So what do you do when your husband, fiancée, or boyfriend won't go to counseling? Go without him.
Benefits Of Marriage Counseling (Even Without Your Husband)
One of the biggest mistakes that couples make when it comes to marriage counseling is waiting too long. Often the wait is because one partner refuses to go and the assumption is that you need both partners participating for marriage counseling to work. As I explained above, that’s not the case and there can be big benefits to seeking counseling as an individual rather than as a couple.
Below are just a few of the things you gain from attending marriage counseling on your own.
- Avoiding resentment. If you feel that you and your partner are in need of counseling, then you’re probably right. If you choose to wait until he agrees to go, however, you may be waiting a long time while your problems continue to escalate. If that’s the case it’s very likely you’ll find yourself feeling resentful toward your partner. Making the choice to attend marriage counseling on your own will, at a minimum, allow you to work through your own frustrations and examine your role in the problems you’re experiencing. And that’s progress that will improve your marriage.
- Gaining perspective. We all know that there’s his side, her side and then the real story somewhere in the middle. Whether your spouse attends counseling with you or not, a trained third party can help you put your problems as a couple in perspective, and that will allow you to make better decisions and handle issues more effectively. This new perspective can also give you a deeper understanding of your partner’s mindset and how to best respond to him.
- Becoming the leader. As you learn ways to handle things in a more productive manner you can lead by example when it comes to working on the issues in your marriage. You’ll also feel more in control and be equipped with better tools for coping and with the challenge of communicating.
- Control over personal security and strength. All these things mean that when there is strife in your relationship you’ll be more confident in your ability handle it. This feeling of control, even if it’s just over your own approach and reactions, will mean that you’re likely to experience a deeper feeling of satisfaction and security. The more in control you feel the stronger you will become.
Marriage counseling is a good choice for all couples. Even when things seem generally okay, learning new ways to communicate and more effective ways to handle differences in opinions is beneficial. If you’ve gotten to the point, however, where you feel counseling is necessary for the survival of your relationship, don’t let the fact that your husband refuses to go to marriage counseling stop you. One of you getting help is certainly better than neither of you getting it.
Do you have a question you'd like to Ask a Marriage Counselor? Click here to submit it and I'll answer it in an upcoming post. Be sure to Sign Up below so you'll get my answer as soon as it's published.
Editor's Note: This post was originally published March 5, 2010 and has been updated with new information for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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