How To Talk To Your Partner About Trying Couples Counseling
Like an oil change, sometimes relationships need a bit of a tune-up.
Bringing a new life to your family — while completely miraculous, joyful, and lovely — can definitely bring some added stress and tension to your adult relationships. Throw in postpartum depression and anxiety (for both partners), baby blues, and/or sleep deprivation, and that can be a recipe for disaster. For many new parents — my husband and I included — the idea of couples therapy is bound to come up at some point, especially after becoming new parents. I felt in my bones that we needed to go, but how in the world was I supposed to talk to my partner about going to therapy when he was already at maximum stress levels and dealing with sleep deprivation?
Signs You Might Need Couples Therapy
I kept asking myself if we really did need therapy or if we were just going through a rough patch. But there are definitely signs to look out for to know for sure.
Having spiral arguments, when one of you feels frustrated and hopeless, shut down and unwilling or unable to communicate needs and feelings, are some telltale signs it may be time for couples therapy, says Amber Trueblood, LMFT. “When one or both members of the couple finds their ‘emotional bank account’ is nearing zero — they’ve spent so much emotional energy fighting for their relationship, they’re almost completely depleted,” she says.
Other signs include having a conflict both of you can’t seem to make peace with or resolve, one or both of you feeling unheard or unable to understand your partner’s perspective, not being able to let go of things that happened in the past, or feeling like you need to deepen your friendship — any or all of these can be a sign that couples therapy could be right for you, according to Laura Richer, a licensed couples therapist in Seattle, WA.
“The longer habits are left to percolate and strengthen, the more difficult it is to form new, healthy habits,” says clinical psychologist Carla Manly. “When you reach out soon—rather than waiting for matters to get intensely challenging—you can save time, energy, and stress in the long run.”
How To Talk To Your Partner About Going To Therapy
“When it comes to talking to a partner about going to therapy, it’s important to try not to use ultimatums or threats,” Manly says. “Instead, striving to get a partner’s buy-in is the most ideal strategy. Making use of ‘I’ messages and taking a team-oriented approach can be very helpful in reducing fears and resistance to therapy.
“When both partners see the wisdom in attending therapy to care for the relationship, the therapy itself is far more productive,” Manly says. She suggests telling your partner you feel a bit sad, and feel like you both have been so disconnected lately, and that you’d love to feel closer to them because you love them so much. Then adding, ‘I was thinking about investigating relationship therapists to find us a good fit. I’d love for us to try at least a few sessions. I think it would be so helpful — are you game?’” She says by taking a positive, non-blaming approach, couples can embrace therapy as a relationship booster rather than a sign of a “defective relationship.”
“If your partner is hesitant or straight-out refuses to go to couples therapy, start going yourself. Alone,” says Trueblood. “The best way to encourage couples therapy is to model good self-care by using the tools you’re learning in solo therapy. Then, it’s far more likely for your partner to A, feel less awkward, B, feel less defensive — like they’re the one with the problem — and C, see the benefits of how much therapy has helped you.”
Forcing Your Partner To Go To Therapy
It’s incredibly important to not force an unwilling partner to go to therapy, as it could backfire. Richer says, “It is best for people to come to therapy when they are ready. I do not believe that people should be forced into couples therapy against their will as this could create resentment in the relationship.”
Manly says, “If both partners are not on board, the relationship therapy work can definitely become very challenging and even self-destruct. If one partner is highly resistant, the sessions can become more about posturing and defensive behavior than attending to underlying issues.”
“Forcing or using an ultimatum for therapy is seldom a good idea,” says Trueblood. “Instead, share your why, express your fears, and communicate your hopes of what you want your relationship to be like in the future. Using this strategy is far more likely to get someone into therapy.”
“However, in cases where one partner has a high interest and the other is more moderately interested, both partners often become highly invested as they experience the benefits of therapy,” Manly says. “In many cases, one partner is simply afraid of being blamed or targeted; well-trained therapists will tend to these fear-based issues to help both partners feel safe and supported in sessions.”
What Type of Therapy Is Right For Me?
So you’ve both made the decision to go to therapy. Now what? Where should you go, and what type of therapy should you attend? Online? In person? Group?
Manly says, “Therapy can occur online, in person, via text, via phone, and therapy apps. However, relationship therapy is often best done in person or via video platform. A skilled relationship therapist can often provide better support when partners’ verbal and non-verbal cues are factored into the equation,'' she adds. “That said, a hesitant partner may feel better starting off online and, if needed, transitioning to in-person therapy.”
Amber Trueblood, LMFT, and author of 21 Mom Tips for 2021
Laura Richer, licensed couples therapist at Anchor Light Therapy
Carla Manly, a clinical psychologist, author, advocate, and fear specialist