One of the hardest things about getting into therapy as a couple is when one partner wants to go, yet they’re nervous to ask the other out of fear of how they’ll react. Bringing up the idea of seeing a therapist is all about when and how you raise the issue. Getting mad and yelling, “We need help!” is not going to do it (sorry).
Instead, here are some pro tips for talking to your S.O. about trying therapy.
The first thing your partner may ask when you bring it up is, “Why?” Let them know you love them so much that you want your relationship to last a long as possible, says psychiatrist and relationship expert, Dr. Scott Carroll. “Don’t bring up specific issues or situations and don’t make your partner feel like they’re the problem.” Comments like, “You need help with this,” or pointing fingers will just cause more damage and defensiveness.
Be on the Same Team
Don’t make it seem like you’re trying to “fix” your significant other. Keep it general and speak from an “I” stance, explains clinical psychologist and couples therapist, Dr. Piper Grant. “You can say something like, ‘I don’t think either of us are responsible for what’s going on, but rather it’s something between us. I think it could be helpful if we went to therapy together to work through it.’”
Open up to your S.O. about your own concerns about therapy. This can help to normalize any of your partner’s qualms. For instance, you could start with, “I was thinking that I’d like for us to go talk to someone about what’s going on, but I also know that I have my own fears and feelings of resistance about it because…” says Grant.
Don’t Turn it into a Fight
Do not bring any of this up in the middle of a fight. Couples therapist Winifred M. Reilly advises never to use ultimatums like, “If you’re not willing, I want to break up,” or, “Go to therapy with me, or we’re not doing this. People can’t be blackmailed into change, she says.
Speak for Yourself
If it feels like your significant other is pulling away, Grant suggests you simply reflect what YOU are experiencing. “So something like “After I suggested we go to therapy I felt like you became really quiet and I am experiencing you as pulling away.” This isn’t blaming the other person, nor even telling them what they are doing, but rather simply stating your perspective.”
Keep it Positive
If your partner caves to your pressure, therapy will be pointless. So, your goal should be to get your partner to see the need for therapy and embrace it. Many people are more willing to put time and effort into activities they think will benefit them. When approaching the topic of couple’s therapy, focus on the benefits it will bring to both your partner and the relationship.
Don’t Guilt Them
Saying things like, “If you really loved me…” is another type of ultimatum. You don’t want to guilt them into going or make them feel like a failure, explains Reilly. “People can love each other deeply and have resistance to therapy.”
Maybe they’ve tried therapy before and it was so useless or even destructive. “Maybe your partner is not as unhappy as you are and thinks you’re expecting perfection. Or, they feel hopeless and convinced nothing will help. Then again, maybe the idea of letting an outsider see how screwed-up things are seems far worse than continuing to just slog through the mess,” notes Reilly.
If your partner absolutely refuses to go to therapy you have a difficult decision to make. It could be beneficial to go to therapy by yourself. If you are early in your relationship you may want to wait a bit before you try again to get your partner to come, says Carroll. Hopefully your partner can see the change in your life and want to participate.