Navigating Therapy Without Your Spouse On Board
Updated: Mar 25, 2019
I'm pleased to share my article that was posted on the incredibly resourceful OK Clarity platform. OK Clarity services the frum community, offering different therapies provided by frum health and mental health professionals.
“We need to talk.”
“Oh no, here we go.”
“I think we need to go to couple’s therapy.”
You want to go for therapy to work out the kinks in your marriage and the struggles you’re facing in life. When your spouse refuses to join, you are first surprised and then really disappointed. How do you navigate therapy when your life partner is not on board? If the following verses sound familiar, it’s because others have crossed this path and we’re here to help you cross yours.
Deciding to go to therapy can be a difficult choice to begin with. When we feel therapy as a couple is either crucial or beneficial to our marriage and our spouse is uninterested at best and adamant at worst, we can feel helpless and overwhelmed.
Before we decide on the best course of action to deal with this disparity it is important to respect our spouse’s right to his or her own preference. Just like we each have very unique reasons for wanting therapy, our spouses can have equally unique reasons for not wanting to partake in counseling. Most likely they are not fully aware of all the reasons behind our preferences, while we are not aware of the reasons supporting theirs.
In my practice I find that there are a number of common reasons spouses decline treatment. These include but are not limited to:
fear of vulnerability
fear of the unknown
distrust in authority figures
prior negative therapy experiences
feeling like the relationship cannot be helped
misconceptions about therapy – thinking that the therapist will: side with one person, tell the couple to stay married or get divorced, blame one person, or give advice
As a spouse it is not our job to address each of these fears. Rather, it is in our best interest to simply understand that there can be many reasons supporting their decision. This understanding will take the sting out of their decision, creating more space for healthy communication.
Breathe, Listen, & Share
When we take a deep breath and remind ourselves of our spouse’s rights to his or her own preference, we can then approach our spouses from a more curious and calm angle. We can respond to our spouse’s adamance by saying “going to therapy is something that is important to me, but I get how you can have reservations about going. Can you share with me what specifically is unappealing about therapy?”
The following short (and adorable) clip can save you from falling into common and predictable communication traps which typically implode relationships.
Note: Relationships with Mental Illness or Abuse
If the relationship is abusive, our children are negatively influenced by our spouses, or our partner has a mental illness, the strategies suggested thus far would differ. If a mental health or abusive dynamic is present it is imperative that the “healthier” spouse immediately seek therapy on their own and decide how to move forward.
In a non-abusive, mental illness free relationship, our spouses should be able to share their opinion. We can demonstrate understanding for their opinion by thanking them for telling us how they feel and then by validating (not agreeing) with what they just shared.
Some ideas for phrasing your responses: “I can understand from your perspective why you don’t want to go.” “This is very important to me, what do you think we should do about this difference in opinion?”
One Person Can Make A Difference
To quote marriage experts John and Julie Gottman:
When individuals grow, relationships grow. When individuals transform, relationships transform.
At the end of the day, if our spouse does not want to go to therapy, the best action we can take is to go to therapy on our own. I believe that a couple can greatly improve their relationship, though not wholly, even when only one partner participates in treatment.
How does this work?
I like to use the analogy of three points of a triangle. Marriage is made up of three entities. Each entity needs nurturing and attention. The three entities are: the husband, the wife, and the relationship. The wife represents one point, the husband represents the other, and the relationship is the third point.
Even if two of the three points (say, the wife and the relationship) stay in the exact same place, and the husband’s point moves just slightly to the right, the entire triangle changes and becomes a different triangle with different angles. Thus, even if a partner doesn’t shift their perspective and actions, the entire dynamic of the relationship can change when one partner shifts.
It Can Happen For You Too
I have seen overtime how one spouse’s tremendous progress in their own therapy invigorates their partner who ultimately decides to join. However, even if our spouse doesn’t choose to get the help we feel they need, when we grow and transform ourselves, we relate to others in a healthier way. Taking ownership of our own happiness, fulfillment, and personal development, will always lead to improved life satisfaction.