Picture this: You and your partner are about to take off for a lovely romantic weekend away together. As you both are getting ready, a recurring issue surfaces between you.
Before you know it, you both are arguing, angry, hurt, and feeling misunderstood. You find yourself having second thoughts about your “lovely romantic weekend”.
Now the car ride is silent and neither of you knows how to repair some of the hurtful things said earlier that day.
You wonder if the entire weekend will be ruined. You find yourself feeling weary and tired. You find yourself worrying about recurring issues that pop up consistently between the two of you. You find yourself worrying about the lack of skills you and your partner have to address difficult topics effectively.
You struggle to calm your emotions and distress. You just want to be better understood.
Read about how to manage emotions when distressed.
In your head, you start considering the idea of going to couples therapy. These thoughts sound great… to you. You are willing to do anything to address the recurring struggles in your marriage.
You have always been interested in how therapy could strengthen your marriage, help you understand your partner better, and help you be the kind of partner you truly desire to be.
But how do you even begin to approach the idea of couples therapy with your partner?
You have heard your partner say before that therapy is a waste of time and money. You know they feel uncomfortable about talking to a stranger about personal things.
And you do not want your partner to think that when you suggest therapy, it’s because you feel as if your marriage is doomed or about to take its last breath.
As much as you want to explore therapy and give it a chance, you decide its too risky to actually share your idea about therapy with your partner. You don’t want to make things worse; right now you just want to feel better.
You let the idea go and offer an apology to break the silence; even though you are not exactly sure what you are apologizing for. Your partner accepts the apology but does not offer an apology in return. You feel hurt again. But you are not willing to admit to more hurt, for fear it will just start the whole argument again.
Read about the art of apology.
The weekend goes ok. You slowly start to feel better. But throughout the weekend, the nagging worry about the next argument to come persists. You feel stuck and really wish you had some help with your marriage.
Can you relate to the frustration, worry, and fear that without help your marriage will continue to struggle? Or that you will continue to experience recurring issues that leave you and your partner more disconnected, more anxious, and more dissatisfied?
Bringing up the idea of couples therapy is challenging. Very few partners are aligned in their willingness and/or desire to try therapy as a way to strengthen their marriage. Often one partner wants it more than the other.
Pull quote: “Bringing up the idea of couples therapy is challenging.”
But there are ways you can bring it up with your partner that may increase your chances of having the idea thoughtfully considered, leading to a willingness to participate in therapy.
Plan a time to discuss your overall experience of the marriage when you and your partner are not distracted, angry, or tired. Start with the positives in your marriage. Then clearly identify one or two areas of worry for you. Saying something like:
“There are many strengths in our relationship. And I most love _______________________________… about our marriage.And there are also times that I know we struggle to understand each other and this leads us to hurt each other’s feelings. More and more I find myself worrying about the long-term impact of these struggles.
I value you, our marriage, and myself enough to do everything possible to address these struggles so that we can become even stronger. Would you consider discussing with me some options we might use to strengthen our marriage?
In first asking for a discussion of general options you create a context for exploration and possibilities, rather than putting your partner on the spot to specifically decide at the moment about therapy.
Ask your partner if they would be willing to explore this option more thoroughly. Again, in asking for an exploration, you are not putting your partner on the spot to make a decision about therapy. You are just asking for a conversation about the how therapy may be a viable option for both of you.
Be intentional. See if both of you are willing to reflect on the pro’s and con’s of therapy prior to that conversation. See if both of you are willing to reflect on your feelings about therapy. Come to the next conversation prepared to talk more in-depth about your reflections and to listen with curiosity to your partner’s reflections.
Ask your partner to help you understand their “no”. Stay engaged. Ask questions to understand their perspective more. Respect what you hear.
Ask if you can continue to try to better understand their perspective. This is an important time to not shut down just because the two of you disagree. This very process could be helpful to the overall marriage because there are frequently important issues that partners disagree about. Learning how to remain curious and open to conversations when you disagree is a key element in working together as a couple.
Be open to discuss the reality of the commitment of therapy (time, effort, money) so that you are going into it with a well-informed approach.
If you decide to proceed with therapy, it’s always a good idea to interview some therapists and ask questions about their work, their training in couples therapy, and what you can expect from them. See if you can agree to talk to at least two therapists specially trained in couples therapy; one of your choosing and one of your partner’s choosing, then decide together which therapist will work best.
Want to see how I work? Read about the Ryan Couples Therapy process.
At this moment both you and your partner cannot think clearly about anything. So it is more likely that the suggestion will not be considered and heard in a way to increase the likelihood of it being a viable option.
Don’t say, “If you don’t agree to therapy, I am leaving you.” Ultimatums do not allow for the freedom of choice to consider options; creating a relationship in which both partners feel free to have their own opinions, thoughts, and feelings without being punished for them is crucial. Ultimatums feel like, and are, threats.
Don’t wait until you and your partner have had years and years of recurring issues, a build-up of resentments, and increasing disconnection before asking for therapy. The longer you wait, the harder it is to break patterns and create change.
Listen to what is important to your partner. Try to use this important decision as a way to begin to address differences more effectively.
It’s ok if you call because of a crisis (affair revealed, trust broken, illness/ separation) but don’t use therapy as a 911 call. Once you decide to begin therapy, both partners should treat it as an investment in the long-term care of your marriage. This requires consistent attendance and fully-engaged participation.
Be willing to receive an initial “no” from your partner. Remind yourself that their reaction may be coming from their own fear and anxiety. Or from a negative past experience with therapy. Be curious.
If you want to learn how to be the first one to bring up the idea of couples therapy to your partner. Learn the six dos and don’ts above before you propose the idea.
It is my hope that you will have the courage to use your voice to express the importance of nurturing, strengthening, and protecting your relationship. It is ok if you and your partner will not agree on this initially. Don’t silence your voice just to keep the peace.
Learn more about being in an authentic and intimate relationship
With love, patience, and understanding keep voicing your desires. Keep listening to your partner with love, patience, and understanding. If nothing else, doing this will be healing on its own merit.
Transforming the pain into strength, vibrancy and a renewed connection is possible. Learn about the potential of transformation.
Peace in the journey,
P.S. To read about the Heart and Soul of Ryan Couples Therapy, go here: https://www.ryancouplestherapy.com/work-with-me/