First, let me commend you on the fact that you're looking to get help for your marriage—great! Many people are apprehensive to seek the assistance of a professional because they perceive a stigma attached to it; something along the lines of, "There must really be something wrong with me if I have to go see a therapist." Sadly, this is an unfortunate commentary on our societal belief system.
So how do we get your spouse to join in? If when you raise the issue, your spouse has a bad reaction, I would first recommend letting the issue go for a little while. It’s never a good idea to try to force something on someone when their "back is up."
After a little while, when things have calmed down and the two of you are in "a good place" with each other, broach the subject again raising it as something that is very important for the two of you.
Since everyone is different, there may be any number of reasons that might be given as to why he or she is hesitant to seek help. Let me offer some typical possibilities, as well as the ways you can respond.
1. Your spouse doesn’t think anything is wrong with the relationship that the two of you can’t work on together.
Let your partner know that you believe the two of you really are doing the best you can and want the marriage to work, but that you don’t feel as connected as you could be. Ask him/her to honestly assess if that feeling exists for them as well. Do not put blame on your spouse, but rather acknowledge that both of you need to learn better ways to respond to each other.
2. Your spouse may have heard that another couple has gone for marriage therapy only to end up divorced.
You might be surprised to learn research has indicated many times that therapists who attempt to offer traditional types of marriage therapy are not successful in keeping a couple together. It has been shown, however, when an educational, skills-based model is used, there is far greater success. Make sure when you speak to a possible therapist before you set up an appointment, you inquire as to whether the person employs an educational skills based technique.
3. Your spouse raises a concern about not having the finances for marital counseling.
Suggest that you are willing to look at where else your budget can be slimmed down since this is such an important item. Note that you can try to find someone who is in your insurance network or ask the therapist if he or she works on a sliding scale.
If you are still met with resistance, all is not lost. Sometimes, people feel more comfortable in a setting that is not one-on-one. There are many good weekend retreats that work on marriages. I would suggest you look at the Married Life Events calendar or Smartmarriages.com for comprehensive listings of such offerings.
There are also some wonderful books that I would recommend: Dr. Sue Johnson’s, "Hold Me Tight," Patricia Love & Steven Stosny’s, "How to Improve Your Marriage Without Talking About It" and Gary Chapman’s, "The Five Languages of Love."
Finally, I am a firm believer that very often you can change your marriage around if only one person makes a change. The reason for this is because if one person does things differently, very often the other person will start to react differently. It’s the principle of action is equal to reaction. If you go to my site, www.ChoiceRelationships.com, you will find a free program that offers you a tip a day for three weeks that is based on this concept.
Some people need to get their feet wet before they can jump in, so to speak. Perhaps, after trying some of the more benign methods, if you still need some assistance from a counselor, your spouse will be more willing to go.
I hope these suggestions will get you going—and again, you’ve taken a wonderful first step by wanting to make a change!
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Karen Sherman, Ph.D., (www.drkarensherman.com) is a practicing psychologist in relationships and lifestyle issues for over 20 years. She offers teleseminars and is the author of "Mindfulness and the Art of Choice: Transform Your Life" and co-author of "Marriage Magic! Find It, Keep It, and Make it Last." You can sign up for her free monthly newsletter with relationship tips at www.ChoiceRelationships.com