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Spouse Resists Counseling

Article 2. What if Only One Person is Motivated?

By Reuben E. Gross M.A., M.S., PhD, ABP, ABBP, FAACP, LMFT

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Sometimes there is doubt in the heart of one person whether or not to stay in the relationship/marriage and/or inability to commit in the first place. But even when one partner has doubts about compatibility and prospects for happiness and stability for the long term, the other partner may have a very strong wish to solidify the relationship and is willing to work hard to please their partner and save it. Dissimilarity in goals or a disparity between each partner's willingness to invest great effort into the relationship occurs with both married and unmarried couples. Consequently, when one person slacks off, the other must work twice as hard to keep the relationship on track hoping that their partner will open his/her eyes to the possibility of a happy future --and often they do.

I sometimes compare such a situation to two people in a canoe on a big lake. If the sky clouds up, a wind starts blowing and a storm is brewing they should both paddle as hard as they can to get back to shore. If one person slacks off for whatever reason, perhaps they are tired, their muscles are strained, they simply don't understand the danger of being swamped by the strong winds and waves, or they've given up hope, the other person should do his or her best to convince the other of the urgency of the situation, but in either case must paddle twice as hard. The first order of business is to get to safety. Now, analogies have their limits, but you get my point.

Back to the marriage: In such a case, the more motivated partner should present the need for professional help and try to get spousal agreement by making the reasonable argument, "Look, we can't go on this way and we're not making any progress by ourselves." That person should express his/her willingness to make the call to the marriage counselor to set up an appointment that is convenient to both spouses. Hopefully, there will be mutual agreement.

If one partner is still reluctant to go along, the motivated partner should express readiness to go alone. This is not an admission of weakness; it is an indication of good mental health. In general, it is the more mentally healthy person who recognizes the danger signs in a relationship and is willing to do something about them. In most cases, the reluctant partner joins the process from the very beginning. But even if that doesn't happen, the first step has been taken, and in a vast majority of cases, the reluctant partner comes to the second or third visit.

In a worst-case scenario, when the reluctant spouse refuses to go—here too, for a variety of reasons—the motivated spouse knows exactly where he/she stands and must go on with life accordingly. Should the motivated partner decide to fight for the relationship, a lot can be accomplished even if the spouse refuses to join the counseling process. Sad, but true, in extreme cases the reluctant spouse will agree to marriage counseling only when the willing spouse threatens separation or divorce.

I also work with couples who are separated, and are exploring getting together again, but wish to resolve the issues that split them up in the first place. I will also work with you on issues that stem from conflicts of values and philosophy originating in personality, or different religious, ethnic or cultural backgrounds. Please click here for "Different Levels of Motivation to Maintain The Relationship"

End of Article II "What if Only One Person is Motivated?"

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