Spouse Resists Counseling
Article III. Fourteen Helpful Answers
When Your Spouse Resists Marriage Counseling
By Reuben E. Gross, PhD, ABP, ABPP, FAACP, LMFT
Office Address: 1299 Wellington Avenue, Teaneck, NJ 07666
Please note: This article is written for any couple in an exclusive relationship. The terms “husband,” “wife” and “spouse” are used for consistency and simplicity; clearly, the terms “boyfriend,” “girlfriend” and “partner” are equally applicable. The terms “marriage” and “relationship” are also interchangeable.
The purpose of this article is to help an unhappy partner, husband or wife, in their efforts to convince their reluctant spouse to seek professional help for their marriage –before the situation deteriorates further. However, for the sake of grammatical simplicity, since it is more frequent that the wife suggests counseling and the husband is reluctant, the article is slanted in that direction. In either case, be it husband or wife, the reluctant partner who resists marriage counseling is encouraged to read this article, too, and hopefully find answers to his/her objections.
Couples who want to learn more about the counseling process are encouraged to click on the link “The Counseling Process” to read five articles describing my approach to couple counseling.
Table of Contents
II. Suggested Responses to Fourteen Incorrect Beliefs or Unrealistic Fears Which May Underlie Your Husband’s Resistance to Marriage Counseling
Please Note: You can go directly to any of these 14 points by clicking on it.
1. It Is Humiliating to Seek Help
2. Needing Help Means That We Have Failed
3. It Is A Sign of Weakness To Seek Help
4. Only Crazy People Go For Counseling
5. People Should Be Able To Solve Their Own Marital Problems
6. If We Are Having Problems It Means We Weren’t Meant For Each Other
7. People Should Get Married And Live Happily Ever After Without Problems
8. Our Marital Problems Are Your Fault; I’m Fine. You Need The Counseling
9. Why Bother? The Problems Will Solve Themselves.
10. I’m An Adult. Nobody Is Going To Tell Me What To Do
11. I Don’t Believe In Counseling
12. I Tried It When I Was Younger And It Didn’t Work
13. We’ve Already Tried It; And It Didn’t Work
14. The Cost
The replies to husbands’ objections to marriage counseling that are suggested here are geared to a situation where an unhappily married wife’s recommendation that the couple seek professional help is ignored or rejected by her husband. Sometimes, the husband spells out his reasons, and sometimes he doesn’t. However, as noted above, sometimes it is the husband who suggests counseling and it is the wife who resists. However, as noted above the article is written as an information trove for the wife whose husband resists her suggestion for professional counseling for the marriage. In either case, it is hoped that both husbands and wives will benefit from reading the ideas presented here.
The purpose of this article is to help you, the wife, answer your husband’s objections and convince him to seek out counseling when it is needed before the situation deteriorates to the point of hopelessness and no return. Hopefully, the information presented here will be read by both spouses, will encourage both of you to take steps that will spare each of you further bickering, fighting, avoidance, miscommunication, and continued unhappiness; and not only get your marriage back on track but even raise it to a level higher than you have ever experienced.
Women Are More Attuned to Counseling Than Men
In general, women, more than men, are comfortable with emotional self-expression and have a stronger desire to discuss their marital relationships and problems directly with their spouse. Failing spousal receptivity, they might confide their problems to a sister, mother, friend, or they may seek the counsel of a licensed marriage counselor. Women are also more disposed –than are men—to express their emotions and feelings about themselves and others, and to discuss their various interpersonal experiences. They also like to go into greater detail, comment upon and even sometimes analyze the interpersonal situations in which they find themselves. To their dismay however, many women do not find the same trait in their partners. They are often frustrated by the fact that their husbands are not particularly interested in sharing their own inner lives with them, nor do their husbands show great interest in the inner lives of their wives.
In view of these differences between men and women, many wives who are unhappy in their marriage, or committed relationship with a man, don’t always get an empathic response from their partner when they raise complaints or relate their unhappiness in the relationship. All too frequently, they are ignored when they request that the couple spend more time discussing the relationship to iron out differences…or that the couple seek the help of a marriage counselor. I have found many situations where marital problems persisted unaddressed for years and even decades. Why do so many husbands resist marriage counseling? What are the underpinnings of their refusals?
Individuals resist marriage counseling for a variety of reasons. In this article I elaborate on fourteen objections to marriage counseling that your husband might give you due to incorrect beliefs or unfounded fears on his part about the counseling process, and suggested replies that you might wish to offer him.
I am indebted to the writings of one of the great fathers of psychotherapy, Albert Ellis, PhD, creator of the school of psychotherapy known as “Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy” (REBT), and my training at The Albert Ellis Institute for my conceptual approach in writing this article.
One of Dr. Ellis’ main points in his approach to psychotherapy and couple counseling is his focus on “rational vs. irrational” (logical vs. illogical) beliefs as a crucial factor in a person’s thinking process that directly affects the person’s philosophy, assumptions, emotional life, decision-making process, behavior and eventually his happiness.
People in general, but especially men, do not look upon the experience of “going to a shrink” with enthusiasm. People often have feelings of trepidation and hesitancy when thinking of starting a counseling experience. Among other reasons (to be discussed below), negative feelings may stem from false beliefs (or fears) about the process of marriage counseling. These beliefs may originate in a person’s own mind or may be ideas that he has heard from others. Sadly, many men will simply say “no” without stating their objections; and many of these men are not even aware of the thinking processes that underlie their negative emotional reaction to therapy. I have divided this “incorrect belief” article into fourteen categories.
My goal in presenting the fourteen “suggested responses” here is to facilitate a warm, friendly discussion between you, the wife, and your husband or boyfriend. At no point are you looking to get into an argument wherein you demolish his logic and beat him into submission and walk away in a triumphant mood. The fourteen objections noted in this article may not be volunteered by your spouse at any time. In reading them here, however, you might acquire insight into the true source of his objection to counseling. Your next step would be to gently question and coax him to the point where he might come to a true realization of the thought process underlying his original “no.” You could do this by gently stating, I wonder why you are saying “no.” Look, Frank (name of husband) are you embarrassed that other people might find out? Do you think that seeking help signifies failure? Do you think that seeking help is a reflection on your intelligence, manhood…an attack on your autonomy, independence etc. thus using some of the 14 objections mentioned here as food for gently showing him that you wish to truly understand his point of view and are willing to openly discuss it with him.
II. Suggested Responses to 14 Examples of Incorrect Beliefs, Illogical Thinking Or Unfounded Fears Which Might Underlie Your Husband’s Resistance to Marriage Counseling
1. It is Humiliating to Seek Help
(1) With some resistors to counseling, there exists the false belief that “It is shameful to seek help.” These people believe that seeking help reflects incompetence on their part. Therefore seeking out marriage counseling would lead to a personal sense of embarrassment or humiliation …more strongly felt if known to family or friends, and certainly to neighbors and co-workers.
If their marriage has reached such a low point that it needs outside help these individuals develop a very low opinion of themselves. Since seeking help is clearly an acknowledgment that the marriage has reached a very low point, going to a professional would not only result in loss of self-esteem, but resistors assume that going for professional help would give others a reason for others to view them less favorably. These individuals are extremely anxious about the slightest possibility that those others will somehow find out.
In fact, there is nothing humiliating about seeking help for a problem --any problem. Quite to the contrary, a person should take pride in his ability to recognize a problem and do something constructive about it before it gets out of hand. If the brakes on our car began to fail would you ignore it, or would you wait until it crashed before you took it to our mechanic?
Look Frank (insert partner’s name), you fail to realize that marriage is a most challenging adventure. All couples have problems of all kinds, including marital problems, some of which are insurmountable without outside help. Your embarrassment about seeking help is your own personal reaction and a product of your incorrect evaluation about seeking help.
None of us are angels; we are all fallible beings and prone to perform poorly at various times in many situations including our marriage. This normal human trait should not lower your --or my--self esteem…. especially since none of our years of formal education ever prepared us for marriage. What should lower your self-esteem is your willingness to live with problems which pain us both, and your refusal to make use of available professional help.
When healthy-thinking persons realize that their marriage is in trouble they wisely seek the best help they can get and are grateful that they live in an era—and locale—where such help is available.
Furthermore, it is nobody’s business that we are going for professional help. The Professional Code of Ethics of Licensed Marriage Counselors (technically: LMFT’s, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists), in addition to State Statutory Laws, concerning confidentiality are extremely strict and powerful. And since neither you nor I need tell a soul, who is going to know?
In view of all this, it is perfectly possible that some of our best friends or your personal buddies or coworkers are in counseling right now. It is nobody’s business. They don’t tell us or anyone except whoever might have their confidence and they want to tell.
2. Needing Help Means That We Have Failed
Other resistors carry their negative thinking a bit further. They believe that “Needing help means we have failed.”
How does needing help equate with failure? Yes, we are doing poorly, but doing poorly is not the same as failing. Furthermore, we and virtually everybody else can use help in one area or another from time to time and don’t consider ourselves failures…why should marriage be an exception? And if we are failing, all the more reason why we need help to stop slipping down this slippery slope.
3. It is a Sign of Weakness to Seek Help
In fact dear, we would comfortably seek help if our roof leaked, or our air-conditioning/heating system broke down and we wouldn’t feel “weak” that we can’t fix it ourselves and sought professional help.
Nor did you have qualms about (modify to fit the situation) seeking help in setting up our computer, filling out our income tax returns, or when we had legal or medical problems. If you didn’t see it as a ”sign of weakness” to seek professional help and/or advice in any of those other areas, why are marriage problems different?
4. Only Crazy People Go For Counseling
In fact, “crazy people” are in locked wards in mental institutions, and don’t go to counselors. The counselors go to them. Crazy people who are delusional or psychotic (have poor contact with reality) can imagine their lives in any-which-way…can be kings or queens reigning in splendor over mighty kingdoms, and are perfectly happy in the setting in which they believe themselves to be. Really crazy people have such closed minds that they shut out the real world and don’t even know that they have problems. Furthermore, the healthier ones, among those in mental institutions, are open to counseling and psychotherapy.
Your reply continues:
“Honey, normal people live in the real world and have problems. Since we are normal, we have problems. Please consider, we don’t need help because we have problems. We need help because we lack the skills to solve them. Hopefully:
a. We have open minds to recognize these problems, and
b. We are smart enough, wise enough and mentally healthy enough to do something about them.
Dear husband, please note:
If we do not seek help, then indeed, we are either crazy ourselves, or at least not smart enough, wise enough or mentally healthy enough to face the sad reality of our situation and do something about it. And I certainly don’t want to be in any of these categories.
5. People Should be Able to Solve Their Own Marital Problems
In fact, why should people be able to solve their own problems? Where is the evidence for this?
This is so illogical. Why should we be able to solve our marital problems when we were never taught how to solve them?
Whatever job or profession a person practices, they either went to school, often for many years, to learn how to perform the tasks that the occupation demands, and then did an internship of sorts, that is, worked under supervision. And for those jobs that do not require formal schooling, but where they learned their responsibilities on the job, it was because their boss or a supervisor was there to guide them step by step. But this never happened with our marriage. Not only did we not get formal training before marriage to inform us of our respective roles in marriage, but we didn’t get “on the job” supervision either once we entered into this truly challenging relationship. And we now know from sad experience that establishing and maintaining a solid relationship is not a walk in the park; it is truly a challenge.
Are we going to sit on your illogical “should be able to solve our own problems” when we had no training to live with each other, and the facts testify that in spite of our motivation, and our various efforts to solve our problems, we simply don’t have the skills to do so? How long do we have to go on living this way?
6. If We Are Having Problems it Means:
We Weren’t Meant For Each Other
In fact, where is the logic in that? All couples have problems. Your friends may not tell you about their problems, but you can rest assured that many of them have problems right now, and many others have had them in the past. Does that mean that none of your friends was meant for his wife? And in my opinion, virtually every couple has problems from time to time. Does that mean that no married person is meant for his spouse?
People are complicated, and differ from others in many ways. It is impossible for you and me to be exactly lined up in every area and agree on everything. Differences between spouses abound in all couples and have to be bridged. Clearly you and I are no exception since we differ in many ways, including our personalities and perceptions, our desires and needs in this marriage as well as our approach to each other. My dear husband, couples also differ in the nature and severity of the issues that they face, and right now we are at the higher end of the severity scale. But we don’t have to remain there.
But most important, couples differ in their knowledge, skill and sophistication in handling their issues and apparently we are at the lower end of that scale. And we don’t have to remain there either.
Frank (insert husband’s name), our goal in seeking this educational experience, marriage counseling, is not only to get us out of the mess we are in now, but to acquire lifelong skills so that we may solve future problems as they arise…and they will. We don’t have to (modify to suit your particular situation), miscommunicate so often, criticize, snap at each other, fight so much, or pull apart as we have been doing for some time now. We can learn how to get along better and start enjoying each other again.
My hope is that we will develop a better understanding of each of our own shortcomings and deficiencies so that we can help each other grow and change in important ways, leading us to relate to each other in a friendly, caring and loving manner.
After all, this was not an arranged marriage. We married for love…is what we have now what we expected when we married? Yet, in spite of what we’ve been through and how (disillusioned, upset, angry etc) we feel about each other now because of our negative interactions, I do believe that we can go back to that original foundation of love and build upwards from there. Why not give it a chance?
AND WE CAN ACCOMPLISH THIS IF WE GO FOR PROFESSIONAL HELP
AND SINCERELY THROW OURSELVES INTO THE PROCESS!
7. People Should Get Married and
Live Happily Ever After Without Problems
Still other resistors have the false notion that a happy marriage is an automatic entitlement and that it should require no effort. This, too, is an irrational belief. It may be based on an unconscious memory of an often repeated phrase heard at the end of fairy tales involving a prince and his chosen bride. This person wants a free ride. He doesn’t understand that building and maintaining a lifelong relationship such as marriage is both a privilege and a job.
In fact, no one ever promised us a bed of roses. A successful marriage does not come easily.
People do not have a happy marriage handed to them on a silver platter. A marriage is like a complex garden. It requires a lot of effort. It has to be planned, built, attended to, worked on, cared for, fed and nurtured daily. We may be legally married, but that legal bond did not give us a marriage. A marriage is a complex relationship which must be built: one statement, communication, and behavior at a time. If we never built it, we never had a marriage And even if we had a good relationship at one time, if we neglected it, it is not surprising that it deteriorated.
8. Our Marital Problems Are Your Fault;
I’m Fine. You Need the Counseling
These husbands harbor the false belief that if the relationship is in trouble, it is their partner’s fault….they don’t need help; it is their wife (or girlfriend) who needs the help.
Look, I am far from perfect and I know that I displease you in certain ways. But in fact, this marriage is the product of our own interaction. Each of us is half of the relationship and logically each of us may very well be responsible for half of the problem. But whether or not it is exactly true in our case, each person in a committed relationship should invest as much effort as he can to find a solution no matter who contributes more to the problem.
Further, when I do something that annoys you (sin of commission) or fail to do something that you expect me to do (sin of omission), you have a right to be frustrated, annoyed or even angry. But if you express these feelings by shouting, yelling, making sarcastic remarks, putting me down, ignoring me or pulling away, etc., you are only making a bad situation worse. And if I answer back at the same level, I am only adding fuel to the flame; the tension increases and we are well into an escalation, and a vicious cycle. For some time now, both of us have been making things worse, and both of us are guilty in our own style. We need to learn and adopt a completely different set of skills on how to relate to each other when we wish to express a need, wish or request, or have a complaint. Your telling me that I’m the person who needs help is accurate, but it ignores your contribution to our sad situation. You are not as perfect as you think you are. You need help too. Try to understand that we’re in this relationship together; we either win together, or lose together.
9. Why Bother? The Problems Will Solve Themselves
Still another form of false thinking is “wishful thinking.” Many individuals hope that their marital problems will go away on their own accord. From “hope” they go to “convinced.” Well, why put effort into a situation that will remedy itself anyhow?
Our problems have not gone away of their own accord, and there is no logical reason to believe that they will. Your statement is wishful thinking. I have suffered long enough, and you are not happy either. Neither of us wants to live this way… nor does this have to go on any longer. We both have a right to be happy and we owe it to ourselves and to each other to seize an opportunity to achieve that goal.
Your further reply:
Look, we are both aware of couples who were in love with each other when they married, whose relationships deteriorated and have lived many years in unhappy marriages with nagging and chronic problems, and in some cases ended up divorced (give examples of parents, relatives or friends). Why didn’t their problems go away on their own accord as you think they will? Clearly, problems do not remedy themselves. And that goes for the fifty percent of marriages in this country that end up in the divorce courts. Do you want to be another statistic? I don’t!
10. I’m An Adult. Nobody Is Going To Tell Me What To Do!
Your reply: It is not the role of the marriage counselor to act like a boss and tell us what to do. We are both adults and we’ll make the decisions that govern our life. You are incorrect in your belief that the counselor’s comments amount to telling us what to do. Now consider this angle: If you had a legal problem and your lawyer advised you on how to proceed, would you be offended? It’s your decision whether you will take his advice. Same with a medical doctor; you make the final decision.
Mental health providers are even more careful about telling their clients “what to do.” They prefer exploring with us what we are doing, and how (un)successful we are with that approach. The marriage counselor will then ask us what other approaches might be helpful, and might suggest a few himself. If we are reasonable and ready to get our act together on this, we will explore the pros and cons of new approaches and decide for ourselves what we think will work best in our situation.
11. I Don’t Believe in Marriage Counseling
Why not? (If you get one of the answers enumerated above, reply to his objection accordingly.)
If he says he doesn’t know why he doesn’t believe in it, you can say: How can you come to a conclusion about something without knowing why you came to such a conclusion? And/or you can gently probe as suggested above at the beginning of this article….and if you think you know what he fears or dislikes about the process, gently ask him that question: Well, Frank, you say you don’t know. Could it be because you think that……………
The goal is not to dismiss him, but rather to engage him and draw it out of him in a constructive fashion. In the final analysis, you want him to go willingly, even if he’s skeptical. You don’t want him to feel that going for professional help is a loss of face to him, i.e. that you won, and he lost in the decision-making process.
Your further reply:
At some point you might want to gently challenge him: Where is the logic in your belief? On what evidence do you come to that conclusion? With how many people have you discussed this?
Do you know a single couple who have had marriage counseling? If he answers “Yes. Marvin and Anita, and they are still messed up.” You might say: “Maybe they would have been more messed up –or even divorced-- if they had not been in counseling. Or perhaps, they didn’t stay long enough or perhaps one or both did not throw themselves into the process of therapy. You only get out of it what you put into it.”
12. I Tried It When I Was Younger And It Didn’t Work
If he says: “My parents sent me to a psychologist when I was 17 and I hated it; furthermore, it didn’t help.”
If you were sent against your will, you probably resented it, were probably fighting the therapist, did not value what you were getting, and couldn’t have been very cooperative. Therefore it’s inaccurate to say that you tried it. How could you possibly have benefited from such an experience? Your experience at age 17 when you were a typically rebellious adolescent, which is probably why your parents sent you to a psychologist, has no bearing on what therapy or counseling has to offer us now that we are adults, recognize we have problems, and are motivated to do something about them.
13. We’ve Already Tried It And It Didn’t Work
Your reply will depend on the situation:
a.The guy we went to was a nice person and he tried to help. But I don’t think he knew what he was doing. He called himself a “therapist” but I don’t remember his credentials. Legally, anyone can call himself a marriage counselor or therapist. You could. I could. I don’t remember how we got to him…possibly an inspirational flyer in our mailbox offering a free consultation.
b.We saw a (psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker) who was indeed licensed but was not a licensed marriage and family therapist. We thought we had chosen wisely, but that was a mistake. Each of these licensed professionals is trained along certain lines, and this does not necessarily include couple counseling.
c. Indeed, we saw a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), but this person was straight out of school and had very little experience. Tackling a couple like us was simply out of his range.
d. Frank, we thought we chose well. We went to a very experienced LMFT, but it turns out that he specialized in working with families, focusing on the interaction between parents with children suffering from a variety of psychological, and behavioral problems including academic failure, social failure, anorexia, bulimia, alcoholism, substance abuse, delinquent behavior etc. He did not specialize in couple counseling.
e. You know, we chose wisely. The person had all the credentials, and he specialized in couple counseling. But there has to be a good match between us and the counselor. I liked him, but you didn’t (or vice versa). We have to find someone that we both like.
f. Frank, the counselor we saw was excellent and should have been a perfect fit. Unfortunately, neither of us was psychologically ready or fully cooperative with him. We were too angry at each other to hear what he had to say about ourselves. And since each of us was expecting him to take our side and say that it’s all the other person’s fault, we copped out when he began to focus on each of our own shortcomings and made suggestions about changing our behavior.
You continue with your reply:
This time, we have to go with open minds and each of us must admit to our shortcomings and faults with the realization that we both, in our individual way, contribute to –and escalate-- the negative interaction. If we don’t admit to our own failures in our behavior, how can the counselor possibly help us understand why we are behaving this way and suggest other ways of coping? Nor can he teach us to cope with, or be more understanding of, each other’s shortcomings.
The goal of the counselor is to help each of us be the best spouse that we can be, and teach us to bring out the best in each other. Right now, neither of us are living up to our own standards of how a spouse should behave, and far from bringing out the best in each other, sadly, we are bringing out the worst in each other.
g. Even though you don’t think it helped, I do. I learned how to cope better with some of your shortcomings and I did make some improvements myself. We’d be a lot worse off today had we never gone.
14. The Cost
OK. But before we talk about the financial cost, which might even be covered in part by insurance, what about the emotional cost to you, me, and our children living this way?
What about how our unhappy marriage is affecting our quality of life? And consider how this tension and painful relationship is (modify to fit your situation if applicable): affecting our lack of tolerance for even minor frustrations from each other, our patience with the children, our diminished enjoyment in our social or wider family life, relationships at work, increased chance of accidents on the highway, lack of sleep and our seeking happiness in food or alcohol? And how about the stress to our bodies and our increased risk for depression or high blood pressure. There are times when you get so enraged, I fear you’re going to have a heart attack or stroke.
What about the cost to our children? How long will it be before they start sensing or outright experience our fighting and stop inviting friends to our house, or their friend’s parents stop initiating play dates with our children? And how long will it be before all this stress begins to affect their success at school or their self-image, believing that their friend’s parents are happy with each other, but their parents are not?
How long will it take before they start thinking to themselves at some level: “If this is what marriage is all about, count me out!”?
(Modify to fit the situation): And even if we don’t fight in their presence, or not at all since we have just drifted apart over the years, and get along peacefully, how long will it be before they gain a sense of what our marriage is all about and come to negative conclusions about their willingness to commit to someone for the rest of their lives, and the value of marriage in their future?
And if it comes to a divorce, consider the emotional stress of that experience on each of us, the children, and the long-lasting effect of a broken home on them. If we do divorce and one of us (or both) remarry, can you imagine the complications of combining children from different sets of spouses at holidays etc, but even during the year with the complications of divided loyalties etc.
And assuming that our children do marry, children of divorcees have a higher rate of divorce then children from intact homes.
Frank, if we go to counseling, and tell the children what we are doing, we are setting an excellent example for them, for the present as well as the future, to address problems rather than ignore them and suffer the consequences (total failure).
Now, if you think counseling is financially expensive, have you considered the immediate and ongoing legal costs of a divorce and the long term financial costs of two households and possible future therapy costs (for us or the children)?
Please listen to me: If therapy can teach us how to resolve our problems and live in harmony with each other, it will have been the best investment we ever made.
BOTTOM LINE: If all of your arguments fail to persuade him, ask him to agree to five sessions of counseling as an indication of his love for you, even if he doesn’t believe in it...a special favor to you. Tell him, that the more he sees it as a waste of time and money, the more you will see his coming as a commitment to you and his desire to preserve the marriage. This will give him an opportunity to size up the situation and get a feel for what marriage counseling is all about. You are asking for a commitment of five visits, and his promise that he will open up, tell the counselor his true feelings and beliefs, and will have an open mind to what the counselor will say.
If he refuses, then you, the wife, should make your own appointment and explore your situation one-to-one with the counselor. Your husband's refusal to come is a loss, but it does not mean that the situation is hopeless. You might want to read my article “What if Only One Person is Motivated?”
If he agrees to come, then I recommend both of you click on the link “The Counseling Process” to learn more about what you can expect in session, and what you can both do to help yourselves in cooperation with your marriage counselor.
WHERE THERE IS LIFE, THERE IS HOPE!
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