How to Be Successful At Couples Counseling When Your Partner Won't Go

Do you find yourself pushing your partner to attend couples counseling, but feel like it's an impossible feat? Do you feel like you're the only one in your relationship willing to "do the work?" Do you worry that if you don't attend counseling together there can be no change?

Guess what? You're not alone. It is not uncommon for one partner to reach out for relationship help while the other partner refuses to participate, but it does leave us with the question -
Can you get couples counseling without both sides of the couple?  The answer may surprise you...

YES! The answer is YES! When issues arise in a relationship whether it be about communication, intimacy, infidelity, alcohol/drug use, parenting etc., both partners often need help managing. If one partner refuses to seek help, however this can cause increased stress on the relationship. But the answer isn't for the partner seeking help to sit around and wait for their significant other to change their mind, the answer is for them to keep moving forward. 

By attending sessions on your own you'll probably start to see a change in yourself, which in turn can create a change in the relationship, perhaps it will even encourage your partner to come in and have a few sessions with you.

Let's look at some techniques a counselor might try to help ensure that you come of out the session successful. (Keep in mind, your own success in couples don't not by any means mean it will save your relationship, but it will help you grow as a person, which in turn could save your relationship.)

Shared Responsibility
You might find yourself spending sessions complaining about how "he never listens" or "she always has to be right!"  All of this might be true, but it's also important for you to look at your responsibility in the relationship too, after all that's the part you can control. So if your partner never listens you can accept responsibility for your end of the conversation, perhaps you often give them important info in passing, which is fine for you, but harder for them.

The Empty Chair Technique
Almost everyone has had a moment when they wish they could say something to someone that they just can't say or have a conversation with someone who isn't around to hear it. In these cases a counselor may use the empty chair technique. The name says it all. Here the therapist will give you the opportunity to say something to someone that you just haven't been able to get out, except in the person's stead, is an empty chair.

Practicing "I" Statements
Every couples counselor loves "I" statements. This goes back to taking responsibility. Instead of telling your partner "you're always late!" you might rephrase it with "I feel frustrated when we are late, I get embarrassed walking in to a party 20 minutes late, can we please leave early to be on time?" It's a little wordier, but rather than playing the blame game, you express your feelings and give your partner the opportunity to avoid doing something that upsets you.

Therapist as Partner
Sometimes the therapist can take the role of the partner and help you further explore your relationship when you seem to be stuck in real life. This role playing can help uncover what's at the root of the problem. For example, in a role play for a couple where the wife continually gets upset at the husband when he offers her advice, the counselor could help the client recognize a link between her past relationships and her present one. In this case, the client might discover that her father was overly critical of her and when her husband offers advice she's triggered emotionally by this. While her husband is only trying to help, he's unintentionally stirring up emotions that maybe never got resolved.

These are just a few examples of how you can fly solo for a "couples session," but there are many more!  So if you're finding yourself in this position of wanting counseling, but your partner is saying "no no no" consider going at it alone. If anything you'll grow and become more insightful and gain some new skills that you can take back to your relationship.

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