It happens more often than you’d think: things in your relationship aren’t going the way you’d like, arguments are happening more often, but they just aren’t going anywhere, you know your relationship needs help and so you decide couples counseling is what you need. The only problem- your partner doesn’t agree, and doesn’t want to go with you.
I hear this often in my practice. For whatever reason, one person just doesn’t see the benefit of counseling, and the other is adamant that it’s the key to solving the issues in the relationship. One partner makes the call to set up an appointment, and comes to therapy alone in hopes that they can make the shifts they need to create better communication, or to resolve an issue that’s been plaguing their coupledom.
While it might seem like this scenario is a foreshadow of negativity, I’ve seen amazing growth and change happen with only one partner present in therapy. Here are some tips for making the most of it when you’re going alone:
Understand that the only thing you can control is you. This is the premise that makes couples therapy as a single possible. Even when two are in the room, the only thing that you can control is you, your actions, reactions, and the way you operate in your relationship. You can’t change other’s behaviors, thoughts, and emotions, and so once you fully understand and accept that, you can get on the right track to making necessary shifts on your own.
Take notes. When you journal or jot down ideas about what you’ve learned in your therapy sessions, it helps you to remember what you’re going to do going forward. If your goal is to argue less with your partner, or have more effective arguments as a result of what you’re learning in therapy, write down ways you plan to do this, and practice implementing them.
Talk to your partner about what you’re learning in therapy. Your therapy sessions are confidential, and it’s a time for you to process what’s happening for you in your relationship, but that doesn’t mean it has to all be kept hush-hush. Share general ideas that you are learning about yourself, and things you are coming to realize about the relationship with your partner to help them understand what it is you’re actually doing in therapy.
Many times people are fearful of the therapeutic process because they just don’t know what to expect. They have some misconceptions about what therapy might entail, and so if you share with your partner in general what the process is like for you, it might help them shift their opinion about attending.
Don’t be pushy. People have to do things when they’re ready. I think we’ve all had that aha-moment as adults where something your parents told you over and over finally clicked, and you stopped and thought, “Ohhhh, now I get it!” But at the time, when they were trying to get it in your head, you just weren’t ready to receive it, and so you just pushed it aside.
This is the same experience people can have with therapy, and so adding small tidbits about ways it’s helping you can get them to think about ways it might also benefit them, but the moment you go over-board and start demanding that your partner participate is the moment their defense will go right back up.
Lead by example. You’ll likely learn so many great things about how to approach communication, arguments, and interactions with your partner by participating in therapy. Showing your partner what you’ve learned by changing the way you do things might be a little odd to them at first, especially if it’s something completely out of the ordinary, but the more you lead by example, the more change you’ll see in your relationship, or in the way you react to your partner.
Continue to leave the door open. As you continue to make changes in your reactions and interactions with your partner, be sure to let your partner know they are welcome to attend therapy along with you. Begging, pleading, and giving ultimatums (unless you are serious about upholding your end**) won’t likely be as effective as gentle reminders, nudges, and invitations. Approach is key on this one.
**There is a time and place where ultimatums are appropriate, look for more info in an upcoming blog post.
As you continue through therapy it’s important to keep your goals in mind, and to continue talking to your therapist about them. If you haven’t yet started therapy because your partner isn’t willing to go along with you, I’d encourage you to explore it as an option because changes can be made in your relationship even if you are going solo.
Although this time of year tends to be extra busy for most, it’s also an excellent time to begin therapy because the holidays bring up so many challenges and feelings of angst and sadness. If you are anticipating a rough time going through the holidays, I want to encourage you to reach out. I’d be happy to help you get the support you need to get through the holiday season; I can be reached at (909) 226-6124 for a free phone consultation.
I’ve also put together a free 12 Days of Christmas Mindset Boost. You can sign up here for free. If you did the 14-Day Mindset Boost I put out right before Thanksgiving, kudos! I’d love to hear from you about how it helped, or any challenges you may have experienced while going through the exercises. The 12 Days of Christmas Mindset Boost will provide you with 12 emails that include an in-depth exercise for the day that will help you approach the holidays with gratitude and cheer in your heart, in spite of some of the common challenges that make the holidays a bit difficult.