Why your husband won’t go to marriage counselling
DISCLAIMER: This is post was originally written for those women whose husband won’t go to marriage counselling. But, this post could be written about wives, too – or partners who aren’t married. In my experience, it is most often men who are resistant to coming to therapy, so that is why I’ve focused on husbands. That said, if your partner or husband won’t go to marriage counselling with you, then keep on reading!
Why your husband won’t go to marriage counselling (and what you can do about it).
I’ve seen it many times. A woman comes to my practice and says, “I’ve asked and asked, but my husband won’t go to marriage counselling”.
Sadly, I hear this far too often for my liking. And I know the women wish they didn’t have to say it! But, despite the frustration and seemingly hopeless situation, there IS hope.
There is hope to change the relationship.
If this situation applies to you, then there is even hope (and a chance) that your husband may come to counselling with you one day. But, to try to reach this goal, we need to understand the situation.
Let’s explore the top two reasons why your husband won’t come to marriage counselling.
Number one: your husband doesn’t see the value in it
Let me explain.
If your husband’s car broke down and he couldn’t get to work, who do you think he’d call first?
Yep, the mechanic.
If your husband threw his back out and he couldn’t go to work, who do you think he’d go to see first?
Yep, you guessed it, his physician.
If your husband wanted to go fishing, but didn’t know what kind of fishing lures to use to catch lake trout, who do you think he’d talk to first?
You guessed it, he’d head down to his local sporting goods store and talk to the salesclerk.
He doesn’t consider marriage counselling important
The common thread I’m trying to weave here is that when your husband needs help with something he considers important, he most likely seeks the right help.
That’s a good sign, because it means that he is willing to get help in some situations – albeit when he finds it important.
Here’s what needs to happen: he needs to see how and why marriage counselling is important to him (that’s right, to HIM, not to YOU) – and you can help him with this.
It can be done in one simple way: by speaking his language.
Just because you’ve asked, and he said no, doesn’t mean you’ve asked him to go to counselling in a language he understands. I will get back to this issue of language in a minute.
But, first, let’s look at the second reason why your husband won’t go to marriage counselling.
Number two: he doesn’t think there is a problem
I bet you’re thinking,“how could he possibly not think there is a problem? I have told him so many times that I’m unhappy/things aren’t going well/that I’m not happy with him/insert common refrain here”.
Well, just because you have said something many times, doesn’t mean the other person has really heard you – really understood you.
And this is where we come back to the issue of language.
If your husband doesn’t think there is a problem with your marriage, then you and he aren’t speaking in a language that you both understand.
Yes, you’ve probably told him that you’re unhappy.
Yes, he probably heard you.
But, did he understand you?
He doesn’t understand
Does he really understand what is going on inside you when it comes to your relationship?
I bet he doesn’t.
Because, if he did, if he really understood that there was a big problem with your relationship, then he would be more willing to consider figuring out that problem and finding solutions.
If he was on that boat and wasn’t catching fish because he had the wrong fishing tackle, you can bet he’d see that as a problem and work on finding a solution.
Right now, he doesn’t see the state of your unhappiness as a problem. Or worse, he doesn’t think it’s his problem. That can be really hard to hear, but it’s very important to remember that it’s most likely just a lack of understanding.
Thankfully, we can work with that. Or at least try. I will get to the practical tips on helping him understand in a little bit.
Your Role in the Relationship
At this point, I want to make a full disclosure: some spouses never come to see the problem (reason #2), let alone the value in trying to solve it (reason #1).
Sadly, many couples don’t ever make it to counselling before calling it quits. Indeed, it’s been said that a whopping 90% of couples that divorce never go to marriage counselling.
Another unfortunate fact is that many couples, despite going to marriage counselling, don’t manage to make things better.
They don’t manage to put Humpty Dumpty back together.
They never crack the nut on speaking each other’s language and building the level of sameness that most relationships require.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try – many couples have great success in therapy and repair their relationship.
You and your husband share the load
But it’s important to remember that you are only one half of the relationship, and you only bear the responsibility for one half of the work to fix it.
Now, flip that on its head: you DO bear the responsibility for one half of the work to fix it!
Your role in the process of repairing your relationship is just that, your role. That includes taking a good long look at what you bring to the table.
As a couple therapist trained in Marriage and Family Therapy, I look at relationships from a systems point of view. That means that all pieces in the system play a role in the functioning of that system.
That means that we’re all innocent, but we’re all to blame. We all share fault. Just as we all share no-fault.
Essentially, the greatest chance we have to build a better relationship is when we look at ourselves and accept responsibility. We do this by shouldering some of the blame for the state of our relationship.
When you do that, you take an important step to improving things.
And really, you have the greatest chance to make changes in your own actions and behaviours, rather than in someone else’s.
It’s an important process – really seeing how your behaviour is affecting the relationship.
“To make a marriage work, it takes two people making an effort towards one another. If your husband won’t go to marriage counselling with you, he should be ready to put in the work at home. It shouldn’t be up to you to do all the heavy lifting – he has a role and responsibility, too.”
Your Husband’s Half of the Work
But, enough about your role. I don’t want you to think that I’m letting your husband off the hook!
Because he’s got work to do, too. And lots of it.
Your husband has a responsibility towards you and your relationship. He likely (or not, and that’s okay, too), took a vow in front of your family and friends and pledged to be there for you, in sickness and in health, for as long as you both shall live.
Well, his role (and job) is to be there for you now.
But, if he isn’t, then you do have a difficult choice to make. You either get to stay or go.
One of my favourite sayings of late is not YOLO (You Only Live Once), but instead YODO – you only die once (but, you get to live every day).
So, you get to live every day.
You get to decide if you want to live with someone who won’t be there for you. Who won’t work with you on your relationship, your marriage, or the life you’ve built together.
Now, I’m not advocating that you speed dial your divorce attorney. But, what I am saying is that you have to do half the work.
That’s right, just half. It’s your husband’s job to do the other half.
You have a right to his half, as he does to yours.
That’s what makes marriage work. Each of you enjoying the fruits of the labour of the other’s half of the hard work.
How To Talk to Your Husband About Going to Therapy
Now, some practical tips on working through this barrier with your husband.
Let’s address the first reason why your husband won’t go to marriage counselling.
If he doesn’t see the value in it, it’s important to convey that value to him in a clear and concise way.
And, it’s important to do it in a language or way that will mean something to him.
You need to give him ideas or examples of how things might look if your relationship improves (and counselling would be a part of this process).
Seeing the value in getting help
Perhaps you two haven’t made love in 3 months. Would he think it is a positive thing in his life if you were intimate again?
Would he see the value in enjoying a fun day together where you two spent some quality time together doing the things you used to enjoy together?
Or, would he see value in both of you being on the same page more often? Where he wouldn’t need to worry about upsetting you if he made plans with his friends? Or put off chores?
Would he enjoy it if there was less bickering and nagging around the house?
If he could agree that some of those things (or whatever examples will speak to him) would bring value to his life, then he might see that getting help to achieve some of those things would be.
Perhaps he might agree to ask for help in getting some of those things in the same way he asks his mechanic to put a new transmission in his truck.
One thing I need to make clear is that it’s not your job to do all the heavy lifting here. It shouldn’t be your job to beat him over the head until you convince him.
But, it could be worth the effort to ask a few leading questions about the value of having a better relationship.
Yes, there is a chance that he won’t see any value no matter how you come at it. But, should he not, then you’ll at least know what you’re dealing with. You’ll at least come to know what HE values.
The Perfect Day Question
Here is another great way to ask about what he values.
Try the Perfect Day Question exercise.
Ask your husband:
“If you woke up tomorrow morning and all the problems in our relationship were solved, what would that perfect day look like? What would you notice that would tell you the problems were solved?”
What would happen on that day that would tell him everything was great? Ask him to be very specific and detailed, imagining that day from the moment he wakes up.
When you ask your husband this, listen carefully to his answers.
Ask him about the details.
What would he see, touch, feel, hear and smell that would tell him all your problems were solved?
Tip for the Perfect Day Question: If you’re partner answers, “I don’t know what would tell me that all our problems were solved.”, do yourself one favour – stop talking. “The Perfect Day exercise works because we use our imagination and go back to the time when we experienced our perfect day. If we get in the way of our partner’s answer, we do their work for them. Let them think. Let them answer. It’ll lead to creative and authentic responses.
Learning his language
Remember his language?
When you get the details of his answers, you’re accomplishing two things: you’re finding out what he values, and you’re getting to hear what he considers important – you’re getting to learn his language.
After you ask him to share with his day, switch roles. Ask him to do the same – be the listener. Ask him to listen to your perfect day. He can certainly do that.
That’s the least he can do. If he can’t go to counselling and bare his soul, then he should at least be able to have a conversation.
What’s important in this task is to not get derailed with conversation about why that day doesn’t happen the way you want it. Or what you can do to make that day happen. What’s most important is that you just listen to what each other’s perfect day sounds like.
Let the words soak in. I’m going to say that again. Let the words soak in.
Think about them.
There’s no rush. What’s important is that you each come to conceptualize what each other’s day looks like. How it unfolds.
The how will reveal itself
When you take it slow and really listen and hear and understand the other’s day, the ‘how’ will reveal itself.
You know why I know that? You know why I know that both of you can make that perfect day happen?
Because you already have!
The fact that you’re married, got engaged, or went out on a first date – this tells me one very important thing. It tells me that somewhere in your past, at some point in your relationship, you both knew how to give each other a perfect day.
So, you already have the skills, the tools, the solutions to the problem of your distress.
Listen to each other’s day, let it soak in, and come back to the how later.
I know it won’t take long to start to see how you can make it happen for each other.
Once you really understand what he values – and he understands what you value – you may find that you can speak his language about attending therapy. And, he may come to truly understand how counselling is important for you.
“Just because your husband won’t go to marriage counselling doesn’t mean he won’t work on improving your relationship. It’s quite possible that he doesn’t think there’s a problem.”
How To Address “I Don’t Think There’s a Problem”
So, your husband doesn’t think there is a problem in your relationship.
Perhaps he truly is blissful and doesn’t see that you’re unhappy. Perhaps his style of relating is to just push aside problems and pretend they don’t exist.
If that’s the case, then good. We can work with that. We do that by doing the opposite of what you think I’m going to say.
I bet there’s a good chance you’ve been trying to convince your husband that your marriage is in trouble – that you have problems.
If you haven’t convinced him by now that your marriage is in trouble, chances are you’re not going to.
Instead, do something different. Rather than talk about the problems in your relationship (and really, is that even fun?), try talking about what is working well in your relationship.
Learning each other’s language leads to learning each other’s solutions
You accomplish two things with this: you hear his solutions (what he thinks works in your relationship) and, more importantly, you learn his language and he learns yours.
When you talk with one another about what works in your marriage – your solutions – rather than what doesn’t, you and your husband start building a road map, your own relationship self-help book.
You get to author your guide on how to best fix your relationship.
Now, don’t forget the details. When you have a conversation about what works well in your relationship, go into detail about those reasons. The more detailed you get, the better you learn one another’s language.
Once you start to connect about finding the good, finding the solutions in your relationship, your husband might then decide he’s willing to take it a step further. He may decide to have a counsellor help you work through improving your relationship even more.
Or, you might find that these exercises are enough, and you don’t need therapy after all!
What if, despite all you do, your husband won’t go to marriage counselling?
Well, you may not actually need to go to therapy at all.
Let me explain.
I may be working myself out of a job here, but the exercises above are practical things you and your husband can do to improve your relationship without needing to go to marriage counselling.
For some people, they just don’t want a bunch of talk therapy. They don’t want to open up to a stranger.
And that’s okay.
But, those same people do owe it to their spouses to talk with them.
Both partners have work to do, and while you may be putting in more work in the beginning to get the conversation rolling, your husband better be right behind you with his own dose of effort.
I say, give your partner a chance. They just might surprise you!
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About the Author
Jonathan Van Viegen is a full-time online individual and couple therapist and relationship coach helping adults and couples improve one of the most important relationships in their life – the one with their partner.
Jonathan’s approach has helped 100’s of clients struggling to maintain a lasting, loving relationship while navigating the challenges of parenting.
Jonathan’s goal with this blog is to offer you a behind the scenes look at his life to show that it is possible to create the kind of relationship you desire – using simple skills that anyone can learn.