What to do when your partner won't go to therapy (and you think they should)
Before we start...
Building on the first article, let’s assume your desire for your partner to go to therapy is at least partly based on the desire to control their behaviour.
As promised, here are 7 ways for you to improve your relationship. Spoiler alert: none of these involve your partner going to therapy.
And if this all seems too overwhelming, just remember, how do you eat an elephant? Bite by bite…
1. Write it down (and stick to it!)
Take a large piece of paper and divide it in half. On one half, write down all the things you can control in your relationship. On the other half, write all of the things you can’t control.
Take your time and include the tangible and intangible, from your feelings and how you express them, to your partner’s drinking problem and your mother-in-law’s cooking.
Stick your list somewhere you can see it so it reminds you what is and isn’t your business. As much as possible, keep your mouth shut and your nose out of what isn’t your business.
Making this list can be both a huge relief and absolutely terrifying. It highlights that you can only control your part of the process. For example, you can control whether or not you set boundaries but you can’t control how someone will respond to those boundaries.
2. Reorientate your efforts towards yourself
Meet your own needs first. Shift yourself from the bottom of your list to the very top. Unless the kids are on fire, tend to your own needs before anyone else’s.
At the same time, stop resenting your partner for putting themselves higher on their list than you.
If you don’t know what putting yourself first means or looks like, get help. Ask a friend who seems to be good at this or pay a professional.
For now, take your list from #1 and turn each area you can’t control into something you can do for yourself. For example, if you’re trying to get your partner to go to therapy, maybe address your codependent tendencies in your own personal therapy.
3. Offer help not veiled coercion
Being genuinely helpful is a really lovely gift, as long as it is not a Trojan horse and there are no strings attached (to mix metaphors!). This means no more coercing your partner to accept your help, doing something now so that they owe you later, or helping them when you’re exhausted so you can play the martyr card.
It also means no more playing a role in their life that they haven’t asked for, be that their accountant, therapist, or chef. If they don’t want to know a better way to chop garlic or read that amazing article you just know will change their life, let them be blissfully ignorant. That’s their choice.
Remember, your partner is a mature and capable adult. Feel free to offer them help but if they don’t want it, let it go. They don’t have to receive it just because you want to give it, especially if you’re only giving to get something!
4. Make self-soothing your first response
One of the lovely things about being partnered is having someone to comfort and cuddle you. For controlling people, this can tip into making their partner responsible for their happiness and blaming the partner when they’re not.
Your partner is not your parent. That’s not their job. You are not their emotional responsibility.
Instead, learn ways to self-soothe and be the primary carer of your own emotional needs. Take time to work out exactly what you need to soothe yourself, and use those techniques often, be that practising mindfulness or yoga, or squeezing a stress ball.
Although this can take weeks and months to clarify, this one point can radically improve all the relationships in your life, not just with your partner(s).
Once you work out how to care for your own emotional needs, not only will you stop projecting your needs onto your partner(s), but you’ll also be far less invested in controlling them too.
5. Believe and respect your partner's response
If you’ve already asked your partner to go to therapy and they’ve said they don’t want to, believe them. And, respect that they don’t want to do that right now, or maybe ever. That is their choice.
While you can’t heal for someone else, you can investigate your own role in the present situation. Ask yourself:
- Have I been nagging or bullying my partner about going to therapy?
- Have I been a bit preachy or sanctimonious about the fact that I’m going to therapy?
- Do I secretly feel I deserve a gold star for working so hard on this relationship?
On reflection, you might find that you are a significant factor in why your partner doesn’t want to go to therapy. Nobody likes to feel forced, controlled, or coerced into doing things, do they?
There’s also a more long-term question to consider under this point. If they never go to therapy, alone or with you, is that a dealbreaker for you?
6. Say no more often
Stop saying “yes” when you mean “no”. Even if it means rocking the boat.
Communicate what you feel and need sooner. As with #3, don’t offer help when you actually need to ask for help.
If you don’t know how to ask for more from your partner, try these structures:
a) When you…I feel…I would prefer…
When you come home from work and offload how stressful your day has been I feel like your emotional rubbish dump. I would prefer you to find other ways to vent and then to share some good and bad aspects of your day.
b) I feel…when you…because…I need
I feel annoyed when you ignore my requests for help because I feel I do everything around the house. I need you to take responsibility for some chores.
If you don’t know where to start, ask yourself what you feel resentful about in your relationship. This is a good indication of areas where you need to start asking for more and saying “yes” less.
7. Just pick one
For most of us, the 6 points above are each massive changes in how we do relationships. Each one contains a lifetime of personal growth and development!
So, the final point is to pick one and start doing it. Just one. Even if you can only do one thing once a day, begin with that. Start small and build consistent change over time.
When you feel confident with one point, try introducing another. Remember, bite by bite.
As you can see, all of these involve relinquishing control of other people and, at the same time, taking greater responsibility for yourself. This can feel exhausting and overwhelming. If you’re accustomed to codependent relationship habits, these points are likely to feel really scary and uncomfortable.
But change is absolutely possible. Trust yourself, you are competent and capable. You absolutely can make these changes. You deserve to have a healthy, loving relationship. You’ve achieved so much already, why stop now?
And if you want personalised help and support, please get in touch. I’m here for you.