Maybe your relationship is normally great, but communication has been lacking lately. Or, perhaps, you love your partner but feel a loss of emotional or physical intimacy. Maybe you’re in a new relationship and struggling to challenge old attachment patterns.
If any of these sounds like you, you may be considering bringing up couples therapy with your partner. According to research from The Gottman Institute, couples typically stay unhappy for an average of six years before seeking help. Of course, you don’t have to wait and suffer that long!
Counseling can feel scary, especially if you're worried about a potential breakup or divorce. It can be intimidating to make yourself vulnerable with a stranger on your own- never mind having to talk about your problems with a stranger and your partner.
Asking your partner to consider couples therapy can feel the same way - scary, vulnerable, and intimidating, but we have some tips to make that conversation a little easier.
Create a Receptive Environment
If you are thinking about couples counseling, it may be tempting to bring that up in the middle of an argument-- “see? This is why we need couple’s counseling!” Unfortunately, though it may seem natural to bring up therapy, a fight is not a receptive environment for meaningful discussion.
Think about the things that connect you as a couple. Do you enjoy watching comedy specials together? Maybe you both like getting ice cream from that little place downtown. Take time to remember the things that connect you, and use that comfortable place as the environment for conversation. Your partner will likely be more receptive to the discussion if it does not feel thrown at them in the heat of an argument.
It may also be helpful to consider where you have your most productive conversations. For example, some people enjoy having serious discussions in the car where the pressure of eye contact is lessened. Others find it easier to have serious conversations in a neutral environment like a park, while some prefer restricting difficult conversations to a particular space in their home. Think about the physical environment in addition to the environment of the relationship.
Use I- and We-Statements
Bringing up couples counseling can put your partner in a defensive position. They may feel as though you’re criticizing them or that they have failed in some way.
Remember to keep your communication clear and focused on your feelings and perceptions of the current relationship. I- and We-Statements can keep your tone from feeling accusatory and serve as a reminder that you are still a team despite the current challenges.
This could sound like, “I have noticed that I feel more disconnected from you lately, and I think we could benefit from talking to someone about it - what do you think?” I-statements help center your feelings about the situation and can prevent your partner from feeling attacked. Following up that I-statement with a we-statement reminds your partner that you are a team and that this suggestion is intended to strengthen your partnership, not to point out flaws.
Keep It a Team Effort
You’ve used your I- and We-statements, and your partner is considering couples counseling. What next? Time to research and look into your different options!
Include your partner in the process of finding a counselor if they are interested. You can read about different approaches to couples counseling, check out the website or social media of other therapists in your area, or write some inquiry emails together. Remember that couples counseling is a tool for strengthening the partnership, so approach the process as a partnership!
If your partner doesn’t feel ready to look for therapists quite yet, it may be helpful to listen to some podcasts or watch YouTube videos talking more about the process of couples counseling. For example, Esther Perel’s Where Should We Begin, or The Gottman Institute’s Small Things Often would be great places to start demystifying the process of couples therapy.
Navigate a “No”
No matter how well you communicate or how much you research the process, your partner may still decide they are not comfortable with attending couples counseling. So how will you navigate a no?
Take an inventory of your own wants and needs out of the counseling process. Are you willing to work on some of these concerns in your own individual counseling if that's the case? Do you think working on your individual concerns or challenges will support the well-being of the relationship?
Identify and clarify your goals. Individual therapy may be a great place to start. Your partner may even change their mind after seeing your progress.
Final Thoughts on How To Bring Up Couples Therapy
Couples therapy is a way to support your relationship, not an indicator of an inevitable end. Though it can feel scary, talking to your partner about couples therapy can be a little easier with the right environment, focus on teamwork, research, and ultimately, respect for their answer.
At The Resurface Group, we offer individual, couples, and family therapy. We recognize the importance of preventative mental health treatment, and we are here for you and your loved ones. Contact us today to learn more!