Many people have the impression that couples counseling can only be effective if both partners attend and participate. Not so! Studies have found that working on relationships alone (if your partner refuses or is unable to join you) can have equally positive results. For example, at the University of Denver, results from a five-year longitudinal study of 300 long-term couples suggest that a month or so after receiving relationship-skills training, those who got it as individuals saw as much improvement in their relationships as those who got the training as a couple. So, if your partner won’t join you in counseling, going it alone can be just as effective.
If you have an unwilling partner, it is natural to feel frustrated. You don’t want to be the only one putting in the effort to improve your relationship! Don’t let your partner’s unwillingness become yet another obstacle between the two of you. Even if only one of you is interested in improving the dynamics of your relationship, if one of you starts behaving differently, I guaranty the relationship will change, too.
“But what can I really accomplish on my own?”
You may be pleasantly surprised! The key is to learn more about yourself and how your words and actions contribute to your relationship. Once you have a better handle on your role in your ongoing issues, when you change, your relationship simply cannot stay the same. Time invested in learning better communication skills, discovering new tools to better manage conflict, and ways to meet your own needs will alleviate some of the stress and strain in your relationship. Over time, your partner will take notice of the new and improved you and likely begin to do and say things differently, too.
By doing this personal introspection, you’ll begin to recognize the destructive patterns you’ve both fallen into. You’ll realize, as you experiment with your new tools and skills, that things can change… even if you’re the only one (at least in the beginning) making the changes. You’ll discover new, positive ways to contribute to your relationship and get out of your old, destructive patterns.
“How about I insist my partner accompanies me to counseling?”
Insisting that your partner accompany you to counseling will likely do more harm than good. After all, nobody likes to be told what to do. Laying down an ultimatum may add to any resentment that already exists between the two of you. An unwilling participant in counseling may even derail your efforts completely; it is best to resist the urge push your partner into doing something s/he does not want to do.
Especially when your relationship is already on shaky ground, demands of any kind are rarely effective – they often just fuel the fire. I know it would feel better not to (seemingly) be the only one putting in the effort to improve things, but some people feel better trying to “fix” things on their own without the help of a counselor. Though in time, if the one attending counseling is making good progress, often the other comes around. Be patient.
“But if my partner really cared for me, wouldn’t s/he come…?”
Your partner may choose not to join you in counseling for any number of reasons that may have nothing at all to do you with you and your relationship. Perhaps there was a bad experience in the past that s/he is afraid will be revealed. Maybe s/he is afraid of the chance of being “ganged up on” during a session (something a skilled counselor would never do) or blamed openly by the partner for their problems. Don’t just assume that your partner’s unwillingness to accompany you to counseling should be interpreted as not caring about you or your relationship.
Reluctance doesn’t necessarily mean rejection. Know that if you pay attention to your own thoughts, feelings, and desires and work on improving yourself and your own life, you will become more attractive to others and these changes can be the very catalyst to building a happier and healthier relationship.
How about you? Have you worked on your relationship solo or with your partner and what were the results? I would love to hear all about what has and hasn’t worked for you, so please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.