Do you feel like it takes begging, pleading or even an ultimatum to get your husband to consider marriage counseling? Try to understand from your husband’s point of view why he may be apprehensive about the whole counseling process. This may help him to change his expectations about counseling.
Why he may not want to go to counseling?
- Man Bashing: He may feel that counseling is a negative experience where his wife and the counselor gang up on him.
- Men are Fixers: Often men are not taught how to express their feelings and tend to keep things inside. Men are “Fixers” and do not talk about their feelings as talking about emotions does not “Fix” the problem.
- Feelings are like Food: They need help understanding that feelings is like food. Food comes in and Food has to come out. Feelings come in and feelings come out but if feelings are bottled up they come out the wrong way through aggression, yelling, isolation, drinking, addictions and more. All of these things effect the relationship.
- Some men do not know how: Men are told they are not supposed to talk about feelings. “That’s for women.” Men often are called names if they share what they are feeling. Because of the environment they grew up in they may not even know how to express their feelings. It’s ironic that men will not talk about their feelings unless they drank too much at a bar and then they will spill their guts to a bartender. Unfortunately, because they were drunk they do not remember talking about their feelings so these emotions are still trapped inside!
When Not to approach the subject: During an argument is probably not the best time to inform your husband that you both need to go to marriage counseling. This could cause him to feel forced or to respond in a defensive way. Don’t overwhelm him with the idea of on-going counseling sessions. Not knowing what to expect causes part of the fear of counseling. Try to get him to agree to 2-3 sessions at first and then you can both discuss if it is something that is a good fit for the relationship.
Explain that counseling may help him understand each other: Counseling is not an automatic sign that the relationship has taken a negative turn. Sometimes it can be challenging to come to terms with admitting there are problems in a marriage that need to be dealt with. Most men like to know how to automatically fix a problem. They enjoy knowing how to solve the problem without turning to outside help. Explaining to him that counseling offers tools for better communication may help him view counseling as a way to improve skills he already possesses. Otherwise, he might take the idea of going to see a counselor as critisicism from you.
Marriage is like Baseball? You can use sports as an example. The foundations of a sport must be learned and practiced in order to excel. Does a little league baseball player on his second year in the league look at his coach and say “Why are you here?” “I already know how to play baseball, I know all the rules and I know what order to run the bases?” No that is crazy! We are not just born with the ability to play baseball just like we are not born with the ability to know how to “be married.” It takes coaching, practice, conditioning and time to learn what works and what doesn’t. Sports and marriage have good seasons and rough seasons. Often the rough seasons strengthen the marriage. If you can make it through the rough seasons you can make it through anything. A counselor can help you with the foundation and basic communication skills that allow the relationship to excel.
Involve him in the process of choosing a counselor: If the counselor is already chosen and the appointment time is set, it could feel like all the planning was done behind his back. There is a good chance he will feel more comfortable if he is able to give input on what offices and counselors he is interested in making an appointment with. You can both do research together to find a counselor that fits your style. It’s usually good to also go together for the first appointment.
Lead by example: You can only ask so many times before it can start to come across as nagging. If he does not want to go at first you might try going yourself and tell your husband areas where you may need to improve. He might say, “I’ve been trying to tell you that, but you won’t listen.” You might say, “that also what the counselor said and the counselor would like to ask you more things I am doing wrong. If he observes that you are benefitting from counseling sessions, then he may begin to consider the benefits he could also receive. If an activity is helping someone you know, you will be more inclined to want to join in. This way he feels that he is making the decision on his own will and not being dragged or forced into counseling.
In the end, you don’t need him to go to the sessions to benefit from counseling. Although it is much more effective to have both husband and wife in the session, individual sessions can also have tremendously positive effects on your relationship. So don’t give up! He may come around, and until then you can enjoy your own personal growth during the individual counseling sessions.
NOTE: You can freely redistribute this resource, electronically or in print, provided you leave the authors contact information below intact.
Article was edited and co-authored by author James L West, MA, LMHC, NCC. Article written by Alicia Barilla, MS.