Starting therapy can feel scary. Talking to your partner about going to couples therapy may feel even scarier. Have you ever wanted to ask someone about something so important, you were terrified they would reject you or say no? Asking your partner to come to therapy with you is a vulnerable act. It’s a health risk that can strengthen your relationship but can feel intimidating if you don’t know where to start. We’ve heard varying concerns from clients who were hesitant to start therapy.
Primary concerns about starting therapy may include:
- “Our issues aren’t that bad, we’ve always figured it out ourselves.”
- “The therapist will probably take your side.”
- “How is a stranger going to help us?”
- “I’m nervous about what to expect
- “What If I get caught off guard?”
- “Therapy is expensive”
- “Our friend hated her experience with her therapist!”
There could also be fears, such as rejection:
- “What if I tell my partner and they break up with me?”
- ”What if our relationship can’t be fixed?”
- “I don’t want to open Pandora’s box over this if we can’t find a resolution”.
Regardless of what the reason is, couples therapy can be a hard topic to broach with your significant other. Here are some primary concerns and how to handle them:
We don’t have real issues…we’re not that bad.
When one person has an issue with the relationship, the sentiment should be that we have a problem in the relationship. It is human nature to look for right versus wrong, defend our position, and usually criticize or shut down if we feel hurt. These feelings aren’t easy to confront but we may lean toward minimizing the issues or comparing our relationship. Minimizing the issues within a relationship is not helpful and only serves to exacerbate feelings of hurt, anger, and frustration. In therapy, you can learn how to look at the problem and work through it together. Relationship issues belong to the couple, not one person.
The following are some tips when navigating this conversation:
- Using a relaxed, calm tone of voice helps your partner from going into defensive mode.
- Address both your and your partner’s experiences. “I know we have both been struggling in our relationship lately. I know you have been concerned about how I sometimes take my stress out on you and I have been concerned about us feeling disconnected.”
- Don’t get into details, this invites a right vs. wrong stance, we all remember details differently and this will convolute the conversation. (I.e., You never want to spend time with me,“” That’s not true! Give me an example.” “No that wasn’t last week we had a date night, that was two weeks ago and before that, I can’t even remember.”) Before you know it, you will be arguing about the details, which don’t matter.
- Take ownership of what you can own. Be sure that despite their concerns you don’t get defensive, this can be hard as we highly value our most personal relationships and we tend to get emotional about protecting the things that are most important to us. Using the example from earlier, “You never want to spend time with me.” While it is probably untrue that you NEVER want to spend time with your partner, arguing that detail will land you in conflict. What can you own? A good response would be, “You’re right. We should spend more time together. I can do better about prioritizing that.”
- Highlight your desire to strengthen your relationship and why your relationship is important to you.
The therapist will take sides.
We hear this all the time! As trained professionals, we approach couples in a stance of curiosity and a non-judgmental manner so we can understand each person’s unique experience. We emphasize hearing and understanding each person’s perspective to gather a whole view of the problems that are occurring within the relationship.
The following are some tips when explaining the role of your couples therapist to your partner:
- Although it may feel like one person in the relationship is leading the tango, remember that “it takes two to tango.” Highlight the notion that there is no right or wrong person in the relationship. “We both need to work together to get our relationship to where we want to be.”
- State the overall goal of attending couples therapy is to improve and strengthen your relationship. Taking sides does not work toward this goal. “I want to improve too so that we can enjoy our relationship. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your perspective in therapy.”
- Acknowledge your partner’s reservations concerning this and share yours if you feel the same way too. “I’m scared too but also hopeful this can help us. I appreciate you agreeing to go.”
- We don’t always jive with our therapists and that’s okay it’s normal! Sharing this with your partner while providing the option to try a different therapist if this occurs.
They don’t know us, how can they help us?
Interestingly enough, it is not an actual requirement that we know you. Are you able to see how your actions impact your relationship? Do you know your partner? Would you like to work on knowing and understanding your partner better? We can help you with that! The more that you know yourself, the easier it is to understand how your behavior and actions show up inside your relationship and contribute to the interactions with your partner. In turn, the better understanding you have of yourself, your partner, and your actions – the easier it will be to create lasting change.
Points to keep in mind when bringing up attending couples therapy with your partner:
- Share with your partner that by not knowing you, therapists are more equipped to assume a nonjudgmental, curious stance. “I think having a non-biased third party hear us out can give us some unique perspective and help us work through some of our struggles.”
- Bring up how therapy helps each of you gain a better understanding of yourselves and how you each play a role in your relationship.
Not sure what to expect in the initial session?
We understand that there can be a bit of anxiety and concern about what will happen in the first session. We are always working to make sure that you are comfortable and that you feel understood. Upon the initial meeting with your therapist, they will walk you through what will happen in the first session. For now, here is a general overview:
Your therapist will take the time to get to know your relationship. They will ask you to help them understand you and your partner’s unique perspective. They will ask what you are hoping to get out of therapy and work with you to come up with some productive goals. Your therapist will give you some feedback, offer ways in which they can help you accomplish your goals, and make a plan. They will encourage your strengths all while highlighting where the hope lies within your relationship. From there you will get started on your way to a healthier and happier relationship.
Here are some tips to use in your conversation with your partner relating to the initial couple’s therapy session:
- Share with your partner this general outline of the initial session as this helps give them more of an idea of what to anticipate.
- Express your feelings about what to expect from your partner while acknowledging theirs – you may be feeling the same way!
- Offer the idea of attending a couple’s therapy as an invitation – this does not force the idea upon them and gives your partner a say and choice in the decision!
Although it is difficult, you must address issues in your relationship sooner rather than later. The longer you try to hold on and do things the way you have been doing them, the more you can damage your relationship. If you’re scared about the process, we can answer any questions you may have. If you feel like you don’t know what to do, we can also help you there. Our goal is to help you feel more prepared and comfortable when deciding to begin couples therapy. Our client care specialists are available to answer any questions you may have about the process. We encourage you to reach out today to strengthen your relationship!