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It’s relatively impossible to get a unwilling spouse to attend marriage counseling sessions with you, unless they are court ordered. If the person really does not want to go, you can’t force a spouse to go to counseling sessions. Further, if your spouse agrees to attend but isn’t willing to commit to change, counseling sessions may prove of little benefit.
In some cases, however, your spouse might simply feel uncomfortable with the idea of talking to a stranger about problems. He or she may also feel like the counselor and the spouse who wants to attend will use this time to gang up on him or her. In these cases, talking with your spouse about his or her reluctance to attend counseling may help encourage your spouse to at least try it out.
Another approach that can be helpful is to ask your spouse to attend counseling sessions to help you. When your spouse does not feel that marriage counseling is going to end up being a confrontational environment, but may actually be of help to his or her wife or husband, he or she may go with no admission that both parties in the marriage contribute to its problems.
Most psychologists feel that if a spouse truly won’t attend counseling, the person who wants to attend should still go. Individual counseling may help you more clearly define your own needs and issues. If the reluctant spouse notices that you benefit from counseling, he or she might be more open to it in the future.
A spouse who is concerned about sharing his or her personal feelings in front of a counselor might also be willing to work through a self-help book out on healthy marriage. This might, in turn, lead to a greater interest in counseling in the future, or might help address some of the key problems in the marriage.
If one person is already in counseling, one pitfall should definitely be avoided: an individual counselor should not become a marriage counselor. There may be a significant conflict of interest, and an established rapport with a marriage counselor could put the other spouse on the defensive from the beginning. If you are already in counseling, ask your current therapist for recommendations for therapists who can start fresh with both you and your husband or wife, and display no partiality.
Marriage counseling is generally most effective when both partners are willing to go, and want to change their habits. In lieu of counseling with a reluctant partner, look to alternatives like books, TV shows, and tapes or programs that may help your spouse ultimately feel more comfortable. Also, attend counseling privately, when a spouse is unwilling. At the very least, this will give you a place to discuss your hurt and frustration over issues in your marriage, which may help relieve some tension.