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How can I Encourage a Spouse to Attend Marriage Counseling?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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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.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon989685 — On Mar 17, 2015

I asked my wife to go to marriage counseling three months after our daughter died, which was a major blow to both of us. She refused. We finally started counseling 2.5 years later, after resentment was deeply built up (and many of the problems hadn't even occurred as yet).

I think she had already given up by the time we went; I figured out later why she had the weather for her mother's house (where she now lives) on her computer daily before we even started counseling. She left after 6 months of counseling, just before our daughter was to leave for college.

The moral is to intervene early.

By anon308904 — On Dec 13, 2012

For relationship counseling, it's important for the counselor to bring back the respect back between the couple. It may take time, depending on the gravity of the situation. Every odd situation in a relationship brings new challenges, and how we cope and learn from it is governed by our consciousness.

By bagley79 — On Nov 02, 2012

I am a receptionist for a counselor and have seen many interesting situations. Even working as a receptionist in the office I get to know some of the people who come in for counseling.

I have seen some situations where marriage counseling works really well, and others where there didn't seem to be much hope. Much of this comes down to the attitude of the people seeking the counseling.

Even if a spouse sees a counselor because of a court order, if their attitude is bad, many times counseling is not going to help much.

By honeybees — On Nov 01, 2012

When I was in a rocky marriage and counseling was out of the question for both of us, I attended individual counseling sessions. I think these sessions helped me stay sane and not get so down on myself. We eventually divorced, but the counseling I received was helpful for me as it gave me some good insight into the way I reacted to things that would come up.

By myharley — On Oct 31, 2012

I think seeing a marriage counselor helped save the marriage of my daughter and son-in-law. At first he was not interested in seeing a counselor, but when he realized how serious my daughter was about leaving if they didn't seek any help, he agreed to go.

I think the first few sessions were pretty tense, but gradually he felt comfortable with the counselor and they were able to start working through things. I think the reluctant spouse has to realize that it isn't going to be a session where they are ganged up on, but that they need to work through their issues together.

By SarahSon — On Oct 30, 2012

When I was married to my first husband he had the attitude that he didn't need a marriage counselor. I was finally able to convince him for both of us to meet with the pastor at our church who does a lot of marriage counseling.

Sadly, this didn't do anything to help our marriage. His attitude was pretty bad and I think he already had his mind made up. I think marriage counseling between two people who really want to work on their marriage can be very beneficial.

In my case, it was too late and with the attitude my husband had, I don't know if it would have made a difference how soon we had talked to someone about our problems.

By cloudel — On Oct 26, 2012

I think the only way for me to get my husband to agree to counseling would be if we went on a retreat for it to some island paradise. He might actually be enticed enough by the vacation aspect to undergo some sessions while we are there.

I'm not sure if I would be able to drag him away from the beach to attend one, though. It would be awful to go all that way and still have him deny counseling.

By StarJo — On Oct 26, 2012

I have heard of something called a marriage counseling weekend. Couples go for intense therapy for three days in a row.

The good thing about this is that you don't get cut off after your fifty minutes is up. Couples meet for hours at a time with their therapists, so this can do a lot of good.

Unless you have bought some fancy package deal, though, you will have to pick your own hotel and pay for food and travel yourselves. I guess this would give you the option to go cheap if you needed to in order to afford the therapy.

By OeKc05 — On Oct 26, 2012

Biblical marriage counseling helped my husband and I. We were both devout Christians, so we wanted a therapist who believed the same way as we did.

We sought to live our lives by the Bible, so it only made sense that therapy for our marriage would go by it, as well. It did a world of good for us, because we learned that the closer we got to God as individuals, the closer we grew to each other inevitably.

By giddion — On Oct 25, 2012

@Anna10 – I agree with you. When faced with the options of either marriage counseling or divorce, if a spouse doesn't choose counseling, then he isn't as fully committed to the relationship as he originally vowed to be.

By bmuse — On May 28, 2011

@rs4life- Write your wife a letter. You expressed yourself very well here, so I think that would be a good way for you to start the communication.

Be sure and tell her that the reason you want couples marriage counseling is because you *want* to be married to her, not because you're thinking of leaving.

By rs4life — On May 25, 2011

How do I approach my wife and tell her I want to try marriage and family counseling? We don't communicate very well, we never have, and I don't even know where to start. She doesn't even know I'm not happy with her or our relationship. I think I'm afraid to hurt her feelings.

By Anna10 — On May 24, 2011

When my husband and I started having serious troubles, I tried to coax him into going to marriage counseling therapy. He refused. He said there was no way he was going to share his problems with a stranger.

I concluded that his pride was greater than his desire to save our marriage, and I left. We've been divorced eight years now.

I firmly believe that if someone wants something bad enough, even their own pride won't stand in the way.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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