Spouse Resistant to Counseling?

Last week, I responded to a question from a commenter regarding a spouse who’s resistant to going to marriage counseling. After breaking the question down into two concerns, today I’m addressing the second concern …

What if you or your spouse had a bad experience with counseling, is counseling really necessary and helpful
The short answer is “yes,” but you still have to accept and deal with where your spouse is. Like I mentioned last week, it’s unwise and counter-productive to try to manipulate or force your spouse into doing anything, including going to counseling. Part of accepting and dealing with this resistance means understanding your spouse’s negative feelings regarding his past counseling experience. This involves developing empathy

Hawak kamay

Ways to Develop Empathy
  1. Pray regularly that God would open your eyes and heart to the hurts and fears of your spouse. No one can help us comprehend our spouse’s heart better than God. 
  2. Forgive your spouse. Make a decision based upon the forgiveness you’ve received from Christ to act in a forgiving and loving way toward your spouse. This is “Decisional Forgiveness” and if you continue to harbor resentments toward your spouse after making this conscious choice, then you’ll need to work through an “Emotional Forgiveness” process. A great book to help you through this is Forgiving and Reconciling by Everett Worthington. Reading and truly working through the exercises he suggests will help your resentments to lift and your heart to heal.  
  3. Respectfully and lovingly ask your spouse to share about the bad counseling experience with you. This means that your only agenda is to learn about what your spouse has experienced. Avoid any suggestion that you’re trying to talk him into going to counseling with you. If you have any lingering frustrations about his resistance to counseling, then put off this conversation until you are able to freely offer comfort and a listening heart. 
  4. Use Reflective Listening not just for the conversation above, but in all your conversations. Reflective Listening will help you to understand and access the emotions of your spouse (and others)improving empathy. Click here for a Reflective Listening Exercise.
  5. Journal about your feelings. Becoming in-tune with how “you” feel will help you tune-in to other’s feelings including your spouse’s. 
Empathy will bring you and your spouse closer together, and in time may resolve the need for counseling. But if you have practiced these steps and still feel that counseling is necessary, then consider asking your spouse if you could talk through issues on your own with a counselor or pastor. Often a spouse is fine with the other spouse going on his/her own, but the resistant spouse may draw the line at being asked to be a part of it. 
Going to counseling on your own can be very empowering, even if it isn’t with your spouse. With the help of a counselor or pastor, you can find support and new ways to cope in your difficult marriage. And if you really give yourself to the process, your attitude and behavior will improve over time. This may just be the incentive your spouse needsseeing you change can open his/her eyes to the need for counseling as well.

Photo by kaye_d23 (Flickr)

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  1. I often know couples where only one partner is willing to go to counseling and the other is not (and not necessarily because of a bad experience). But this contains helpful advice on how to work through that. Thanks!

  2. great advice…yes…I have encouraged many woman…just go…it will help you process…change…and it is amazing how when their eyes are more opened to themselves(not everything is the other’s fault)…it opens their husband to going…

  3. messymarriage says:

    Yeah, there’s so much that can be accomplished through one willing spirit in a marriage. It might be harder, but that’s where God works best. Thanks for stopping by, Lisa!

  4. messymarriage says:

    It’s so true. If you have a spouse who is unwilling, it’s easy to develop a victim mentality and feel stuck in a bad marriage. And counselors can be so helpful in pulling us out of that frame of mind. Thanks for weighing in, Ro!

  5. Tara_pohlkottepress says:

    this is hard, when only one is willing. Great words of encouragement. All things are possible…

  6. wise advice for a very tough situation…empathy is so important…it is what Christ shows us.

  7. great advice. I want you to know I pass on what I read here. Thank you!

  8. Hi Beth – great practical post. Something we all should be aware of. So glad you linked up. Look forward to seeing you again next week.
    God bless

  9. This is good sound advice, and encourages the reader toward love and understanding…something which the world is in dire need of! Thank you for offering this wonderful solutions to a difficult problem! Thanks for linking up with us over at Painting Prose as well!

  10. I had never looked at counseling from that perspective before. How wonderful if a wife goes with an open heart and mind, and sees where she can be things differently, and how that might could have the power to change the heart of her husband.

    I know too many wives who wanted their husbands to go to counseling so the counselor would “fix” the husband, and then, voila! the stormy marriage would be all better…..

  11. messymarriage says:

    It truly is hard and can make marriage “messy,” but, like you’ve said, all things are possible with our great Savior! Thanks for stopping by, Tara!

  12. messymarriage says:

    Empathy is something we all need to learn–myself included! 🙂 But it’s even more important in these kinds of tense situations. Thanks for stopping by!

  13. messymarriage says:

    I truly appreciate that, Alyssa! I want to know that it makes a difference. And sometimes Satan tries to get me to question that, so your encouragement has made a big difference for me today! Hugs*

  14. messymarriage says:

    Thanks for coming by and encouraging me, Tracy! 🙂

  15. messymarriage says:

    Yes, love and understanding are so needed and yet so hard to give sometimes–especially in a situation like this one. Thanks, kd!

  16. messymarriage says:

    Thanks for your support and encouragement, Kim. I’m so glad we’ve connected via the blogging world! 🙂