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  • Writer's pictureAlena Grunberg

What if my partner won’t go to couples therapy?

Updated: Apr 29, 2023

As a therapist, I work with individuals, couples, and families to improve their relationships. Often, a partner or family member is not interested in therapy. Can I work with just an individual to effect change in a relationship or family? Yes, definitely.

For problems that feel bothersome but not overwhelming, I find that great progress can be made by working with one partner. Any relationship is a system, and when you change one part of it what happens to the others? They shift too.

For nagging complaints and discomforts in your relationship, individual therapy can help you to change your own perceptions and behaviors such that the situation no longer bothers you. Coming to therapy with self-awareness and insight into your own opportunities for improvement allows for the greatest degree of success. Many couples that start therapy with me do the opposite, and I completely understand why. They come to the first session with a laundry list of complaints to fix about their partner, and are parked in victim mode.

For example, when I am up late cleaning and I start criticizing my partner in my mind. "Why can’t he just review his mail and put it somewhere? Pick up the kids’ laundry? Reach out for that repair? Load the dishwasher?" And then I feel angry. But, when I take accountability for my part and think about all he DOES do, I immediately cool down. Maybe I don’t really need to run upstairs and have a “talk” better known as an “attack” and ruin the night? Maybe everything is OK, and he’s just tired and not an underperforming incapable partner? Perhaps I need to take charge of the mail process, since I am more organized? And the laundry too, since that is one of my weekly chores. Maybe I am feeling disorganized myself, and like I haven’t been keeping up with my own chores and am placing those feelings onto him? This happens a lot and is called “projection.”

Do you see how quickly the “problem” can change with a shift in my perception? What could have been a fight can remain a pleasant night, and we didn’t need couples therapy. So, just a reminder that you definitely have the power to positively impact your relationship solo and that changing your thoughts and behaviors can be a fun experiment! For the more complicated issues with layers and heated emotions, see if your partner is willing to try therapy. Not because you want them to, but because the best way for you both to get what you want in the relationship is to show up and do the work. Let them know that you are willing to see your part in the situation, and that you are on the same side.

* Note: I do not suggest this strategy if there is any form of abuse. Please seek professional support and help to ensure you are safe.

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