Marital counseling can save marriages. This page is all about what to do when you think your marriage can be saved, and your spouse refuses to go with you to counseling. It’s not all good news, but I think it can be helpful.
Counseling, particularly counseling that has any chance to save your marriage, can be brutal. It will force both your spouse and you to come face to face with some painful realities about the way you interact, the roles you play with each other, and even the games you play with each other. In most marital counseling, the distressing reality is that when the professional gets to the real issues, the ones that must be fixed if the marriage is going to work, somebody decides “This isn’t working” and exits. It may be your spouse. It may be you.
The decision to enter counseling is a decision to pay money for the privilege of enduring pain, sort of like a root canal. Also like a root canal, however, it can be the only way – or at least a good way – to resolve the deeper pain and restore your life.
The appeal that seems to work best across the board with spouses who are reluctant to go to counseling is one that appeals to the regard they almost invariably express for their spouse. For the spouse who says “I love you but I’m not in love with you,” for the spouse who says “I care for you more than you can know,” and for the spouse who says “I think divorce is the best chance we both have to be happy,” I think your appeal is simple and profound: “Okay, let’s assume that you’re right. Our marriage is dead. If you care for me, wouldn’t you like for me to know what mistakes I’ve made in our relationship so I won’t make them again with someone else?”
I realize how painful this is to say, but I think it’s the best chance you have to persuade your spouse to go to counseling. Parenthetically, it also is true. That is, there really is some value for both of you in realizing the mistakes you’ve made in your relationship.
The problem with this approach, though, is that you and your spouse will have two different agendas. You will be trying to use the counseling sessions to save your marriage, and your spouse will be trying to use them to accomplish a civil divorce. One of you will get something different from what you hoped.
When you simply cannot convince your spouse to go to counseling with you, I’m a big believer in your going alone. Admittedly, the agenda changes when you go to counseling alone. You’re no longer working to save your marriage. Instead, you’re working to know yourself better. As you work to know yourself, though, and particularly as you do it under the guidance of a caring professional, you may discover what makes you tick and find yourself on the road to healing and wholeness.