Christian Marriage Counseling can provide help, hope and healing in difficult times. I often hear of someone trying to encourage their spouse to attend Christian Marriage Counseling when their spouse is resistant or skeptical about the benefits of counseling. If you find yourself (or someone you love) in a similar situation, this blog will help by giving you practical ideas to assist you in encouraging your spouse to attend marriage counseling.
It is important to remember that timing is everything. Ecclesiastes 3:1 states, “to everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven.” Prepare your spouse by letting them know you would like to have some time to talk rather than blindsiding them by a sudden approach. There is a right time and a wrong time to ask your partner to attend Christian Marriage Counseling with you. Let me start by giving some examples of when not to mention this sensitive topic.
Christian Marriage Counseling: When NOT to Encourage Your Spouse to Attend
- Potentially Defensive Times: When your spouse is under the pressure of a deadline, crisis, or when awakened in the middle of the night.
- Family Gatherings: When families get together there is often tension anyway and many individuals want to look “okay” to other family members. Even in a private setting do not mention the topic during family gatherings such as birthdays, celebrations, holidays or events such as weddings or funerals.
- When Arguing or Right After: This is not a good time to bring up counseling as your partner is most likely feeling intense emotions which causes them to be unreceptive, defensive and self-protective.
- By Email or Text: An email or text is much more likely to be misinterpreted than a face-to-face conversation. You have much less control over the message you send making confidentiality uncertain. Not only this, but the recipient can read it at any time and in any mood or state of mind.
Christian Marriage Counseling: How to Approach Your Spouse
Now that you understand that timing is crucial, let’s consider ways in which you can encourage your spouse to attend couples counseling. According to Komrad, the process of negotiating counseling is like helping someone walk across a bridge that spans from how things are now to the initial counseling session. The key is to lovingly convincing your spouse to walk across that bridge with you. The following six approaches can be incorporated into the process.
- Use active listening. It is important to understand that your spouse will need to know that you are listening and not just telling them what to do. Komrad states that this will take negotiating skills that involve being receptive and receiving what your spouse has to say. Staying open to listening, even when your spouse is experiencing intense emotion, including anger, is an excellent starting point for communicating your concerns.
- Make your spouse feel safe. It is essential to make your spouse feel safe to talk. Try using language that shows your care and concern for your spouse. You don’t have to figure out what’s wrong with your spouse. Just help him/her to recognize that something is wrong and that a professional can help figure out what, if anything, is the problem.
- Instill hope. Consider sharing your own counseling experience to leverage your goals. Maybe you can share your own reluctance to seek counseling. Share how you were able to get through that reluctance. Share your experience of the initial session and how you managed that anxiety. Assuming that you have made changes on your own, share how counseling has helped you overcome obstacles. Shared experiences can offer hope for change.
- Ask for a gift or a trade. It isn’t uncommon for a spouse to accompany you to counseling as a favor or to support you in your own journey. You may request a session as a birthday gift or Christmas present. Be creative and consider making a trade. Maybe there is something you’re partner has wanted from you and you’ve been unwilling. Becoming willing can help in this exchange.
- Make an appointment and go along. Make it as easy as possible for your spouse. Offer to make the appointment and drive them when the time comes. It can be helpful to select a counselor in advance and be able to explain that you have good references. Consider asking for a one-time visit and not a commitment to counseling.
- Don’t give up. One of the most common mistakes is to give up too early. Be patient and persistent. This is not necessarily a “one-time-effort”. Instead it’s an ongoing process. In situations that are not urgent or dangerous, find a way to keep the door open and revisit it periodically. Sometimes just letting a few weeks pass will allow your spouse the space to change their mind.
Above all, remember that the above approaches are not meant to be done out of manipulation or control. It is important to use Christ-like humility, compassion and love. Keep in mind that if your spouse really does not want to go, you can’t force them to go to counseling. In addition, if your spouse agrees to attend but isn’t willing to commit to change, counseling sessions may offer little benefit.
Christian Marriage Counseling: Where to Start if You are Alone
Most counselors would agree that if your spouse truly won’t attend counseling, you should still pursue counseling as an individual. Individual counseling will help you to clearly define your own needs and issues. As your spouse notices that you are experiencing the benefit of your counseling work, he or she might be more open to it in the future.
Photo 1 Credit: Sebastian Pichler https://unsplash.com/photos/6kJGjk3eANA
Photo 2 Credit: Anita Peeples https://unsplash.com/photos/gzkSWMDlOgQ
Komrad, M. S., You Need Help: A Step-by-Step Plan to Convince a Loved One to Get Counseling (City Center, Minnesota: Hazeldon Foundation, 2012).