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Pastoral Counselor/Therapist

Marriage therapy: sometimes only one of the two partners is willing to come to therapy. How can you work on your relationship if your partner won't come to therapy?

Read on for an exploration of your options and some likely outcomes in different situations, such as:

  • When it's your issue that affects the relationship.
  • When it's your partner's issues that affect the relationship.
  • When external factors affect the relationship.
  • When the major issue lies between both partners.

Considering Individual Marriage Therapy

When It's Your Issue That Affects the Relationship

This issue could be of many forms, for example:

  • It could be that you engage in certain behaviors that put a strain on the relationship – this is common when you have an addiction problem.
  • It could be as simple as always staying out later than you planned with “the guys” or “the gals”.
  • It could be that you are feeling depressed and as a result you have withdrawn from your partner.

Whatever the reason, since you realize that your issue affects the relationship, you can use this opportunity to get counseling and improve yourself. This can help you and also help your relationship.

  • In fact, if your partner sees that you are working on your issue to try and help the relationship, your partner may later become willing to come into therapy as well.
  • This response is especially likely if previous marriage therapy didn’t help because you didn't change. When your partner sees that you are working to change they may believe that there is a chance that things can really improve.

When It's Your Partner's Issue

Usually, both parties contribute to the problem, even when it seems like one person causes all the difficulties.

  • You may want to see a therapist to explore your role in the situation. This doesn't excuse your partner, it just helps you understand your situation and how you can thrive within it.
  • Or, in some cases, therapy may help you realize that you need to get away from the problem because it is too much for you to handle.

A classic example would be dealing with the codependency that often comes with a partner's alcohol abuse.

When External Factors Affect the Relationship

When a couple faces challenges because of external factors, the ideal would be that you face the situation together and try to overcome the problems as a couple.

Examples of external factors could be:

  • Conflict or death in the extended family.
  • Natural disaster.

However, It's possible that you and your partner respond differently to external factors, particularly if related to a disaster or other crisis.

  • If your partner naturally moves to flight while you naturally move to fight, this will cause the two of you additional stress as you get confused by each other’s response.

In a situation like this, it can make sense to get professional help, even if your partner is not yet ready to do this. 


  • Therapy may help you to discover things you can bring back to the relationship to make the external factors less significant.
  • Even if this does not happen, you may find better ways to cope with the situation.

When a Problem Comes from between Both Partners

This is the most difficult situation and it is best to have both partners present in therapy, however, it is not absolutely necessary.

Solo therapy can still help you:

  • Deal with how the problem affects you and help you to see your role in the situation.
  • Learn exercises that you can introduce to your partner.

In this style of therapy, the therapy actually is for both - through one.

Getting the Other Person Into Therapy

Here is a strategy that seems to be fairly effective – ask your partner to come to therapy to help you deal with your issues.

This stages the situation so everything isn't your partner's fault. No one likes being blamed for everything, so this makes entry into therapy a little easier.

Take-Home Messages

  • Even if your partner won't try therapy, there is still hope for you and your relationship.
  • There are things that you can do with a therapist that will help you experience a greater sense of peace and wholeness in your own life.
  • In many cases, there are even things you can do with a therapist that will help resolve a relationship problem - even if your partner is not willing to come to therapy.
  • It is also possible that once you start therapy, your partner may be willing to come to therapy later.
About the author Christopher Smith:
Details of my broad experience is available on my website. I combine together being an ordained minister (trained at Yale and serving a church part-time in Harlem/Washington Heights currently) with background and credentials in mental health (licensed mental health counselor in New York and Indiana; licensed clinical addiction counselor in Indiana) to work with a client to find the best ways forward as they address their issues and move back to abundant life. throughout, the focus is on where the client is coming from.
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Page last updated Apr 14, 2014

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