“I keep telling my husband we need to go to couples counseling but he refuses, what can I do?”
This is a dilemma I hear frequently and often from the clients who I work with in individual therapy. They couldn’t get their spouses to join them, so they sought help alone. A brave and often very effective option.
But this dilemma isn’t limited to getting a spouse into therapy.
It can apply to any kind of change you are trying to effect in your relationships.
“I wish I could get my wife to leave the house on time! Whenever we go somewhere, she always makes us late.”
“I told my sister we need to do something different about gift giving but she still buys big gifts for my kids. It’s not ok with me!”
The common factor of these examples, and of many peoples dilemmas, is that they state their complaint about what does not work, and leave out the most important part.
Dilemma’s like this can often lead to us feeling like victims, which means we feel powerless over the situation.
But, the reality is we have given away our power.
The most important aspect to focus on when trying to create change is the part you can control – yourself. Instead of focusing on what you want the other person to do, focus on what you can and will do the next time the situation arises.
“Scott, we need to leave the house by 6pm to get to dinner with our friends by 6:30pm. I do not want to be late. If you are not ready to leave at 6pm, I will go in my own car without you. That is not my preference, but it is what I will do in order to make sure I am not late, which makes me very uncomfortable”.
Taking separate cars may not be OK with Scott, so if he wants to avoid that scenario, that discomfort, he has the power to make that happen…by being ready to go at 6pm.
If he is not ready on time, he will experience the natural consequence that you have set out, not in order to punish him or to retaliate, but to take care of yourself and maintain your own boundaries and self respect.
When you find yourself in a dilemma like these, ask yourself, “How am I giving away my power?” and “What do I need to do to take care of myself AND stand up for myself with love within this relationship?”
Being on time may be a small issue compared to many others… like going to couples therapy. But the principle to use to address it is the same.
“Alex, I love you very much and our relationship is very important to me. I no longer want to struggle like this and want us to have help to make things better. I have set an appointment with a couples therapist for next Tuesday at 5pm and I’m asking you to join me at that session. If you choose not to attend, I plan to sleep in another room from that day forward because it is important to me to be in a relationship where we work together to make things better and if we are not, I prefer to sleep apart”.
This comes from a place of LOVE AND SELF RESPECT.
Each time you continue to tolerate what you find to be intolerable, you are colluding with the continuation of it.
Maybe Alex will go to the appointment. Maybe not. That is not in your control.
If he goes, it’ll be the first step toward making significant changes for both of you.
If he doesn’t go, following through on what you stated you will do helps support your own self worth and self respect, which is key to being in a healthy relationship.
As you read this, you may find yourself feeling uncomfortable. You may not want to hurt the other persons feelings, or you may not want to cause an upset by taking a stand or asserting what you will do differently.
To feel that is very normal and reasonable.
And it is what keeps you stuck.
And it is what keeps the pattern between the two of you stuck.
You see, for change to occur there are two very essential pieces needed – safety and stress.
You fear asserting this to your partner because it creates stress in the relationship and you want safety…
Your spouse continues to do the same old thing that upsets you because there is not enough stress (consequence) for them to change…
And so, things stay the same…
If you reach the point of experiencing enough distress over any issue, you are more likely to take the risk necessary for creating change.
It takes courage.
You are worth it.
And for there to be True Intimacy in your relationship, it is essential to be willing to stand up for yourself with love. Unless you are willing to live with things as they are.