We all go through times in our lives and our marriages when we’d benefit greatly from getting professional help. Whether we’re having trouble dealing with a life change or transition, experience depression, or facing addiction, there are hundreds of scenarios that could warrant going into counseling with your spouse. But what happens if you recognize the need to get help…but your spouse doesn’t? Is there anything you can do?
You can’t force someone to seek therapy, but you can encourage it—and you can make changes to yourself that result in positive changes for your spouse. Read on for four common scenarios many couples face, and how to approach getting help for a spouse who doesn’t want or recognize the need for it.
If your spouse refuses marriage counseling…
Maybe you and your spouse have some recurring issues or unresolved problems that are causing trouble in your relationship. The two of you might be fighting a lot lately. Your spouse might have even asked for a separation, or you might suspect that he or she wants a divorce.
You know that working with a therapist or marriage counselor could help the two of you work through whatever you’ve been struggling with. The problem is, your spouse is completely against the idea, and nothing you say will change their mind about it.
It’s incredibly painful when you’re motivated to work on your relationship, but your spouse isn’t willing. You might feel stuck or hopeless, but there’s good news: you can seek help yourself and make changes on your own—without your spouse—that can improve your marriage.
Going to counseling on your own can help you focus on becoming the healthiest possible version of yourself. The most important thing you can do for your marriage is to work on who you are; every healthy choice you make gives your spouse a chance to join you.
Even if your spouse never attends a therapy session, the positive changes you make will affect him or her significantly. In fact, your change is a catalyst for change in your spouse. We’ve seen relationships turn around completely as a result of just one spouse stepping up to get help. So even if you’re the only one willing to seek help, you can still improve your marriage.
If your spouse is experiencing depression…
Have you noticed that your spouse seems distant from you and disinterested in things they used to enjoy? Have you observed sudden changes in their sleep habits, appetite, energy levels, or mood? If you suspect that your spouse is dealing with depression, there are a few things you can do that will go a long way toward encouraging them to get the help they need.
First, educate yourself on the degrees and common variations of depression. Depression is a spectrum, ranging from mild, circumstantial depressive periods to severe chemical imbalances and mood disorders.
Your spouse’s depression might be temporary and circumstantial; maybe you’ve just gone through a major life change that triggered it. Some depression is neurochemical, requiring medications and interventions from doctors and therapists. Everyone’s case is different, so it’s important to try to identify what’s going on.
You don’t want to treat depression lightly; if your spouse can’t identify it in themselves, it’s up to you to try to help him or her recognize the symptoms. Try to get some outside, objective help if you can; if your spouse continues to resist therapy or counseling, find a checklist of common depression symptoms and identify the signs you’ve noticed in your spouse. Gently share your list with your spouse and tell them something like, “You know, it feels like so many of these things are things you’re dealing with. I love you and I’d love to see you start feeling better again.”
Continue gently encouraging your spouse to seek help; it’s important for them to get evaluated by a doctor or mental health professional as soon as possible. It’s hard to admit you’re having a problem with depression, but the sooner your spouse admits it, the sooner he or she will be on the road to recovery.
If your spouse has an addiction…
Addiction is one of the most difficult issues to face in any relationship—especially your marriage. You might have been watching your spouse fall into their particular addiction for a while now, but maybe you’ve only recently realized how bad it is. And it’s difficult—sometimes impossible—to communicate with someone who doesn’t see a problem you see.
Whether your spouse’s addiction is gambling, drugs, alcohol, pornography, or something else, he or she is likely to be in serious denial about the issue. Addiction is the physical reality that you’ve lost control over your ability to resist something. And it’s the emotional reality of the pain you’re trying to escape from because you’re unable to cope with it.
If your spouse won’t agree to seek help, think about staging an intervention with some trusted friends or members of your family. Sometimes, a person who is in denial about an addiction needs a group of voices to lead them toward help—not just one. They have to be willing to say, “I’m powerless over this,” then be willing to be vulnerable and put in the hard work to overcome the addiction.
If your spouse is a childhood trauma survivor…
Childhood trauma—whether it’s emotional, physical, mental, or sexual abuse—is a serious and weighty topic that continues to impact victims into their adult lives (especially their marriages). If your spouse grew up in a sexually abusive home, for instance, he or she needs extensive therapy in order to experience healing.
When someone has been through that kind of trauma, they’re going to have baggage that will impact both them and their spouse for years to come until they’ve found some kind of resolution for the ongoing pain. Your spouse has the power to become a healing presence for others because of their past, but they need guidance from a counselor to turn their traumatic experiences into healing for others.
The first step toward healing is awareness. If your spouse has confided in you, that’s the first step. We know couples who have gone for decades before one spouse’s childhood trauma was revealed, and in retrospect, they could understand so much more about the troubles they’d faced in their 25 years of marriage.
Keep communication open and encourage your spouse to seek therapy. As an alternative step forward (although we highly recommend moving on to therapy together), your spouse might be open to starting the conversation with a mentor couple first.
Have you and your spouse been in a situation where one of you refused professional help? How did you overcome the challenges you were dealing with at the time? Share your stories in the comments section!
I have gone to counseling on my own but my spouse mocks me and says they didn’t teach me anything or he doesn’t believe me what I told them was the truth. I have kindly asked for him to seek help and then us go as a couple. It’s been years and nothing. I feel stuck.
It is difficult for men to seek help because we are taught to be self-reliant. Society tells us that if we need outside help, even if it’s help from our wives, that it’s a sign of weakness. Men have serious issues with pride and seeking help, trust me as I’ve been there. What I can say is continue to seek help for yourself and pray for your husband. The Holy Spirit can do more work in him than any therapist or counselor, though he may use those people to reach him. 🙂
I wonder if putting a positive spin on it might help. Instead of therapy. See if there is a marriage mentoring couple nearby. Instead of “seeking therapy”, come up with some life goals to be achieved in your life together(financial freedom goals, business goals, retirement, etc.) and then pitch finding a mentor couple to assist you in reaching those goals for your life. Actual certified couple will be able to couch holistic counseling in the package of mentoring you toward reaching your goals. Since it will involve holistic life issues, such as roles, communication, shared vision, decision making,etc. counseling will happen and may be received more readily since it is not hyper focused on marriage. Many couples have experienced tremendous results utilizing this route. The resisting partner usually comes to grips with the reality of the need for focus specifically on the marriage, and by that time is naturally more motivated for authentic change.
I agree…. I would feel more than stuck though. I would feel as if he didn’t value me or value our relationship enough to fight for it. If he was perfectly happy letting it deteriorate, I guess that’s what he gets. I’d make the most of myself and prepare to step away from an unhealthy relationship. If he chose to participate in the healing, that’s one thing. But my experience…. I should have left a decade before I did.
I’ve been in a similar situation with my marriage. My husband had no problems showing his love for me before we married, but it stopped the day after our honeymoon. He refuses to go for help. I’ve been so frustrated, to the point of asking for a divorce. We’ve been married for over 30 years. It’s a disappointing, sad and lonely marriage for me. I was counseled by my Pastor, whom I respect highly, that we have no Biblical grounds for a divorce. This took years for me to accept, but I came to a place of understanding and acceptance. I’ve had to grow up spiritually and resist caving in to doom and gloom and self-pity. I had to come to forgive my husband for his lack of meeting my needs, and to realize God is my source. I had to quit sharing my grief with anyone who’d listen! Don’t talk about the problems, it only makes them grow bigger in your mind!
Susie, abandonment is indeed Biblical grounds for divorce and sadly that is exactly what your husband did and has continued to do for 30 years. This is emotional abuse. I am so sorry your pastor gave you incorrect counsel regarding your marriage. Problems do not go away just because we don’t talk about them. Please seek a certified and professional counselor who has experience in emotionally destructive marriages. Leslie Vernick and others have tremendous resources for you to reclaim your life.
Although I certainly have no advice for anyone when it comes to relationship difficulties, I was wondering if smoking pot almost every evening for at least the last 20 years of our 41 years of marriage would be considered an addiction?
Can you walk away from (fill in the blank) and never use it again? Answer Yes, you are not addicted. Answer No, you are addicted. The million dollar question is, Why are you using it? What is it doing for you? What is it doing to you? What is it doing to your marriage? Is it aligning with how God created you? How does it align with God’s word?
My oldest son was addicted to pot. It isn’t funny. I watched him go through withdrawal. Today’s pot is not the back yard garden variety from the 60’s. It’s serious stuff.
I just started getting counseling a week ago. My husband and I have only been married a year and 4 months. January this year he started treating me badly and it only got worse throughout this year. He is verbally abusive and the anger and rage that came out of him two weeks ago was scary. I tried to have a conversation with him once again about us going to get help. He refuses any form of help and counseling. I left our home a week and half ago, it is no longer safe or healthy for me to be there. He has said some really mean and hurtful things. My counsel advised I should stay away now till he gets help. When your not in the same living space as your spouse and not really on speaking terms all you can do is pray for them.
As I shared with Noemi above, men not seeking help is a matter of pride. We’re raised to be self-reliant and seeking any sort of help is a sign of weakness. Don’t discount the power of your prayers. Sometimes, prayer is the most you can do for someone. Keep praying for the Holy Spirit to reach him in powerful ways to realize the damage of his anger. Often times, anger is a symptom of a much deeper issue and many men turn to anger as a means to feel powerful when they know they are in fact hurting.
My husband had childhood traumas and has mild mental retardation, ADD, and, we suspect, OCD and bipolar disorder. We’ve been married 3 years and it’s taken this long to get him on a low dose of ONE medication. He needs counseling to help him change the behaviors he’s learned from his horrible family, to overcome his compulsiveness, and relieve his anxiety, AND teach him how to get closer to God. But he refuses to admit that he has problems, and won’t go to counseling or increase his medication. What can I do?
This was very timely. I am in a live-in situation but not married. I’ve asked my boyfriend several times to move out. At first it was just because we’re not married yet and don’t have a date set. But now, even a proposal wouldn’t change my mind. We’ve done a few couples courses. A premarital workshop and a couples bible study. But those things hasn’t changed his cheating and flirting. I suggested that he go to therapy and to join the mens only portion of a group that I’m a part of. He won’t take the initiative on either. It seems like, he only wants to do the surface stuff. Any relationship coaching where I know the people personally or it looks like he won’t be able dodge any personal accountability, he doesnt want any part of. All he can say is, “I want us to be together” and “I love you”, but doesn’t SHOW any evidence of what WORK he’s doing to make the changes and improvements to his Integrity and communication skills, and to rebuild the Trust that has been damaged. We don’t really have any mutual friends or mentor couples that I can talk to or can help us to navigate our conversations in a healthy way and towards ACTION/PROGRESS. So, I want to end it. I continue to do my own work and seek help where I need it, but since we’re not married, I feel like I’m not obligated to stick through until he gets it.
Pain is a great motivator. Addicts don’t change until the pain they cause themselves by acting out, is worse than the pain that they use for an excuse to act out. They aren’t in pain (they are medicating), they’re causing it for those around them. Your ending the relationship may be the pain that causes him to start down the road to recovery. If he has you and can act out too, there is not enough incentive to change.
Don’t believe what he says-believe his actions.
You’re doing the right thing by working on you. You are not responsible to work on him
Michelle, very glad to see you actually RECOGNIZE the Red Flags prior to marriage. Not only are you recognizing them, but you are actually addressing them! We are passionate about reaching couples and helping couples prior to the altar. You are more than right to stop your current living situation. God will bless you for this and He will help you continue to work on you. Our marriages are only going to be as healthy as the two people married are emotionally healthy! Trust us, when we say the HARD WORK must and needs to be done on the front end of the marriage. If it is not a workable situation PRIOR to marriage, a ring and a vow will NOT fix the problem. We will pray that God continues to give you the strength to walk forward and pursue Him first. We pray that many will read your response and be encouraged to recognize RED FLAGS and deal with them BEFORE marriage! We pray you will educate yourself on how God originally designed marriage and seek after that model and not settle for anything less! Blessings to you!
I believe I have the opposite problem. I am a man with a pornography addiction and want to seek counseling for it. However my wife is self conscious about it and doesn’t want anyone outside of our relationship to know about it. She said I could go to therapy myself (something that we can’t afford) as she recognizes it wouldn’t be anyone we know and confidentiality is there but I really want her involved as I see how it has damaged her emotionally. She doesn’t want to go with me. Any advice?
Brent. Thank you for your honesty. While no one can afford not to be free from the power of addiction, cost can seem prohibitive for one to one therapy. An effective alternative might be Avenue.works online. This focused and grace based long term program has set many of my colleagues free not to mention strengthened their relationships and future.
My husband fits into all four of the issues you discuss in this article. It is overwhelming and very discouraging. I have been going to counseling myself for several years now. I regularly fasted and prayed for our marriage and for him, for three years. He has continued to resist God, resist counsel, and reject me.
I agree that if your spouse has been having unresolved issues affecting your marriage, it’s time for you to get counseling to address and sort the issue out. My sister told me that her husband has been manifesting signs that he is no longer happy with their marriage because of his personal issues that he can’t manage himself. I will encourage her to seek professional help to save the marriage before it leads to divorce.
I enjoy what you guys are usually up too. This sort of clever work and reporting! Keep up the good works.
Hi Susie. Are you still married?
gambling addiction was my huge battle in my married life. and i truly appreciate that my wife didn’t give up. we almost fell apart, but my turning point was losing my kids. i still play online but rarely. and she kept me reminded of budget restrictions.
We’ve been married 34 years. But he is jealous and resentful of my dad. Eversince he had to move up to be near us so that I can oversee his health (he’s 85), my husband is jealous of the time I spend. In arguments, he says, “Just go live with your dad; that’s what you want to do anyway!” Very sad. He won’t go to counseling with me, but if he doesn’t change his attitude about my dad, it will ruin our marriage. He does have some controlling issues too, but now that I know how he feels about my dad, I’m never comfortable when my dad comes over when i invite him for dinner. I am on eggshells. He even told me that my dad will never step foot in this house again! I told him that I own half of this house and I can invite my dad over whenever i want. My dad hasn’t done anything wrong. My husbands has a habit of talking down to people and he did that once to my dad, and my dad didn’t like it. My dad has a lot of education; my husband some and also training from the military, but that comment he made to my dad was wrong and disrespectful. I just can’t forget this type of behavior and if he doesn’t want to go to a counselor, that behavior won’t change. I can go to counseling but it won’t do anything for our marriage, not with his jealousy and resentment he has about me spending time with my dad.
I read an article on Pyschology Today, by David Woodsfellow Ph.D., that stated that, “…unfortunately, there’s some bad news: Research has not shown that individual therapy helps couple’s problems”. He goes on to say that, “They found much evidence that couples therapy is helpful with couple problems. And no evidence that individual therapy is helpful with couple problems. This is important. Not everyone knows this. It means that individual therapy might help you, but it probably won’t help your relationship. Now, of course, we all need to understand that the finding of “no evidence” means that, on average, when you consider many cases, there is no statistical finding of help. It does not mean that zero individuals got help. Some relationships improved, some were unchanged, some worsened. It averages out to no help. Of course, any one case might be an exception”.
I also learned that a spouse not getting couples counseling isn’t the same as refusing to work on the marriage problem, but refusing to do neither is a form of emotional abuse. This is where I am. My wife doesn’t want to do either. I’m am stuck and do feel emotionally abused.