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What to Do When Your Partner Won't Go to Couples Therapy

You can still greatly improve your relationship by working on your part.

couple on a bench.

It’s frustrating when there are issues in your relationship, and your partner isn’t willing to work on them with you. While you may feel helpless and stuck, there’s a lot you can do on your own to create a healthier partnership.

You have more agency in your relationship than you realize.

It’s often easier to see what your partner needs to work on than it is to see that you, too. have work to do. However, you only have agency over your part, so it’s not serving you to focus on all the ways your partner needs to change.

Instead, shift your attention to your relational patterns. Once you’re aware of how you’re contributing to the current relationship dynamic, you can figure out what to do differently, to create a healthier, more nourishing relationship.

It’s true that one person can’t save a relationship. But, one person can make changes that greatly improve the relationship. If you’ve been feeling disempowered and you’re tired of hoping your partner will change, it’s time to learn how to step into your power so you can create a better relationship—whether or not your partner joins you to do the work.

Relationships are systems.

In a system, all parts maintain all other parts. Relationships are systems. In your relationship, you and your partner are the parts that make up the whole. You both participate in co-creating and maintaining your current relational system. If your relational system is unhealthy, it will stay that way until one or both of you changes the way you show up and therefore changes the system. When one of you makes changes—even small changes—the entire relationship is impacted. That means small changes go a long way. This is why you have a lot of power to improve your relationship just by working on your part.

Everything is co-created. It’s important to understand that everything is co-created; you’re always participating in co-creating your current relationship. When you do things differently, you’ll co-create a different relationship. This is not about blame, it’s about learning where you have agency so you’re not feeling stuck and helpless. It's also important not to get stuck in blaming your partner. While your partner is to blame for their part, you are to blame for yours.

Since you only have power over your part, it doesn't serve you to waste time blaming the other. It won't make anything better. If, however, you start focusing on how you are contributing to the problems in your relationship, you'll figure out how to do things differently. The goal is to co-create a better, healthier relationship. Working on your part is the way to reach that goal.

Learn key relational skills that will make a big difference in the health of your relationship.

In order to change the way you show up and significantly change your relationship, you have to learn new relational skills. The following is a list of key relational skills, that when practiced, make a big difference in relationships.

  1. Say you’re sorry. Stop being defensive. Stop denying the impact of your words or actions. Stop deflecting. Take ownership. If you want to avoid a large percentage of fights, stop arguing about whether or not you hurt someone’s feelings, accept it, and say, "I'm sorry." If your partner is telling you that you hurt their feelings, there should be no argument.

  2. Share your feelings. Tell your partner when you’re upset, rather than stuffing it down and hoping it will go away. It doesn’t go away, and instead, it builds into resentment. Your partner won't know something they're doing is hurting you if you don't tell them, so they're likely to continue doing it.

  3. Work on healing old wounds. It’s important to be able to react to something your partner did today and not to something someone else did in your past. Your partner is responsible for today, and you are responsible for healing those wounds that get activated. You want to make sure you're not taking something out on your partner that isn't about your partner.

  4. Learn how to regulate your nervous system. Learn to recognize when you are dysregulated, and strengthen the skills to be able to calm your nervous system and get grounded. When you are dysregulated, you’re not able to have productive, emotionally intelligent conversations because your body is in fight, flight, or freeze (survival) mode. When you’re in survival mode, you are interested in survival, not conversation and connection. When you calm your system, you’re able to deal with the present issues and move forward productively.

  5. Let go of control and criticism. Stop criticizing your partner for doing things their way, even if you think your way is better. They are not required to be like you. If you want your partner to be helpful to you, you have to learn to accept their help, even if it’s imperfect in your eyes.

  6. Manage your stress. Take care of yourself. Move your body, find support, invest in your friendships, see a therapist. If you’re not taking care of yourself, all the un-dealt-with “stuff” will come out into your relationship.

  7. Stop pushing your partner away. Learn to recognize the ways you’re pushing your partner away unintentionally. If you snap at your partner, criticize your partner, speak disrespectfully, make fun of, or take your stress out on them, you’re creating disconnection. In disconnection we feel alone, pain, and unsteadiness. Ask your partner to tell you when they feel pushed away, so you can get a better sense of when you’re doing the pushing. Once you’re aware of how you’re creating disconnection, work on stopping those ways of relating. Learn how to start inviting deeper connection instead.

With time and consistently showing up in your relationship in new ways, you will change your relationship. Again, you won’t fix it entirely, but you can change your relational system for the better, so you feel a lot more happy and secure.


This blog was originally published on Psychology Today.


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