Here’s an interesting question: how do you get a man who won’t even ask for directions after driving in circles for two hours to go out and hire a stranger, then tell that person his deepest, darkest secrets?
Even when they’re in the company of close friends, men will generally keep sadness, disappointments and other internal conflicts to themselves. So how can your get a strong, self-reliant, superman to talk to a pro—with you?
Start the conversation about couples counseling by talking about yourself, not about him. If you talk about him he may feel like you are on the attack, which will make him defensive and less likely to hear what you’re trying to tell him. Tell him you’ve been thinking about therapy because you want to take steps to be a better partner, and you can contribute more to the relationship if you have more tools in your kit.
While things can start with you, the process will be much more effective if both of you participate. After all, you’re both members of the couple and to change or improve both sides need to be involved. As a couple, you can both benefit from tips on how to communicate better and have a more satisfying relationship.
Invite him to go see someone with you on a strictly no obligation basis to test the waters and see how it feels to him. He might be surprised at how liberating and positive it feels. If the pro is the right fit for the two of you, it’s likely that he will feel reassured and some (if not all) of his objections will go away.
A caveat: the discussion of going for help might get heated if he jumps to the conclusion that the counseling is the first step to separation or divorce. In your mind, it’s probably just the opposite, so make that clear. This will become more apparent to him once you’ve had a few sessions.
You might think that if your partner has a deeper problem such as depression or anxiety, it would help to attend sessions along with him, but that is not usually the case. If a man is put off by the thought of seeking help, the thought of looking weak in front of you is going to send him running. When introducing the idea that he might benefit from therapy by himself, it’s important to plant the seed of an idea and nurture it over time. After getting used to the idea he might start to think it’s a good idea.
Making suggestions might help to a certain extent, but it often takes a crisis of some kind—a failed friendship, career burnout, or some other traumatic event—to make him take the step towards help. The good news is that once men get down to business and say “yes” to help, that first step often brings a rapid sense of relief. When they admit something is wrong, they usually do what they do best: they get to work and fix it.
Men tend to shy away from group therapy situations, however, interpersonal interaction with other men can sometimes be a vital step in the process of healing. It provides an opportunity to break the pattern of isolation from other males. By allowing themselves to connect and be vulnerable with their peer group, men learn to nurture while preserving authentic masculinity. Once in this situation, men are often relieved that they no longer need to try to look good on the outside, while feeling empty and alone inside; they actually find there is strength in vulnerability. And of course you will always be there to support him, as well.
A Few Other Tips:
- When it comes to asking him to join you in this process, try to stay away from issuing ultimatums. It can cloud the issue and raise questions like, “if she’s going to leave me anyway, what’s the point?” Or he may react to the control you’re exerting and rebel against that control “just because.”
- When you sit down to talk about working with a pro, try to do it in the following way: 1) Have your logical plan laid out: “I want to go to therapy to work on this issue.” Offer clear details from your perspective. In therapy/coaching they call this talking from the “I” perspective, which helps to avoid blame. 2) Avoid open-ended complaints about your relationship. He knows you’re unhappy; chances are he is too. If you overstate your feelings, the opportunity to have a rational conversation may be lost in the heat of the moment
- Stay positive in your approach—remember that most people respond better to praise than criticism. If you can look at the anticipated outcome instead of focusing on the current negativity, it usually goes better.
- If you know which pro you want to work with, offer that person as a suggestion. But remember, your partner may want to feel like he’s a part of the decision making process. If he appears resistant to your choice, ask if he would like to help select the pro. Bring him to the website and do a search together.
- Consider working with a male pro. Sometimes this can help men to feel more at ease with the process. You can search for men who are in your area or work remotely (this will give additional choices if your community is small). However, remember that simply because a pro is a male doesn’t mean he’s the right one for you; take a look at the whole set of qualities the pro offers, and try to keep an open mind about the male vs. female choice.
- Remember that Rome wasn’t built in a day; your relationship didn’t get to the state it’s in overnight and it won’t be fixed overnight. You, your partner and your pro need time to sort through the details and work out a strategy together. Try to set realistic expectations for everyone by respecting the process and not pushing to fix things faster than they can honestly be mended.
- If you’re at a loss for how to begin the conversation with your guy, talk to your pro and ask his or her advice. Professionals deal with this kind of dilemma frequently and often have ways to encourage men to participate.
Finally, when all else fails, remember that you love your partner and your desire to get help stems from the belief that you two can be happier. If you meet complete resistance, remind him that you’re doing this for you and for him. Appeal to his love for you and ask him to trust your judgment that this is something that will make things better.
We wish you the best in your search for happiness with your mate.