Mar 112013 40 Responses

What To Do If Your Spouse Refuses Counseling

Yesterday I covered a topic I get asked about on a weekly basis. 13 Questions to Gauge If You Need Marriage Counseling provides a guide to assist those wondering if they might need counseling. After reading the 13 questions and reflecting on marriage, many individuals ask their spouse to seek counseling. While many agree, others do not. It leads to an obvious question:

What should you do if your spouse refuses counseling?

Here are a few thoughts:

Consider how you asked them. “You need counseling,” is not a good way to invite someone to work on the marriage. Even “we need counseling” is not the strongest start. When broaching a difficult topic, the start of the conversation is vital. Instead of telling your spouse what is needed, begin by telling them what you love. Remind them of why you love them, why you married them, what you enjoy about marriage. Paint the good picture and then tell them the truth—”I want more of that.” Tell them you want the marriage to be even better. You want to be an even better spouse. Marriage counseling is not simply about dealing with the bad aspects of marriage, it is primarily about expanding the good aspects of marriage. If you didn’t start with the positive, apologize to them. Tell them you were wrong and try again.

Don’t demand an immediate answer. It’s possible your spouse is surprised by your request or hasn’t put the time into thinking about your relationship as you have. They deserve time to consider what you are asking. Demanding an immediate answer often leads to defensiveness which can cause a spouse to say “no.” Give them time and space to consider your requests. Respect their decision making process. Give them time, but don’t let them off the hook. As you respect them by giving them time, they should respect you by giving you an answer. When you ask them to consider it, negotiate a time frame in which they will give you an answer. (“Will you consider this? Let’s have dinner Sunday night and discuss it.”)

As you go, invite them to join you. No matter what your spouse says, go to counseling. If you answered “yes” to any of the 13 Questions to Gauge If You Need Marriage Counseling, seek counseling. Preferably your spouse will join you, but go with or without them. You can only control you. You can’t make them change. If counseling is needed, you should go. Maybe they will eventually join you, but do not wait for them—Go.

Go to change you, not to change them. Do not attend counseling with the main focus being on how to get them to attend counseling. Any time we counsel, read, listen to a sermon, or do anything with the intent of changing someone else instead of us being changed, we have the wrong attitude. If you are attending marriage counseling alone, do so with the intent of becoming the best husband/wife you could possibly be. Do not attend with the assumption that the real problem is your spouse. Go to be changed.

Pray. Pray for God to change your spouse’s mind. Pray that God would change your spouse’s desire. Pray that God would empower you to love your spouse no matter what their decision. Sincerely pray on their behalf.

Few things are as frustrating and isolating as a spouse who refuses to join us in working on our marriage. It is tempting to feel rejected and ignore the opportunities we have to work on the marriage. While it is preferred for a couple to seek counseling together, individual counseling can go a long way in turning the marriage in the right direction.

What would you say to someone whose spouse refused to seek help for their marriage?

40 Responses to What To Do If Your Spouse Refuses Counseling
  1. Jesse Martin Reply

    Kevin, I would add: when praying seeking to know God better,ask Him to reveal your weaknesses and your strengths. With a contrite and broken heart, ask God to teach you to strengthen your weaknesses and how best to use your strength in the relationship for God’s glory.

    • Kevin Reply

      Well said Jesse. I hope everything in Birmingham is going well.

  2. Rita Tolley Reply

    Recently my husband has divorced me, without any explanation, I still consider him my husband, and for us to be in a tough spot. Thank you for posting on how to pray for your spouse, I love my husband and am sad and confused, I miss him and only wanted to spend time with him. I am ‘clammoring

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Rita, I’m so sorry to hear. If we can be of any assistance to you, please let me know.

  3. Afraid to share Reply

    Why is all the pressure on the person who has the strength to bring up counseling? I understand that I won’t get far if I shout “we need counseling!” at him. But walking on eggshells and manipulating with compliments of better times? Forgive me- I too have limits. It’s always about making him feel better about his shortcomings. Poor “him” that he can’t handle emotion and is in utter denial. Do I want to see him kicked to the curb? NO! But I’m already in the road, so to speak. If my life is worth nothing-which I know I matter to God- how is my husband ever going to change while I continue this dead marriage with him? And what about our children who are scarred beyond measure from him? They are older and they blame him. I constantly protect him there, too. I’m spent. Please don’t tell me to pray. I’ve prayed for years. I’ve stayed for years. I have to have peace soon. Thanks for reading.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Afraid to share, By no means am I trying to put all the pressure on one party. If you have read all that I have written on marriage on this blog you know I want each person to take responsibility for their actions. This post was written specifically as people asked me what to do if they want their spouse to go to counseling but he/she is refusing. I would encourage you to stop protecting your husband. That’s not your job and shouldn’t be your responsibility. I would be happy to speak with you in private to give any assistance I can. Just email me through the contact tab.

  4. Shannon Reply

    My husband and I have been married for 27 years and he has gone to counseling a few times but
    after a short time maybe only a few meetings he did not want to go back. God has kept me in this
    place for a long time now and I am so tired of wanting my husband to want to work on our marriage.
    We need help so bad and I have had to lay my desire for a healthy, godly, and great marriage down
    on the altar, and focus my energy on God changing me and my heart to love my husband when I
    do not even like him. It is so hard cause I have almost bailed on this marriage but I want to glorify
    God and for God to change me and to learn to love my difficult husband.

  5. Bianca Reply

    My husband and I have decided after some problems occuring to start going to church and joining marriage support groups, learning how to live the way God wants us to live as husband and wife. Today he told me that he only is going because I need the class. I will continue going for myself and fighting for our marriage. I love him and i know he loves me. I want to continue to love him unconditionally.

  6. Insert Alias Here... Reply

    I wish things were this simple…he absolutely refuses…our marriage has been on the rocks for a few years now, the last being the worst…he constantly lies and hides things from me…there has been betrayals and some things that are just hard to believe…but I made a vow that I stand by. And I know him…he’s so good at heart…but if anyone genuinely cares…(me, his mom, etc.) he treats them like dirt. Defense mechanism…I’ve told him countless times that the only thing we need is honesty…I’ve stood by him, supported him, been there all that I could…and still he lies…it’s destroyed us. And he blames me for not trusting him…how can I? If I try to start a conversation on an “issue” he clams up…literally will not say a single word then gets angry and will be cold to me for days. As long as i act like everything is peachy, he’s fine…but when I try to initiate conversation over unresolved, ongoing problems…lock down. I’ve begged for counseling…I get not just no, but….well, you know. I catch flack for staying with him…but at my darkest, lost and emotionally insane, I prayed for Him to take over, to lead me…and calm came over me and I knew my place is with my husband…How do you help someone who doesn’t want to be helped, before it destroys both of you?

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Sadly we can’t force others to make right decisions. I’m sorry for your pain.

  7. Andrea Reply

    I am in a 17 year marriage, the past 7 of which have been rough. I have been asking for counseling for at least the last 5 years. He absolutely refuses. Two years ago, after an infidelity (he says never physical, which I still don’t believe), I decided to go to counseling alone. I didn’t go back after my husband picked apart the entire session with me, and told me exactly how the counselor was wrong. I have recently had my eyes opened to the fact that he is emotionally abusive. I’m more concerned for my children than myself, but I know that he cannot get better without counseling. Do I give him the ultimatum for my childrens’ sake?

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      I would go to counseling alone and have the counselor assist you with this issue. Counselors aren’t perfect but when someone picks apart the counselor I assume it is a sad defense mechanism.

  8. Della Reply

    I’ve been married to my husband for 25 years. He has a drug problem and he steals from the house to support his habit. I’ve had to replace so many items just to have them disappear again. I’m tired. I’m a great spiritual wife but I’m also an enabler. I take him back or go out looking for him when he does not come home for two or three weeks (he does drugs around the same time every year, October. November, December). We have 5 children, 2 of which are grown and out of the home. I am so frighten for our 8 year old because when her dad disappears she had stomach issues, her head hurts, she cries and does poorly in school. What is my recourse? We are all going to counseling to cope with this (my husband does not go). What else can I do?

  9. divine Reply

    Am 20 ,I’ve been married for a year.We got one child but I think am getting tired.our sex life is dying maybe due to pressure from work, I had to drop out of school just to take care of the baby. We can’t have a conversation without him shouting or hitting me in the presence of our baby.
    We wants to rule but I think that’s not what marriage should be. I have suggested marriage counseling but he won’t listen.I can’t leave the house for shopping and all, without him coming along insisting the baby is still small.She’s10 months.
    I want to go back to school, I want to get a job and be free like every other mother i want to get a life. He pays the bills so I get abusive words.
    What can I do?

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Divine, I would get the baby and get out. If you can’t leave, secretly call the police and when they show up, tell them your situation and that you want to leave but fear he won’t let you. In my hometown we have a safe place for women leaving abusive relationships. Hopefully your hometown has the same. If he is verbally and physically abusive, he needs help. Until he gets help, you need to get out.

  10. […] Here are 13 questions I use to determine if someone needs marriage counseling. The list is not exhau...
  11. Micheal Reply

    Hi am Micheal i and my wife are on the brink of divorcing. She has a very explosive temper and starts fights at the slightest opportunity. She disappeared for two days after starting a fight early one morning at 5am and refused to pick my calls. She stayed at a friends place ,then moved to her aunts house, she didnt even bother coming home to tell me what happened. I got upset and packed some of her belongings to her aunts house because i was certain she wanted to leave. Although i have no proof i suspect she is into lesbianism after asking me before we got married if we should consider bringing another woman into our bed i made it clear to her then it goes against my religion. She also told me recently that same sex is not considered cheating and she has come home once with the smell of a womans private part on her breath. Shes been out of the house for 4 months now.

    I have made several attempts to get her to come home and she responds and we have both apologized to each other but she ends up changing her mind and becomes hostile attacking verbally and with text messages and i have to go away for weeks and come back and try again but she gets worse which each attempt

    Our families have also spoken to her but she isnt listening to anyone. She says she needs time and that she will come back she dosent want to be rushed, she also turns around and says shes done and we should go our seperate ways, dont know whats wrong with her. She cries a lot and has lost so much weight so have i.

    She also refuses to work on counseling. PLEEASE NEED ADVICE

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      I would think there has to be some consequences to her actions. Maybe go ahead and file an injunction so your finances are separated. Get counseling for yourself. Refuse to play the game.

  12. Micheal Reply

    Micheal: Ive told her im filling for a divorce at the end of the month and moving on with my life if she isnt back, so she has to make a choice this immature behavior is unacceptable especially for a 38 yr old woman, we dont have kids yet, ive started counseling already, her aunt says she cries all the time and dosent go anywhere apart from work. we dont share accounts so shes free to spend what she makes on her own.

  13. Micheal Reply

    Micheal: Was i wrong to pack her things to her aunties house? i wasnt comfortable discussing the lesbianism issue with her parents so i spoke to her two best friends about it; these friends happen to be my friends as well. So they spoke to her and she got upset at me for revealing these things to them and is siting these two things as the reason for not wanting to come home, that im immature and cant protect her, what do you think?

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Sounds like the relationship is in real trouble and if she won’t get help with you then it won’t succeed.

  14. […] What to Do If Your Spouse Refuses Counseling […]...
  15. ReNae Reply

    If one spouse has tried everything (including couple’s counseling and counseling alone), aside from meeting with a lawyer to discuss legal separation/divorce, to restore the marriage then what is your advice? We can’t change our spouse or force our spouse to treat us differently. Do you advise staying in the relationship and continuing counseling alone simply to have support to stay in a dysfunctional marriage? At what point does someone say enough is enough and make the next step to visiting with a lawyer? Obviously, I know everyone is different so I’m not looking for a “pat answer”. At what point do you know you’re relationship won’t succeed? What does that look like?

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      I would continue individual counseling in order to get help with answering the questions you have asked.

  16. Depressed and confused Reply

    Hi…l have been married for just over a year and in that year my husband has cheated on me three times with different women and he is never sorry about it, to the world he is a super husband there is nothing material that l lack except my husband’s love and affection, there is no sex in the marriage because he does not want it well considering he is satisfying his desires elsewhere, he hates kissing me, l have asked that we go for testing and counselling and he keeps throwing tantrums every time l bring it up and goes quite for days, he only talks to me if he wants help with his relatives that may be needing money or food or anything else, l have tried everything a person can try, prayer, fasting , counselling alone but none of that is working…what should l do? l thought the first years of marriage were meant to be the best, what is this then?

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Sadly, it sounds as though he never got married. I would schedule an appointment with a counselor and invite your husband to go. Tell him, I’m either going with you to figure out how to heal this marriage or I’m going without you to learn how to end this marriage.

  17. […] If you are married to a child: Make an appointment with a marriage counselor. Your spouse will likel...
  18. Angel Reply

    I just ran across your article in my search to help me through my confusion. I am questioning whether it is time to call it quits with my husband. We have been married 19 years, and I do love him very much, though I often wonder if I married the wrong man. We could not have children together, and he refused to do any adoption fundraisers so we could adopt. He finally agreed to let us foster in hopes of adopting, but now I have too many disabilities, though only 41, to take on the young child I always dreamed of. I also worry about his temper. He becomes very angry at time, and will yell and throw things. I especially fear him doing this with children, as I have seen him do so, and I don’t want them to grow up with the angry father I had. I have tried several times over the years, as delicately as I could, tried to get him to go to counseling with me, or even for himself, but he becomes very angry and refuses. His anger is so bad, I fear asking him again. When I tried to talk to him about my fears and his anger, he said it is just who he is. He does not seem to realize yelling and throwing things is not okay, and does not seem inclined to try to change. This is not to mention that he smokes, is extremely overweight, has high blood pressure, and refuses to see a doctor. I feel like he has a death wish and is a heart attack waiting to happen. In some ways, we are best friends. In others, I feel like I am walking on egg shells, and fear bringing up things that I know will make him angry, though they are vitally important to me. I feel if I stay with him, I cannot fulfill what I feel God has been calling me to do with my life. Yet, since his family is the only family I really have, I stand to lose everything if I leave. I am very unhappy, but don’t know what to do. Any advice would be most appreciated.

  19. Michael Hall Reply


    I left my wife in September, after she repeatedly hit me during arguments.She recently went bankrupt and has a social phobia disorder and is possibly bi-polar. She refuses counseling. She told me she is afraid of me, doesn’t love me and we’re done. We dated each other as friends, slept in the same bed, but no sex. Her son who is 35, wants us to divorce, since he doesn’t think I have supported her well enough. I told the son that we were dating. She blew up at me; hitting and scratching me. The son wrote us both off, but knows I left again. My Pastor says get away for good for my own safety, since she won’t get help, and I have. My wife only had me stay over with her, so I would do some household chores she needed. Pastor says go, so does my family. She professes to be a Christian woman, but doesn’t care about what scripture says. No adultery is in our situation.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      With possible bi-polar and physical contact, she either needs to get help or the marriage is over.

  20. marlo Reply

    my wife and i have a 4 year old and she recently became pregnant. we sat and talked and decided to have the abortion. now, i am being blamed for the abortion 2 months later. all affection had stopped, so i was giving her time to get over the emotional part but it seems like it has backfired

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      I would highly recommend the two of you speak with a counselor. Grief is very difficult to navigate and we often need outside help.

  21. Anonymous Reply

    Hi Kevin,
    Thanks for keeping my email from being published even though I assume I’m the only individual out there but likely there are similar circumstances.

    Honestly, I don’t like counseling and would refuse it. Early on, within a year of marriage, I was forced to go to counseling and forced to take a personality test because my opinions, discipline structure and organization skill set would constantly butt heads with my partner’s son. The tests came out normal as I expected and the counselor told me I will never be in their circle of trust because they know each other too well.

    I met him when her son was 13. As I can clearly understand now, 8 years later, the son was manipulating his mother at every opportunity in order to avoid responsibility. I became frustrated and angry because why should I feel like I have to be his “father” in the easy and fun times. Whereas, i was asked to be his father-figure during the courting period. I literally was told just be his friend for 6 months until he gets used to you. This was after we had dated 18 months and her son knew me, well. so within a month of being married, I was told just be his friend and I (his mother) will take care of the discipline, responsibility, and structure portion. When I met both of them, neither were disciplined, structured or responsible. I just assumed since she was a single mother that was the case. I thought I was the missing catalyst. I was dead wrong. Her son continues to show me zero respect but the difference is he knows that I do standup for myself. He continues to manipulate his mother when he visits when he has been asked to help cleanup after himself and he becomes argumentative when I calmly try to discuss why he is avoiding responsibility and his response is that I’m not his commanding military officer. She still takes his side and likely always will. I’ve learned but I hate it; I have to pretend their communications when I’m around that I’m not around and avoid getting involved in their arguments even when I’m asked to get involved. I only stand up for myself now when I’m being attacked. Ive attempted to standup for her when he attacks her (verbally/emotionally) but her son uses it to manipulate her into her side.

    Now that he’s away for a few months, there are several times where I’m treated like the child so when I’m quick to share I’m an adult I don’t deserve to be treated that way then suddenly the role changes where I’m having to be the adult to a grown child. It’s messed up. Last night, I basically had to lie and say things were fine during an argument. An argument that started because I was trying to share my feelings about not feeling valued. When a person is constantly treated like a child but they are an adult it becomes very toxic. If I didn’t 100% believe that God accepts me for who I am and loves my strengths/weaknesses then who knows what destructive path I would be on. I had to lie and say everything is fine because the argument started with me feeling like a child but switching quickly into her acting like a child. At one point, I tried to get up to get some water and she was crying, begging me not to leave. I had to stop moving and ask to be let go because all I was going to do was get some water. I came back and she was now crying and criticizing me for not listening to her. But then a couple minutes later, she is trying to give encouraging examples of why I’m valued but the examples were followed by how I’ve been negative in similar situations. I’m not going to argue and say whether I’m negative or positive. It’s all left up to an unbiased person. A person that at this time doesn’t exist. I once told the counselor to videotape for an entire week the events that happen in the house and then he would certainly understand my perspective. I don’t know how to defend myself anymore. Setting boundaries don’t work when another person manipulates both axis.

  22. Shelly Reply

    My husband previously agreed to go to counseling and now says he will only go if my son sees a counselor or psychiatrist. My son is only 12 and is a good kid. He has never gotten in trouble for anything other than not doing his chores, not doing them well or not picking up after himself. He thinks my son needs help because he just doesn’t hang around any neighborhood kid. I wish he had friends to hang out with but they always seem to have baseball or football or some kind of sport. My son is not into those sports just Tae Kwon Do. He is happy to spend time with me or his biological father yet my husband keeps wanting to push him out he door saying he is not normal.
    My husband feels the need to comment on how I do practically everything from cooking to cleaning. I feel that if I’m cooking a meal for him after being gone at work all day & he’s been home 2 hours for me that I don’t need someone’s critique on how I should do it differently. It gets under my skin after a while. Why can’t he just be grateful. He feels he should be able to “comment” as he calls it on anything without me taking offense. He’ll even go so far as to look it up on google as to why something should be done a certain way that agrees with that he says.
    I’m at an utter loss. This is hurting our marriage.

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      The counselor can help you determine if your son needs counseling or not. Let them assist you and your husband in that way. I would go with or without your husband.

  23. Searching for the Light Reply

    Hello Kevin,
    I had an affair that lasted about 3 months before my husband found out – he checked phone records and confronted me. I admitted to it but did not immediately end it and continued to lie about some details. I assumed my marriage was over and didn’t put forth an effort to work on the marriage at first, leaving the decision to stay or go to my husband. In fact, I found out I was pregnant and moved out quickly in order to hide it for as long as I could. Finally, the fog lifted and I started realizing how easily I gave up, how much I didn’t want our marriage to end, how much I still love him, and how truly truly regretful I am and always will be of my selfish decision to have an affair.
    At first, my husband went from periods of being really kind and communicating well with me to not hearing from him at all (or very short responses) for days. We have 2 children and have arranged a weekly schedule of them being with one or the other, so at times our communication is only related to them.
    A few weeks before I admitted to the pregnancy, I clearly told my husband that divorce is not what I want for us and that I will do whatever I can/ need to to rebuild his trust. I had very seriously considered an abortion although it’s against my beliefs and even went as far as scheduling an appointment. I canceled it and spent the following day throwing up terribly. I told the biological father I wanted to consider giving the child up for adoption as my husband wants absolutely no part in raising another child, particularly one that isn’t his.
    I have mentioned counseling to my husband on a few occasions but he says he’s not interested but is fine with me going. He still wants a divorce although I do not, but he says trust is a very big deal to him and I’ve broken his. He doesn’t think he could ever trust me as a partner again, because why would he make that gamble when he thought everything was fine before. I recently found out that he is on a dating website and slept with someone else while at a work conference. That really hurt even though we’re separated, I didn’t expect him to do that. Part of me feels I have no right to be upset and that it’s just getting a taste of my own medicine – although he says he didn’t do it to intentionally hurt me and that he thought that was an understanding between us while separated. I clearly told him that if he wants to try to save our marriage, him continuing to date others is unacceptable to me. Last night, he was out all night and didn’t get home until after 5am. This leads me to believe he has slept with someone else again. He’s being drinking and staying out late like he’s 21 again.
    I have finally been able to speak to a therapist the first time last week, but I didn’t even get through all of the back story with her and now I’m feeling very devastated again. My thoughts and emotions are all over the place – I’m sure being pregnant isn’t helping that fact.
    I have not talked to anyone about this situation other than my husband, the biological father, and now my therapist. My parents don’t yet know about our separation, marital problems, or the pregnancy. Honestly, I’m not sure how much if any support I would get from them.

  24. […] How do I talk my spouse into going to counseling? […]...
  25. Leonard Reply

    Ostensibly, the goal of counseling is to return to the level of intimacy and affection you as a couple had before the erosion began in the marriage? But what if there were no “good times” to return to? What if you never shared that type of love as a couple and you married for other reasons, but you still crave the basics of affection and companionship? The counselor is not a matchmaker, where will love grow if you have spent 30 years or so salting the earth one careless comment at a time?

    • Kevin A. Thompson Reply

      Actually, in many circumstances, the goal of counseling is to get to a better level of intimacy than the couple has ever had. I regularly tell couples that the goal isn’t to get the marriage back, it’s to get to a better place than they have ever been.

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