Anxiety, Articles by Alex Ryder, Couple's counselling, Relationships

How to get your partner to come to Couples Counselling

Do you think that there is a problem in your marriage or relationship?

Have you been thinking it would be a good idea for your partner and yourself to attend marriage counselling or couple counselling? Have you tried to broach
this with your partner who has come back with a resounding “No”? Or does he or she seem to be oblivious to the fact that you are desperately

At Sydney Couple and Family Specialists, we frequently hear how hard it can be to get a resistant partner to attend a session. Often one partner is motivated
to get the help that the relationship needs, but the other person is more hesitant.

There can be very good reasons why a person doesn’t want to come to relationship counselling. Sometimes it is because they have had a bad experience with
a counsellor previously.

Some of the things I hear from couples is that the counsellor didn’t seem fair or balanced, appeared out of their depth, or just didn’t have the skills
to manage conflict or personalities in the room.

Another reason for not wanting to come to couples counselling is that someone is afraid. Afraid that it might end their relationship. Afraid of what their
partner might say. Embarrassed to talk about intimate relationship problems with an outsider even if they are a professional. It’s true the majority
of couples are very anxious when they first start counselling – but the nerves rarely hang around. And couples certainly don’t break up because of counselling.

There are many more reasons a person might not want to come to couples counselling – including just not believing in the process itself – in their opinion:
“It’s a load of rubbish!”

Whatever the reason, it can leave a willing partner very stuck… and a relationship stuck in its problems. Of course, this is the most dangerous
scenario for the survival of the relationship.

“Do you have any tips for getting my partner to come?”

This is a common question so here are my tips:

  1. Listen and do not attack. People tend to resist working toward a solution with their partner when they don’t feel heard or understood.
    They also resist coming to counselling if they think it’s going to be more of the same – just more attacking and criticism. Work on showing empathy
    for how your partner thinks and feels, and then suggest gently that a counsellor could help you both understand why the issues are there.
  1. Allow your partner to choose the therapist. Allowing your partner to choose a therapist will give them ownership in the decision and
    commitment to the work. Be sure to coach your partner up front in selecting a therapist who specifically works with couples and families.
  1. Suggest a one-on-one session for the resistant partner. This will give them a chance to meet the therapist, and decide if they think
    they will be suitable for you both. Rest assured a trained couple’s therapist will be able to balance out that original session to ensure both
    partners are heard equally, and both perspectives considered in later sessions.
  2. Get them to agree to attend just one session. This is really useful if there’s been a bad experience with a therapist in the past.
    Agree with your partner that you will only commit to the first session with the chosen therapist as a trial to ensure the therapist is right for
    both of you. If either of you aren’t happy with the counsellor, keep looking until you find one you are both happy to work with.
  1. Offer something in exchange. “If you come to counselling with me, I’ll do this for/with you.” The best negotiators understand that
    it is important to provide value to the other person in order to break a deadlock. Try to offer something that genuinely matters to your partner,
    or affirms your commitment to the relationship. You might say you’ll give up one of your evening gym classes so you can get to counselling, for
  1. Change the way you frame the financial cost of counselling. Sometimes a person is concerned about the cost involved in seeing a professional.
    It’s important to view the cost of the sessions as an investment in your relationship long term – the return in 6-12 sessions should be 20 plus
    years in relationship happiness and if you have children you will be gifting your new healthier relationship dynamics to them.
  1. Push harder. Sometimes an ultimatum is what is required. “You either value the relationship enough to get the help we need, or it’s
    over”. A good time to deliver an ultimatum is after a fight or argument, during the make-up phase. An ultimatum may also be necessary if your partner
    has done something that crosses a relationship boundary for you e.g. an affair.

So many clients I have met have been very worried about bringing a resistant partner along to counselling.

In my experience, after the first session, the great majority of people are committed to the process.

If you can get your partner to a first session you have a very good chance at ongoing relationship work.

A lot of people report back when they finish up that they were not sure about counselling at the start or even quite sure of me – but they are very glad
they followed through and the proof is the relationship happiness they walk away with.

If you feel as though your partner is ready, encourage them to contact  The Sydney Couple and Family Specialists on 02 8968 9397 or email

About Alex

Alex is an accessible and compassionate therapist.  His clients appreciate that Alex listens with the intention of genuinely understanding them.  He’s lovely with adolescents, who seem to warm to him

immediately, and he creates a space in sessions for any or all participants to have their say and feel heard.

Alex’s particular strengths are in the area of working with couples and he has extensive experience and training in this area.  He is both Gottman and Systemically trained and draws on practical ideas that clients can immediately make use of to enhance their relationships.

Alex comes to Sydney Couple and Family Therapy Specialists from backgrounds as a Lifeline Crisis Line Counsellor and Trainer and Therapist at the highly-respected Jansen Newman Institute.  He has supported individuals and couples through trauma, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation and adolescent struggles.

Alex has helped many people through intensely frightening and painful life events – and to a place where they have the skills and confidence to carry themselves forward.

Alex is married with a young family and therefore easily relates to the stress and struggles that many couples and young families face today.

“It takes a lot of courage to share a moment of crisis with someone you don’t yet know.  Even more so, to entrust your intimate relationship over to them.

I have been in the fortunate position to be trusted with that responsibility many times and have helped people – through their own bravery, honesty and effort – to transcend their suffering and improve their key relationships.”

Alex also runs the pre-marriage counselling course at the Sydney Couple and Family Specialists

Qualifications and Professional Membership

Alex holds a Masters of Counselling and Psychotherapy from Jansen Newman Institute Sydney, and a Bachelor degree from the University of Sydney.  Alex also holds a Gottman training certificate.

He is a member of the Australian Association of Family Therapy, the Counsellors and Psychotherapist Association of Australia, and the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia.

Why see a Couples Counselor?

Are you wondering if couples counselling is for you? In this interview Alex Ryder answers common questions we hear from people who want to understand more about this process.

And remember, if you are a new client you can book a free 15 minute telephone session with Alex.

“We really like your approach. The other couples counsellor we saw left us stuck in negativity.  Right from the start we felt hopeful with you.  Your positive approach helped us out of the slump, so we could address the real issues.” – Murry (36) married to Tasha (39); One Child (3) – Clients who saw Alex Ryder for Relationship counselling.

“I’ve wanted to refer you to so many people.  Obviously I haven’t given the circumstances, but we are huge fans and are so grateful for your help.” – Tom (49) married to Sarah (43). Two children; 15 & 13 – Clients who saw Alex Ryder for Relationship counselling following an affair.

“I think we told you in our first session that you were the last couples therapist we were going to try. Everything was on the line.  So thank you for… well everything.” – James (55) married to Philippa (53) – Clients who saw Alex Ryder for Relationship Counselling

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