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Help! Can I Convince My Partner To Go to Therapy?

Someone who is resistant to therapy won't be convinced by a heated argument.

by Gretchen Brown
May 20, 2021 | Love
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Dear Ask Me Instead,

This might be an unoriginal question: How do you convince your partner/spouse to get some therapy?

Dear Concerned Partner,

Mental illness has lost some of its stigma. It's no longer taboo to say you have depression or openly joke about your therapy sessions.

But in the process, our collective cultural understanding has oversimplified what it looks like to treat a mental illness. We draw a straight line from feeling unwell to receiving treatment, when in reality, recovery is not linear, and therapy can be cost-prohibitive and hard to access.

Bad experiences in childhood can make folks hesitant to return as adults. And there is sometimes a gap between recognizing you are unwell and realizing you need help.

It's hard to know what your exact situation is without all the details. But I can empathize with you. It's painful to watch a friend, family member or loved one struggle with mental illness and feel helpless. 

I'll answer this assuming your partner is not in immediate danger (if they are, there are resources available).

Someone who is resistant to therapy isn't going to be convinced by a constant back-and-forth argument. On the flip side, they may feel even stronger in their conviction that therapy isn't for them.

I learned this last year when I interviewed Bernice Hausman, a professor from the Penn State College of Medicine.

"Any time you begin a kind of assault on somebody's behavior that has no empathy for the reasons they might take that position," she told me, "You risk further entrenching them in their views."

This discussion was in the context of public health and the pandemic. But I think it applies here. An argument may leave your partner heated and less likely to see your side of things.

I completely get why it's tempting to argue with someone until you're red in the face. I've fallen into that trap so many times! I can be stubborn, especially when my opinion feels well-researched.

But believing you're correct doesn't make you more likely to win over your opponent. We see this all the time with presidential debates — it's not necessarily the person with the truest argument who "wins" — if you really consider there to be a winner at all.

You shouldn't be acting like your partner's opponent, pitted against each other. You're a team, right? 

Teams make a game plan. They talk through things together to try to achieve the best possible outcome.

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Credit: Ben Malley // TPT and Ded Pixto // Adobe

The best thing you can do is start a discussion with your partner. Instead of saying, "Why won't you go to therapy?" in a defeated way, you can explain how you're feeling, and what you're observing, and ask if they've ever considered therapy. But be sure to listen fully to their side, too.

This may have to be a series of discussions. Chances are, if you approach the topic respectfully, and they value your feelings, they may consider therapy as a solution.

It's also possible they've considered therapy in the past but are scared to go or unsure how to find a therapist. Volunteer to be their personal assistant and get them started — help them call their insurance company to find in-network therapists, or help them open an account on a virtual therapy app.

What is making you think they may need therapy? If it's an issue that affects both of you, you may want to consider couple's therapy as an option— your relationship doesn't have to be falling apart for therapy to be worthwhile. Maybe they are feeling iffy about individual therapy, but would be more comfortable with you in the room.

You're not going to be able to force your partner to go to therapy — it's something they have to come around to on their own. But you can be a resource and make it as easy as possible for them to access.

People often say you can't force your partner to change, and that you shouldn't go into a relationship believing you can make them become a different person. 

But no one should stay the same their entire life. A relationship can be an opportunity to learn from each other and grow together. As their partner, you're their best-positioned cheerleader. Be patient as they grow and learn, just as they should be with you.

If their resistance to put in the work is seriously stressing your relationship, though, you might want to think critically about the future. At some point, refusal to seek help is a refusal to commit to growing your relationship.

It's up to you to determine where that line is.

Have a life dilemma?

Email Ask Me Instead at [email protected] or send us a note using this form. All submissions are anonymous.

For more good advice, visit the Ask Me Instead collection.

Gretchen Brown
Gretchen Brown is an editor for Rewire. She’s into public media, music and really good coffee. Email her at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @gretch_brown.
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