I am often asked the question of how to get a friend or a partner to enter (their own) therapy. These partners or friends usually fall into two categories: 1) People who you see may be in genuine need of assistance (to the point the person’s struggles are visible to others); or, 2) people you may generally be frustrated with (e.g., “My wife is always telling me what to do. She needs therapy”; “My boyfriend never listens or pays attention to my needs. He should be in therapy.”).
For both scenarios above, trying to talk someone into therapy can be an incredibly frustrating experience. Even if you mean to suggest that they need support, it usually comes off as telling someone they have some sort of “issue” or that something is “wrong” with them. It rarely comes off as hoped.
Though it’s not always easy, it is possible to encourage our partners towards starting therapy if you see they are genuinely in need of the help or support.
How Therapy Can Help
Difficulties can present in a variety of ways in life. Many struggle with overwhelming anxiety and worry. Some don’t manage stress well — you may get irritated quickly, lose sleep, yell at people you love, get headaches, backaches, and more. Some get sad or depressed when feeling overwhelmed by thoughts, emotions, and stress. Many have difficulty with effective communication that impacts interpersonal relationships. This is a small sample of the struggles we can face in daily life.
Therapy is there to help people deal (internally and externally) to things that happen in our lives through a process of reflection, self-exploration, and slowing down to understand ourselves on a deeper emotional level. Sometimes, you may just need someone to hear you and be supportive — knowing that for a period of time each week (or however frequently), that time and space is yours to sit with yourself, explore the things you want to talk about, and know that the therapist is there for you.
Encouraging Your Partner
Now, how does this relate to getting your partner into therapy? Sometimes the old stigma of therapy causes people who want help to avoid the help they need because they feel it won’t work for them. For those in genuine need of help, a bit of education about therapy can go a long way.
Let them know that therapy is a safe place. Also, being supportive and sensitive and showing that you care about their well-being is important. For example, “I see that you are really down lately and having a hard time coming out of it.” Remember, this is about their well-being, not about your needs. Sometimes people want the help, but just don’t know where to turn. Be willing to help them find a therapist and even to take them to their first appointment.
When We Are Part of the Issue
For those partners and friends who we want to see enter therapy because we are generally frustrated with their behaviors, the approach is a bit different. Relationship conflict is usually the catalyst for this scenario where we are personally involved with the issues. Here we are more than passive observers of someone’s struggles, we are an active piece of the issue.
Relationship conflicts are almost always two-way streets (there is usually something to look at dynamically from both sides). There is a common misconception that the more active person is the only contributor to an issue, but this isn’t the case. For example, if a person watches TV for 18 hours a day, and their partner constantly yells at them about laziness and relationship neglect, the tendency is for the TV-watcher to believe that the yelling partner needs to calm down. However, both have a role in this issue, even if one is in the more passive role (this is not to be confused with ‘victim-blaming’, which is a different issue).
If you want your partner in therapy because it may benefit you, it can be a wise move to start by being in your own therapy first — not necessarily because you need it more than your partner, but because it shows your partner that you’re making a commitment to look into yourself and your role in the dynamic, and not project the joint struggles onto their shoulders alone.
You May Be Involved, But Your Partner Still Needs Help
It’s worth acknowledging that even if you are involved in the issue, there is still the possibility that your partner is struggling to a point that can be unhealthy (or, you’re in your own therapy and they still won’t consider entering therapy). It’s possible that your partner may need more support or help dealing with emotions or behaviors.
If this is the case, treat the situation much like the friend who we see can use help. If you’re involved in the conflict, it may take bringing in a friend or family member of theirs who is also concerned for your partner’s well-being. Don’t bring up the possibility of the other needing therapy during a conflict. There’s really no chance that will go well.
In the end, there isn’t a sure-fire way to talk your partner into therapy, which is why it can be a frustrating task. In order to create change, a person has to desire change or want the help. Therapy tends to benefit a person based on what they put into it. However, you can always offer encouragement and a little push or guidance towards help when it’s needed. Feel free to show your partner or friend this post. Remember, no one is immune to needing some assistance with life, including ourselves.
Contact Nathan Feiles to inquire about therapy.