8 ways to get your man to go to counseling
In the course of treating couples over thousands of hours, certain patterns seem to be evident about men and couples therapy. One big pattern in particular is they don’t want to come. Quite often the initial phone call comes from the female partner who has taken on the responsibility of finding a counselor that will hopefully be a good match for their male partner. It’s almost like the female partner’s job is to pre-screen all the possible candidates and then present the candidates to their male partner for consideration. Even then, for one reason or another, no one counselor seems to be a perfect fit. There is always some reason why a particular therapist isn’t right, perhaps a scheduling or financial conflict mixed in. The female partner gets nowhere fast, leaving her feeling frustrated and unsupported.
Well ladies, before I offer you a few options to explore in re-approaching your man about the subject of going to counseling, let’s review some losing strategies:
4 Losing Strategies
I realize that getting your man to join you on the therapeutic couch is a challenging process, but most women don’t realize that the most common strategies actually have a negative effect – only resulting in your man becoming more resistant. Here are my top four failing strategies guaranteed to delay or permanently put the kibosh on your joint therapeutic journey.
#1 Nagging – As with obscenity, “you know it when you see it”, nagging is similar; you know it when you hear it. Often when I ask how the female partner has approached their man about coming to therapy in the past, the response is, “I keep asking him to come, and he doesn’t want to talk about it.” Or he says, “Okay,” but never follows through. Now I’m not letting your man off the hook here, but I am asking you to ask yourself if you are matching his unhealthy resistance with your own unhealthy pattern. Do you ask clearly (not in round about terms or “sort of’s”) and ask cleanly (not in a way that demeans or shames) and the response is still negative? You may typically respond by taking on the helpless victim role and are now stuck in that role, you may never make progress, and you will likely find yourself in a deteriorating relationship. You have better options than to play the victim role.
#2 Threatening – Another favorite to try and get the attention of your partner is threatening. Anything that starts with a “Well if you don’t go then I’m going to…” Or my personal favorite, “Ok then, since you’re not going to go, then you’ve left me with no choice other than…” Made complete with the addition of a self righteous tone, threatening is rarely effective. Why? Because your man is already full of shame around his shortcomings and shame-filled men usually respond one of two ways when confronted with threats; turning in or turning out.
Turning in can take on many forms. Some common reactions are: increasing substance use/abuse, isolating, avoiding, or poor personal care. Turning in further cuts the female off from the desired connection they are looking for from their man, making bad things worse.
Turning out is where the response is targeted on people outside of self; conflicts (physical or verbal), seeking support from other unhealthy relationships (affairs), etc. Either way, this creates a nice soft place for the male to claim their own “victim’ position. Now that the threats create the opportunity to play the victim role, the man reacts from this position by ignoring any legitimate responsibility for their own actions and the health of the relationship. Again ladies, you have better options.
#3 Retaliating – This is another classic failing strategy. This is where the female partner, who feels victimized by their male partner, then copies the pattern of the male by responding by victimizing their victimizer. Can you picture two kids playing in a sandbox throwing sand into each other’s eyes as they argue over a common toy? Here’s an example. A wife discovers that her husband has been recently trading emails with his old high school girlfriend. She demands that they attend counseling, and after weeks with no compliance she takes off her wedding rings and starts dressing 10 years younger than usual. A classic plea to gain attention from an unavailable partner, her partner is unable to handle the emotional charge of the email discovery, and even less successful at reacting to the emotional escalation brought on by the removal of the ring and clothing change. This can also be a very dangerous approach when in relationships with partners that have anger or rage control issues.
#4 Icing – Men understand this technique very well. Just like in a football game, when just before the opposing team attempts to kick a field goal to win the game in the final seconds, the defensive team calls a timeout, forcing the kicker to have to reflect on the heavy task before him. The female partner does this by ignoring conversations, not taking calls, canceling dates, not returning emails, etc. The male, not recognizing that this is the female’s misguided way of communicating to the male that she has been hurt by him and wants him to be supportive in attempting to repair their relationship, reacts in one of two ways: 1) “I’ll show her” he says as he now becomes emphatic about making the field goal (getting his way, either now or later) or 2) Gives up on the game, takes his ball and leaves. Game over.
8 Potential Winning Strategies
#1 Start Going by Yourself – Much of his anxiety around going to therapy can be alleviated by removing the taboo from the process. Many men see therapy as something for the weak and unwise. Getting exposed to some of the details and seeing the changes that happen in you can be powerful motivators. Additional insight into the mysterious inner workings of therapy can lower the defensive shields.
#2 Consider Going to a Male Therapist – Some men fear that therapy will seek to “feminize” them. Others feel more comfortable talking about specific types of struggles with a male counselor. The ability for the client to relate to and have a connection with the therapist is more critical to the successful outcome of treatment than the treatment type. So if it’s easier for your man to relate to another man, a male therapist may good option.
#3 Normalize the Process of Not Wanting to Go – You may be surprised by how many people you know who have gone to therapy in the past. While respecting the privacy of your relationships, see if any friends are willing to share their story of how they may have been resistant to the idea of going and what happened to change their mind. Share how your experience was to face the uncertainty of going to therapy when you first began seeing a counselor.
(If you have children)#4 Starting a Legacy of New Health – A powerful tool in helping a man accept help is to appeal to the welfare of his children. While a man may be content to continue in self-destructive behavior, there is usually a strong desire to have it not affect his children or great remorse when it does. One thing that counseling offers is the chance to end the legacy of shame that plagues him as it has generations before him. He now has a chance to become the hero that turned the family away from its old course; ensuring that his children, and all their children to come, will be free of the family curse.
#5 Expressing Cleanly and Clearly Your Assessment of the Quality of Your Relationship – Sometimes when I ask why a man has chosen to come to couples therapy they explain that they didn’t recognize that their relationship was in as bad a crisis as they originally thought. I often find in a couple that comes in for counseling that the female is 1-3 years ahead of the emotional process of the relationship. For example, a man can mistakenly feel relieved when his wife stops the screaming matches when he stays out late. That man doesn’t know that many women go into a “numb” phase after becoming exhausted from pursuing the help from their husbands they never got. At this point, the man is feeling pretty good about the relationship, but the woman was one foot out the door. Simple yet difficult, stay honest and open about the condition of your relationship as long as your safety is not in danger.
#6 Express That Getting Help Isn’t Shameful – Even, Tiger Woods has a coach. Okay, Tiger isn’t a good role model for our example, but the point is that even the best in the world at what they do have coaches. Ask your man about how important a coach is to the performance of a football team. If he answers more than none, then he may understand how a counselor plays the role of a coach by reviewing the film, going over past experiences, preparing for future situations, and getting an outside perspective from someone who knows how the game is played. He’s getting a relationship coach. Someone to expose the weaknesses, accentuate the strengths and push him to levels of higher performance.
# 7 Suggest a Three-Session Trial run – If your therapist can’t connect with your man enough to get him to want to come back before the third session, it may be time to change counselors. Usually by the third session most males begin to feel not only more comfortable with the idea of therapy, but excited that it may help solve some of their own grievances within the relationship.
#8 THE BIG GUNS – Now time to pull out the Big Guns, but first this warning. Do NOT use this options if your partner has had any history of violence or rage against people or animals. Be sure that you have a clear exit from the place you choose to employ this option and that you may not be able to return anytime soon. Tell him lovingly, when it’s appropriate and true, that he is acting the same way his Dad did. This will eat at him alive, and the fear of becoming the negative side of one’s own Dad is enough to get almost any man into counseling. Remember ladies, this is the “nuclear option”, and a last resort, so handle this sacred knowledge with care.
See you both on the couch.