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5 Reasons Why a Partner Might Refuse Couples Therapy

1. Not understanding the seriousness of the problem.

Key points

  • In relationships, we can give ourselves a decent chance to resolve issues with open and ongoing communication.
  • It is essential to understand that couples therapy isn't about proving who is right and who is wrong.
  • Coercing an unwilling partner into therapy is often counterproductive.

In the realm of relationships, we can resolve anything—or at least give ourselves a decent chance—with open and ongoing communication. Imagine what the world would look like if everybody suddenly decided to shut down. As brittle as the world seems now, it is still based on countries collaborating and, ultimately, people talking to each other.

Bottling up often unlids underlying hostility, which surfaces and expands when not dissipated by communication. When dialogue falters, it inadvertently weaponizes the relationship, fostering hostility and impacting both parties and their well-being.

Many couples consider therapy when they encounter a communication impasse; when one or both partners feel unheard, emotionally unsafe, or unable to express themselves; and irritation and anger take the place of the dialogue. Yet what happens when one partner is ready to explore therapy while the other staunchly objects? Let's examine the most common reasons for such an objection.

1. Not Understanding the Seriousness of the Problem

Sometimes, one partner may believe that the issues the other partner is bringing up are manageable and can be resolved privately. Yet the perception of the rift's seriousness is likely to differ greatly between partners.

How do you know that both of you attribute the same gravity to the issues that you are discussing? Try sitting down together and make a list of challenges that either one or both of you consider bringing to therapy. Then rank their gravity on the scale from 1 to 10. If you rank some problem as 7-9 and your partner ranks it 1-2, maybe he or she does not see your perspective in terms of gravity; it may be helpful for them to see it in plain numbers.

2. Fear of Therapy

The human psyche often resists change, even when we're dissatisfied with our current circumstances. The thought of altering the status quo can stir anxiety, primarily because change is unpredictable, the future is uncertain, and no one can guarantee that the outcome will be better, not worse, than now.

People with anxious-depressive personalities may be especially wary of therapy, naturally pessimizing the result and expecting the worst. Surprisingly, even the expressed good-natured extroverts among us who are often adventurous and brave to try something new can be very hesitant when it comes to therapy, as they fear confronting deeply rooted issues that they might not be able to resolve in stride. In couples therapy, it can be even more daunting, since one is baring his or her vulnerabilities not just to their therapist but also to their partner.

Yet we all need a safe place within the relationship to be vulnerable sometimes, to be afraid, and to talk about our fears. That makes us human and likable, after all, and helps us connect with our partner.

3. Fear of Judgment

The fear that your partner might have been right all along, coupled with the dread of potential "I told you so" moments, can deter some from seeking therapy. Relationships are rife with disagreements, and partners are sometimes afraid that if their significant other is proven "right" in therapy, he or she will hold it against them in the future, reminiscing of the past "transgressions" and waving it before their face like a magenta rag before the bull.

Here, it is essential to understand that couples therapy isn't about proving who is right and who is wrong. It's about bringing balance to the relationship and helping the partners reach inner harmony as well. After all, we sometimes forget that relationships are also about fun, deep connection, intimacy, a wish to be with one another, and not about passing the buck.

4. Hope That It Will Just Pass

Some challenges may resolve on their own, but, in some cases, avoidance merely postpones the inevitable outcome, does not help deal with unpleasantness, and widens the gap between partners. While reading books and seeking advice from friends can be helpful, they also serve as temporary distractions, preventing you from addressing the root issues.

If you notice a recurring pattern in your challenges—either them repeating themselves outright or manifesting as closely related issues—it may be time to seek external help, especially if the problems intensify with time.

5. Decision-Making Dynamics

Deciding to attend counseling and choosing the right counselor, though a serious one, is still just another decision in the chain of decisions that a couple makes on an everyday basis. Yet it may highlight your overall approach to decision-making as a couple, for better or for worse.

How do you agree on other issues besides going to therapy? What is the decision-making mechanism for you as a couple? Perhaps your mechanism of decision-making is such that one partner decides, and the other goes along. Or one offers and the other initially refuses. Or one makes a proposal and waits for the other to make a decision. Scrutinizing this could pave the way both to couples therapy and self-awareness with regard to decision-making in general.

Understanding and addressing the reluctance beneath your partner's resistance to therapy can open the door to productive conversations and change. Yet it is also worth noting that coercing the unwilling partner into therapy is often counterproductive. In order to engage and carry on, they need to be motivated to take part in the transformational process willingly. Otherwise, they might either leave therapy unilaterally or resist by not making change happen. (To read more about that, please refer to my article about unconscious resistance in couples therapy.)

To find a therapist, visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.

Facebook/LinkedIn image: - Yuri A/Shutterstock


Basham, K. (1992). Resistance and couple therapy. Smith College Studies in Social Work, 62, 245–264

Nathan W. Ackerman, M.D., Marjorie L. Behrens, M.A., 1961, The Family Approach and Levels of Intervention, The American Journal of Psychotherapy,

Freud, S. (1925). The Resistance to Psycho-Analysis. Standard Edition, Vol. 19, pp. 213-222.

Escudero, V., Friedlander, M.L. (2017). Couples’ Cross Complaints: “I Want… but She/He Doesn’t Want to…”. In: Therapeutic Alliances with Families. Focused Issues in Family Therapy. Springer, Cham.

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