By Drs. Les and Leslie Parrott
We all go through times in our lives and our marriages when we’d benefit greatly from getting professional help. Whether we’re having trouble dealing with a life change or transition, experience depression, or facing addiction, there are hundreds of scenarios that could warrant going into counseling with your spouse. But what happens if you recognize the need to get help…but your spouse doesn’t? Is there anything you can do?
You can’t force someone to seek therapy, but you can encourage it—and you can make changes to yourself that result in positive changes for your spouse. Read on for four common scenarios many couples face, and how to approach getting help for a spouse who doesn’t want or recognize the need for it.
IF YOUR SPOUSE REFUSES MARRIAGE COUNSELING…
Maybe you and your spouse have some recurring issues or unresolved problems that are causing trouble in your relationship. The two of you might be fighting a lot lately. Your spouse might have even asked for a separation, or you might suspect that he or she wants a divorce.
You know that working with a therapist or marriage counselor could help the two of you work through whatever you’ve been struggling with. The problem is, your spouse is completely against the idea, and nothing you say will change their mind about it.
It’s incredibly painful when you’re motivated to work on your relationship, but your spouse isn’t willing. You might feel stuck or hopeless, but there’s good news: you can seek help yourself and make changes on your own—without your spouse—that can improve your marriage.
Going to counseling on your own can help you focus on becoming the healthiest possible version of yourself. The most important thing you can do for your marriage is to work on who you are; every healthy choice you make gives your spouse a chance to join you.
Even if your spouse never attends a therapy session, the positive changes you make will affect him or her significantly. In fact, your change is a catalyst for change in your spouse. We’ve seen relationships turn around completely as a result of just one spouse stepping up to get help. So even if you’re the only one willing to seek help, you can still improve your marriage.
IF YOUR SPOUSE IS EXPERIENCING DEPRESSION…
Have you noticed that your spouse seems distant from you and disinterested in things they used to enjoy? Have you observed sudden changes in their sleep habits, appetite, energy levels, or mood? If you suspect that your spouse is dealing with depression, there are a few things you can do that will go a long way toward encouraging them to get the help they need.
First, educate yourself on the degrees and common variations of depression. Depression is a spectrum, ranging from mild, circumstantial depressive periods to severe chemical imbalances and mood disorders.
Your spouse’s depression might be temporary and circumstantial; maybe you’ve just gone through a major life change that triggered it. Some depression is neurochemical, requiring medications and interventions from doctors and therapists. Everyone’s case is different, so it’s important to try to identify what’s going on.
You don’t want to treat depression lightly; if your spouse can’t identify it in themselves, it’s up to you to try to help him or her recognize the symptoms. Try to get some outside, objective help if you can; if your spouse continues to resist therapy or counseling, find a checklist of common depression symptoms and identify the signs you’ve noticed in your spouse. Gently share your list with your spouse and tell them something like, “You know, it feels like so many of these things are things you’re dealing with. I love you and I’d love to see you start feeling better again.”
Continue gently encouraging your spouse to seek help; it’s important for them to get evaluated by a doctor or mental health professional as soon as possible. It’s hard to admit you’re having a problem with depression, but the sooner your spouse admits it, the sooner he or she will be on the road to recovery.
IF YOUR SPOUSE HAS AN ADDICTION…
Addiction is one of the most difficult issues to face in any relationship—especially your marriage. You might have been watching your spouse fall into their particular addiction for a while now, but maybe you’ve only recently realized how bad it is. And it’s difficult—sometimes impossible—to communicate with someone who doesn’t see a problem you see.
Whether your spouse’s addiction is gambling, drugs, alcohol, pornography, or something else, he or she is likely to be in serious denial about the issue. Addiction is the physical reality that you’ve lost control over your ability to resist something. And it’s the emotional reality of the pain you’re trying to escape from because you’re unable to cope with it.
If your spouse won’t agree to seek help, think about staging an intervention with some trusted friends or members of your family. Sometimes, a person who is in denial about an addiction needs a group of voices to lead them toward help—not just one. They have to be willing to say, “I’m powerless over this,” then be willing to be vulnerable and put in the hard work to overcome the addiction.
IF YOUR SPOUSE IS A CHILDHOOD TRAUMA SURVIVOR…
Childhood trauma—whether it’s emotional, physical, mental, or sexual abuse—is a serious and weighty topic that continues to impact victims into their adult lives (especially their marriages). If your spouse grew up in a sexually abusive home, for instance, he or she needs extensive therapy in order to experience healing.
When someone has been through that kind of trauma, they’re going to have baggage that will impact both them and their spouse for years to come until they’ve found some kind of resolution for the ongoing pain. Your spouse has the power to become a healing presence for others because of their past, but they need guidance from a counselor to turn their traumatic experiences into healing for others.
The first step toward healing is awareness. If your spouse has confided in you, that’s the first step. We know couples who have gone for decades before one spouse’s childhood trauma was revealed, and in retrospect, they could understand so much more about the troubles they’d faced in their 25 years of marriage.
Keep communication open and encourage your spouse to seek therapy. As an alternative step forward (although we highly recommend moving on to therapy together), your spouse might be open to starting the conversation with a mentor couple first.
If you would like help with your marriage, please contact CornerStone Family Services at 614-459-3003 to talk with a counselor or coach.