November 22, 2019

Marriage Counseling: What to do When Only One Person Wants to Go

couple arguing pixabay

“Honey, we need to go to marriage counseling.”  Wince.  Grimace.  Silence.  Just hearing those words can make a spouse shut down and look for the nearest escape route.  Sometimes in my work with clients it becomes evident that marriage counseling could be helpful.  The challenge is usually not in the client acknowledging that the marriage needs help, but in getting help for both partners – together.

It is understandable why there is reluctance on behalf of one or both partners to go to counseling.  Getting help means that problems have to be faced and dealt with, and tough decisions may need to be made.  Some people do not see therapy as an option, and others have tried it with mixed results. Because it is not uncommon for one person to be interested in couples counseling, while the partner refuses to go, I decided to interview a marriage therapist for some recommendations.

Claire Miner, Ph.D., LPC, is a Gottman trained marriage counselor in Austin, Texas.  Dr. Miner believes that almost all couples can benefit from marriage counseling.  Even in the best marriages, couples have rough patches and good marriage counseling can provide guidance and constructive tools for maintaining and deepening a healthy relationship.  Unfortunately, the many demands of life, careers, raising kids, paying bills, etc., often take precedence over a couple tending to their marriage.

“On average, couples wait 7 years after they start experiencing problems before they seek counseling – and it can be a lot longer than that.”  says Miner.  “For some couples,” she continues, “by the time they get to me, it is too late to save the marriage.  “Sometimes people come in and just want their partner to be fixed.  I try to get them to defocus on their partner and more on their own behavior. “ states Dr. Miner.   When the emphasis is on having a good relationship over “being right” or winning an argument, couples stand a better chance of working through their differences, according to Miner.

Dr. Miner offered some indicators that a couple may need counseling:

  • When you start feeling prickly with each other
  • When you can’t let things slide off your back
  • When there are more negative than positive interactions
  • When you are feeling disconnected emotionally
  • When there is a lot of conflict
  • If you don’t “fight well” – you get gridlocked or the fights escalate.

In the scenario where one partner wants counseling and the other is refusing, Dr. Miner suggests that the person who wants to go find a couples therapist and go on their own. Through counseling, the person can learn to change her behavior and this will impact the partner.  She can also learn to cope with the things she can’t change in the relationship. Dr. Miner adds that the person going to therapy can “…be a role model and engage in different behaviors to show that something positive is coming out of the therapy.  You don’t want to nag your partner.  You can express that you would like your spouse to go and try the therapy at least once. “

Once the decision is made in favor of counseling, the next step is to find an experienced therapist.

Here are some suggestions for finding a therapist:

  • 1. Word of mouth – even though there may be reluctance to ask friends, or other trusted individuals,
  • they are often one of the best referral sources.
  • 2. Check with local counseling centers for referrals, such as a university counseling center or therapists who would refer to marriage counselors.
  • 3. Try the Psychology Today website for a partial list of  counselors by zip code.
  • 4. Have an introductory visit with several therapists to assess for rapport and compatibility.

And lastly, here are some books on the topic of relationships:

All You Need is Love and Other Lies About Marriage: A Proven Strategy to Make Your Marriage Work. By John W. Jacobs, M.D.

Why Mars and Venus Collide: Improving relationships by Understanding How Men and Women Cope Differently With Stress.  By John Gray   (also available in audio CD).

The Seven Principles for Making A Marriage Work:  A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert.  By John Gottman. 

Our relationships can certainly challenge us in major ways. But at the end of the day, they are also what matters to us the most.





  1. Good article and interesting topic. I think there are a lot of people who think marriage counseling. It requires both husband and wife to be present. But even if only one person starts changing and wants to attend counseling, it has a dramatic impact on the marriage.


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