Can you force your spouse to go to marriage counseling? The obvious answer is no. Yet, while you can’t force them, there are things you can do instead.
In this article, we will discuss how you can (and yours spouse) get the help you need for your marriage without coercion, manipulation, and controlling behavior.
Most men I know avoid seeing a marriage counselor. It’s not that they don’t care about their marriage…or they are self-centered and egotistical. They aren’t any of those things. They simply don’t see the value in telling someone else about their problems.
This ‘idea’ that counseling is airing out your dirty laundry is one of the major factors that keeps men (most men) out of the therapist office.
Are they wrong? Yes. Mostly.
Why Forcing Others To Do What We Want Never Works
Have you ever met someone who manipulates, coerces and demands people to do what they want, only to be miserable and unsatisfied even if they get their way?
People are rarely happy with the results they get when they get those results by controlling others. There is psychology behind this phenomenon. We are never truly happy with those results (unless you are a narcissist) because we didn’t get what we wanted freely. We forced someone to give it to us.
Sarah wanted John to choose to spend time with him. So she made him feel guilty for spending time with his buddies (playing basketball after work, grabbing a quick drink before heading home, you can fill in the blank). She would make comments to let him know how disappointed she was in him for making the decision she didn’t like.
So, to appease her, John would say no to his buddies who wanted to go to the football game on Saturday. You would think Sarah would be pleased. But she wasn’t.
Deep down, she knew he only chose to stay home so she wouldn’t get made. She got what she wanted, but she didn’t want what she got.
It never made her feel ‘chosen’ because she wasn’t chosen. She manipulated to get her way. That’s not choice. That’s coercion.
John wanted to choose her. But she never gave him the ability to choose. Because she constantly manipulated him, his choices were always ‘controlled.’
It was (and is) a vicious cycle.Forcing your will on others rarely gets you the end result you really want. Click To Tweet
Forcing your will on others rarely gets you the end result you really want. Understanding the marriage wheel helps keep your goals in focus.
4 Reasons Forcing Your Spouse To Counseling Doesn’t Work
Manipulation and control often backfire. Here are four reasons it doesn’t work if you are trying to get your spouse to go to counseling.
1. It Creates Resentment
No one likes to be forced to do things against their will. When they feel pushed to do things, it usually breeds resentment and distrust.
2. It is Manipulation
This should be a good enough reason to cease forcing your spouse into things they do not want to do; even if they are things you believe are best for your family.
Manipulation will destroy a sense of trust necessary for a healthy marriage.
3. It Turns Therapy Into A Negative Experience
Marriage counseling is designed to help couples navigate their problems in successful ways.
By forcing your spouse to go to counseling, you cause them to have a negative perspective of the process. The very thing designed to help your relationship becomes the thing that interferes with the healing process.
4. It Doesn’t Create Emotional Safety
Marriage should be the place we go to feel loved, accepted, and valued. It is our safe place. When we manipulate and control each other, it creates an emotional atmosphere that is anything but safe.
Safety comes through openness. It cannot be forced or demanded.
Fortunately, there are better ways to get your needs met and improve your marriage. We will get to those later.
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Your Only Three Options
If you desire your spouse to go to marriage counseling, there are only three options.
1) Use Your Power Of Influence
Unless you’ve wrecked your relationship and your spouse no longer respects you, the greatest tool you have is the power of influence.
Influence, by its very nature, is not coercive. It is the ability to have an effect on someone in a way that alters their behavior, attitudes, and perspective.Influence, by its very nature, is not coercive. It is the ability to have an effect on someone in a way that alters their behavior, attitudes, and perspective. Click To Tweet
It’s the difference in pushing a string vs pulling a string.
If you’ve ever tried to push a string of yarn across the floor, it’s virtually impossible. It bunches up and doesn’t go in the direction you intend.
However, if you pull the string, it follows nicely in a straight line without interference.
I use this to illustrate the power of influence.
We have incredible influence in the lives of those who love us. If it is used properly (without manipulation), it is a tool that will help you work together and move in the same direction with your spouse.
2) Give Him An Ultimatum
This is certainly not the best way to get what you need in life. But there are times it is necessary. Yet, and please hear this, it is only in rare situations.
Reasons To Use An Ultimatum
Here are a few situations when it might be necessary to lay down an ultimatum.
1. If there is verbal abuse.
No one should have to put up with verbal abuse. If your spouse uses words to control, hurt, and degenerate you, perhaps you should consider giving them an ultimatum to stop or you leave.
If you are in a physically abusive situation, get out. That’s the only reasonable and safe option.
2. If there are addiction issues with your spouse.
We recently sat with a young woman who is separating from her husband because he is an addict. After years of trying to get him to get help, she finally came to the end of her rope and told him to either go to rehab or leave. He left.
While there might be some who ‘preach she should stay with him no matter what,’ they are wrong. HIs addiction issue is hurting her and her children. Until you have lived with an addict, please don’t throw any religious stones. It is a difficult decision, but
3. If Infidelity Is The Issue
Affairs are a breach of trust and covenant. If the affair is still on-going, it’s time to give an ultimatum. By doing so, you will discover your spouse’s real intent. If they desire to restore the marriage, they will be willing to cut off the relationship with the other person.
An ultimatum is a legitimate response to infidelity.
Reasons Not To Use An Ultimatum
Never use ultimatums to try and get what you want. They are designed (at least in terms of this discussion) to be a shield of protection between you and your spouse.
- Never use an ultimatum to get even with your spouse.
- Never use an ultimatum to manipulate or control.
- Only use an ultimatum when you are out of options.
A Warning: If you choose to lay down an ultimatum, you must be prepared for their answer. This should never be used to manipulate someone or as a bluff. If you don’t mean it, don’t use it.
3) Let The Courts Issue Mandatory Counseling
This can be tricky. Most judges only do this in response to one spouse requesting the court to intervene. This is called ‘court ordered counseling’ and can be done depending on the situation and state in which you reside.
Each state is different, but a few require counseling before they will issue a decree of divorce. Especially in situations where the reason for divorce is irreconcilable differences.
Most states have no-fault divorces, which means both spouses don’t need to consent to the divorce. In these cases, counseling may not help the marriage. Many states do not have laws that require the judge to order marriage counseling. In some cases, one spouse may request marriage counseling. Unless state law requires marriage counseling, the judge doesn’t have to order it. Domestic violence victims are also exempt from attending marriage counseling under most state laws.Hurst, Robin and Kay Law
You will need to ask an attorney about the laws and procedures in your state.
Just know, this is rare. In most cases, the court’s role is not to save your marriage. It is to make sure the divorce is equitable and fair. They want to make sure things are handled in a civil and just way.
If you are desperate for help in your marriage, do this first.
4 Steps To Approach Your Spouse About Going To Counseling
I mentioned a better way to get your spouse to work with you to build the marriage you desire; here are four steps you can take to move in the right direction.
1) Share Your Concerns, Needs, And Desires
Couples often state: Communication is key. I agree. But it needs to be the right kind of communication. After all, fighting is communicating. It is not productive, but it is communication.
The best kind of communication is when we share our deepest concerns, needs, and desires.
When we share our concerns it should indicate a deep heart desire; not a criticism.
Our needs let our spouse know we are vulnerable and open for them to ‘touch our heart.’ The fact that we express needs means we desire THEM to be the one to meet that need.When we share our concerns it should indicate a deep heart desire; not a criticism. Click To Tweet
Our desires indicate we long for a good future with our spouse. It lets them know we have faith in our relationship, and are willing to work toward a positive future.
2) Invite Your Spouse To Give You Feedback
This is not easy for many couples. Yet it is one way to create a continual connection with our spouse.
My wife and I call it the feedback loop.
Let me relate it to business to make a point:
I’ve owned businesses all my life. In every business – no matter the product or serve – I developed ways to make sure I was offering the best for my clients. To do this, I created feedback loops.
I would try something new, ask clients to tell me truthfully what they thought about it (did it help them, was it good or bad, what was their experience with the product). I would take that information and work to make it better.
It’s often called optimization. Here are the steps:
- You do something
- You ask for feedback
- You make it changes
- You ask for more feedback
- You make more changes
- Over and over
Eventually, you wind up with a product or service that is well optimized (gets optimal results).
The same can be applied to marriage. The problem is, most couples are not secure enough in their relationship to get the feedback necessary to bring about positive change.
When you start inviting your spouse to help you become a better person, you will be surprised at what you learn about them…and yourself.
Though this step seems risky, the strongest marriages are those who work together to become better husbands and wives.
3) Have The Right Attitude
Attitude isn’t everything, but it does have an impact on how people respond to us. Our attitude can make or break a situation.
Keep these things in mind as you discuss your relationship with your spouse:
1. Stay Calm
Remaining calm is half the battle. I’ve often said, ‘He who keeps his cool in the heat of battle is the one who wins!’
Staying calm not only keeps you from doing and saying things you regret later; it also defuses potential fights.
2. Be Loving
Pain can cause us to lose sight of reality. We forget why we married in the first place. Or what it is about our spouse that we find attractive and desirable.
One of the biggest rules of relationships is to know your why. Why do you love the person you married?
Don’t let this get away from you. Don’t lose sight of love.
3. Be Agreeable
This one trips people up. Agreeable doesn’t mean you have to agree on everything. After all, you are seeking marriage help because you are not in agreement.
Being agreeable is an attitude and demeanor more than a verbal concession.
When we are agreeable, we refuse to turn situations into a combat zone.
Don’t misunderstand. There are times you need to fight things through. There a a healthy way to ‘fight’ and an unhealthy way.
4) Ask Them To Go With You
At this point (and only after the first two steps) you are ready to ask.
Most people ask at the wrong time or in the wrong way.
For example, this is NOT asking…
‘You need marriage counseling because I just can’t handle this anymore.’
This IS asking…
“I’ve been thinking about our dreams as a couple, and I want to work on being the best I can be so we can be the best we can be. I would like for you to go to counseling so we can have the marriage we both desire. Would you be willing?”
Robin Bryant Ph.D. says this:
It’s important to approach your partner calmly and without any preconceived expectations. Express clearly why you want counseling and what you hope to gain from it. Try to keep your outlook positive.
The point is:
Asking is not demanding. It is a request.
When done with the right attitude, and on the foundation of trust and respect, it usually has better results.
In this article, we answered the question: Can you force your spouse to go to marriage counseling?
Although demanding your spouse to do something rarely has a positive outcome, there are things you can do to move your relationship in the right direction.
Here is a brief recap of what we presented.
- Why Forcing Others To Do What We Want Never Works
- Your Only Three Options
- 4 Steps To Approach Your Spouse About Going To Counseling