How To Talk To Your Spouse About Counseling

Medically reviewed by Elizabeth Erban, LMFT, IMH-E
Updated October 23, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Marriage can be a rewarding and mutually beneficial bond characterized by love, support, and respect. However, all relationships come with their challenges, some of which can be difficult to resolve on your own. If you’re considering online marriage counseling, you might be wary of broaching the subject with your partner for fear of making them feel uncomfortable, worried, defensive, or hurt. Let’s take a look at how you can approach the topic of seeking counseling with your spouse thoughtfully in order to have a productive, empathetic conversation. 

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Before The Conversation

Taking a few simple steps to prepare before initiating a discussion about seeking couples therapy can help it go more smoothly. You might consider the following before broaching the topic.

Be Prepared To Consider Their Concerns

If you believe that your partner will be reluctant to attend in person or online marriage counseling, attempting to understand potential concerns they might have about these services can be a proactive way of preparing for the conversation. That way, if they voice one of these objections, you can be ready to have an empathetic, constructive conversation about it together. For some on the list, such as “cost” and “effectiveness”, you may even be able to find some reputable statistics or other information to help assuage their worries—though it’s important to remember to hear them out calmly and respectfully first.

Common concerns regarding seeking counseling services include:

  • Cost
  • The belief that they’ll be blamed for issues
  • The desire to work out problems on their own
  • Having heard negative opinions about it from others in the past
  • Past negative experiences with counseling either individual therapy or couples therapy
  • Concerns about the effectiveness of in person or online marriage counseling
  • Not wanting to fight in front of someone else
  • Embarrassment
  • Disagreement about whether there are issues that need to be addressed

Anticipating potential misgivings like these may help you empathize with your partner when you do sit down to talk.

Organize Your Own Thoughts

While you may feel confident that you and your spouse would benefit from online marriage counseling, you may not have taken time to pinpoint the areas of concern you’d like to address. To help you effectively organize and convey your thoughts, try to identify the specific sources of tension in your relationship and consider how counseling could help you work through them before speaking to your spouse about it. Common reasons people seek relationship therapy include:

  • Communication issues

  • Infidelity

  • Intimacy struggles

  • Differing parenting styles

  • Jealousy

  • Financial stress

That said, you don’t need to be facing a specific or serious problem in order to seek counseling of any kind. Many people use individual therapy as a preventative measure to help them stay on track, or learn to build better communication skills. Some couples choose to pursue premarital therapy, relationship counseling, or marriage therapy for the same reason: to strengthen their relationship, polish communication and conflict-resolution skills, and help prevent major conflicts before they can arise. Either way, being able to articulate the reasons you’d like to pursue therapy services can help your partner understand your motivation.

Choose A Good Time For The Conversation

Bringing up counseling at an inopportune time could make it more difficult for you to have a productive conversation. You may want to avoid broaching the subject while you’re already in an argument with your spouse, or when either of you are busy or especially stressed. Instead, it might be helpful to choose a time when you’re both free and relaxed. Or, you could consider allowing your spouse to choose the time by leading with something along the lines of, “I’d like to discuss marriage counseling with you. Let me know when you can set aside some time for a conversation to explore this topic.”

During The Conversation

Once you’ve organized your thoughts and prepared for the conversation, it’s time to sit down with your spouse and talk it out. Here are a few tips to keep in mind for this part of the process.

Avoid Assigning Blame

If your spouse feels like the issues in your relationship will be attributed to them in therapy, they may become more resistant to the idea of counseling than they were before. There are several ways you can avoid putting your partner on the defensive for this reason during the discussion. First, you can let them know up front that you want to work together during counseling, and that your intention isn’t to assign blame. Emphasizing the collaborative nature of couples therapy could put them at ease. 

When you do articulate your concerns about the relationship, you might try using “I” statements (e.g., “I feel like we don’t communicate effectively”) as opposed to statements that may be read as blaming (e.g., “You don’t communicate well with me”). You might also directly take responsibility for your part in any conflicts and devote a few moments to bringing up the positive aspects of your relationship. You can let your partner know that you appreciate the ways they contribute to your life, marriage, and family, which can reinforce the idea that you don’t want to seek therapy just to focus on their faults.

Explain The Potential Benefits

If your spouse is hesitant to participate in counseling, it can help to lay out some of the potential benefits. You might explain that in person or online marriage counseling focuses on encouraging positive communication, fostering commitment, enhancing intimacy, and developing goals for your relationship. You can mention that a counselor is typically a neutral party who will not take sides, and that their role is not to force either of you to do anything but instead to facilitate communication and provide guidance as needed.

Sometimes people who are reluctant to attend counseling are worried that doing so is an indication of failure. They might view marriage counseling as a last resort—when in reality, marriage counseling can be helpful for couples in any relationship stage. It can improve an already strong relationship and help couples identify concerns that may arise in the future. It does not have to signal a deficiency, a failure, or even a major problem. 

If you’re looking to address specific concerns, though, you can let your partner know that counseling has a high success rate. Research shows that marriage counseling can improve relationship functioning after even a short period of time. In one study on the efficacy of couples therapy, participants reported experiencing significantly improved marital satisfaction after eight sessions. By framing counseling in a positive light, your spouse may start to think about the idea differently.

Listen Attentively To One Another

As you move through this discussion, take turns letting each other speak and responding thoughtfully. Making sure that both parties have the opportunity to say their feelings can help avoid hurt feelings or counterproductive arguments. As your partner talks, try to listen without planning your response. Once they’ve finished speaking, consider summarizing their main points and repeating them back. When you do this, you’re ensuring that you understand your spouse’s perspective and are signaling to them that you’re listening carefully.

You can then address your partner’s concerns and bring up points of your own. While you do so, it can be helpful to try and empathize with your spouse so that they feel heard (e.g., “I understand and appreciate that you’d rather work things out on our own. I also want us to address our concerns on our own time, but I think that counseling might help us do that in a more effective way”.). It helps if you are informed, so that you can help allay fears they may have. For example, if cost is a potential concern, you can share that many therapists are covered by insurance, some working on a sliding scale and offer a free consultation to ensure compatibility, and online therapy can be cost-effective even if not covered by your insurance.

After The Conversation

Remember that it may take more than one conversation to reach an agreement about whether you’ll pursue counseling together as a couple. It’s usually best to try and be patient with your spouse as they mull over the idea. If they agree, your next step is to decide on a format and schedule your first session with a marriage counselor.

Choose A Therapy Format

Traditionally, therapy appointments of any kind had to take place in person, in a therapist’s office. Now, however, those seeking the support of a counselor can choose to meet with their provider in person or online. In recent years, availability of online therapy has increased enormously, with licensed therapists working in online couples counseling, online premarital counseling, online marriage counseling, as well as family therapists for any type of online relationship counseling. Online couples therapy costs are comparable to traditional therapy when covered by insurance, and may actually end up costing less for those who have to pay out of pocket. Research suggests that both formats can offer similar benefits in most cases, so you can generally select the one that feels most comfortable for you and your spouse. With online marriage and family therapists, you can choose several methods of communication for your therapy session—video chat, online messaging, or phone chat. If you have busy schedules or are having trouble locating the right provider in your area, for instance, then online marriage counseling may be a better fit.

Book A Session

If you and your spouse have decided that you’d prefer to meet with a mental health professional for in person sessions, you can search for couples therapy providers in your area. If you have insurance, you might contact the company to get a list of covered providers. Or, if you’re interested in online couples therapy, you might consider signing up for a platform like BetterHelp. You can fill out a brief questionnaire about your needs and preferences and then get matched with a licensed therapist who you and your partner can meet with via phone, video call, and/or online chat. The best online therapy services will help you find a marriage counseling or relationship counseling provider that’s right for your partnership. See below for reviews of BetterHelp therapists from people in similar situations.

Counselor Reviews

“Dr. Harrell was there for me and helped me get to the issues of my problems and triggers. I am a much better person and feel like a new person. I am pursuing a dream that I never thought would be possible to achieve. Me and my wife are again on speaking terms with a small glimmer of hope. I honestly wouldn't be where I am now without her support.”

“Robin is amazing. This is my first time ever doing counselling and I was paired up with Robin. I have no regrets. I was going through major changes with my family and Robin really help me to put everything in perspective and help me see things in a new light. she is very easy to talk to and work with. I’m really grateful to have met her as she have taught me so much. Thank you Robin. Both my husband and I really appreciate everything you do for us.”

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While it may feel daunting, bringing up the topic of marriage counseling can be the first step toward developing a closer bond with your spouse. A licensed marriage therapist may be helpful in working through relationship issues, whether you choose in person therapy sessions or online couples counseling. The tips outlined here can help you broach the topic in a thoughtful, considerate way so you and your partner can make a calm, informed decision together.

Marriage can come with complex challenges

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