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wundayatta's avatar

When a spouse refuses to share the work of fixing a relationship, what can you do to get them involved?

Asked by wundayatta (58625points) June 19th, 2010

In a question about why folks might reject thereapy, lclamae wrote a list that sums up some of what people said:

~I’m not crazy, don’t need a shrink
~I don’t like having someone tell me what to do. Especially when they don’t know me
~Afraid of being ganged up on
~Don’t want to admit the problem
~Want to keep it private. Don’t want others to know there’s a problem
~Ashamed of possibly needing counseling
~Stubbornly want to solve it yourself
~Already know what they’ll say and don’t want to pay for the counselor (but then don’t act on the problem)

I’ve recently met a couple of women with the same complaint—their husbands aren’t there any more, one working, the other drinking, and they wish there was something they could do to get their husbands to work on the relationship. I always urge people to get into counseling, but in both cases they’ve tried and the husbands won’t do it any more.

They asked me what they could do and I had no answer for them. I only know about counseling. So I put it to you. If your spouse refuses to openly deal with the issues, is there anything you can do that will work to get them to be willing to work at improving the relationship?

I know that nagging doesn’t work. Ignoring it doesn’t work. Making threats doesn’t work. Is initiating divorce proceedings the only thing that will get a recalcitrant spouse to pay attention and try?

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17 Answers

dpworkin's avatar

The prospect of divorce concentrates the mind wonderfully.

janbb's avatar

It’s a toughie, but as stated, many people are threatened by counseling. Sometimes it can still be very helpful for the partner who is willling to go into therapy. He or she can get insight into their own behavior and motivations, but in addition can often pick up strategies for initiating change in the relationship that may be more effective than the tactics that have not been working for them thus far. One partner in a relationship making changes in themselves almost inevitably leads to some kind of change in a relationship. And if it comes to divorce, the partner who is in therapy will have a support structure and greater knowledge of themselves.

(And great to see you here @wundayatta !)

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

In my opinion, interpersonal relationships are probably the hardest thing that we people do with each other. I’ve had many friends over the years who have been in this situation. It seems to me that there are 3 possible choices to be made:

1. Fight the SO who is recalitrant and be miserable.

2. Accept what the SO is willing to give when s/he is willing to give it and be glad.

Or

3. Leave.

CMaz's avatar

Do what I did.

Be jerked around for 20 years, then realize that you should have divorced them 19 years earlier.

Cruiser's avatar

If the spouse refuses to attend counseling then IMO it is not a bad idea for the other spouse to go see someone themself. Often an outside POV can shed light on some workable adjustments in the relationship that may help or at the very least give the one spouse confidence in their own efforts and abilities.

PandoraBoxx's avatar

I think the one you left out, is the relationship is over for the other person, but they don’t want to do the work to end the relationship. In other words, they don’t care that they’re not there for their spouse, they are able to focus on their own needs, which may be self-medication, relationships outside the marriage, whatever. As long as their spouse considers to pay the bills/keep up the house/create an illusion of family, they’re good with it. Don’t ask them to do more, because they’re not interested in a relationship with anyone other than themselves.

This goes both ways, husband or wife, not wanting to work on the relationship, because the relationship is a dependency not a partnership.

Buttonstc's avatar

I can only speak to the situation of the one married to the drinker.

Until the person is out of active addiction, counseling is of very limited value (except as a means to get them into recovery).

As long as the person is still drinking, its putting the cart before the horse. Both the wife and the counselor are not dealing with the real person locked inside the drinker. They are dealing with that “shell” into which the drinker retreats.

It’s a brain marinated in alcohol so everything is compromised. And it takes a while after drinking has ceased for that fog to clear.

Until that happens, there is no lasting insight toward change. Unless the visits with the counselor are geared toward getting him off the booze, everything else is just noise.

It’s kind of like the Peanuts cartoons where the adults voices are heard as instrumental sounds.

Any addict is literally not in their right mind until they’re clear of the drug be it booze or anything else.

To think that therapy is occuring just because his butt is sitting in a chair in a therapist’s office is just plain delusional.

Thats just the reality of the situation. Just ask any recovering alcoholic.

Therapists also know the truth of this also, but may be less upfront about it unless pressed hard.

Once he gets sobered up, realizing the need for reparitive therapy usually follows of its own accord, no arm twisting necessary.

Advise her to start attending AlAnon for her own sake. That will eventually give her the clarity to figure out the next step for herself.

YARNLADY's avatar

When your spouse has changed, and you can’t accept that change, it is time to re-think the entire relationship. I’ve known cases where a trial separation works. It can be a real wake-up call when the spouse realizes his/her partner can not longer live with him/her.

Cassandra_The_Crusader's avatar

Ask yourself if you are better off with him/her or without him/her.

lucillelucillelucille's avatar

You need a magic wand for that ;)

Silhouette's avatar

You can’t make them go, you can go alone, they run the risk of you learning to let go while you’re there. It’s been my experience, many of the women who say they can’t go to counseling don’t really want to go either, they just scapegoat the husband.

If I were in your position I would probably tell them, “Well you’d have better luck getting him to go if you went alone a few times. I know one thing, telling another man you barely know, the intimate details of your failing relationship probably won’t make it better.”

Trillian's avatar

Leave. Don’t waste even one more minute of time. you can’t save a relationship by yourself and if it doesn’t mean enough to the other to work on, all your hard work will come to nought. Save yourself the grief and make a clean break.

CaptainHarley's avatar

I was a marriage mediator and counselor for a number of years. Most of those who became clients had allowed the relationship to deteriorate to the point that it was virtually unsalvageable. This is why marriage counseling so often fails. One party, usually the male, has exactly the attitude of those quoted in the OP, usually refusing to seek counseling until divorce seemed inevitable. I have no proof of this, but I strongly suspect this approach stems from the same cultural norm which prompts most men to refuse to ask for directions when lost, or to attempt to fix something broken without the necessary expertise. Not to be able to “manage one’s own affairs” is seen as weakness.

The only truly effective way around this of which I am aware is to have someone the man trusts ( a minister, a respected professional, etc. – NOT a “buddy” or friend! ) suggest seeing a counselor, being at great pains to add that it’s a normal thing to do, and is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Pied_Pfeffer's avatar

Whether the partner agrees to co-counselling or prefers to work on it with you in private is a sign of hope. It’s when the partner says, “It’s over, and there is nothing we can do about it” that you can pretty much give up hope for salvaging the relationship.

If you are open to it though, go ahead and attend counselling sessions on your own. My brother continued the process after Wife #1 walked out of both his initial choice of therapist and then hers. He says that he gained a lot of insight into his personality.

CaptainHarley's avatar

@Pied_Pfeffer

This is true. Counselling is almost never a total waste.

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

A refusal to participate in working on the marriage should result in an ‘invitation’ to live elsewhere until they find themselves ready.

sissie31's avatar

May I suggest that you look up “World Wide Marriage Encounter” and book a weekend together. I promise it will open up your communication, your lives, you future together…and you will leave the weekend very much in love.

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