By Christine Murray, PhD, LPC, LMFT, Director of the Healthy Relationships Initiative
Our Healthy Relationships Initiative (HRI) team is excited to partner with Triad Moms on Main on this blog series. In this series, we offer general guidance to relationship or family questions submitted by TMoM community members. If you’ve got a question to ask, please share it anonymously on the form here.
My marriage has really been struggling for a long time now. It seems like we’re just holding on for the kids, but our relationship is so bad that we barely speak to each other anymore. I’ve asked my spouse to try marriage counseling, but they refuse. How can I convince them it’ll help us? I’m tired of living with all this tension and loneliness. ~ Losing Hope
Dear Losing Hope,
It’s natural to think that, since things have been rough in your marriage for a while, it may not be possible to turn things around. However, I encourage you to fight to keep your hope alive for a happier, healthier marriage. With a foundation of hope for better days ahead, you can begin taking intentional steps to address the challenges in your marriage and family.
Staying in a marriage because of the children is an honorable goal. Remember, though, that it’s not only the length of a marriage that impacts children, but also the quality of that relationship. If you can find an opportunity to talk with your spouse, try discussing what kind of example for healthy relationships you’d both like to set for your children. Perhaps since you both share the goal of staying in the marriage for the children, your spouse also will be motivated to work on your marriage with the goal of benefiting your children even further.
Next, consider your approach to asking your spouse to go to counseling with you. Is it possible you’re coming across to them as demanding or blaming? Even if that’s not your intention, they may be afraid that you’ll shame or demean them in counseling, and they want to avoid feeling attacked. Unless you’re involved in an abusive relationship—in which case it’s best to seek individual counseling—try asking your partner to come to counseling in a non-blaming way that shows that you’re willing to work on yourself and that you hope that both of you can work together to come to a better place in your relationship.
After all this, your partner still may refuse to go to counseling with you and to do anything to work on your relationship. This can be a frustrating realization for you, and it can lead to feelings of fear and chaos. If that’s how you’re feeling, I encourage you to check out our HRI blog series on relationship chaos for some strategies to make it through this difficult time in your relationship.
You can go to counseling individually to address relationship issues even if the other person in that relationship doesn’t want to attend. So, consider seeking individual counseling with a counselor who specializes in relationship concerns. That counselor can help you do an in-depth reflection on the nature of the relationship problems and what you can do to address them. You may even find that your spouse will come to counseling with you if they know that you’ll be talking about them and your relationship with the counselor! However, if your spouse has already rejected the idea of counseling, keep your main focus on getting support for yourself so you can sort out your thoughts, feeling, and needs within the current reality of your marriage.
Finally, practice positive relationship skills as much as you can, even when it’s difficult and your partner isn’t reciprocating. Just one person infusing positivity into a relationship can have a big impact on the quality of that relationship. Whatever the future holds, you’ll feel better about your own role in your relationship if you’ve stayed kind, positive, and true to yourself.
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