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Heavy Meddle: How Do I Get My Husband Into Couples Therapy?

A woman who’s been married for two decades has hit her limit. Now can she put her foot down? (Sebastian Pichler/Unsplash)
A woman who’s been married for two decades has hit her limit. Now can she put her foot down? (Sebastian Pichler/Unsplash)
This article is more than 2 years old.

Welcome Meddleheads, to the advice column where your crazy meets my crazy! Please send your questions via email. Not only will you immediately feel much better, you’ll also get some advice.

Hugs,
Steve

...

Dear Steve,

My husband and I have what I consider to be a good marriage, and have been together for over 20 years. However, I believe we need couples therapy because we rarely talk about our challenges and I feel that I make an overwhelming number of concessions. He most often gets his way because he is a self-described "petulant child" when he doesn't.

He does go to individual therapy but doesn't want to go as a couple because he feels embarrassed about talking over his deepest feelings in a group (of three). I need him to go because I feel we need a third party to help us hear each other out.

He does go to individual therapy but doesn't want to go as a couple because he feels embarrassed...

He is a successful business leader and often under great stress. I run a small nonprofit, working almost full time, and take on almost all the domestic work/planning and most of the parenting responsibility with our three kids. This makes it difficult to find a good time to work on our issues.

How can I convince him that we can have a better relationship, and increase our chances of staying close after our three children leave the house, if we work on our issues now, with a therapist?

Signed,
Party of Three

...

Dear PoT,

You need to have a Come to Jesus talk with your husband. You have to be able to tell him that you love him and feel grateful for the life you’ve built together and that you respect how hard he works and that you want to spend the rest of your life with him. But that you don’t want to have to do so in a way that makes you feel emotionally isolated and taken for granted. That’s just the bottom line here.

But it’s not just you he’s taking for granted. It’s the marriage itself. Marriages thrive or falter based on communication. Yours is faltering, at the moment, because you guys are not able to communicate about your deepest challenges, or your deepest feelings. You’re clearly very unhappy with the terms of the marriage, in which he gets to behave like a “petulant child” and you’re supposed to suffer in relative silence. That’s not a sustainable model for you, and it shouldn’t be for him.

The good news is that your husband is in therapy, so he presumably understands the benefits of the work done with a therapist. You might initiate your Come to Jesus talk by noting this, and pointing out to him that your marriage deserves the same devoted attention.

...it’s not just you he’s taking for granted. It’s the marriage itself.

It’s hard to feel like you’re imposing a therapeutic process on someone. But part of your husband’s sense of entitlement, as the “petulant child” of the marriage, appears to be not having to communicate with you about issues that you need aired.

It can be scary to put your feelings out there so bluntly, because there’s always the risk that he’ll flat-out refuse. But given your concerns, isn’t it better to know that he’s not willing to do this work now, rather than waiting for another year or five years?

I think it’s also hard for people — women in particular — to feel like they’re issuing an ultimatum. But your happiness in this marriage, and your sense of connection to your husband, shouldn’t be something you have to threaten or beg or argue for. It should be something you both want. And if you’re not finding that sense of connection without some help, then you need the help.

Your desire to get into therapy with him isn’t about shaming him, after all. It’s about recapturing the intimacy and honesty that brought you two together in the first place, and has sustained you over two decades and three kids. Your husband owes it to you, and to the marriage, to make a good faith effort.

I hope he can recognize that — for his sake, as well as yours.

Onward, together,
Steve

Author's note: I recognize, as the child of two therapists, that I’ve taken a hard line here. Too hard? Any long-time married people want to weigh in here? Please use the comments section to send along your counsel. And when you’re done with that, send along letter to Heavy Meddle, too. You can send your questions via email. I may not have a helpful response, but the act of writing the letter itself might provide some clarity. — S.A.

Heavy Meddle with Steve Almond is Cognoscenti's advice column. Read more here.

Steve Almond Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Steve Almond's new book, "Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country," is now available. He hosts the Dear Sugars podcast with Cheryl Strayed.

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