For years Adam and I ran a couple’s small group through our church. Families would come to our home and we’d hang out, let our kids run amuck, and talk life stuff. We really loved doing it and we learned so much in the process. It was always funny to notice though that when the group was asked a deep question about their relationships the ladies were often the talkers. It was like pulling teeth to get those guys to talk about touchy-feely stuff and you could tell they’d rather have their teeth pulled out than to be sitting in my basement at that moment.
Communication isn’t for everybody. And it’s not just male-specific. Why wouldn’t someone want to talk about their feelings or the status of their relationship? There are lots of reasons. Adam hates to “rehash things”. He feels that it’s unproductive. Some people like to avoid being uncomfortable. Maybe it’s pride or they think that talking about your feelings, especially in a therapy setting, is a sign of weakness. Maybe it’s a difficulty in owning one’s shortcomings or an underdeveloped sense of self-awareness. Maybe they just don’t want to be told they’re wrong. Maybe they’re shy and don’t have the words to describe their feelings. Whatever the reason, there are always two people in a couple and if one feels that something is wrong, that’s not a matter of perspective, that’s their reality and they have a right to those feelings.
All that being said, having one partner who refuses to talk about “all the feels” does not necessarily mean they aren’t “all in” on the relationship which is why so many couples allow this to continue without putting up a fight. Psychology has only been around for like 140 years which means a lot of bad behaviors were established before we realized they could do real damage. There are lots of factors that make a person the way they are, but it always makes me a little more understanding when I remember that all those reasons listed above stem from fear, even if no one likes to admit it. We know the good, the bad, and the ugly about our partners and if we know the heart of someone we may have an empathetic understanding of why they are the way they are. It’s ok to still be “all in” with someone who’s not a good communicator. The pitfall though is that I have had too many friends served with Divorce papers who were completely taken off guard because they had no idea they were even in trouble.
A friend of mine was recently commiserating with me about this point of contention and I asked if they’d done any kind of counseling to address it. “NO! Absolutely not. He would never go for that.” And when I asked her how they handled it she said that she just went by herself. I think that is so, so smart. I know for me, my biggest source of frustration was that Adam wouldn’t ever change his ways to the RIGHT way (my way). Imagine how much easier it would all be! But it never happened. He never did. I couldn’t change him. I had to decide to take him as-is or….. not. We started couples’ counseling, but I also started individual counseling and it wasn’t until then that I understand WHY I responded to adam the way that I do. Then I was able to adjust how I approached our conversations.
To look into this subject more, I did what ever great blogger does if they have a burning question- I googled it. I found an article by David Woodsfellow that revealed something astounding- individual counseling DOES NOT help with couple problems. “It means that individual therapy might help you, but it probably won’t help your relationship.” What?! But I just said it DID help us so how in the world does that work? The article goes onto say, “Individual therapy is good for considering your options. It’s good for formulating a strategy. It’s good for deciding whether you want to continue in your relationship or not. But there’s no evidence that it will help solve the problems in your relationship.” Well, ok then. That makes sense. Still sounds like a worthwhile endeavor.
So, the ever-burning question: how do you get a reluctant partner into couples’ counseling? Dr. Woodsfellow goes onto list a ton of suggestions that I’ll let you explore on your own https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/love-cycles-fear-cycles/201805/what-if-my-husband-won-t-go-therapy I think the take away here is that personal growth and development can go a long way to help us handle our circumstances better, but it’s not a long term fix for our relationships. Still, if you are truly “all in” maybe individual counseling is a good jumping off point. Perhaps just the show of dedication will set a good example and our partners will follow our lead. Good luck.