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  • Writer's pictureDonna McMillan

When your partner doesn't want to come to relationship counselling with you.

African man with confused face in front of graffiti wall.

When we are having relationship issues, it makes sense to participate in relationship counselling. But what if our partner doesn’t want to go? An alternative to relationship counselling is participating in individual counselling for relationships. Why?

It only takes one of you to change the relationship.

Whilst it’s certainly more effective to be able to learn skills together, sometimes it just can’t happen. This can be for a myriad of reasons explained here. When we make changes to our own behaviour, it can change the dynamic. Some of us might think, why should I be the one to change? They’re the one with the problem. And you’re right, you shouldn’t have to change if you don’t want to. But if the only alternative is to keep going the way you are going, and if you are reading this, my guess is that you are the partner who is willing to make the change.


Individual counselling can help us to discover why we do what we do.

Two caucasian females in a therapy session sitting on chairs.

Individual counselling provides the safe space to talk about things, especially if you haven’t explored it before. Individual counselling can help with seeing a different perspective on your concerns, providing a space to feel listened to, and gaining insight into any behaviours you have that you’d like help with. Understanding why we behave the way we do can help us gain insight into our beliefs and value systems. Numerous studies have shown that a substantial majority (approximately 70% and 80%) of people who participate in counselling experienced benefits (AIFS, March 2016).


Identifying your own behaviours that could contribute to where you and your partner get stuck.

Relationship expert John Gottman described the barriers to effective communication as the four horsemen of the apocalypse.

Do you notice yourself doing any of these behaviours?

Criticism: Verbal attacks against your partner which can also include statements that begin with “You always” or “You never”.

Defensiveness: When feeling criticised, deflecting the blame on the other person or something else.

Stonewalling: Occurs when a person feels the need to withdraw from a situation.

Contempt: An attitude of superiority over your partner. Contempt is the greatest predictor of separation and is like poison to a relationship.

If any of these behaviours come up for you, here are some solutions:


When we get into conflict, it’s often because we think we are right and our behaviours are justified. However, just because we believe something to be true, doesn’t necessarily make it right. We all have our own subjective reality of how we view things. Poor conflict management can result in feeling misunderstood, dismissed, or invalidated.

Other areas that you can try to help manage conflict are:

Saying sorry:

It’s important to say sorry or make amends in some other way. If we get so caught up in why we are right and don’t need to say sorry, all this does is put further ruptures in the relationship. We aren’t saying sorry for our beliefs or convictions, we are saying sorry for any behaviour that negatively impacted the other person.

Accepting influence:

When we are in the midst of conflict, it can be really hard to see our partners point of view. However, seeing things from their perspective can help change the negative interaction cycle you may be experiencing. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with your partner, it just means you can at least try to understand where they are coming from.


Compromising can be tough when you don’t see eye to eye on things. But when it comes to relationships, compromise is important. Relationships shouldn’t be about who wins the argument, it should be about creating a partnership that respects both individual needs.


Brown skinned woman doing therapy session.

The first step to making a change in the relationship is to notice your own behaviours that contribute to the negative interaction cycle between you and your partner. You may be able to identify these on your own, or you may want to seek individual counselling to help you. The next step to making a change is to make the changes you can where possible, with the ideas listed above. Finally, have patience and give it time. When couples have been trapped in a challenging dynamic for a long time, it can be difficult to notice any positive changes. But with persistence and perseverance, the changes may get noticed and the dynamic can start to change. And hopefully, appreciated as well! However, if this doesn’t happen for you after some time, you may want to revisit the idea of relationship counselling again. Feeling like you are the only one making changes and not getting anywhere, can feel disheartening. Even if it only takes one of you to change the relationship, if these changes aren’t welcomed then perhaps seeking additional help for both of you is the answer instead. Please also note, if you are experiencing any form of abuse - then this article isn't for you. If you need support in this area, please contact your local Domestic Violence Hotline.

Caucasian couple smiling in the forest.


Defining and delivering effective counselling and psychotherapy (March, 2016) AIFS. Available at: (Accessed: March 16, 2023).


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