As a couple therapist in Toronto, I’m sometimes asked about what to do if you want to go to marriage therapy or couple’s counselling but your partner refuses. Does relationship therapy work if only one person attends? At first glance, you might think that the answer is obvious—after all, how can you do couple therapy with only one person in the room? Some people might even suggest that if your partner refuses to go to counselling with you, then they aren’t really committed to the relationship. Certainly it’s true that couple therapy looks at the relational dynamics between a couple, the steps that both partners take in their difficulties, and the way that their actions interact to create and maintain their situation. It’s ideal to have both partners involved in this process of examining how a couple got to where they are and then in working to recreate a new and more positive interaction. But if your partner isn’t yet ready to come to therapy, there may still be work you can do on your own through individual therapy.
An experienced couple therapist can work with you to identify your part in the interactions between you and your partner, and help you identify the areas for change within your control. Often when one person in a relationship changes, the entire dynamic changes. Over time, this may provide the spur your partner needs to agree to attend therapy as a couple. Alternatively, if you find that you have: 1) taken a hard look at your own part in your difficulties as a couple, and 2) made consistent effort to change your behaviour and maintained this change over time (even despite your partner’s reluctance to engage in the process), yet your partner still refuses to attend couple therapy or have conversations with you about how you might work together to improve the relationship, then at least you have discovered some useful information about the state of your relationship. You’ll also already be working with a therapist who can support you if you realize that your partner is truly unwilling to work on the relationship.
Relationship therapy for individuals can help you identify the negative patterns in your relationship, look at your own role in these interactions, and determine your willingness to make change. If you make change and find that your partner is still unwilling to engage in couple therapy, individual relationship therapy can help you explore your next options.