“How can I convince her?”

I recently received this sad email:

My girlfriend and I fight sometimes, like all couples. But I don’t feel her anger goes away. Now she says we’re through. She doesn’t want counseling; she went to counselling with an ex who monopolized the sessions and she got nothing out of it. How can I convince her to give it a try? I don’t want this to end.*

I responded:

I am sad to hear about your girlfriend’s previous difficult experience with counselling. It’s awful to go for help and feel unheard. No wonder your girlfriend doesn’t feel confident enough to risk counselling again. I suggest you start by empathizing and validating your girlfriend’s experience.

My Partner Doesn't Want to go to CounsellingA good couple’s therapist shouldn’t listen to just one person! Unfortunately your girlfriend is not alone in her experience. Over the years I have heard similar stories from other couples. When I hear such stories I am awed how the yearning for a safe and loving relationship pushes couples to try again.

Research studies have established that a positive perception of the therapist is key to any client’s successful therapy.**

My training in couple’s counselling (EFT is the therapeutic model that informs by practice) emphasizes the need for counselors to continually monitor the therapeutic relationship and repair it if fractured. Reading the description of your girlfriend’s experience, and your heartfelt plea, “How can I convince her to give it (counselling) a try, I don’t want this to end,” adds a poignancy to this lesson more powerful than any instructor could ever convey.

I suggest you show your girlfriend this brief response and then invite her to choose the therapist. Encourage your girlfriend to tell the new therapist about her previous experience. If your girlfriend is shy or reluctant, come to her aid and—with her permission—tell the therapist yourself. If the therapist doesn’t respond helpfully, look for another therapist until both of you deeply sense “this therapist is listening and really gets it.”

Best to you both.

*Permission was given to publish this email anonymously.

**See, for example, this summary of the research: Lambert, Michael J., and Barley, Dean E. “Research summary on the therapeutic relationship and psychotherapy outcome” in Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training Vol 38(4), 2001, 357-361.