Are You The Only One Trying?
You know it’s bad when one person in a relationship seems to be doing all the work. How frustrating to know in your bones that life could be happier if only you could get some cooperation. On the other hand, maybe your husband won’t come to counseling.
What to do: quit working on your relationship. Yes, that’s right. I suggest you consider dropping the “relationship” work altogether for now and replace it with something much more empowering. Everything in your life could potentially improve, including your relationships, if you get to work on yourself. Put yourself on the top of your priority list.
Not fair! Why should I improve if he or she won’t join me? I’m not the one who doesn’t want to talk. He won’t come to counseling, and he says there’s no problem. I have to wait until he will change. It’s not fair.
Procrastination Doesn’t Change Anything
One way of putting off the powerful work of changing ourselves is by noting the fact that the universe is unfair. That’s certainly accurate. You are right, and it’s painful. Lots of things aren’t fair. It just isn’t fair that other people have things I don’t, or that I have what they don’t. It’s not fair that some people need help breathing while I walk around enjoying unobstructed deep breaths whenever I want. We could do this all day. But why? It won’t get you closer to what you want. Your husband won’t come to counseling, and he won’t work with you. What can you do?
Why not get started on the stuff that might help you. Let’s pick one example on this long, effective road of “changing ourselves.” Let’s say I would normally try to work on the “relationship” by telling my husband we need to have more conversation. He won’t come to counseling, but maybe I could show him some articles, or discuss why it’s so helpful for couples to do this. Let’s now imagine we can see a cartoon drawing over his head while he thinks “Oh crap, she’s working on the relationship again. Look interested! Apologize. Bluff until she moves onto something else.”
When Your Husband Won’t Come To Counseling, Look Inside First
What happens if I’m looking at myself only? Then it might go like this: “Hey, hon, I’m bored. Can you come over here and tell me again about why you think that glam rock band from the 1970’s is underrated?” Now the cartoon over his head might look like “Oh good, my wife thinks I am up to the task of decreasing her boredom. She seems to think I have interesting things to say!” Can’t stand your husband’s taste in music? Then maybe instead of a question, it might be “Let me tell you about my dream of the two of us renting a small cottage in Scotland someday. I know we can’t right now, but I love the idea.”
Of course it’s possible your partner might not be in the mood to talk. Or he might be defensive if he thinks you’re finding fault with him. Missteps happen. The point is that, over time, it gives the other person a chance to know specifically what you want, in the moment you want it, and to respond. No more “some day we should talk more” or “you never have anything to say.” Instead, we are living in the present moment, full of possibility. Also, by focusing on yourself, you can become very good at looking at what you want and need. And if your partner rarely, or never, tunes in and responds? You’ve just saved yourself years of hiding this fact behind futile attempts at changing it.
Become An Expert On What You Want, Not On The Other’s Faults
There are lots of ways to refocus your efforts from “the relationship” to “yourself.” Here are just a few:
- Instead of “We need to have more fun,” you might say “I want to go on a hike and out for lunch on Saturday. It would be fun if you came along.” Then go, with him or someone else, or even alone, and have more fun. Do what YOU want. Focus on yourself. If he never says yes to this type of thing, over time, then you might have a problem. Or he might hate hiking and you can invite him to something else. But give it a real try, for a few weeks. At the very least, you might entertain yourself and get some exercise.
- Instead of “You always want sex when I’m tired. Don’t you see how selfish you are?” you might say, “Yes, please, but at 4:00 the day after tomorrow. You know how much going out for a hike and lunch get me excited!” Again, think of what YOU want, and focus on that instead of what you don’t want.
- Instead of “You don’t do enough around here,” you might notice what happens to you when your home isn’t clean or organized. You might notice a major mismatch between what you each see as tidy. Can you accept this difference and talk about it from a place of respect? Focus on what YOU want. “I feel better when the papers don’t stack up on the table. Will you put those in the recycling when you’re done” is way better than “You’re so messy.”
- One request does not last forever. If the papers are stacked up on Tuesday as well, ask again. Marital researchers find that many of our differences don’t ever change, so it’s about changing the approach to living with them.
See a pattern? The focus on these small communication techniques may seem really obvious. However, it is amazing how often people don’t realize they come at their partner with complaints instead of invitations for cooperation. By focusing on yourself, you make an important shift from criticism to kindness.
But I’ve Tried All This Before! It Doesn’t Work!
For one thing, it “works” in that it helps you focus on your needs, and be a more assertive, clear communicator. As for how it impacts the relationship, it can’t hurt. Give yourself a few weeks, and really catch yourself everytime you complain and criticize. Make note of how other people respond to you when you focus on your desires and needs.
When your husband won’t come to counseling, and you are miserable, you don’t have to wait. There are many things you can do to start improving your life AND your marriage. But one thing that seems to get in the way is the focus on changing others. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with wanting changes! But you never have to wait for someone else in order to start making your own life better. Funny thing is, it sometimes leads you to seeing changes in others anyway.
Margie Wheelhouse is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Springfield, Illinois. She helps couples build great relationships and repair broken ones. She sees clients in person, by phone, and online.