There are several reasons why couples are reluctant to seek help in therapy. The fear associated with therapy is a real one. Fear of the unknown makes sense. There are often no direct answers to the many questions one has, i.e. to whom do we turn? How long will this take? How much money will this cost? Will there be lasting results? How do I know this is the right therapist?

These fears are not the only deterrent in the quest for help. Even when a therapist has been chosen, there is often reluctance on the part of one of the spouses to even begin the process. There are several reasons why couples are reluctant to seek help in therapy. "It's not my problem, it's his/hers." "I don't need therapy, I'm fine." "Only crazy people need a therapist." "No stranger could understand our problems."

And lastly, one of the most difficult problems is when a couple has already tried therapy with no tangible results. This simply magnifies the original fears and further blocks the couple's chances for recovery.

How is one to proceed given these difficulties? I often answer this question by asking a question (a very "Jewish" thing to do!) – What would you do if you were faced with a physical illness? Would you not get second opinions, research the field, leave no stone unturned until you found the "right doctor/direction/healing"? Why is it any different when there is an emotional problem affecting the health of the relationship? And, if your partner is unwilling to go with you to therapy, or has given up hope – does that mean you cannot proceed? On the contrary, one must have the courage to find support and direction even more so. It may not be called "marital therapy" with only one spouse present – but it certainly can have an affect on the relationship, just as well.

A recent case comes to mind. A couple (let's call them Leon and Miriam) came to my office. They had previously seen two other therapists, each for a few weeks. Miriam simply could not understand "Leon's problem." Throughout our session, I did not detect the slightest interest on her part to discuss the issues or work on the relationship. She categorically rejected the idea of therapy and said she would not continue. She claimed she was not in pain, and certainly could not understand what her husband was talking about. She said that the only reason she came with him, was to put the "therapy thing" to rest.

Given this reality, Leon had to make a decision: either to continue fighting his wife, which left him totally frustrated and depressed, or to find a way to keep some semblance of peace in the home and within himself. (He had no desire to divorce. His parents had been divorced and he did not want to pass that legacy onto his children.) Being a very sensitive and spiritual person, Leon was willing to come to "martial therapy" alone!

He wanted to make sense of his life, to explore and understand the patterns and the realities that G‑d had presented to him. Indeed, as our work proceeded, and he put the "pieces" of his life together, he began seeing that often we can find precedents for whatever we are experiencing in the present with issues in our early beginnings. In other words—we are often faced with similar frustrations and challenges of childhood – for the purpose of finding a way to repair certain character traits. In Leon's case, his wife's apathy paralleled that of his mother. As a child, he felt rejected and unworthy because of his mother's lack of sympathy and connection with him. These feelings continued throughout his life, where the issues of rejection and low-self-worth were played out in many different situations whenever he experienced frustration in a relationship.

After a few weeks, Leon was learning to separate his wife's disconnection from his own feelings about himself. He could step back from his usual response (directed at his wife), and get in touch with his own loss. Instead of looking for distraction, blame or shame, he now directed his thoughts to a broader perspective; a more G‑dly view. Being a student of Torah- he wanted to find out how he could connect the spiritual world to his physical reality; in order to make sense of his pain.

Torah teaches the value of the individual as a created being whose worth is infinite. G‑d provides us with opportunities to recognize that worth as we gain mastery over our own thought, speech and action. This is where we have choice, and therefore, where we connect to a "higher reality."

The areas where we have no choice are in feelings, body sensations and initial thoughts. Whenever we are faced with disappointments, frustrations, irritations, shocks, there is an automatic response of "fight/freeze/flight." Recognizing that we have no choice at that second –can help us move more quickly to the place where we do have choice. Truly, in a split second – we have the ability to make a decision that can make the difference between defeat or victory.

Practically speaking, Leon outlined the areas where he had the most frustration with Miriam. They seemed to center around her messy housekeeping (laundry and kitchen) and time-related issues (she was often late to functions, airports, sending applications, etc). He accepted the reality of Miriam's behavior, and continued practicing the exercises that would protect him from getting involved in an unhealthy way. We did a lot of "rehearsing" to help him think, speak and act differently when faced with his initial reaction. At first, he didn't imagine he could actually find the resources within, but with some practice, he did, indeed, prove to be a very good student!

He predisposed himself to the probability that "Plan A" might not work, and therefore needed to be flexible with a "plan B" available immediately. Even the most mundane examples needed attention and thought in order to prevent a build-up of stress. For instance, if he couldn't find the cereal in the morning – he recognized his initial reaction (where there was "no choice") and moved quickly to the second response (where there is choice). He didn't stay "stuck" in that frustration – and he also took out malicious "intent" from the equation ("she's trying to drive me crazy" – "she doesn't care for me.").

When he wanted to be on time for an event, he tried to make alternative arrangements that would take into account Miriam's "spontaneity" (aka consistent lateness) which previously angered him. When only one spouse is aware and working on self-improvement, there is a feeling of loneliness. That pain cannot be minimized or ignored.When the camp application for their son had to be sent off, he accepted the responsibility to take care of the matter before it became a battle.

Of course, when only one spouse is aware and working on self-improvement, there is a feeling of loneliness, of lack of partnership, even of "it's not fair." "Why should I have to do all the work?" That pain cannot be minimized or ignored. Broken dreams hurt. The ideal of partnership and cooperation with a spouse needs to be interpreted in terms of the newly recognized realities. Sometimes, we need to lower our expectations of outer environment, and instead find the partnership and cooperation within ourselves and with G‑d (since He personally directs every detail of our lives). When we set our sights towards our own refinement and improvement then at least the pain becomes part of a greater plan and purpose. It is no longer senseless, punishing or random.

Although this case cannot be considered "marital therapy" in the traditional sense, there is no question that even one person's understanding, hard work and self-strengthening, eventually can have a positive effect on the dynamics of the marital relationship.