Dear Rachel,

I have been married for five years, and we have two children, three and one. I am sad to report that my husband and I have not been getting along for most of our married life. We met our first week in college, and started dating right away. We dated exclusively from the beginning, and our entire social system since then has revolved around us as a couple. Our relationship was great in college, but, since our marriage, things have been going downhill.

We barely spend any time together, hardly communicate, and more recently, have been having screaming fights that leave me crying in my room. I still love my husband, and I want to work things out. I even suggested to go for counseling, but my husband refuses. Last week I made an appointment for us, and he wound up calling the therapist and canceling it behind my back. Should I just go for counseling on my own?

Bewildered Wife

Dear Bewildered Wife,

You cannot make anyone do something that they do not want to doI am so sorry to hear about the deterioration of your marriage. It is so hard to be in a relationship like this, and I commend you on your bravery in facing this situation head-on. It’s clear that there are a lot of hurt and angry feelings between the two of you, and some type of action needs to be taken.

That being said, you cannot make anyone do something that they do not want to do. It is clear that your husband does not want to go. Did you ask him why he refuses? Realize that he may not give you an answer, as he may not be sure himself as to why he refuses to go. However, try to find a quiet time when he may be more amenable to talking, and use the opportunity to air your concerns. When discussing the matter, make use of the classic “I” statements. That is to say, tell him about your feelings, how scared and sad you are, and how you would like to work together to make things better. Then, ask him again, in a non-confrontational way, if he would be willing to go with you to counseling. Do not make statements that sound like you are judging or accusing him, as this will cause him to take a defensive stance, and possibly continue his refusal to go.

If he still refuses, then you can go for counseling by yourself, if you want. However, before you go, you should be clear of your goals in therapy. While I’m sure it would be helpful to have a place to air your feelings and your fears, individual counseling should not just be a gripe session against your husband. While it sounds as though your husband may have major issues that are contributing to the deterioration of your relationship, keep in mind that the functionality of a relationship dynamic, or lack thereof, is the result of the interplay of both sides. You can, and should, use therapy to identify your own issues that you may be bringing to the marriage, and work on them as necessary. This attitude will be critical to the success of your efforts to preserve your marriage.

A good therapist will be able to help you strengthen yourself and help you become more self-aware. By becoming more self-aware, you will be able to identify the areas in your life that you can improve on your own. Everyone brings their own personal “stuff” to their relationships and their marriages. Often, we are not even aware of how our behavior triggers particular responses in our spouses, friends and children. Alternatively, other people’s behaviors can trigger particular reactions of ours, often without our awareness. Such dual-trigger paradigms can lead to a vicious cycle. A good therapist will help identify these behavior patterns, and help you work through them.

A good therapist will be able to help you strengthen yourself and help you become more self-awareYou may well find that as you work on yourself, your husband will start to change as well. “As water reflects a person’s face, so does the heart of one person reflect another” (Proverbs 27:19). Relationships are a type of dance, with each partner unconsciously knowing their steps very well. When one partner changes the rhythm, then the entire dance begins to change. When he sees that you are changing, this may be the impetus he needs to join you in marriage counseling. Unfortunately, when there is a long history of hostile feelings, a spouse may refuse to take action until he or she sees that their spouse has made the first step.

It’s important for you to note that when a person or couple enters counseling, there can be real growing pains in their relationships. This happens because people tend to be comfortable in their old habits (no matter how healthy or unhealthy they may be). So bear in mind that real change takes time and effort.

I think that you are a very brave and strong woman to decide to take positive action in your life. I want to wish you a lot of luck, and may you see a lot of blessing from your effort.