We've all been there. A couple enters the office for an intake. During the session (or worse, at the end during the final "doorknob blitz" of information), one of the spouses admits they don't really feel a need for couples therapy. You freeze.
This spouse is NOT suggesting divorce. They are simply stating they’re not into this therapy thing. They lack motivation, energy, or belief therapy is the path towards a better marriage.
What we generally do, as convinced relational therapists, is dive ahead, believing if we show them what great therapy looks like, they'll want to stick around.
But what usually happens, (shush, let's keep this real quiet), is what we call half-hearted couples therapy. It usually ends within a few sessions. The end is almost never with a formal termination but rather scheduling conflicts, pre-planned trips, or some other event that has them "postponing" the work. In your heart you know you won't see them again.
What we know, we don't like to admit:
We can only help people who believe we can help and who are ready to put in the work.
The difference however, between individual therapy (say, someone is thrown at your office to "get fixed") and couples work, is that with couples you have the other spouse usually eager to work on the marriage. How do we accept the disagreement between the spouses about the value of therapy without moving ahead to half-hearted couples therapy—or throwing out hands up in the air and telling them we can't help?
Drumroll here... may we suggest The Readiness for Couples Therapy Protocol.
Designed to address the therapy ambivalence in a graceful, non-anxious way, the goal would be to pre-empt half-hearted couples therapy before starts, while not ignoring the eager spouse's desire for change.
This protocol is a cousin of Discernment Counseling, which requires twin ambivalences: uncertainty about staying in the marriage and reluctance about starting therapy.
The Readiness for Couples Therapy Protocol is for the couples when divorce is not on the table but one spouse is dragged in, expresses doubts about whether therapy could help, and in general acts like a reluctant client as the first session gets rolling.
This protocol gives you an approach that is neither cheerleading for therapy nor an abrupt termination because you don’t have two customers for therapy. It's designed to be used during an intake session or session two if that's when you realize what's going on. It's a pivot approach to offer the couple what they really need: help to figure out whether to do serious couples therapy with you.
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