If you’ve sought mental health help from a professional, you’re not alone. Over 40 million people saw a therapist in 2021.1 You or someone you know may have noticed something was off, felt depressed, realized you were sleeping too much or too little, or just in general felt blah and thought seeing a therapist could help.

Recognizing you need help and deciding to take action are valuable steps to take for yourself. But if you see someone close to you who needs therapy, like your partner, it may seem harder to suggest it for them. Once you see signs that your partner needs therapy, what you say and how you say it makes all the difference.

Telling your partner that they should go to therapy can be tricky. You want to communicate the message in a caring way, but also help them understand the importance of taking action. We’ll discuss how to express your feelings and encourage your partner to see a therapist, what to say and what not to say, and what to do if your partner refuses to get help.

Can Your Partner Benefit From Therapy?

Everyone experiences ups and downs, so it’s important to understand the difference between everyday challenges and the need for therapy.

Signs that your partner might benefit from seeing a professional therapist are issues in sleep, if they are increasingly feeling overwhelmed, unable to contribute to the relationship, i.e. meet their responsibilities financially with children … if their mood changes are often and noticeable, [or] if there has been an increase in their ability to manage stress.

Other signs include:

  • Struggling with ongoing depression or expresses feelings of hopelessness.
  • Consistent anxiety.
  • Talking about suicide or ways to die.
  • Frequent or intense mood swings.
  • Reliving past trauma.
  • Social isolation or avoidance leading to difficulty keeping relationships
  • Eating much more or less than usual
  • Feeling numb and not caring about anything
  • Increase of use in substances as a way to cope, avoid, distract, or numb difficult feelings
  • Having difficulty functioning at work, home, or school

Therapy can also help if your partner is dealing with specific work or family issues where a neutral third party may be helpful for offering insight and feedback.

However, simply disagreeing with your partner doesn’t mean they necessarily need therapy; it’s normal for couples to argue. But if you notice your arguments are escalating into fights, or increasing in frequency, couples’ therapy may help.

Couples therapy underscores the idea that maintaining the health of a relationship is a shared responsibility, rather than it being one person’s ‘fault’ or problem to solve. Suggesting couples therapy can also help reduce the feelings of blame or shame that your partner might experience if they’re the only one expected to attend therapy.

Tips for Suggesting Therapy to Your Partner

Noticing that your partner needs help is one thing; knowing how to tell them they need help is a completely different story. When you approach your partner to discuss a delicate topic such as this one, it’s not only about what you say, but how you say it that matters.

Before beginning the discussion, you should examine why you’ve decided to talk to your partner about going to therapy. Is it out of concern? Do you want them to get the help they need? Or is your reason self-serving, for example, wanting them to stop a behavior that bothers you? Your motivation will impact the way you talk to your partner.

The best way to tell your partner that you would like them to go to therapy is to do so from a place of love and care, rather than judgement or shame.To do this, it is important to consider a number of factors:

Approaching them with a heart of compassion means you have to consider a number of factors.

  • Consider the timing: Talk to your partner at a time when you are both calm. Blurting out your words in the middle of a fight or trying to talk to your partner when they are agitated or stressed, is not likely to yield positive results.
  • Be in the right setting: Bringing up the need for therapy in a public setting can embarrass or upset your partner. Talk in a private place where you can clearly convey your concerns, validate your partner’s feelings, and focus on the discussion at hand without interference.
  • Choose your words with care: Share what you are observing, what you are feeling, and provide clear reasons why you feel your partner could benefit from therapy. Explain that you care and want to support your partner’s mental health and overall wellbeing, and therapy can be a beneficial way to do it. Use empathetic “I” statements to frame your language, with sentences that start with “I am concerned” or “I have noticed.”
  • Make sure your recommendation for therapy doesn’t come from a place of control or sound like an ultimatum: “If you decide to suggest to your partner that they should go to therapy, you should not force or ‘tell’ anyone to do something. This might make the other person feel rejected or offended. It may also make them lash out if they feel attacked. You should not threaten them. You should instead try speaking with them openly about your concerns,” Arrieta notes.
  • Use loving and empathetic language: Pommels suggests saying, “‘I love you and I really want to make our relationship work. I think that … working with someone about your ongoing anxiety can really help not just your personal struggles but our relationship overall. What are your thoughts about that?’”

Another way to approach the conversation is to ask if your partner has thought about therapy as a tool themselves. To do this, gauging your partner’s thoughts about therapy by saying, “‘Have you ever thought about talking to a professional such as a therapist? They have tools and techniques that could help manage this exact type of stress.”

These statements can help you foster an atmosphere of understanding and concern, and help your partner feel that they are cared about instead of accused. The right language can also help to destigmatize the idea of going to therapy.

What If They Refuse to Go to Therapy?

Even if you have tried the most thoughtful, empathetic approach to get your partner to go to therapy, it may not work. This can happen for many reasons, including internalized stigma surrounding mental health, a belief that talking to you or another loved one is enough, or just not wanting or being ready to.

However, unfairly placing you in the situation of providing your partner’s sole mental and emotional support can be overwhelming.

If your partner refuses to go to therapy, seek out additional support, or do any sort of self-work after multiple conversations, you have to consider what is best for you.

After all of the effort you put in, if your partner refuses to seek services, remember you can’t control others’ behaviors. Think about how their mental health issues are impacting you. Consider setting boundaries for yourself with your partner and engaging in self-care.

Alternative Therapies

While your partner may not be interested in traditional therapy, there are a number of alternatives that may be more appealing to them. It’s worth discussing these options with your partner.

Be honest with your partner. Let them know what is and is not acceptable in your relationship. Although they may decide not to seek help, that doesn’t mean you have to tolerate problematic behavior. Though you want to extend grace and patience with your partner, evaluating the relationship may be your next step.

If your partner’s behaviors are causing significant turmoil and they continue to refuse to go to therapy even though you have asked multiple times, it’s important to ask yourself if this is a relationship that you can sustain in its current form.