What If My Partner Is Not Motivated?

We get asked, “What if one person is not motivated to work on things?” or “How can I get my partner to agree to do a retreat?”

There are several reasons why a person may not feel motivated to do a retreat. Below, we will look at various things that cause a partner to be resistant, reluctant, or skeptical.

Some common reasons for disinterest in a retreat are:

  • Feeling ambivalent about staying in the relationship.
  • Previous couples therapy did not work or made things worse.
  • Not wanting to be judged wrong or told what to do.
  • The intensity of upset seems too high to productively work on it.
  • Fundamentally doubting that a third party can help at all.

We discuss each of these reasons below. People may have more than one. Many are addressed in the final section below, describing what we actually do in a retreat.

Ambivalence about Staying in the Relationship

A retreat is often sought when things have gotten really bad. But by then, one partner may have lost all hope that things can ever improve. They may feel ambivalent or doubtful about staying in the relationship.

Feeling ambivalent is like being of two minds: (1) one part may want to stay and improve things; (2) the other doubts change is even possible and wants to leave.

If they believe the goal of a retreat is to save the marriage, then the part that wants to leave will gain strength. And since most people think a retreat is for saving a marriage, they may already view the retreat as a kind of trap they want to avoid.

With the goal framed as saving the marriage, they will not be able to see a retreat as a safe place to gain something of value. It would be better to inform your partner that we do not operate with the goal of keeping a couple together. That’s not our agenda.

Yet, in truth, that is what partners do end up organically wanting to do a majority of the time — after they gain the valuable things our retreats do offer.

So what can you say to motivate an ambivalent partner to do a retreat? Tell them what a retreat is really about. Read the final section below.

Previous Couples Therapy Did Not Work

Many couples tell us about previous couples therapy that did not work, or even made things worse. To a person, they all say our retreat is completely different.

We have long understood the limitations of the traditional therapy model and the poor results it gets. John even helped start a national educational institute to train therapists in state-of-the-art approaches to working with couples.

Unfortunately, a great deal of couples therapy seems only to stir things up, but not give any tools or provide any relief to a couple. So partners end up feeling worse at the end of sessions, fighting more, and eventually losing hope.

What you get working with us is markedly different than what traditional marriage counseling or couples therapy offers. It differs in both format and approach.

The most obvious difference is our intensive retreat format. A pioneer of this intensive format, we have been conducting multi-day retreats for three decades.

The other big difference from traditional therapy is our unique approach. It is heavily based on ground-breaking scientific research on what couples need to build and maintain a secure, healthy, satisfying connection.

Also, we take more of the role of a coach or trainer than a therapist. We utilize a tool-based approach that enables couples to not only make significant changes in the retreat itself, but also to have the ongoing tools that will keep them on track.

Rather than trying to feed someone a fish, we teach people how to fish. Read more about this in the final section below.

Not Wanting to Be Judged or Told What to Do

This ties into the previous section. Many people equate getting counseling with being judged or told what to do. There is good reason they might think this.

Many of our retreat clients tell us about their experiences of couples therapy was that of a counselor telling them who was “right” and who was “wrong.”

They report how much worse they would feel after many therapy sessions, the fights they would have, and how they would use the judgments of the therapist against each other.

This all too common approach in traditional therapy leaves one partner unmotivated, and rightfully so. Too many therapists believe their role is to be like the love advice columnist, Dear Abby. They think they should disseminate judgments and advice.

Again, our work in retreats is very different. We do not judge either person to be right or wrong, but give you the tools that you both are missing.

We assume both partners have good intentions but inadequate tools to maintain the loving connection they want. Again, see more about this in the final section below.

The Intensity of Upset Seems Too High

Sometimes the level of upset one or both partners feel is very intense. This can happen for a number of reasons, usually related to a recent disturbing event.

One typical such event would be the recent discovery of an affair or some other form of betrayal. Another might be a particularly bad fight or things that took place under the influence. Medical conditions can also amplify states of upset.

If the intensity of upset feelings is too great, it could be more productive to book a retreat for a month or two in the future. While intense upset feelings can create a sense of urgency, they can also get in the way of taking in new information.

That said, even if scheduled in the future, the mere act of booking a retreat often changes things for the better. We have found that most couples calm down and get serious about improving their relationship once a retreat is booked.

Plus there are a variety of preparatory tasks to do, which you can spend time and depth doing. Many couples say that these tasks — designed to get your retreat going even before you arrive — already helps to start changing things.

You will learn things about each other’s personalities from a non-judgmental place, and this creates understanding. Also, you start evaluating some of the deeper roots of conflicts and disconnects, and how to bridge the gap with each other.

And finally, we do generally find that couples who have an enormous sense of upset don’t learn as much in a retreat as couples who arrive a bit more settled and calm.

Fundamentally Doubting a Third Party Can Help

It can be difficult for some people to believe that a third party could make any difference to how their relationship functions.

But, of course, just because you think something does not make it true. And some beliefs only limit our possibilities. Most skeptics we work with, once they have experienced some of the results of the work we do, completely turn around.

We do know that effective relationship help can be difficult to find. Most traditional therapists often fail to help couples, and many make things worse. See above for how we are different. We can say is that most of the time we get good results.

More than 90% of the time, couples working with us in a retreat do completely turn things around. They get tools they did not previously know about. And they use these tools to dramatically improve how their relationship feels and functions.

If you read the feedback from couples who have worked with us, you will see occasional testimonials from those who were at first doubtful about doing a retreat. Read what they have to say about what they got from their retreats.

We do fully understand there is an enormous leap of faith in choosing to do a retreat. So we have written a lot on this site for you to see about our training and approach. You can even view John’s work up close in a clip from a documentary movie.

Learning New Tools and Healing Past Wounds

A retreat is about learning tools for good communication. It’s about using these to heal past wounds and resentments. It’s about getting tools to collaborate well, rather than conflicting over who will “win” or who is “right.”

Usually, the cause of a relationship impasse is not that either partner ever had bad intentions. It is that they did not know or have the right tools to maintain a happy, satisfying connection over the long term.

Without the right tools, things only backfire. Trying to deal with upsets triggers more upset. Trying to make decisions together results in fights or resentment. Trying to be heard ends in more alienation and disconnection.

Most couples do not know the real principles for sustaining a long term, mutually happy marriage. Nor do they have the tools to succeed at doing this. This is reflected in our high divorce rate and the high percentage of unhappy couples.

Consider a carpenter who only has a hammer. He doesn’t know other tools exist. He needs to extract a screw from a prized piece of furniture. The harder he works at it, the more he gouges the wood and ruins the piece. Eventually, he’ll want to throw it away.

Couples without the right tools are like that carpenter. The harder they work on their relationship, the worse the results. Over time, they will feel more upset and less satisfied, more alienated and less connected. It’s not about intentions. It’s about the tools.

A retreat is about learning evidence-based tools and principles that maintain a thriving, happy relationship. It’s about using these tools to engage in emotional repair. And it’s about collaborating together and clarifying your next steps as friends, not foes.

Most people leave a retreat having healed emotional wounds, with greater clarity, and with new knowledge and effective relationship tools. Why would you not want those things, regardless of any other consideration?

Oh, and if you have children, consider healing your relationship wounds for them. Children unconsciously carry and repeat the wounds of their parents. Their hearts and future relationships will be far better if you heal your mutual wounds now.

Finally, if you are still having a hard time thinking of how to discuss a retreat with your partner, invite them to read this page and look through our site.