Should I Force My Spouse To Go To Counseling After He Cheated And Had An Affair?

By: Katie Lersch: I sometimes hear from people who are determined to get to counseling after infidelity has rocked their marriage.  They often see this as the best way to save their marriage, or at least to help it partially recover.  Unfortunately, sometimes their unfaithful spouse is not as enthusiastic about this and will sometimes refuse to go.  This brings about the dilemma as to whether it’s best to make counseling mandatory via an ultimatum.

I heard from a wife who said: “at this point, I’m not even sure if my marriage has any chance to survive.  My husband cheated with a mutual friend so I feel doubly betrayed and vulnerable. I know that it is going to be a long road before I can recover.  One of my friends went through this in her own marriage and she worked with a wonderful counselor who helped her heal.  I would like to see this counselor, but my husband refuses.  He says he will do whatever I want except for that.  He is sure the counselor is going to make him out to be the bad guy and that this process is actually going to hurt our marriage more than help it.  But, if we don’t go, I know that we won’t really talk about this and we won’t really work through our issues. This means that I will still be in pain.  Part of me wants to tell him that he will go to counseling or agree to a divorce.  But my mother says that if I force counseling, my husband will just sit there and not get anything out of it.  At this point, I’d be willing to settle for him sitting there rather than him not going at all.  Is it right for me to give him an ultimatum in order to make him go?”

This is a tough question because I believe that counseling can be very helpful if you have a great fit between the counselor and the couple.  Unfortunately, this fit can sometimes be elusive and I have seen the wrong fit actually harm the situation.

I also know that as this wife’s mother said, many men will just sit in the office with their arm’s crossed, refusing to participate.  And then all the way home the wife hears about how much money and time they are wasting.  As a result, the wife feels resentful that he couldn’t just go along for her sake since he’s claiming he wants to save the marriage but is acting in the opposite way.

I think it’s wise to try to avoid this if your husband has already shown deep resistance.  And I believe there are some alternatives that you can try in order to eventually ease him into counseling, which I will discuss more below.

Offer To Share Your Individual Counseling Experiences With Him:  I know that this is a little unorthodox, but I also know people who’ve had success with this. If you want to go to counseling, you should not be put off by his refusal to go.  Sure, you’d prefer to go with him.  But until they happens, you can still benefit greatly from individual counseling.  Most men will assume that your  whole individual session will be about what a jerk you are married to.  But if you can share with him insights that you gathered or benefits that you achieved, he might come to see that this process isn’t so scary.  Or he won’t be able to deny how helpful it has been to you.  It may also help to offer to let him pick you up and meet the counselor for himself.  Or, you can offer to allow him to chose his own individual counselor.  He could pursue individual sessions on his own until he is more comfortable with joint sessions.  Sometimes, you just have to ease him into this until he sees that it isn’t so scary after all.

Try Some Self Help Until He Becomes More Comfortable Or More Open Minded:  Sometimes, you have to take baby steps.  You can try some things, see some improvement, and then introduce other things when you see that he is more receptive.  There are a lot of self help programs and literature out there that give you the steps and the tools to begin healing.  He may feel more comfortable beginning the work at home.  And once he sees progress, he might be more open to outside help, especially when he sees that the goal isn’t just to vilify him.  You might also let him pick out his own books or experts that he’s more comfortable with.  (Men will often be more trusting toward experts who are also men.)  It really doesn’t matter as long as he’s willing to take that first step.  Because the first step can open the door to other steps that might satisfy you more. Of course, if you try very hard with these alternatives and they don’t work, you may have no choice but to make counseling the condition for your remaining in the marriage.

So to answer the question posed, I think that giving your spouse an ultimatum to go to counseling should be a last resort.  Because if he’s not willing to go, he won’t be open to its benefits anyway.  Instead, try to start out small and then ease him into it.  I’m not saying that you should give up on counseling.  You should always have that as your goal  But know that you may have to reach this goal by taking a few additional steps first so that you will have more cooperation and therefore more success. And also know that self help resources can be very helpful as well.

I will admit that our initial attempts at counseling were not positive.  It just wasn’t a good fit.  But we did find some resources (which you can find on the right side of this blog) that we were both comfortable with and this was the start of change and improvement.  If it helps, you can read the whole story on my blog at

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