This is one of the biggest questions we get on a regular basis. “Any ideas how to tell my partner that we should get a little help?"
1. Avoid the criticism that comes with, “We need therapy!” by instead talking about your desired outcome. Try:
“It’s important to me that we’re always working on our relationship health.”
“I want our relationship to feel like it did in the beginning.”
“I want us to be able to talk about rough stuff and keep our cool."
“I think every couple could learn a couple of skills around how to talk to one another. I don’t think we do our best all the time, do you?” This last one involves him in the process and lets him come up with a solution.
2. Avoid the automatic defensiveness that he can have, even when not provoked.
The way to do this is to not waiver on #1. Counter-criticism is the automatic response to defensiveness. It would look like this:
(Bad Response) “I want us to be able to talk about rough stuff and keep our cool.” Then he says, even though you avoided criticism, “What, you think I lose my cool?” He’s getting defensive. Your natural response would be, “Well yeah you do. You’re doing it right now, in fact.”
(Better Response) When he says, “What, you think I lose my cool?”, you say, “We can both lose our cools.” Then switch immediately back to #1 (above) without wavering, “I just want us both to keep practicing on how we talk about our rough stuff. Any idea how you could do that?”
3. Be patient, and keep regularly bringing up #1. I have one couple who set a To-Do reminder once a month to give each other feedback. This brought to light that a) things get better, often with very little effort, and b) it’s safe to give one another feedback.
I realize we’re putting ourselves out of a job by saying this, but counseling is not the only option. Some couples do great with self-study (like our free 5-Module course). Others like workbooks. 2/3 of couples get better after reading John Gottman’s “Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work”. Some couples do great with workshops or retreats. Still, others do well by talking to successful couples about how they got through rough times.
Good luck! Keep trying.