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Ask Sahaj: My husband ‘clearly needs therapy’ but won’t get help

(María Alconada Brooks/The Washington Post; iStock)

Hi Sahaj: We are Indian. My husband, who clearly needs therapy, refuses to get it on a regular basis. He has tried it here and there for a month or two upon my consistent request but stops. He does not know how to show emotion. Advice please?

— Help Wanted

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Sahaj Kaur Kohli is a mental health professional and the creator of Brown Girl Therapy and Culturally Enough, communities focused on people with bicultural identities and immigrant parents. She’s given advice about setting boundaries with your parents, friends who keep mispronouncing your name, and relationship problems.
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Help Wanted: The reality is, you can provide your husband with resources and educational information. You can love him and want something from him. But ultimately, you can’t do the work for him.

That said, it may be useful for you to talk to your husband about what specifically restrains him from attending therapy long term. Is he worried it isn’t confidential? Is he convinced he doesn’t need it, because it’s “for other people”? Does he think it makes him weak? Something else?

There may be cultural factors at play, too, and I can empathize with these as an Indian woman. Emotional expression is impacted by how we are raised and how our parents modeled it. Finding a therapist who shares his culture may help your husband feel more seen and comfortable.

When you home in on the specific issues that are holding him back from therapy, you can address them more thoroughly. You can educate him on what therapy actually is and how it works. You can destigmatize it by using pop culture references — like interviews with his favorite celebrities or watching movies or shows that incorporate it.

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If individual therapy feels too daunting to him, you can propose couples therapy, or pursue your own counseling to model the experience at home.

Finally, walk your husband through how showing emotion will benefit him, your marriage and you. By focusing on the outcome, you are able to frame the conversation in a positive light rather than focusing on a deficiency.

Have a question for Sahaj? Ask her here.

Dear Sahaj: Many of my friends are becoming new parents. How can I navigate the friendship as they shift to early parenthood and I set boundaries on how to spend time when we’re not in the same phase in life?

— Same Friend, New Baby

Same Friend, New Baby: It takes time for friendships to recalibrate after big life events.

There’s a difference between passive and active friends. In the former, you may have less in common or see them less often but they are still connections you enjoy, and in the latter, you want to actively nurture them and prioritize these relationships. Consider which group these friends are in to decide on how much, and what, to give. For instance, how involved with your friends’ kids do you want to be?

If you’re willing, you can be a part of their support system as they adjust to this big change. In this case, it may be important to have a vulnerable conversation about what they need as they undergo this significant transition. Maybe meeting at certain times is better than others. Or maybe offering to help with certain tasks — like meal prep — can be a way you show your support. You’ll want to acknowledge your own capacity while also recognizing that theirs will likely be decreased as they navigate parenthood.

Finally, it’s important that you manage your expectations. If you used to go out with these friends every weekend, that’s unlikely now with a newborn. How can you shift your expectations to give them grace while also maintaining the relationships? How can you also invest in other relationships to take the pressure off these friendships?

A baby, while life changing, isn’t a permanent addition. Eventually, the baby grows up and a parent has more time and capacity to incorporate other things in their life. It might be uncomfortable that you’re not in the same phase of life, but it doesn’t mean you don’t care about each other or want to be in each other’s lives.