I would deeply appreciate your prayers. I feel a bit on overload and just need some time to be quiet, be creative, read, rest, etc. I think I’ve asked this before, but I haven’t really taken the time to actually do it (yes, I’m human like the rest of us and sometimes don’t follow through on what I say I am going to do).
I’m hoping to take some time this summer, but pray that I use my time wisely. I’m also pondering whether or not to write another book geared more for the Emotionally Destructive spouse, collaborating with my friend and colleague Chris Moles who is a pastor and batterer interventionist. I’m wondering if those who recognize themselves as abusive will really read a book, or should we make short videos instead? What do you think? I’d appreciate your thoughts.
Today’s Question: In the past, we had a few different marriage counselors who did not have experience in abuse situations. This morning, I was calling a few different ones – asking for specialty in verbal / emotional abuse.
Praise God I found one who has seen your videos. I hope the counseling will work for my individual counseling.
My husband said he will go to a counselor. Do you suggest that we go to the same person at different times during the week or should he go to another counselor?
I heard you say in your video that these are Evidences of the fruit of the repentance.
1. Accept full responsibility. No blaming and be responsible
2. Recognize and have compassion for the hurt and pain that he caused
3. Accept the consequence of sin – without excuse, demands
4. Make Amends for damage caused
5. Show that he has grown in a healthy relationship
When the above steps are in place, am I the one to say I feel we are ready to have marriage counseling together or the counselor or both?
Is it best to have us come together at that point, my husband with his counselor and me with mine?
We were married in 1983, separated by the court system for 14 months with the risk of losing our younger 2 kids.
When he came back, abuse cycle happened and there were times it was unsafe for me to be at the home because of his anger, etc.
I am wondering what God has in store for me, a sinner but a woman who wants a better relationship.
Answer: Let me address your last question first. God loves you. He wants your best. He doesn’t want you to be abused, especially by someone who has promised to love and cherish you. He doesn’t want your children to be abused or to witness you being abused.
God also wants you to have good relationships with people, just like you want those relationships. Jesus says that there is nothing more important to God than we learn to love God and love others well. ([truth]Matthew 22:36-40[/truth]). He knows that loving relationships are vital to our emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual health. God also gives us wisdom throughout the Bible on how to make and keep good relationships and guidelines on what kinds of people to choose to be close to.
A great book in the Old Testament to read to see the characteristics of different types of people and how they function is Proverbs. A foolish person and an evil person cannot have good or loving relationships. Proverbs warns us to stay away from them if at all possible.
But you also ask some very practical questions about where you and your husband go from here. You have had years of abuse but you say your spouse is now willing to go to counseling.
I do not recommend that you and your husband have the same counselor while you do individual counseling. Most licensed counselors would not do individual counseling with both a husband and a wife, especially in a troubled marriage, because of the confidentiality issues as well as a conflict of interests.
For example, if your husband told his counselor he was watching pornography or tempted to have an affair, would the counselor tell you or not tell you? If you were thinking of ending the marriage and were discussing that with your counselor, would your counselor feel obligated to tell your husband what you were thinking? It puts the counselor in a terrible position to manage those issues in the best interests of both individuals. What might be in your best interests might not be in his best interests. When you both see the same counselor individually it also impedes full and honest disclosure if you fear that what you disclose will automatically be revealed to your spouse.
Lastly, if one of you decides the marriage is irreparable and you want to divorce, who gets to keep going to the counselor? It would be a huge conflict of interests and unethical for the counselor to be counseling both husband and wife who are getting a divorce. Therefore either you or your husband will feel abandoned by your counselor in a time of great need.
My policy is this: I will see either a husband or wife, and the other person goes to another counselor for his or her own individual counseling. Both parties sign a release of information so that the two counselors can consult and collaborate on what’s going on and do better case management. That keeps everyone on the same page as much as possible without the conflict of interest issue or the fear of a breakdown in confidentiality. If you disclose something to your counselor that you do not want him or her to share with the other counselor, all you have to do is say “do not disclose that” and your counselor is bound by confidentiality not to disclose.
You asked who decides when and if joint marital counseling takes place? That decision would be made by a collaborative conversation with both counselors and both individuals, however the abused person’s feelings would have more weight and veto power if she (or he) is not ready for joint counseling.
However, if there is no new history of safety and not enough evidence of growing sanity, marriage counseling won’t work and will actually make things worse. Therefore you want to see those evidences of repentance that you mentioned earlier but also a few other things in order for marital counseling to be effective:
1. You need to see over a period of time a consistent willingness in your husband rather than his typical willfulness. In other words, you want to see evidence that he’s had a change of heart and he’s not just going through the motions or checking off a list of do’s and don’ts. You want to see that is more humbled and teachable, rather than arrogant and unwilling to learn. Marital counseling won’t do anyone any good unless they have a problem that they can recognize and are willing to learn new things. If they still believe it’s everybody else’s fault and aren’t willing or don’t need to learn anything new, then joint counseling becomes a waste of time and worse, it can become an opportunity for blaming and justifying his actions because of your faults and shortcomings.
2. You want to see a growing self-awareness. Individual counseling helps someone grow in their ability to know their own feelings, their own thoughts and take responsibility for them instead of blame-shifting, denying, repressing, or minimizing them. Individual counseling helps a person grow in his or her ability to receive constructive feedback (from the counselor) and take steps of personal responsibility to change dysfunctional thoughts, habit patterns or ways of responding to life and others. If someone doesn’t know his own thoughts or feelings, can’t express them, or doesn’t take responsibility for them, joint counseling doesn’t work well.
3. You want to see evidence of working hard at the process of healing. When there has been a long history of destructive behaviors in someone’s lifestyle, changes take time and hard work. There is no magic or instant fix and for marriage counseling to be beneficial, both parties in the marriage must be committed to working on the things that hurt one another as well as their destructive communication patterns and maintaining safety while together. If only one person is working and the other is not, you cannot do good joint counseling. Instead it becomes an individual counseling session with the other spouse observing. This often gives the observer the idea that the “real” problem is you because he sees the counselor focusing on you more and more. But the reason the counselor is focusing on you isn’t because you have more issues than he does but because the counselor senses his resistance and your willingness to work and so the counselor gravitates to the individual who is more open to change and work. In many instances that can be fine for a season of marital counseling with non-destructive couples, but not in these cases. The reason is because it fuels his fantasy that it’s you who needs fixing and if only you got your act together, things would be fine.
Lastly you asked if both individual counselors get together to do the marital counseling piece when the couple is ready? That would be ideal – but costs and logistics often make that impossible. So the options are: Find a third counselor who can do the marital counseling, but make sure he or she consults with the other two individual counselors on the work that has been done previously.
Or, one of the individual counselors becomes the marital counselor. The problem with this approach however is that once the individual counselor becomes the marital counselor, he or she can’t go back to being the individual counselor anymore. That would be unfair to the other spouse, and so when you decide to both go to one of your individual counselors, one of you must be prepared to lose your own personal counselor. The other downside to having one of your individual counselors do the marital work is that the spouse who did not see this counselor individually, may feel that the counselor sides more with you and cannot be objective. Also when the counselor tries to be fair and neutral in the counseling session, you may feel that he or she is now charmed, fooled, or siding with your abusive partner.
Messy? Yes. Impossible? No. But these obstacles and challenges need to be discussed ahead of time so that everyone is on the same page as to what is expected and what some of the pitfalls might be as you enter into joint counseling.
Friends, those of you who have been through this process, share your experience – what worked? What didn’t work?
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