This is one hectic week. Please pray for me that I am grounded and centered in His will as I scurry around trying to get everything I need to get done.
I thought this week’s question was an appropriate follow up to our discussion from last week.
Question: Your last blog post could be my story. I too married at 28, and he was wonderful, but after the wedding things immediately changed. Throughout the years, there has been verbal, emotional, financial, sexual, and some instances of physical abuse, although none so severe as to leave bruises or visible injury.
Unlike last week's writer, I am the wife who has waited for years (23) hoping for change. I've seen at least 6 counselors throughout the marriage trying to figure out what was wrong. Finally, about 7 years ago, I came out of the fog thanks to a wonderful Christian counselor who could see exactly what was happening and told me he would not do marriage counseling but would help me to see clearly and do what I needed to stop the abuse.
He finally advised that the only hope I had was to kick my husband out and if he lost his family, then maybe he would change. For various reasons (financial, 4 children, upcoming move) I held on and continued to pray for a miracle. About that time we moved to a different state and his sister came to visit. She witnessed his abuse, told his parents, and they told him and me that we needed marriage counseling.
Sadly, that counselor did not have the same knowledge about abuse or maybe he just hoped he could fix it with some communication and listening coaching. In counseling, my husband said all the right words and acted like he was sorry, but when we got home it was back to the same. That counselor told me my husband was the abuser, I was the enabler, and I could keep coming to him for methods to handle the abuse, but that my husband wasn't changing.
Last summer after another instance of physical abuse (hitting my glasses off my head and then punching me in the back and side while I was loading the dishwasher), I completely shut down. It was truly a degrading and horrifying experience. He thought I was calling the police (which I probably should have) and said in a harsh voice “I'm sorry for overreacting!” That was the last it was discussed until two weeks ago I brought it up, and his immediate response was “Let's talk about YOUR role in that night!”
Hearing him try to blame me felt like he was hitting me all over again. Knowing that he once again blamed me for his abusive behavior, I quickly disengaged and told him I had heard enough and didn't want to talk. This week he decided (I think because he knows that I have told people about the abuse) that we should go to marriage counseling again. He called a local marriage counselor and asked if I would go.
He does not like that I now practice the JADE method and have set firm boundaries and says that I am the abuser. He shows no evidence of any heart change at all, and the emotional and verbal abuse have continued.
I have read that couples counseling is not effective when there is abuse. I know that if I say no to couples counseling, he will tell others that I am refusing to work on the marriage even though he is trying his best (he says the same thing when I practice JADE). I feel like counseling won't work, since nothing has changed in the past four years since the last time we tried it. Please help and give advice about counseling in abusive relationships.
Answer: You are right. I don’t recommend couples counseling when there is unacknowledged on-going abuse. Here are three main reasons.
- It’s not safe. How can you talk honestly in the counselor’s office if you are afraid of what might happen when you get home?
- Your husband is not acknowledging his abuse and instead has morphed himself into a victim of your control and boundary setting. He also has rewritten history, claiming that it was your fault he knocked your glasses off and punched you because you had some role that justified his actions. His strategy in counseling will be to get the counselor to focus on you as the problem and direct the treatment towards “fixing” you so that he’s not triggered and that you “keep him happy and not make him mad.”
When marital counselors are not experienced in recognizing abuser’s tactics and thinking, this is often exactly what happens. The focus of treatment becomes how you can try harder to not “trigger him or upset him or disappoint him or frustrate him” instead of him learning to take responsibility for his own emotions and behavior and how he expresses himself when he is upset or angry.
3. Marital counseling by its very nature is supposed to be neutral. In other words, the counselor is not supposed to take sides. Therefore your marriage counselor will not be an advocate for you with your husband even if he is abusive. Instead, a counselor will probably try very hard to empathize with your husband’s point of view and feelings knowing that if he or she doesn’t, it will result in a lost client. You will probably feel unheard and invalidated with the counselor’s effort to “help you” not trigger him anymore. It will not end well because your husband will feel excused and justified to continue his same behavior whenever you “upset” him and you will feel crazier and devalued.
Here is what might work. First, your husband must take full responsibility for his abusive behaviors (all of them including past and more recent) and get help through a batterer intervention group coupled with personal counseling and accountability that checks in with you on how he’s doing. The fact that his sister witnessed his abuse and told her parents can actually validate your insistence that he get help.
His parents were concerned enough 7 years ago to say you need marital counseling because they didn’t know what else was available. Now that you know that didn’t work, when you refuse to do that again you can calmly tell them and others that marital counseling is the last step in reconciling an abusive marriage, not the first step. Hopefully, then they and his sister can also advocate for you with their son.
Second, if you chose to stay living together versus separate, you need to tell your husband that if he ever physically or sexually assaults you again – you will call the police and press charges. It doesn’t matter if you have any visible injuries. Nor does it matter what he believes “your role” might have been. He’s 100% responsible for his actions and what he did to you is abusive and illegal.
One of the reasons men abuse or bully is because they can. There are no consequences. Click To Tweet
I was speaking to a man recently on the phone who was rationalizing and making excuses for his abusive behavior. He was telling me (and himself) that he just loses control and he can’t help it.
I said to him, “Have you ever killed anyone?”
He said, “No, I would never do that?”
“Why not?” I asked.
“I don’t want to go to jail.”
Of course, he doesn’t. You see he knew exactly where the line was and what he could get away with and what he couldn’t get away with. He had perfect self-control when he knew it would cost him. Your husband has allowed himself lots of excuses as to why he behaves the way he does. He knows it’s wrong, but he’s making it all about you. He wants it to be about what you did to make him do it. Don’t buy it.
I understand that there are times women provoke their husbands, or children provoke their parents, or husbands provoke their wives. That’s what happens when you live with sinners. However, we are still responsible for our own actions all of the time. It’s never okay to excuse our own poor behavior just because of someone else’s poor behavior. He may try to use that excuse but don’t fall for it. He is totally responsible for his abusive actions. Until he faces that and works on a plan so he doesn't repeat it, marital counseling is ill-timed and inappropriate.
So enough about him. What about you? One of your counselors said your husband was the abuser and you were the enabler. What do you think? I’m curious why you didn’t call the police after this last incident. I’m glad you are setting firmer boundaries now and practicing JADE (Don’t – justify, argue, defend, or explain) when he baits you. But what about your future safety and health? What toll is living like this having on you physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually?
I’m a firm believer in a woman having a choice on whether she stays and whether she goes but I’m concerned for you. Evidence shows that he’s not going to change. As you get older you may have fewer options. How can this community help you take the next steps you need to get stronger?
It may be helpful for you to attend my free webinar coming up March 7 on (4) lies that can make you feel crazy and powerless in your destructive marriage and what you can do to STOP it.
Register here by answering a few question >> http://quiz.leslievernick.com/sf/d818a842
Friends, what helped you to move from gradually getting stronger, to finally taking a firm stand against any and all abuse?