I hope you had a beautiful weekend. The weather here was just perfect yesterday. We’ve had so much rain and cloud cover lately, it was wonderful to have a sunny, low humidity day.
I have a special surprise for you. Click here to listen to Abagail’s Dreams. It is a new song written by Nashville songwriter, Kim McLean, for women in destructive marriages. Kim and I did a retreat together, and I knew she was the perfect person to write this song for my book. It is truly anointed.
Also, don’t forget to watch this week’s video: Why Consequences are An Important Wake Up Call for Destructive Spouses.
Todays’ question has to do with counseling: My husband insists that I go to counseling with him. He said that our marriage can’t get better if we aren’t both in counseling together. Our pastor agrees with him.
We’ve done that before, numerous times. I don’t want to repeat that same cycle. The counselors that we have tried in the past just haven’t understood what’s really going on. My husband is so charming and convincing, I’m the one that’s always labeled with “the problem” or, if they do see through him, I’m told to just try harder to love him and wait for God to work.
Can you give me good reasons why and when couple’s counseling isn’t appropriate so that I can better stick up for myself?
Answer: The standard thought in marital distress is that it takes two to tango, and therefore both parties need to be present in order to understand the dynamics of the relationship as well as work toward a solution. However, let me give you a few reasons why couple’s counseling is not helpful and can even be dangerous in destructive marriages:
- You’re afraid to be honest. In marital counseling, a counselor needs to hear both people’s perspectives as to what the problem is. If one person feels that her words will be used against her later or she is in danger of having a terrifying drive home after the counseling, she is not likely to be honest or forthcoming with her own feelings nor will she feel free to contradict her husband’s story. Often when she tries, it deteriorates into a session of “he said/she said” and the counselor isn’t sure who or what to believe.
- The marital counselor’s goal is to remain neutral. For the most part, couple’s counselors must not take sides. If they do, one spouse feels ganged up on and marriage counseling stalls. Therefore, the counselor tries to be fair to the husband who blame shifts his destructive, abusive or deceitful behaviors on his wife when he says, “if only she didn’t do ______, I wouldn’t have acted that way.”
This kind of dynamic happens a lot in regular couple’s counseling where certain behaviors or actions are a trigger and it’s sometimes helpful to identify and work them through. In destructive marriages, taking this approach is harmful. It colludes with her husband’s delusion that he’s entitled to a fantasy wife who never upsets him and that he’s not responsible for his own emotions or behaviors. This delusion not only hurts him, it hurts their marriage.
If the counselor starts to work with the wife on the things she should change to “not provoke her husband,” it reinforces her husband’s idea that the counselor agrees with him that his wife is the problem and she needs to be fixed. Instead of taking responsibility for his own problems, attitudes or sinful behaviors, he starts to portray himself as the victim. When this happens over and over again, the wife starts to feel crazier and crazier. She may get emotional and look irrational, argumentative or resistant, only further reinforcing the belief of her husband and the counselor that she is indeed the problem.
- For marital counseling to be effective, both individuals must acknowledge they have a problem to work on and they are willing to work on it. When an abusive/destructive person goes to marital counseling, it’s usually because he was pressured to do so by his spouse, by a pastor or by painful consequences. He goes reluctantly, not with the idea of working on anything for himself, but to blame his spouse and get the counselor to see what a great guy he is and how wrong his wife is.
When the wife goes into marital counseling, she is usually going with the hopes that their marriage will get better and that they will work on things. She is usually open to external feedback from the counselor, to grow, learn and to change. Therefore the marital counseling starts to be “about her” because she is the only willing participant in the counseling process even if he is attending.
He’s not owning any problems he has to work on. Although he probably won’t directly admit to this, he is there to observe what she is telling the counselor, clarify any “untruths” she says about him, and to make sure she gets the help she needs to become the woman he wants. As she colludes with this process, she is “trying harder” to be the fantasy wife instead of learning to speak up and be a real person in this marriage.
Just this week, after working with an abusive man for the past two years, he still wanted to blame his wife for him “having to be in counseling” after his abusive incidents. This is how I responded, “You’re still not seeing things clearly. Yes, your wife is partially responsible for some of your marital problems, but you are 100% responsible for your abuse. Until you accept that and work on yourself, you marriage has a zero chance of getting better.”
He still wants to cling to the fantasy idea that if she became a different “wife” then he wouldn’t act that way.
I must say that this same dynamic can and does play out when the woman is the abuser and the husband is seeking counseling. The husband is open, willing to work, and the wife is accusatory and defensive. She is not there as a participating client but as someone to supervise the counseling of her spouse.
As I say in my new book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, “When there is no safety and no sanity, joint counseling is ineffective and often dangerous. If he can’t see his part or take responsibility for his own wrong thinking, beliefs or attitudes, everything ends up being the wife’s fault and her responsibility.”
Old history keeps repeating itself, even in the counselor’s office, which leaves a wife feeling hopeless that her spouse can change and hopeless that their counselor truly understands their problem.
If you’re seeking a competent counselor for your emotionally destructive marriage here are three questions you can ask before scheduling your first appointment:
- Do you have experience in working emotionally destructive marriages? If so, what training have you had?
- What specific books have you read or do you recommend for other’s to read on this problem?
- Do you counsel a couple together or separately? What would be your reasons for that?
I think the counselor's answers or lack thereof, would give you a good idea of how much expertise and background he or she has in this area and whether or not you thought their approach would be helpful to your situation.
Now friends it’s time for you to share too. Has your counseling experiences been helpful or hurtful and why? What would you do differently?