Thursday Thought — The Abuser in Couples Therapy

Attempting to address abuse through couples therapy is like wrenching a nut the wrong way; it just gets even harder to undo than it was before.  Couples therapy is designed to tackle issues that are mutual.  It can be effective for overcoming barriers to communication, for untangling the childhood issues that each partner brings to a relationship, or for building intimacy.  But you can’t accomplish any of these goals in the context of abuse.  There can be no positive communication when one person doesn’t respect the other and strives to avoid equality.  You can’t take the leaps of vulnerability involved in working through early emotional injuries while you are feeling emotionally unsafe — because you are emotionally unsafe.  And if you succeed in achieving greater intimacy with your abusive partner, you will soon get hurt even worse than before because greater closeness means greater vulnerability for you.

(excerpt from Lundy Bancroft’s book, Why Does He DO That? [Affiliate link] pp351-352)

***IMPORTANT NOTE:  While we endorse Lundy’s writings about the dynamics of domestic abuse, we do not recommend anyone attend the “healing retreats” Lundy Bancroft offers or become involved in his “Peak Living Network”. See our post, ACFJ Does Not Recommend Lundy Bancroft’s Retreats or His New Peak Living Network for more about our concerns.

27 thoughts on “Thursday Thought — The Abuser in Couples Therapy”

  1. Marriage therapy definitely made things worse, but our therapist was good enough to see what was going on and:

    a) put it on hold
    b) told my ex she needed individual therapy
    c) after we resumed, stopped it altogether when it was clear nothing had/would change

    Unfortunately, our very first session resulted in a whole new level of aggression toward me where she went from passive behavior to more overt actions. I say “unfortunately”, but it did make some things clear to me that I hadn’t been aware of before. So it ended up being good for me, and the therapist followed up by seeing me individually to help me move forward.

    I remember before the therapy being told that the therapist would put the marriage above our individual needs. That sent a chill through my spine, but I went ahead with it anyway because I was trying to do anything and everything to fix things. Thankfully, he DIDN’T do that, and when he saw the damage going on, he did a lot to help me out.

    I can only image the damage that I would have experienced if he’d not done that.

    1. Jeff’s story sounds a lot like mine. After couple’s counseling I would be chewed out for what I had revealed to the counselor. The counselor was wise to this and insisted on seeing each of us separately for a short period. The end result was she declined to accept responsibility for her abuse (violence, adulterey, deceit) and the Christian therapist advised me to let her go. While the process was painful I felt God used it to show me former wife’s true heart. The healing began at that point.
      God is good! I remarried four years later and we just celebrated our tenth anniversary. We lead divorce recovery and blended family groups at our church.

  2. One of the things I experienced is him acting as though we had communication issues. He would say that I just didn’t understand him or that he didn’t know what I wanted. So he spoon fed therapists to keep their focus on that to the degree they just didn’t step back to observe what the REAL issue was.

    As much as the church needs to wake up to the tactics of abuse, I think equally the counseling community does as well. Yet I regress, I was blind to it as well before all this. I wouldn’t have had a clue to steer someone in the right direction if an abused person came to me looking for help (though I am not a trained professional either). I guess it just goes to show how important it is for us to be a voice to those unaware of abuse.

  3. Exactly what happened to me! I didn’t know at the time. I was trying to make it work for my kids! More counselors and pastors need to know this! More people who know need to speak out!

  4. I was further abused during “marriage counseling”. Thankfully, we had a good counselor who not only believed my report of abuse but also saw and heard him abuse me during counseling. But it was definitely more abuse to have to go through that.

  5. Thank God for this website- My church has no clue. Praying every day for a way Out. Every turn my abuser uses more money from the business he took my name off while still married to punish me. Do you know of any attorney’s in Jacksonville Florida who understand Abuse. I have a Doctorate in Biblical Psychology- My Attorney has no clue seems like on husbands side. I have 4 children with this man. He abused. Thank you. God Bless,

  6. Years of marriage counseling to realize they were fishing expeditions for him to learn my weaknesses. Also, I assumed this was safe ground and could be honest about what bothered me about him. WRONG! It might be weeks, months, even years and then WHAM! he would come at me with it.

    Almost all the counseling was initiated by him. Can see now it’s because he sensed and saw me getting to the point where I might leave.

    Last counselor had a PhD, Christian, and this time I initiated the sessions and for the first time told about the abuse in some sessions with just she and I. Fast forward a few weeks and he had snowed her. I could feel the turn in the tide of her attitude towards me. The last session for me came when he told me the wrong time a session started, which left them with a half hour alone behind a locked door to her office. Was never locked all the other sessions when we showed up together. Were they doing anything wrong, I don’t know, but it was professionally inappropriate for them to be in a locked room. I had knocked on the door several times and had to get her secretary to come and unlock it.

    I have never gone back and will never go to marriage counseling again.

    He said he would go to abuse counseling if I promised to stay. Told him there were no guarantees. I was going to choose the counselor, because I don’t trust him, but then I decided he needs to take the necessary steps to find appropriate help. Basically I will be blamed either way, whether I choose or not, if the marriage doesn’t get fixed.

    1. Ann,
      The whole locked door thing makes no sense to me and not to answer the door. What was the problem that no one could make it to the door other than the secretary?

      1. Hi Brenda,
        When I entered the room, I wanted to confront them about it. I decided not to, because I felt it would be turned into ‘you are paranoid’ and be entered in her counseling notes as such.
        Since the counselor had already turned on me it would be a lost cause.

        At home I confronted him about the time he gave me for the appt. Of course he told me I got it wrong. Even if there was nothing physically inappropriate going I felt he either did that to have the time to further his case against me or to set me up hoping I would lash out and then say, ‘see, she’s abusive’.

  7. “Attempting to address abuse through couples therapy is like wrenching a nut the wrong way…”

    Ahem, excuse me, Christian counselor: note Lundy Bancroft’s phrase “the WRONG way”. Counseling is not just useless for couples in abusive marriages, it is HARMFUL. The counseling room should be a place of healing and wholeness, not a place of re-traumatization. Couples counseling for abusive marriages is not only fruitless, it’s just plain wrong. VERY wrong.

  8. Amen to that. Couples counseling for abusive marriages is like going to the doctor to treat an infection, and not only coming back with the wrong medicine, but getting a serious secondary infection to boot!
    Ann I get the “Fishing expedition, and I’ve learned that anything that my abuser is privy to, later becomes cannon fodder.
    Somehow before I ran into this “Beautiful site” I instinctively knew that couples counseling with my abuser would feel like being a fly getting caught in a web of deceit that would render me worse than I already was.
    Id seen years of watching my abuser “snow” people (thank you Ann -good term) and knew better.
    Because I had refused to wear these shoes that did not fit, (couples counseling) my abuser went a “tattling to the Pastor” of my church, and got him to put pressure on me through some church minions to do the “Godly thing” and submit myself to this type of torture.
    When I refused, the main elder of the church turned her back on me because of my refusal to take their type of medicine, and I was ultimately excommunicated in the end.
    It takes conviction to stand up to these misled people and do the right thing, but The Lord wants us to be discerners of the truth and not be led by the blind.

  9. I’ve been to couples counseling exactly three times…and knew that it was a huge mistake when I told the counselor that my husband was using what I’d said the precious week in counseling to badger me during the week…and the counselor said NOTHING to my husband…he just nodded and then changed the subject!
    My husband started counseling last week, because he sees I’ve hit the wall….I’m ready to separate….but he’s wasting his time and money, because in talking to my husband after his first session, he never told the counselor about his two affairs, he didn’t “feel” it was important, because it’s past history and he needs to work on the here and now!
    Oh…ok. Gotcha! :/ You cheat, causing me terrible pain and loss of trust…but it’s in the past…so why bring it up? Right.
    So I can see he’s already working on getting this counselor to see him in a different light, as the “poor husband, who works hard and can’t seem to make his wife happy…but I’m here…sigh…to try to make things better…though I don’t really know what I’m doing wrong…sigh….” Instead of the cheating, passive aggressive abuser that he is….just like his father!

    1. Lonelywife,
      You captured it perfectly:
      “he didn’t “feel” it was important, because it’s past history and he needs to work on the here and now!” Oh yeah, my husband also has said this to me + the “poor me” dance. Massive damage done in the past, painted as a passing glitch on their part and then swept under the rug, changes not. Abusers are the great omitters & re-writers of history. Satan said, “didn’t God say”—– NO HE DIDN’T.

      1. Yes Ann you’re exactly right! And since I wrote the post above, he’s only been to counseling FOUR times total…he makes excuses for why he can’t go more often….but I’m not stupid…even though he says he’s serious this time, and is changing..he’s not.
        So we are now in separate bedrooms, after inappropriate behavior between him and a female coworker at his office Christmas party…and he blamed ME for making up something out of nothing, and that I was LOOKING to find something to argue about!
        He’s unrepentant, he’s a liar, he’s emotionally abusive…and he doesn’t see it!
        But I do….and my children do…and most importantly God does!

        Soldiergirl…Yeah…my H said his counselor asked if I would be willing to come to counseling with him…I laughed and walked away!! 😉

  10. “poor husband, who works hard and can’t seem to make his wife happy…but I’m here…sigh…to try to make things better…though I don’t really know what I’m doing wrong…
    Typical victim playing role he is employing,- to gain blind allies to weaken your defense, like mine tried..
    I told mine ” short of forcing a full Lobotomy on me, there will be no getting us back together”..

    1. soldiergirl,

      soldiergirl commented on Thursday Thought: The Abuser in Couples Therapy.

      “short of forcing a full Lobotomy on me, there will be no getting us back together”..

      I have not only said that about my X I have said that about ever dating again!!!

      1. That statement paints a clear picture of what lies in the wake of the abuser.

        Sometimes I have to laugh due to the absurdity of our situation, being so real but at the same time so painfully private to us…
        Unless you have a “true friend of truth”, Its like people cannot fathom that we are going through such a oxymoron of reality.
        So just like our abusers, they try to deny us the much needed remedy to bring it out of the closet, instead of validating our reality. and helping us out.
        Hardly anyone wants to charter these new waters.
        Its a like we live in a whole different world that no one else really wants to see, or acknowledge, although it is as real as the nose on our face.. This needs to change..

  11. My abuser sought “counselling” from the pastor, who of course wanted us to “all get together, face to face”. I told him that was impossible and the very suggestion of it made me actually nauseous. It was after that when I found this site, and wished I had known the words I learned here: “to make me sit with my abuser is itself abusive”. Amen & amen.

  12. I am out of the abuse, although my child still has to go to him, as it’s her father. Please pray with me that she also be released from his bondage and trap of conditional, selfish love. I want to go home to my hometown and have her grow up in a beautiful place, and can never take her with me as long as he’s in the picture. I continually lose in court with him because the judge also seems to be misogynistic, and cannot get a new judge until re-election, I pray.

    1. Hi Barbara (may we call you Barbara#2 ?)
      I too had to make my child available to the abuser for visitation for years. It was awful. The abuse only really stopped for us when visitation ceased, well, actually, only some months after visitation ceased when the legal stuff all wound up. . .

      But at least I could live in the town I wished to live in. I know that some of our readers here are in situations like you where the family court orders prevent you from moving to a region of your choice. It is so wrong. The children continue to be abused and their minds continue to be harmed and warped by the abuser’s machinations. . .

      Bless you!

  13. Hey StandsWithAFist, AMEN AMEN I share the same experience as yourself. Asked by a very high profile counselor to have both parties attend the session together, I felt the urge to get sick. I felt like I was right back in the home with him (ex). He is soooo very good. After I let I found this sight and gave thanks for you all. My sister, who I shared this sight with, who “WANTED TO HELP ME” be a better Christian wife, had horrible things to say about this sight. That I was going down a path of the evil one. I then left that relationship for a season. Anyway. thank you for your comment, it is true, they don’t understand because they are blinded by their own self serving selves.. I pray for her too. Thank you Barbara and Jeff. I have been so appreciative for all the men and women who have shared on this sight. I hope to help others out there to see it’s destructive nature before it takes hold. Not sure how to begin, but God will provide and lead.

Leave a comment. It's ok to use a made up name (e.g Anon37). For safety tips read 'New Users Info' (top menu). Tick the box if you want to be notified of new comments.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.