Thursday Thought — Two Underlying Assumptions of Couples Therapy

Couples therapy is based on two underlying assumptions.  The first is that there is equality between the partners.  The second is that each partner contributes to creating the problems in the relationship.  These assumptions simply are not true in an abusive relationship.  His abuse is not related to her actions.  It doesn’t matter what she does; he’ll always find a way that she’s doing it wrong.  But he keeps telling her (and he probably even believes, at some level) that his behavior is her fault, that if she only were taller, shorter, sexier, not such a slut, a more attentive mother or a less protective mother, he would treat he well.  And by the time the two of them get to a therapist’s office [or pastor’s office1], she probably believes it’s her fault, too.  So, when the therapist [or pastor1] asks her to examine what she is doing to contribute to their problems, she’ll do it.  She’ll examine it, by golly, until she’s blue in the face.  Meanwhile, her husband has just gotten support for what he’s been saying all along — she is causing this.

(from “Family and Friends’ Guide to Domestic Violence: How to Listen, Talk and Take Action When Someone You Care About is Being Abused” [Affiliate link], by Elaine Weiss, p94)

1emphasis on pastors – mine

17 thoughts on “Thursday Thought — Two Underlying Assumptions of Couples Therapy”

  1. Yes, this happened to me. Our “Christian” counselor split us up early and believed all his lies because I owned up to my part early and willingly. He admitted / owned no fault whatsoever. Then apparently, without me there in most of their sessions, he would twist and spin everything as completely my fault. My husband was never held accountable for anything, and all the blame was laid at my feet.

    This covert narc sucked me dry emotionally, socially, physically and financially … and accused me of doing it to him. Then when I was financially depleted and isolated, and discovered his porn addiction and affair, he instantly discarded and moved out.

    I had no clue that narcissists / people that evil existed, and no clue what was being done to me. In the end, my covert narc ex husband even triangulated both our children against me. They both went with him. That was harder than realizing the truth about him / the marriage in the first place.

  2. In ABUSIVE marriages:

    Couples counseling = Fishing expedition by abuser to use against his wife.

    Might happen on the way home from the session, the next day, the next week, month, or year. But it IS going to happen!

    1. Thank you 7stelle. I didnt think of that, but, yes, he did know exactly how to hurt me and used things against me in an extraordinary way.

      He had so many people around him helping him hide money and succeed at various things. Guess the counselor was the primary. He helped my ex turn everyone in our lives against me. I did not realize soon enough.

      1. It’s very hard and incredibly distressing- but these people can’t hide their nature for long and will soon show their true colours to others now that you are not in a position to hide and absorb their bad behaviour. Hang on in there.

      2. Thank you for your encouragement and a bit of hope! I appreciate your taking time to do that!!!

        The only thing I’ve seen him have to deal with so far is the dawning realization of our church members when he brought his girlfriend / secretary to church for our daughter’s graduation recognition ceremony… less than 1 year after our divorce was final.

      3. these people can’t hide their nature for long and will soon show their true colours to others now that you are not in a position to hide and absorb their bad behaviour.


        Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these men also oppose the truth, men corrupted in mind and disqualified regarding the faith. But they will not get very far, for their folly will be plain to all, as was that of those two men. (2 Timothy 3:8-9 ESV)

      4. also, from the book of Jude:

        Yet in like manner these people also, relying on their dreams, defile the flesh, reject authority, and blaspheme the glorious ones. …these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. Woe to them!
        … These are hidden reefs at your love feasts, as they feast with you without fear, shepherds feeding themselves; waterless clouds, swept along by winds; fruitless trees in late autumn, twice dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever. …
        These are grumblers, malcontents, following their own sinful desires; they are loud-mouthed boasters, showing favoritism to gain advantage. (8, 10, 12-13, 16)

      5. I was not even divorced from my x and he was with a lady from church whose husband was in hospital, then brought her to our daughter’s wedding. And everyone was applauding him and rejecting me. ???

      6. I so feel for you!! These men are so brazen and fearless .. especially no fear of God. My ex’s girlfriend actually followed him and joined our church several years ago. Then stopped coming as my husband realized I was figuring out their affair. They traveled / cruised together on business trips and “weekends with the guys” for at least 10 years. We were so detached I really did not care, but it needed to end. I held on for several years because he professed to be a Christian to see if he would come to his senses and save our family (2 almost grown children). But he was so hard-hearted and attached to “her”, it was hopeless. So I hired detective and got proof before even hiring attorney. Their “secret lives” become so ridiculous after a while, and they still think they are being so savvy.

  3. My first pastor was a great pastor. He understood the dynamics of abuse, and the church provided shelter for people like me. My husband was afraid to physically hurt me while he was there, but just a couple of weeks after he was gone, he tried to drag me up the stairs by my hair, beating my head against the wooden steps because someone had put a dent in my car while I was at work. Power hungry elders removed the good pastor, putting a pastor much like themselves in his place. My husband immediately became best friends with that pastor and told him what a terrible wife I was, so he decided to do couples counseling. He interviewed me with my husband sitting in the room. My husband’s very posture and demeanor were threatening, and I did a lot of stuttering and stammering. The pastor’s conclusion was that, because I couldn’t speak clearly, there was obviously sin in my life, and he told me so right in front of my husband! There were some wiser people in our church, however, and within a few years, they removed that pastor.

  4. Those 2 assumptions can actually be deadly for the victim of abuse. One of the most powerful things I’ve gained from this website is the freedom to call evil, what it is. We are in a culture that says “don’t judge” and yet they judge you for attempts at discernment. We are told that “most people are doing the best they can” and we act on that assumption. We look at awful behavior as a product of being misunderstood, or broken or a victim, but rarely do we hear “that person is evil” not just their actions but their true soul. A therapist may have good intentions, a wife may have good intentions, but the sociopath engaged in that facade is out for one thing, and that is to win by crushing what he views as his opponent.

    His opponent is anyone that gets in the way of his self worship. When satan fell he wanted the worship that belonged only to God, it was the root of his fall. Those abusers that are imitating their father the devil, they want to be worshiped too. They worship themselves and they want you bowed before them as well. I hear about malignant narcissists, and sociopaths and don’t think it is genetic, or mental illness as much as it is the characteristics of the one they’ve sold their soul to in order to have power. Jesus said of the white washed walls and wolves in sheep clothing, “you are of your father the devil and it is his works you do”. I’m learning about sociopaths characteristics and as I begin to recognize that I’m becoming wise as a serpent but harmless as a dove. In other words I will know what is up while not engaging with it except in prayer. They are in work places, they can be your doctor, pastor, policeman. My ex husband was a mental health clinical director, meaning, there is no profession immune from those given over to evil.

    1. A Prodigal Daughter Returns nailed it! And you did so with heart pin to the heart accuracy. I can relate to every word that you said and I too have lived it. I’m coming out of the fog and healing from the abuse and damage. God is indeed faithful!!

  5. There aren’t enough words to explain all that I suffered at the hands of pastors who had no understanding whatsoever of the dynamics of abuse, and therefore tried to do couples counseling. One was trained in Nouthetic Counseling. That was the worst.

    When I finally moved away from my abuser, I spoke to the pastor’s wife at the church I attend now, and expressed my fear that they would try to make me reconcile with him. She assured me that no one had the authority to tell me I had to do that. And she explained to me that seminaries offer no training whatsoever to teach prospective pastors how to deal with domestic violence. Now I finally understood why none of my previous pastors had a clue.

    But what infuriates me still is the fact that in their profound ignorance they had the audacity – the arrogance – to try to tell me that if I did separate from my husband, it could only be temporary, with ZERO conditions or stipulations or requirements that my husband had to fulfill in order to move back into the house. I have to wonder what they were thinking when I described the living hell that was my life with that man. Did they think I was a raving lunatic? Hallucinating? I guess the cognitive dissonance was just too much for them, since he seemed like such a reasonable, nice guy, upstanding Christian and all.

    I still just shake my head.

    1. Strongernow, I can’t imagine how you survived with so much working against you, especially the insensitivity and ignorance of your church elders — those who were supposed to help you.

      I experienced similar. My church family is in the cognitive dissonance camp. My ex is so sociable, charming and volunteers for every non-mission / teaching committee. When I went to latest pastor (first one called by church to leave), he said he himself used to struggle with pornography. Said he did not know my husband but would try to “get close to him over time and see if they could talk”. My ex and I were way past that stage.

      Starting to appear that even church elders need psychology degrees, or at least targeted training in present day issues.

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