When a couple is struggling with issues within in their marriage, it is common to recommend couples counseling. BUT, first, one must access if the conflict is normal marriage conflict or not. Normal marriage conflict involves a variety of issues where both individuals have the ability to take responsibility for and willingness to work on their choices and behavior in order to enhance their relationship together.
When abuse has entered the marital relationship, it is a different story all together and couples counseling can be, not only, dangerous, but also, fruitless because the abuser is often unwilling to take responsibility for his/her actions and unwilling to work on issues that enhance the marital relationship. The Oregon Domestic Violence Council defines domestic abuse in this way: “a pattern of coercive behavior used by one person to control and subordinate another in an intimate relationship. These behaviors may include physical, sexual, psychological, and economic abuse.”
The first six of the twelve reasons why couples counseling is not recommended will be covered in this article. This information is from a summary by Chris Huffine (Allies in Change), Psy.D. of a discussion by the Tri-County Batterer Intervention Provider Network. (7/1999, rev 5/2012).
- Focusing on the relationship assumes that each person contributes to the abusive behavior, when in truth the perpetrator is fully and solely responsible for his abusive behavior.
- Focusing on issues other than the abusive behavior allows the abusive behavior to continue.
- Danger to the victim may increase due to the counselor’s involvement in the relationship. Because the perpetrator’s goal is to maintain control of the relationship, any interference on the counselor’s part may lead to an increase in his/her controlling behavior. The therapist may unwittingly elicit information or initiate interventions that escalate abuse.
- Blaming the victim. When abusive behavior is identified, the victim may be asked “what was your part in this?” Alternatively, the perpetrator may use comments and observations of the couple’s counselor to justify his/her abusive behavior (e.g., “remember he said how your refusal to answer my questions only makes things worse”). Many victims already tend to blame themselves; the counselor may unwittingly encourage this.
- Out of fear of further abuse, the victim may not be honest about the abuse or other issues in the couple’s session, giving the false impression that things are better than they really are.
- On the other hand, the victim may have a false sense of security and safety in the couple’s session. This may lead to disclosure of information that would normally be withheld, believing that the therapist will keep her/him safe. Once they have left the safety of the counseling room, he/she may then retaliate with more abuse.
So, what is the solution? Whether you are a church leader, someone else seeking to help a victim caught in the grip of abuse or the one who is being abused, individual counseling is recommended. If the abusive partner is also willing to do individual counseling, there is a potential of couples counseling down the road if and when the victim feels comfortable. It often takes months to reach this point as the victim needs a level of healing to take place and the assurance that the abusive partner has also been committed to individual counseling with evident progress being made. The latter of these two factors is often hard to find unless the abuser is truly committed to changing his beliefs and behavior. Unfortunately, this is the exception more than the rule.
For the victims of abuse, your healing through individual counseling and/or a faith-based class like the Oasis Bible Study is crucial to be able to know what scripture says about abuse, to see the abuse for what it is, to make wise decisions for you and your children, to grieve your losses, to find truth, to understand how to draw boundaries, and to be safe. A significant step of this challenging healing journey is to realize that your worth and value come from God alone. For the Christian woman, God calls you His daughter and beloved child. My desire is for you to find peace, hope and comfort in this truth!
In His Amazing Grace,
Living Waters of Hope
Note: The next six reasons will be listed in an upcoming article.