As many women who find themselves in a domestically abusive relationship have encountered, uninformed friends, family and church leaders often recommend couples’ counseling. Only normal marriage conflict where both parties are seeking to reconcile their differences benefit from couples’ counseling. In my previous article, the first six of the twelve reasons why not to engage in couples’ counseling were listed. The list below is taken with permission from Chris Huffine who is with Allies in Change:
7. In couples’ counseling, if the therapist focuses extensively on the abuse, the perpetrator may feel shamed, scape-goated, and to blame for every problem in the relationship. In a perpetrator intervention group while he/she is held accountable for his/her abuse he/she is not blamed for every problem in the relationship. Couples counseling may discourage the level of disclosure that is possible in a group.
8. Before other issues in the relationship can be effectively addressed the abusive behavior must end. Abusive behavior tends to distract attention away from other issues, like a smoke screen. This is akin to couples counseling where one or both parties are active alcoholics; until they are sober such interventions have little effectiveness. Similarly, until the abuse has stopped, other interventions have limited effectiveness.
9. It colludes (*acts together with evil or harmful intent) with the perpetrator’s denial. It allows him/her to continue to blame the partner and/or the relationship for his/her abusive and controlling behavior. He/she can then take advantage of the couple’s sessions to further his/her agenda of control and power.
(*added by Living Waters of hope for clarification using dictionary.reference.com)
10. Often in couples counseling there is no assessment for violence. If an assessment is done with both people present, the potential for honest disclosure will be undermined.
11. A couple’s counselor who is focused on the relationship may be hesitant to strongly confront just one of the individuals, concerned this will be viewed as favoritism. Such failure to directly confront abuse contributes to minimization and denial.
12. Couples counseling can keep a victim in the abusive relationship longer than she/he would otherwise stay in the false hope that the counseling may make things better. Some forms of couples counseling require couples to make a time commitment (e.g., 3-6 months) of not separating while in the counseling which may prolong an abusive relationship.
The healing journey for each partner is more often a solo journey as the victim seeks healing for the emotional, psychological, spiritual and sometimes physical wounds from her intimate partner. The hope is always that the abuser will also seek the help he needs to reach a place of viewing his partner as an equal, taking responsibility for his harmful choices and feeling badly about them (remorse). Once remorse is experienced by a man who has been abusive, with professional help, it may lead to repentance or a total change in beliefs and behavior. Without repentance true reconciliation is impossible to attain as the abusive behavior will only continue.
Often a woman will ask how can she tell true repentance from someone with whom she does not trust. Only time will reveal the true heart of her partner. Keep in mind that an abusive man can “look the part” for extended periods of time. Be patient as it may take months to see the truth. Matthew 7:17 and 18 tells us that “every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, not can a bad tree produce good fruit.”
Does the man in your life who has been abusive bear good or bad fruit, in other words, do his actions match his words of apologies and promises or not? It is often the apologies and promises that can lure a woman to remain in or to return to the relationship only to find that, in time, nothing has changed. If the changes are indeed true and real, couples’ counseling would then be appropriate in order to offer further tools to help the couple to work together towards a healthier relationship.
Either way, a woman in this situation needs others to continue to speak truth into her life as she seeks God for His wisdom, guidance and discernment to be able to make safe and healthy decisions for herself and for her children, if present. God hates abuse and does not intend for a woman to suffer harm in any relationship, especially marriage.