I'm looking for "triage" for our relationship, including recommendations for Seattle-area therapists.
October 27, 2011 12:10 AM   Subscribe

I am looking for "triage" for our relationship, including recommendations for counselors in the Seattle area.

My live-in boyfriend and I have reached a point in our 1 1/2-year relationship where it is untenable to remain together if certain issues aren't resolved, and we can't seem to resolve them on our own.

We need relationship triage: A therapist who can step in and make a practical difference to our relationship now, not after 12 sessions during which they get to know all the major events of our respective childhoods.

I'm also open to seminars, books, or anything else that you've found helpful in repairing a relationship in extreme distress.

There are some incredibly good aspects to our relationship: genuine mutual love, shared creative work, rare ability to follow and participate in each other's bizarre comic flights of fancy, a deep appreciation for cuddling and snuggling each other (though even that has cooled lately), strong physical attraction, some rare shared worldviews. I am stubborn and keep hoping things will get better but I don't think I can hang in much longer if nothing changes or if it continues to get worse.

Big Issue #1: There have been episodes where he has made very nasty accusations of infidelity (I have never cheated). I am still sometimes cross-examined if I so much as get lost when driving and arrive a few minutes late, or if I commit the sin of wanting some privacy and personal space rather than accounting for every second of my time spent apart from him. I have not given him any real reasons to mistrust me, and it deeply hurts me that he does.

He seems to understand that some of his behavior inspired by his jealousy has been extreme--even a bit insane--but has been unable to meaningfully change how he operates thus far. The impetus for our most recent fight was that he suddenly mentioned that he still wasn't sure I hadn't cheated on him last winter. I thought that had been resolved months ago and felt really hurt and angry that he'd been continuing to harbor this fear for all these months, and interpreting my innocuous actions in a suspicious light.

Big Issue #2: There's arguably been some abuse. Not hitting, but he has physically blocked me from leaving the house a couple of times when he wanted me to stay and continue "discussing" (arguing), and once held me down on the bed and prevented me from getting up.

Big Issue #3: We can calmly discuss our differences in, say, politics, but when it comes to discussing problems we have in our relationship, it goes thermonuclear very quickly. I'm even aware of some of the ways this process gets triggered, but don't seem to actually be able to stop the process from happening. A therapist who can give concrete suggestions on ways we can avoid progressing from discussion to argument to fight to thermonuclear emotional war would be ideal.

There are other issues as well, but as I see it these are the things that if not resolved, are going to kill our relationship in the near term. So therapists who are good at helping to work on these issues would be especially welcome.

Neither of us has any health insurance that would cover therapy. I say this because it is my understanding that some therapists won't accept new clients without insurance, not to ask that suggestions be limited by rate. We don't have money to burn but a genuinely good therapist would be worth incurring some credit card debt.

We would both feel more comfortable talking to a male therapist. If you know a female therapist who is completely awesome, then maybe we can try to get over this prejudice.

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (25 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
There are therapists that will take patients on a sliding scale if they don't have insurance. Some advertise this, others you may have to call/email and ask.

What you're describing here sounds like something that might not be fixable in one session because that stuff runs deep. I do suggest you take a look at the wheel of power and abuse to see if your relationship fits in it. While a lot of people still consider abuse to begin at first blow, honestly, abuse constitutes any atmosphere of fear and emotional violence created by one person to control another. Be safe, hope you find what you need soon.
posted by medea42 at 12:46 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

I would be highly distrustful of any therapist who claims they can step in NOW and solve your problems without taking at minimum 3 session to get to know you and your situation. Especially given the complicated nature of what you're describing here.

I'm afraid there's no one step solution here. If you're going to commit to couple's therapy, which sounds like a good idea, you're going to need to actually commit.
posted by namesarehard at 12:46 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

your description of the way is fixates on the idea that you have cheated sounds a bit like it may be in OCD territory. That may be worth getting checked out - it seems like there is a lot about your relationship that is good, but you have reached an impasse because there is a part of his thinking that just isn't following logic. Antidepressants are sometimes used to treat OCD, as well as cognitive behaviourial therapy. I'm not suggesting that these would be a magical fix for your relationship, but if he is suffering from OCD, finding a way to get past the irrational fixations will be an amaziung first step towards putting things right.

I hope you can work it out
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 1:45 AM on October 27, 2011

The High Conflict Couple is a great book, and might help you with that thermonuclear problem. I agree with others, though, that this sounds like a deeply entrenched set of problems that won't change quickly or easily. Your boyfriend's paranoia about cheating sounds like a personal issue he may have to address in independent, non-couples therapy.
posted by jon1270 at 2:54 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Honestly, it doesn't sound like you have a relationship problem; it sounds like you have a boyfriend problem. My sense is that couples therapy is often not the best place to start if you basically have one person in the couple who needs to be "fixed" and not a complex dynamic where both people need to make some adjustments in the way they relate to one another. If your boyfriend agrees that the things he's doing are Not Ok, I think he might make better progress on these control issues if he did some individual therapy first.

In my experience, therapists are happy to have "self-payers"--in fact, there are a lot of therapists out there who don't take insurance at all.
posted by drlith at 3:03 AM on October 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

Umm, you have less of a relationship problem than you have a boyfriend problem. The person who needs therapy here is your boyfriend.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:03 AM on October 27, 2011 [5 favorites]

I disagree that this is only the boyfriend's problem and that he's the only one who needs therapy. The OP can change the way she reacts in certain situations and, while that might not change the boyfriend or save this relationship, it can change the way OP interacts in future relationships.

For example OP, when he accuses you of cheating and continues to bring up old, supposedly resolved accusations, then your response (trying to convince him that you haven't, being deeply hurt and confused, allowing yourself to be cross-examined) plays into his drama. You're trying to reason with an unreasonable person; you're an apple talking to an orange.

If anyone other than your boyfriend accused you of lying and demanded an account of your actions, you would likely say "um, no, and that's crazytalk, and I'm outta here." You wouldn't take it on, carry it, worry about it, try to convince them that you really are a good girl. So why does he get a free pass to accuse you over and over of something you can't ever, no matter what you say, convince him you haven't done?

The only time one person should be controlling another is when it's a parent and child, and only then when the child is in danger. Why are you allowing yourself to be treated like an errant child?

Don't discount the idea of individual therapy. My partner and I have been fortunate enough to find a therapist who is working separately with him and with me. Relationship issues come up in my sessions with him but only in the context of what I'm doing about them, what my role is in them, etc.

There's arguably been some abuse.

No argument about it.
posted by headnsouth at 4:04 AM on October 27, 2011 [9 favorites]

Have you considered a few visits with a therapist just by yourself? Couples' therapy may not accomplish much before your boyfriend gets a handle on his own problems, whereas a little insight into your own choices might ease your sense of desperation rather quickly.

Given the paranoia, persistent baseless accusations, physical abuse, inability to discuss problems and disinterest in sex -- all at only a year and a half in -- it's not clear why you're sticking around. Tthe 'incredibly good aspects' you listed hardly seem worth it.
posted by jon1270 at 7:04 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

Did you hear that the therapist wanted to wait directly from the therapist, or from your boyfriend? It is possible that your boyfriend doesn't want to get couples therapy from his solo therapist. It's possible that your boyfriend just doesn't think couples therapy is a priority right now. You'll probably need to spearhead this whole thing. Call someone whose website you like, even if their website makes them seem slow, and try out 3 sessions with them. Or have your boyfriend ask his therapist for a referral - but I have a feeling that won't work. I think you'll need to spearhead this if you want it to happen.
posted by k8lin at 7:33 AM on October 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

he has physically blocked me from leaving the house a couple of times when he wanted me to stay and continue "discussing" (arguing), and once held me down on the bed and prevented me from getting up.

Those behaviors would be deal-breakers for me, and I'm boggled that any rational adult would tolerate that in a relationship. They're also huge red warning flags that this chap doesn't really respect you as an individual.

I wouldn't walk away from this relationship; I would run.
posted by DWRoelands at 7:39 AM on October 27, 2011 [9 favorites]

Can you call and ask his therapist for recommendations? And make it clear that this is something that has to happen sooner rather than later? That therapist might then decide to take y'all, or at least give you a good recommendation.
posted by ldthomps at 7:47 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Your boyfriend is very afraid of being emotionally hurt by you. Your mention of childhood trauma makes me worry that his mother was involved. Something like that can be incredibly hard to get over--it takes a loving partner. It is so hard when a parent abuses you not to see it as deserved punishment--a child is programmed to take parental anger as punishment. When the child does nothing wrong, he or she learns to see their very self as the wrong that was done.

So when he heard that you were a sex worker and previously poly, it may have fed into his deepest fears--that he was again going to be punished for loving someone because there was something wrong with him. Those things wrongly told him you didn't care about your attachment to others and that you would not be capable of monogamy with him because if he's not worthy of monogamy, then a person who felt able to be a sex worker or was poly would be capable of just ignoring guilt and feelings. All not true but an easy jump for the abused.

All of this about his thought processes may or may not be true. But the key thing you have to take away is that there is a deep fear at its base, whatever it is. That fear will require love and understanding to get over. It can be done.

You should take heart--he knows there is a problem--he is in therapy--not easy for a guy in our culture. He is working towards solving it, a good sign.

You want to try and I think it best to honor that. It will require standing your ground and an ultimatum--either you get the couples therapy or you break up.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:08 AM on October 27, 2011 [4 favorites]

The Gottman Institute is in your area. Their methods are based on substantial research about why couples stay together, and why they come apart. They offer workshops and referrals to therapists.
posted by ottereroticist at 8:15 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

You've already triaged this relationship. You have stated that if things don't change immediately, it can't be salvaged.

Things won't change immediately. They won't. They just won't.

You already know what to do. This AskMe feels like a half-way to making a decision AskMe. Your lines have been crossed. You just need the courage to leave.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 9:28 AM on October 27, 2011 [2 favorites]

There is help.
posted by Melismata at 10:11 AM on October 27, 2011

Just for the record, I've told more than one partner about previous sex work and it's never been an issue.

I think, too, that your boyfriend's therapist might have been demurring because abusive relationships and couples' counseling don't always mix--it sometimes further victimizes or blames the person being subject to the abuse because they are told they could do better, too.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:19 AM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

his therapist not wanting to take you both on is further evidence of what has been said by a lot of people in this thread - this isn't a relationship problem, this is a him problem. his therapist knows this.

as to the part you view as a you problem - i wouldn't want to have sex with an abusive boyfriend either. if he can stop emotionally abusing you, your libido would probably return. unfortunately, people don't normally learn to stop abusing someone from within the relationship.
posted by nadawi at 11:42 AM on October 27, 2011 [3 favorites]

i respect the fact that you are trying to seek a good couples counselor, but in all honesty, i doubt your boyfriend is going to change. people only change if they want to change and no book, counselor, etc.. is going to make someone change unless they already have a strong desire to change for themselves. you have only been together for 1 and a half years and yet he treats you in such a disrespectful and unacceptable manner. i like to think of all of the things you mentioned as "warning signs" with only two meanings: caution because things will (not even may, but will) escalate or stop right now because this situation is unhealthy and hazardous to your mental health and perhaps physical health too.

i know that it's not easy, but there is a lot of help out there for you based on the abuse that you experienced. when someone pins you down on a bed or prevents you from going somewhere just because they are angry, constantly questions where you are, and assumes that you are cheating because of his own insecurities then there is a clear problem and the problem is that your boyfriend is abusive. most of these situations only tend to escalate and become worse which is why i'd suggest getting out while you still can.

those are my two cents, take them however you would like, but know that you are not alone and that there are resources as other people have mentioned. i would call the women's shelter in town to see what they can do for you. they will be able to guide you towards other resources and suggest a better "action plan" for YOU with YOUR BEST INTEREST in mind.
posted by sincerely-s at 11:57 AM on October 27, 2011

I rarely step into relationship questions because I tend to hold the view that few others can ever truly understand what happens between two people, but in this case, given what you've written, and my own experience with the patterns in an abusive relationship I'm seconding the recommendation that you consider therapy for your self first and then evaluate the couples aspect.
posted by infini at 12:30 PM on October 27, 2011

I went to a couples' therapist with an abusive partner and the therapist pretty much ended the couples' aspect of it lickety split, as TYRR mentioned.

Your boyfriend's therapist probably sees what's going on.
posted by Pax at 12:35 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

What do your friends and family say about this relationship? I ask because I had a friend who was with a guy who sounds somewhat similar to yours (he was so insecure about her cheating on him because he was cheating on her, which is something I think you should give some thought to), and she was always talking about how they were getting therapy, while I was thinking "why on earth would you want to get therapy when this guy is so fundamentally flawed?"

Your relationship sounds like the type where if I were your sister or best friend, I'd be very upset at the idea of you trying to salvage it, because I would think you deserve a better boyfriend, not just to be treated better by someone who has very concerning personality traits. I would be afraid that his intimidation of you and his implications about the type of person you are were the obstacles getting in the way of you leaving him straightaway, because your self esteem was suffering. I wouldn't post this, because it's not answering the questions you're asking, but I am worried about you.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 3:05 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Someone may have already said this, but it is a very bad idea to do couple's therapy with one partner's prior individual therapy therapist. To couple's work, you need someone fresh and without a prior therapeutic relationship with your boyfriend. Otherwise it'll likely set up a two against one situation, or damage his alliance in his own therapy. I also agree that your own individual therapy would probably be helpful to deal with the abuse.
posted by amileighs at 4:06 PM on October 27, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, the internet yielded this and this. There are many sliding scale seattle area therapists and clinics listed. "Seattle low cost mental health clinic" is a good search term.
posted by amileighs at 4:12 PM on October 27, 2011

have you considered breaking up with him? at least temporarily?
posted by cupcake1337 at 4:58 PM on October 27, 2011

Echoing what amileighs said about not doing couples therapy with either person's individual therapist. When I mentioned the idea of couples therapy to my own therapist, she said that she would be happy to give us a list of other therapists she'd recommend, but that it would be unethical for her to see us as a couple since she was already seeing me as a patient. (She also doesn't take new patients who are friends of existing patients, considering that also unethical.)

The part about him physically restraining you and preventing you from leaving is really troubling to me. Please listen to the people who say that this is something worth taking seriously.
posted by Lexica at 6:33 PM on October 27, 2011

« Older In the audiovisual deep end, all dressed in white.   |   Help our small-office caffeine delivery system! Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.