couples therapy, manipulation, and triggering
July 30, 2019 6:28 AM   Subscribe

My spouse and I have had some troubles recently, so we started going to couples counseling. I'm pretty unhappy with how that's going, partially because I think there are some problematic aspects, but more importantly, because of the feelings those problematic aspects trigger in me. It makes me wonder whether the process can work at all, and if not, whether there's anything we can do to save our relationship.

Starting at the beginning: My siblings and I were physically and emotionally abused by my father as a child. After one particularly heinous beating, my mother filed for full custody of us with no visitation. As part of the legal process, the court had us visit a family counselor to discuss our relationships with my dad, and he also visited the same counselor (sometimes in the same session as us kids) to give his side of the story. Like a lot of abusers, I suppose, he has a way of charming people, and so he'd claim we were exaggerating, that my mom was using us to get back at him, that because we (children suffering trauma) couldn't remember specific details that our memories were inaccurate. It worked, because at the end of the sessions, the counselor actually recommended increasing my dad's visitation. Guess how that worked out for us.

Anyhow, here I am thirty years later. My relationship with my spouse has deteriorated to the point where they're raising their voice and insulting me on a near-daily basis, and occasionally escalating to minor physical violence (a slap or shove - nothing super threatening but still pretty scary to me, given my background). We agreed that we should go to couples counseling, and we did. My spouse knew of someone who did that sort of thing, and we started seeing her.

Partially because I'm a naturally reticent person in general, partially because I'm a bit scared to talk about feelings around strangers, and partially because my spouse is a lot more comfortable in a counseling setting (I'm being vague about that last part because it's kind of an identifying detail), our sessions have mostly focused on my spouse's unhappiness with me. They have a lot of gripes with me (some are even legitimate), and they predictably believe that I'm the root cause of the problems in our relationship. Consequently, the topic of nearly all our sessions to this point have been about how my spouse's anger is provoked by my actions, and how I can do things differently to avoid provoking my spouse. (Yes, the counselor is aware that my spouse has occasionally been physically violent, and yes, the counselor stated outright that future violence could be prevented if I change my behavior. The counselor is also familiar with my history.) Nearly every session so far has ended with the counselor suggesting ways for me to change something, while my spouse has merely been advised that they should listen to me when I express my feelings.

All this is triggering the memory of the family counseling from my childhood, where my abuser sweet-talked a counselor into an outcome that allowed further abuse to occur. It seems like the same thing is happening again now - my spouse is sweet-talking a counselor into an outcome that's allowing further abuse to occur. I'm pretty sure that I'm going to have to find a new counselor, as I don't feel like the current one can take my concerns seriously. But my question is, how can I prevent this from happening in the future? How can I find a counselor who will listen to both me and my spouse and be impartial?

Assume I am interested in saving the relationship. I have my reasons, not least that we have children together and I'd like to be able to get help for my spouse so that they don't become abusive toward the kids. Also keep in mind that I'm presenting a fairly one-sided view here - I realize I'm not a perfect partner and my spouse has some valid reasons to be upset with me. My goal is that, while I'm working on fixing my stuff, they will work on their self-control so that "being upset with me" doesn't escalate into "screams insults at me for hours".
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (36 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm so sorry this is happening to you. You do not deserve this abuse.

Please consider immediately finding your own counselor/therapist and attending some sessions alone. You need a safe place to talk about what you've written above.
posted by minervous at 6:31 AM on July 30, 2019 [48 favorites]

This is the reason couples counseling is not recommended for people whose partners are abusive.

I'm sorry, I don't think you should fight for this relationship. You shouldn't be worried about even minor physical violence in your relationship. It doesn't have to be like this. I recommend you find your own therapist and with that person work on a plan to leave.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 6:39 AM on July 30, 2019 [93 favorites]

I, too, am so sorry this is happening to you. This part really stood out to me:

(Yes, the counselor is aware that my spouse has occasionally been physically violent, and yes, the counselor stated outright that future violence could be prevented if I change my behavior. The counselor is also familiar with my history.)

This "counselor" is flat out wrong. Paired with the fact that you mention your spouse knew this person and you're set up for this counseling to fail. I agree with getting your own therapist to speak with, and finding a new person to work with you on a couples basis. Consider finding these new therapists through a resource that specializes in domestic violence. If you can get a mod to post your general location, perhaps we can recommend local resources.
posted by CiaoMela at 6:42 AM on July 30, 2019 [42 favorites]

For me, a counselor who said this "the counselor stated outright that future violence could be prevented if I change my behavior" would immediately be fired. The only thing that will prevent future violence is your spouse not being violent. This internet stranger gives you permission to never see this counselor again on the basis of this detail alone.

Regardless of what else happens, and whether you change couples counselors, I agree completely with minervous. Get your own counselor. You can work through your issues with counseling with that counselor, and also your issues with your father and spouse. You can figure out what YOU want, without the distraction of what your spouse wants.

Also, just to note, if your spouse knows your couples counselor in a professional capacity, it is not appropriate for that counselor to be seeing you both. You need a neutral third party.
posted by OrangeDisk at 6:45 AM on July 30, 2019 [47 favorites]

A slap or a shove is bad. Any physical violence is too much. Find your own counselor, an actually trained one & not some person your husband knows, because whoever the hell you're seeing now that thinks that violence is the victims fault is not a counselor. A trained counselor would not be counselling a friend, it is unethical. Go build your own support network & find your own counselor (a domestic abuse support group might be a good place to start for recommendations). Just from what you've stated here, I'd be working with them on a plan to leave.
posted by wwax at 6:47 AM on July 30, 2019 [26 favorites]

This dynamic is why couple's counseling is not advisable for abusive relationships. Couple's counseling generally starts with the assumption that both partners are at fault and that both partners need to change (as you're seeing). That's not appropriate in an abusive situation.

I would recommend individual therapy for you. For your spouse, there are therapists who will work with abusive partners and have the abused partner do a kind of consultant-type role, where the the therapist checks in with that partner to make sure they're getting the whole story. You might check in with your local domestic-violence agency for recommendations of therapists who work with abusers (assuming your spouse is willing to do this, which they may not be; you should still have an individual therapist).
posted by lazuli at 6:48 AM on July 30, 2019 [8 favorites]

Oh gosh, this is bad. No therapist should ever, ever say that violence is the victim's fault. That is terrible.

I highly recommend you work through The Freedom Programme, to help you understand if the relationship you are in is an abusive one.* And if so, what you can do next, and expect as their reaction. [Note: it's written for women in abusive relationships with men, but the message is still relevant if you and your partner are not in that gender dynamic.]

In the meantime, therapy for yourself would be a great idea. Plus, if you can, try to tell someone you know and trust in real life what is going on, to get some support.

*It's easy for us strangers on the internet to have an opinion, but it's you that needs to make that decision.
posted by EllaEm at 6:54 AM on July 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

A slap or a shove from your spouse is not minor, and I’m not surprised it’s scary. It should be scary. I’m a survivor of an abusive marriage, and in my case slaps and shoves led to punches which knocked me unconscious. Please don’t underestimate this - in any situation, but even more so if you have kids.

Not only do I echo others who say that it would be a good idea to get your own therapist as soon as humanly possible, but also I would be so wary of ever seeing this particular therapist again - although only if you can refuse safely.

I completely get that you want to save the relationship, but individual support needs to come before anything joint. Your own therapist can help you advocate for yourself, and help you value yourself in such a way that means that you no longer accept slaps and shoves as legitimate behaviour.

This may be my own bias and history talking, but please also consider formulating an escape plan, if violence escalates- as it very often can if you start to push back on things like the joint therapist.

Wishing you all strength and peace

posted by JJZByBffqU at 7:02 AM on July 30, 2019 [18 favorites]

There may be a lot of reasons for your spouse to be upset with you, but there’s never a reason for your spouse to be physically violent with you.

I'd like to be able to get help for my spouse so that they don't become abusive toward the kids.

How would you have felt if your mother framed her concerns with your father this way instead of attempting to protect you directly? Are you certain your spouse hasn’t done the same slapping and shoving with the kids? I think your first priority needs to be keeping the kids safe, and a much lower priority is getting your spouse help. Your spouse can take the time to get in-depth help once the kids (and you) are safe.
posted by sallybrown at 7:03 AM on July 30, 2019 [18 favorites]

My husband and I are in couples counseling and one of the “rules” there is that they won’t work with couples where there is physical violence. They would work with one of you, not together, and not to save the relationship but they would help you get out of it. I’m sorry that your childhood made abuse the norm. It’s not. Please find a therapist for you, who specializes in victims of abuse.
posted by katypickle at 7:06 AM on July 30, 2019 [13 favorites]

kick them both into the sun. Ugh. Ok. I got that off my chest. You said you want to give this a shot, so:

I'm thinking the most important question you asked is this: "How can I find a counselor who will listen to both me and my spouse and be impartial?" -- as noted above, this is tricky because some counselors won't see a couple where there's abuse. But for the love of God don't cover it up! Be honest and make sure your spouse doesn't get to deny this has been happening.

I'm not an expert here so take this with a grain of salt but what if you found an individual therapist (which you should have anyway!); and once you've had a chance to evaluate them and their helpfulness, get a referral from them.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:15 AM on July 30, 2019 [12 favorites]

Get individual therapy. With a therapist your spouse has zero access to.

I say this as a kid who was raised in an abusive household, and whose mother bore the bulk of the physical abuse (I mostly got the verbal abuse): please reconsider what it does for children, and for their future relationships to other people, to witness any amount of abuse of a parent. Hitting is abuse. Berating is abuse. This is harming you and your kids, even if it's not immediately apparent. Fish can't see the water, you know?

You need to get your own oxygen mask on here, and having a safe private place to talk is an important part of that. I hope you can find a safe place, and remember that putting together an escape plan doesn't obligate you to use it, but can go a long way towards strengthening your own position as you work through this.
posted by bowtiesarecool at 7:25 AM on July 30, 2019 [16 favorites]

Please consider the possibility that your family history makes you less, not more sensitive to the physical abuse you are receiving from your spouse.

Please think about the Freedom Program and do not see this therapist again. Get your own therapist who can help you and not your abuser.
posted by RandomInconsistencies at 7:27 AM on July 30, 2019 [19 favorites]

Hey, please keep in mind that even if your spouse hadn't physically abused the kids, watching a parent "scream insults at [you] for hours" is also incredibly traumatizing. I'm 44 and still have nightmares and cannot be around a yelling person because of the genuine horror of being helpless every time by father did that to my mom. He never once hit me and "only" punched my sibling once but I'm still in therapy because of the family dymanics and sick system that I grew up with. In addition to definitely getting a therapist for yourself and firing that appalling couples "therapist" yesterday, you might also want to get at least a few counseling sessions for your kids.

I'm sorry you're experiencing this and wish you well.
posted by DingoMutt at 7:28 AM on July 30, 2019 [35 favorites]

You can't control him, you can't change him, you can't make him treat you any better, you can't make him treat your children any better, you aren't responsible for his deciding to abuse you or them. What you can do is realize that you have the right to a relationship where your partner is decent and kind to you, and you don't have to walk on eggshells, and you don't have to constantly subsume yourself to keep his anger at bay (which you're doing right here in this anonymous ask!), and you don't have to wonder when he'll escalate.

The only way you can save this relationship is by learning your own power, and that's not going to happen in couples therapy. Couples therapy works when both parties want the relationship to work and are willing to work at the relationship. From your description, he doesn't want to do that.

It doesn't make you a bad human being to believe these things, nor to state these things. It doesn't make you bad to want to fix this relationship. It makes you who you are, and your way forward will be to suspend this couples therapy until you have your own personal therapist who has no link at all to your husband and you've had a chance (months or years) to catch your breath and you can look yourself in the mirror and say, "I deserve better, I have as much right to my wants and needs as he does, and I'm going to go get that."
posted by disconnect at 7:31 AM on July 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

occasionally escalating to minor physical violence (a slap or shove - nothing super threatening but still pretty scary to me, given my background)

I am very sorry for you. This sentence indicates that your baseline for healthy is so low that you can say that it is "nothing super threatening". Know that in normal healthy relationships, even just one slap or shove is enough to end a relationship, or at least prompt a serious talk and major apology, and a second incident similar to this would prompt a immediate walkout. For context, my spouse and I have never used even so much as a shove. Please look for a counsellor to help you leave your spouse, and recalibrate what a loving relationship means. You have a history of people ignoring your concerns, so please look out for someone who can listen to your concerns and support you.
posted by moiraine at 7:52 AM on July 30, 2019 [14 favorites]

I have my reasons, not least that we have children together and I'd like to be able to get help for my spouse so that they don't become abusive toward the kids. Also keep in mind that I'm presenting a fairly one-sided view here - I realize I'm not a perfect partner and my spouse has some valid reasons to be upset with me.

I don't think there's any sense in trying to fix this for your kids. Watching a parent be abused is extremely psychologically harmful in and of itself, so as far as I'm concerned that ship is sailing. Your choice to stay in this relationship is more likely, in my experience, to prompt your teenage or adult children to go no-contact with both of you than to have them respect you at all or see you as an okay person to have their own partners or kids around.

This whole post does sound one-sided, but not in your favor: it sounds like a load of attempts to enable, excuse, and justify your partner's abuse.

Please talk to a domestic violence organization in your area about resources available to you and possibilities for leaving safely.
posted by bagel at 8:07 AM on July 30, 2019 [12 favorites]

My parents divorced when I was eight and my sister was three. There was no physical abuse that I know of but lots of loud and scary fighting. The divorce was hard, but so, so much better for us than it would have been than if they had tried to stay together. Their divorce changed the course of our life for the better in a profound way. I don’t think I would have the good marriage I have today, or the relationship I have with my parents (and step parents), without that divorce. I hope this is a helpful perspective for you.

Your prior history of abuse, and the current abuse you are receiving, suggests to me that this relationship may be too far gone to save. I am sorry. Please see your own counsellor and do not return to this extremely inappropriate couples therapy. Please stay safe and help your kids stay safe. As others have noted, you cannot change his behaviour, only your own. Good luck. I’m sending good wishes your way.
posted by Concordia at 8:14 AM on July 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

Gently, I’d like to suggest that your situation is actually quite terrifying. The terrible counselor is saying your behavior is making your spouse abusive. You seem to think that you can prevent your spouse from abusing your kids. But how could you have that kind of power over your spouse’s actions?

Please find your own therapist and make a plan to leave this relationship.
posted by bluedaisy at 8:21 AM on July 30, 2019 [17 favorites]

I stayed with my spouse after she hit me.

Biggest mistake of my life.

Abusers weaponize your good instincts against you. This is why it feels wrong to leave. You must. Trust me.

You deserve better.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 8:30 AM on July 30, 2019 [28 favorites]

counselor stated outright that future violence could be prevented if I change my behavior

Time to immediately find a new therapist. Is this person even licensed? What kind of training could they have and say this? Might not be a bad idea to file a complaint about them on the way out, if you have any energy to do so.
posted by salvia at 8:41 AM on July 30, 2019 [8 favorites]

I really agree with everyone who says the idea of continuing with this counseling or relationship does not sound like a good one.

However, if you're set on continuing:

- with the current counselor: state upright at the beginning of the next session that you are not willing to continue in the current manner. You've learned many things, you acknowledge that your spouse has some valid reasons to be upset with you, and you are working and will continue to work to change your own behavior. However you are not willing to accept the premise that your spouse is not 100% responsible for their own behavior. You believe that physical violence, no matter how "minor", is absolutely unacceptable. Yelling for hours is also absolutely unacceptable (and is likely to be extremely stressful for the kids as well). If you're going to continue to work together you need counseling that will ensure that both sides are responsible for their behavior, and that will not suggest that one side's misbehavior in some way excuses or legitimizes the other's. This is a dealerbreaker for you. You need a relationship where disagreements can be expressed without physical or verbal abuse, and you need a counselor who will not expect you to tailor your behavior in order to prevent abuse, because abuse should never, ever happen.

Then see what they have to say about that.

-with a different counselor: at the intake session and/or in any pre-intake communications, make the same point as above and see what they have to say about it. Explain your previous experience, ask what their approach is to preventing and recognizing manipulation, and ask, given what they've heard about the state of your relationship, what they think the goals of your counseling should be. (If your spouse learning to communicate nonviolently isn't among those goals, this is not the counselor for you.)

All that said, you shouldn't have to explain these things to your current counselor, and you should really fire them. And if your spouse doesn't communicate that they're not happy with their own behavior and are willing to work to change it, I don't see how things can improve.

Finally (and I'm sure you know this) - make sure your spouse isn't displaying any of this behavior towards your kids.
posted by trig at 8:54 AM on July 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

the counselor stated outright that future violence could be prevented if I change my behavior.

WTF? Dump this counselor, like yesterday. Also, hard to believe that no one's recommended it yet: please read "Why does he do that?" by Lundy Bancroft. There are free PDFs of it online. Definitely read the section on why therapists do not see couples if one is abusive - because it's another means for the abuser to abuse you by manipulating the therapist to their side and putting all the blame on the victim. Which is exactly what's happening to you.

Also, read this. It's written by a woman who got out of an abusive marriage and she tries to see the impact of the abuse from her kids' eyes. Warning: it's a hard read.
posted by foxjacket at 8:58 AM on July 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

You are being abused and mistreated by your spouse. Your current counselor is colluding in that abuse. This is triggering for you, because both things also happened in your family of origin. It's also an ongoing, current trauma. Of course you wonder if therapy can ever help, given your experiences!

I believe that therapy can help you, but you need a therapeutic context in which you can fully trust that the therapist will be on your side, looking out for you, and not in any way colluding with, supporting, or excusing abusive behavior--which you don't deserve, no matter what you do. What you current therapist is doing, i.e., suggesting that the physical violence your spouse is inflicting on you is something that you could stop by shifting your behavior is exactly what many abusers say. She is telling you that the abuse is your fault, which is the opposite of true and the opposite of what you need to heal.

As others have said, I think you should start getting individual therapy. I think that's the only context in which you can be safe enough to build trust and safe enough to heal both your past and present traumas.

I bet it's heartbreaking and scary and terribly familiar to be experiencing abuse in your family again. I believe you are strong and resilient. I believe that you will not just survive this experience but find your way to a better life for yourself and your children. One reason I believe these things is because you're here, asking for help and seeking out information and resources. That's good, please keep doing things like that. Some of what people share will be helpful for you, some might not. But keep seeking, keep listening to the part of you that's telling you that something isn't right with the situation, that you need to bring in more resources, more connections, and more help.

Honestly, I think listening to that part of you (and learning to trust that part of you) will be your surest bet to finding the therapists and other supports that you and your family need right now.
posted by overglow at 8:58 AM on July 30, 2019 [6 favorites]

(also if you move to a new counselor, tell them how you find it uncomfortable and difficult to express your feelings, and simultaneously that you feel this reticence led to you not being heard in your previous counseling. Ask them what their approach is to dealing with that. Will they set aside time to make sure both sides get heard? Will they want to meet individually sometimes? Will they focus on how you and your spouse communicate emotions?)
posted by trig at 9:00 AM on July 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

OP, I recently came out of an abusive relationship after trying what I could to make it work. The way that your partner interacts with you, and the way that you describe your experience with them in counseling, rings a lot of bells.

One of the reasons I stayed was that I was older and hoped to have a family of my own one day. At my lowest, I tried to convince myself that a shove or a slap now and again wasn't such a big deal if this was my last chance to have children.

When I was nearly 40, we did have a child. And the shoves and the slaps turned into something else.

Couples' counseling can't work when one partner doesn't respect the other. Someone who shoves, slaps, and otherwise treats you as something less than a human being doesn't respect you.

Please take all suggestions to look toward domestic abuse resources to heart.
posted by Occam's Aftershave at 9:03 AM on July 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

Commenting again to add:

I realize I'm not a perfect partner and my spouse has some valid reasons to be upset with me.

Even if your partner is upset with you, you do NOT deserve physical abusive and to be yelled at for hours. That's not what healthy conflict looks like.

My goal is that, while I'm working on fixing my stuff, they will work on their self-control so that "being upset with me" doesn't escalate into "screams insults at me for hours".

Is that *their* goal though? What do they want for themselves? How do they want to change, if at all?
posted by foxjacket at 9:04 AM on July 30, 2019 [10 favorites]

Your spouse is abusive, and like your dad, they've conned the therapist into seeing them as the reasonable one - sounds like they know the therapist too? Maybe a coworker or a friend? Completely not appropriate as a choice. Your spouse isn't interested in fixing the relationship, or they would own up to abusing you instead of blaming you for it - they are at fault. You didn't make them shove you, they chose to do that. Like other people have said, this is why you can't go to counseling with an abuser.

This relationship is not worth saving. You need a plan to get away safely. I agree with other posters who have suggested getting your own therapist and/or calling a domestic abuse hotline.

You may also want to read Lundy Bancroft's Why Does He Do That? to understand your partner and your dad better.

Please be safe, but get out as soon as you can.
posted by bile and syntax at 9:35 AM on July 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

There's actually some research available on this very issue!
posted by crunchy potato at 10:23 AM on July 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Nthing that couples therapy is not recommended for relationships in which a partner is physically/emotionally abusive, due to the abuser's manipulating the therapist, and that competent couples therapists will not see a couple in this situation as it is detrimental.

Please consider the fact that your children are witnessing this and it is certainly affecting their understanding of relationships, their day to day experiences, and their brains and nervous systems. They need to be out of this situation, too, just as much as you do.

This is not a normal or healthy relationship, and in a healthy and safe relationship, even one slap or shove would be unacceptable. I have been with my wife for 11 years and we have never slapped or shoved one another, even though we've been through some rough times.

Please look into services for those experiencing domestic violence, and make a plan for your own safety and that of your children. A DV advocate can help you to create that plan and walk you through what you'd need to do to keep yourself and the kiddos safe. Also agreeing that you need a therapist of your own that your spouse does not have access to. I will be thinking of you, please stay safe and be well. You do not deserve this and neither do your children.
posted by fairlynearlyready at 11:06 AM on July 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

Mod note: Several comments deleted. Folks, we don’t know what OP’s situation is beyond what they’ve chosen to share here, and this isn’t a place for a back-and-forth discussion. If you want to offer something from your own life please stick to describing your own situation with the appropriate disclaimers; don’t assert that framework applies to OP, or put OP in the position of "you're just like my partner" etc. Beyond that, if you find yourself saying anything in the neighborhood of "of course this doesn't excuse violence BUT --", that's the time to stop and rethink.
posted by LobsterMitten (staff) at 11:43 AM on July 30, 2019 [7 favorites]

First, we are not professionals and so I highly suggest that you seek independent therapy and/or a domestic violence hotline (and yes, this absolutely qualifies as DV) before you take any of our advice, including my own...

But second, is there a safe place you could go with your kids for awhile? There's often a black and white thinking that it's either "stay together" or "get divorced", but there's also nothing wrong with separating for awhile. There is nothing dramatic about saying "our relationship is too volatile right now and I need to live apart if there's any chance of repairing this." If your kids are witnessing any amount of extended yelling and arguing, living apart for awhile is not going to affect them any more than that.
posted by nakedmolerats at 1:25 PM on July 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

Without reading the other comments, I would gently suggest that you sound like me, almost 15 years ago, just as my relationship with a person with borderline personality disorder (not officially diagnosed - suggested by my therapist) was turning emotionally abusive. The "minor" physical abuse in my case turned very serious, and the emotional abuse was devastating. The scene with the counselor is eerily familiar. The hint of "you aren't perfect" implying you caused it in any way is familiar.

My first recommendation would be to get your own therapist. Couples therapy with an abusive partner is not recommended. I suspect your partner will refuse to get their own therapist, but you go, anyway.
posted by Pax at 2:55 PM on July 30, 2019 [5 favorites]

This counselor is dangerously wrong and you should stop seeing them immediately. The idea that it's ever YOUR fault when spouse was violent is just ridiculous and constitutes borderline gaslighting.
posted by uberchet at 11:09 AM on July 31, 2019 [4 favorites]

I love Captain Awkward's advice on many things. While this particular response to a question is for someone in a very different situation, I think it is excellent advice for many situations and individuals of all genders and backgrounds. Perhaps you will find it as useful as I do.

Building a list of reasonable options out to the point of absurdity is a deliberate practice I use to break a habit I’ve been socialized to adopt from childhood to center the feelings of bullies and continually search myself for how I can fix or could/”should” have prevented situations where someone crosses my boundaries, and also to remind my adult self that the people in our lives have choices about how they treat us.

If they treat us badly, what if it’s their responsibility to make amends and repair relationships, explain what they meant, and de-escalate the situation? If we hurt someone’s feelings and have done our best to apologize and make amends and not do whatever it is anymore, the other person can ultimately decide it’s not good enough, but we don’t have to chase them forever to try to make it right. Phones, email, messaging apps, roads, planes, trains, etc. work both ways.

posted by Bella Donna at 11:34 AM on July 31, 2019 [4 favorites]

My spouse knew of someone who did that sort of thing, and we started seeing her.

That's the problem. You aren't attending couple's counseling, you're visiting a corrupt therapist your abuser handpicked to try and convince you that the abuse was acceptable and to put the blame on you.

That's also abusive behavior.

I know you said you want to save the relationship, but I'm not sure it's possible, or recommended, if you've got a spouse who is manipulating you into "therapy" that's actually validation for the abuser, and the spouse has experience with therapy and knows how to manipulate even a therapist they haven't co opted.

Stop going to that therapist, they are not neutral, they are not seeking to help you, they are cooperating with your abuser to make you submit to their abuse. If you want to try to save the relationship you'll need to find a completely different couples counselor, one your partner doesn't know and doesn't recommend, and independent therapy for yourself with your partner totally out of the picture for that.
posted by sotonohito at 10:29 AM on August 2, 2019 [3 favorites]

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