“We tried counseling. It didn’t work, so we have decided to get a divorce.” Over the years, I’ve heard these words many times. Upon further questioning, it is usually that the couple was indeed going to counseling, however, both seeing their individual therapist. I have nothing against individual counseling other than it is not couple’s or marriage counseling.
If you’re married and going to counseling because of you or your partner’s addiction and you want your marriage to survive, you better have one therapist (or a third therapist) that you are seeing together. I know you are thinking that may be a little over kill. How are you possibly going to pay for an additional therapist? However, if you want your marriage to make it, I assure you it’s worth the investment. As an alternative, you can see your own therapist or your partner’s therapist together for couple’s counseling. This can be difficult, as your partner may feel as though your therapist has already made judgments about them and may be biased. So why is it so important that a couple have one therapist for couple’s counseling? What’s the big deal?
Generally, this is what can happen when a couple doesn’t pursue therapy together.
- Provides only the Scene or Photo Shoot, not the Movie – When a person is hurting, offended, or angry, they only tell their part of the story, not the whole story. For example, a scene in a movie might make the hero look like the villain. “My partner yelled at me and the kids when they got home from work for no reason. They always do that.” If you were to see the scene in the context of the entire movie, the person you thought was the villain may actually be the hero. This is very common behavior when working with only one partner in therapy.
- Provides only Half the Story to the Therapist – The only half of the story the therapist is hearing is from your perspective. Since the therapist is only able to hear from one perspective small scenes or photo shots of the greater story, this can cause a problem, as the other half of the story is unheard. For example, I have had a client share a scenario that happened between them and their partner which, for the most part, was generally accurate. I will then have a couple’s session and find out what was said was true but some significant “small” details were left out which changes the understanding and intent. I often tell my colleagues to only believe about half of what their client is telling them, because there is always the other side to the story that will most likely bring the issues back to center and balance.
- Projects yourself as “Better Than” – Generally, what happens when an individual is in pain is that they will project their strengths to be better than they actually are. They will also project their weaknesses to be “not as bad as” their partner’s.
If confronted by the therapist, they will usually minimize, rationalize or justify their behaviors.
- Projects your Partner as “Worse Than” or “Not as Good as” You – They may unknowingly project or exaggerate their partner’s weaknesses as worse than they most likely are by using phrases such as, “always, never, hardly ever, most of the time, or I had too, because they did _______.” Their words usually project themselves as the victim or as one who has been victimized by their partner. If a client spends most of the time explaining to you how “bad” their spouse is and has a hard time owning their own behaviors even when redirected, they probably have an addiction to being offended or are an intimacy anorexic.
- Places the Therapist as Judge and Jury – This is also known as triangulation.
A good therapist knows to stay away from this role but few do so successfully. Many are easily getting caught in its web, becoming codependent with their clients. This is why a good therapist has completed their own 12-Step work. Often, I tell my couples in the very first session that I’m not here to take sides or be your friend. I am on the side of sanity, and you don’t have to like me. If you do the work, you will get better. If I’m not making you uncomfortable, I am not doing my job. Most therapists will usually take your side. Generally, human nature thinks the best of people. Since the livelihood of the therapist depends on the financial exchange that occurs between you and them, they will want you to return and most likely validate your thoughts, feelings and perspective. If you do not believe they are supportive of you and validating you, both parties know you more than likely will not be returning for another session. You should be concerned if your therapist is not confronting you on your behaviors. It might make you feel better. However, it will keep you stuck as a victim, and you will not get healthy.
If you are married and want to stay married, it is wise for you to find a therapist both you and your partner trust who will be honest with you even though it might be painful to hear or make you both uncomfortable. If you are a therapist seeing individuals you know are married, encourage them to also see a therapist together.
Cory Schortzman is an author, speaker, teacher and licensed mental health professional. Since 2008, he has served as the Executive Director of Transformed Hearts Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, CO. He is the founder of SARA, the Sexual Addiction Recovery Association. Cory is passionate about helping couples and individuals overcome sex addiction. He is also passionate about bringing awareness to the public and supporting the elimination of sex and human trafficking. Cory has been married since 1998 to his beautiful wife, Kerry, and lives in Colorado with their four daughters. He and Kerry have been seen on the CBS Early Show, Inside Edition, and ABC Good Morning America, Fox 21 News, and TLC/Discovery discussing the harm of sex addiction and the joys of recovery. He has also been heard on numerous radio programs.
Cory’s books include: Out of the Darkness, Into the Light the Workbook, Into the Light the Steps, Ashes to Beauty the Steps, 301 Dating Ideas, 301 Conversational Ideas, 301 Ways to Say I Love You, 301 Ways to Love Your Children & 301 Recovery Tools & Tips.