Couples counseling

How Couples Counseling Can Make You More Discouraged

Many of us well-trained professional counselors specialize in relationship therapy. But the general public may not know how couples counseling can make you more discouraged. It’s important to know the factors that get in the way of improving relationships.

Couples Counseling Means the Relationship is the Client

When a couple comes in for counseling, their relationship is my client. Even though they are two individuals, the focus is the well-being of their marriage.

There can be successful outcomes for couples counseling. And both of them need attitudes of curiosity about themselves and their partner. This is tough. It’s human nature to believe our spouse is the one who needs help. Yet, we all have blind spots that our spouse sees. And we all have quirks and flaws built into our personalities. For clarity, here are questions to ask:

  • “What it’s like for my spouse to be in a relationship with me?”
  • “Am I willing to change my part of the relationship pattern?”
  • “Am I willing to learn from my past mistakes?”
  • “Is my motive for counseling driven by improving my partner or myself?”

Couples Counseling Can Make It Worse

In some cases, couples counseling is not appropriate. Here are questions to ask.

  • “Is drug or alcohol abuse an ongoing issue?”
  • “Is there a sexual or emotional affair currently going on?”
  • “Are you a victim or perpetrator of domestic violence?”
  • “Are physical or verbal fights situational? Or does it characterize the relationship?”

Certain behaviors and attitudes are our “normal.” But it’s still destructive. We may not have discernment about issues of emotional and verbal abuse. For couples counseling to be effective, the well-being of each spouse must be honored. If it can’t, it’s time for individual therapy.

When Couples Counseling Is Not Appropriate

First of all, if couples counseling is not appropriate, DO pursue individual therapy. Secondly, it may be appropriate to come back to the couples therapist when both spouses can respect each other. They’re able to partner with common intentions.

For couples counseling to be effective, the well-being of each spouse must be honored. Click To Tweet

Many couples’ therapists can be fooled by the most clever and charming of spouses who abuse. I don’t like labeling individuals as “abusers” or any other derogatory term. And unfortunately, therapists can inadvertently harm the bullied spouse if they lack additional training. And we’re all human. So even therapists’ marriages can have similar issues.

The power/control issues of emotional abuse are ingrained in our society. It’s vital for therapists to have acute self-awareness. They hold power in the counseling office that can repeat what victims experience at home. Too many in our field have unknowingly caused harm by lack of awareness.

Questions to Ask Yourself About Couples Counseling

  • “Are you concerned about your emotional well-being?”
  • “Do you see yourself as a victim in your relationship?”
  • “Are you fearful of your spouse?”

A more difficult issue to assess is emotional or verbal abuse. And it’s important that each spouse is honored through couples work.

If your well-being is at stake, then it’s vital for you to get help apart from the relationship. Click To Tweet

I’m not suggesting that we perceive one partner in a marriage as the victim and the other as the villain. Both individuals can be willing and teachable to overcome the power/control dynamic. If not, individual counseling will give a sense of clarity.

Start with your free consultation to find out if if couples or individual therapy is best for now.


Photo by Yoann Boyer on Unsplash

Stop Emotional Abuse With Awareness and Apology

During a service commemorating the 15 year anniversary of 911, a woman spoke truth about emotional abuse. She publicly apologized to her eight-year-old daughter for being violent toward her. It wasn’t a matter of hitting or yelling at her child. She said, “I’m sorry for being distracted by social media. I’m sorry for ignoring you.” Her daughter felt invisible and unloved. The mother took responsibility. The issue was subtle emotional abuse. 

Violence defined.

We don’t normally think of our disregard as violent behavior.

Later on my heart sunk as I looked at the diagram from the google search. As a therapist I should know this stuff. This “Power-Control Wheel triggered a gut reaction in me.

We can identify physical abuse more clearly than emotional abuse. Verbal violence and mind manipulation seems even more insidious than physical assaults. Emotional abuse proceeds physical abuse. It’s confusing when the victim believes the made-up story about her partner’s rage. 

“If only I did this or that, then he wouldn’t have gotten so angry. It’s my own fault.”  

“That’s not the way he really is.”

She soaks up the blame in her isolation, shame, and guilt. She believes his accusations as if they were gospel truth about her. 

She believes his accusations as if they were gospel truth about her. Click To Tweet Her self-esteem hangs on the partner’s manipulation. 

Emotional abuse is real.

Some say there’s no such thing as emotional, mental, or verbal abuse. The law protects against physical abuse, but it gives full permission to verbal violence.  The law protects against physical abuse, but it gives full permission to verbal violence. Click To Tweet 

It’s how the Nazi’s broke down the Jews during Hitler’s regime. They used name calling and intimidation before murdering them. What we clearly identify as evil is showing up in our own homes that are meant to be places of safety.

Emotional AbusePower and Control is at the hub of all abuse.The spokes show symptoms from economic abuse to isolation. Other diagrams include categories of social media and spiritual abuse. Entitlement attitudes in perpetrators prey on the low self-esteem of their partners. He regards himself as claiming to know the heart and motives of his victim. 

Please read this wheel thoroughly and open your heart as this mother did for us. Highlight what you’re allowing as “normal.” Choose to call it violence. The enemy is power/control. It’s also our ignorance and silence. 

Our minimizing and secrecy keep the power/control wheel trampling over the hearts of our spouses, our children and our grandchildren.

This is not about vilanizing another human being. Everyone is designed by God to honor the dignity, worth, and lovability of others and themselves. Even labeling a person as “abuser” is name-calling beyond the purpose of identifying the issue of abuse.

Emotional abuse is the enemy.

Those who power over others are shame-driven. Victims and perpetrators devalue themselves and others.  They embrace what’s “normal” in their families and our society.

My gut reaction is the conviction over my own silence, secrecy, ignorance, and minimizing.

We must stand for truth with a capital “T” with what we know. For those of us whose children are grown, let’s apologize. We can’t go back and undo the damage we’ve done to their eight-year-old souls.

Let’s ask each of them now, “Please forgive me for my distractions and disregard for how valuable you really are.  Please forgive me for my distractions and disregard for how valuable you really are. Click To Tweet 

Together, let’s be determined to change our normal. Be aware of emotional abuse and say, “I’m sorry.”

Questions to Ponder

What area on the power/control wheel is normal for you?

Who in your family do you need to apologize to?

How will you change “normal” patterns in your life?


Christian author, Leslie Vernick’s blogs on Emotional Abuse

Emotional Abuse Information

Brene Brown addresses parenting and emotional abuse

Warning Signs of Emotional Abuse


Request a free consultation