Should you try couples therapy?

Normally, I’m a big advocate of therapy. Therapy is all about humility; it’s about curiosity; it’s about self-love. It’s about admitting vulnerability, and that as a human you can’t possibly know everything and you need professional help to take an honest look inside yourself.

Couples therapy, I imagine, can be very beneficial for a healthy relationship, in which both people genuinely want to make this work, they’re honest and respect each other, but somehow they’ve lost their way. But couples therapists are meant to see their clients as one, the couple is their patient, not two individuals. And I have a big problem with that, because it can enable abuse.

This was the case for me. Not that it wasn’t beneficial; I did learn things about myself, I did notice things about the dynamics of my relationship that I never would have on my own, I learnt tools that I use in my current relationship.

It was the couples therapist who made me see that our relationship was abusive, that I don’t get the love I need, and that I found someone to recreate an abusive environment similar to the one I grew up in. It was her who told me I have a choice, and I can get out. But…

It took her five months to realise what’s happening. Five months in which I was made to feel that I am part of this problem. That there may be a solution. That we can make it.

Couples therapy would have never improved my relationship to the point that it would be good enough to stay. I realised that what I wanted from my therapist was an ally, someone to take my side and make my partner understand that he needs to treat me better. To tell him that it’s unacceptable to kick me out of my home and diminish me because of my salary during a fight.

And if that’s what your relationship is like, why do you even want to be with this person? What you want, is a different person, so the only resolution is to break up.

So here’s when to not seek a couples therapist, save yourself some time, money, and emotional energy:

• You don’t like who your partner is, to their core

• You’re looking for an ally, not a therapist

• You want someone to tell your partner off about the way they treat you

• Your partner is abusive

• Your partner doesn’t listen to you, or seems to care

• You’ve been fighting about the same things for years without any significant change

• They keep telling you they’ll change but never do

• Your relationship feels like a constant source of emotional pain, with a series of short-lived highs in between

• You feel like you’ve lost yourself in this relationship. Your self confidence, your trust in your emotions or opinions, or even your will to live.

If this rings true, and deep down you know you need to break up but cannot – I know the feeling. Because you’ve been abused there are processes happening that make breaking up seem impossible. There is trauma bonding, a loss of trust in oneself, confusion or simply a complete lack of energy and a clear view to make a decision that big. That’s ok. You will get there. Please start seeing a therapist with a background in abuse and keep talking to your support group.

Self check in:

• What do you want to get out of therapy?

• Who are you truly seeking therapy for?

• Can you imagine yourself truly happy in this relationship?

• Do you want to change behaviours or who your partner truly is?

• Are you ready to commit and do the work?

• Are you being honest? Would you rather just break up?

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