Has your emotionally and psychologically abusive partner betrayed and gaslit you?
Are you considering couple’s therapy as a last resort to save the marriage?
Here’s the truth about couple’s therapy and why it does more harm than good to woman in an abuse scenario.
Rachel, a member of the BTR community, is on the BTR podcast, boldly sharing her own story. Rachel learned for herself that couple’s therapy was far more harmful than helpful because her abusive ex-husband, like many abusers, weaponized it. Listen to the BTR podcast and read the full transcript below for more.
Abuse Is Not A Couple’s Issue: It’s HIS Issue
“Couple’s therapy doesn’t work in an abuse scenario because abusers want everything to be equal. He wants it to be true couple therapy where it’s a problem that you both have that you’re both working on, rather than it’s his problem that he needs to fix.”Anne Blythe, founder of BTR.ORG
One of the key reasons that couple’s therapy harms victims it that abusers see it as an opportunity to blame the victim equally. Rather than taking full responsibility for their abuse, they can take the approach that the marriage has all sorts of issues and triangulate with the counselor or therapist so that the victim feels obligated to take on a degree of accountability.
However, abuse is NEVER the victim’s fault. The blame lies solely with the abuser.
Abuse Gets Mislabeled in Couple’s Therapy
In our Group Sessions at BTR.ORG, women often relate that in couple’s therapy, the abuse was often mislabeled as:
- A communication issue
- Codependency (on the victim’s part)
- Pornography addiction
- A personality disorder
- Anger management issues
- A lack of humility and submission (on the victim’s part)
- An attachment disorder or issue
Clergy and most therapists are simply not equipped to identify and deal with abuse and trauma.
BTR.ORG Is Here For You
At BTR.ORG we understand that abuse is never, ever your fault.
We don’t blame you, in even the smallest way, for his abusiveness.
Our BTR.ORG Group Sessions provide a safe space for you to find the validation, safety, and community to process your experiences. Join today and begin your journey to healing.
Welcome to BTR. This is Anne. I have a member of our community on today’s podcast. Her name is Rachel. And in addition to sharing her story, she’s also going to share a poem with us today. So I’m really excited to have her talk with us. Welcome, Rachel.
Thank you, Anne. I feel privileged to try and be here and help other women in my situation, if you will, to feel like they’re not alone, because I think that is one of the biggest things that keeps you in the midst of abuse. And you’re trying to please everyone and, and the reality, you just want to be safe.
Let’s talk about your story. When you first met your now ex-husband did you realize that some of the things that you were seeing were abuse?
“He Said All The Right Things”
Not at all to me, he was full of life – fun. He said all the right things. We were long distance at the time, which really helped.
You’re feeling like now looking back that this was part of the grooming phase and he was really able to do it long distance.
Yes. We met through a mutual friend who has since totally seen all that. He was and is so devastated for me in the Christian circle. He used the church, God, you know, scripture to, to just seem like he was this great man that wanted the life that I wanted and, and the marriage that I wanted and you know, the family and, you know, we were gonna do it differently than both of our parents and red flags that I, I should have seen. He didn’t have hardly any of his own friends or if he did, I wasn’t allowed to meet them, having the long distance there, it kind of made it to where it wasn’t, you know? Oh, well we’re just long distance. You know, you can’t meet everyone.
Where did you live? And where did he live at the time? Were you in different states?
“I Thought I Was Going Toward a Righteous Man”
Uh, we were about three hours away. So same state, three hours away. He was actually in the military at the time; he ended up eventually being discharged and not honorably (things were always someone else’s fault). It was always a problem with what someone else did. And I grew up not realizing and at the time, which is what I’m dealing with and going through now, I was taught to hide things. I could see my mom pushing things under the rug. And, and so what a lot of people don’t understand is I thought I was going toward a righteous man. I thought that that I was gonna go towards something better –
Better than what you had experienced growing up.
Yeah. And not that all of it was horrible, but there were so many things that are not good, and that I don’t choose to have my children around right now because it’s not good for them or me. We can’t heal if we’re still around toxic behavior. That is only simulating while we went through just in, in my immediate family with my four kids and my ex-husband, I remember him saying to me that he came to to actually pursue my friend and realized that nothing was going to happen with her and him. And so I was the easier con.
When You Feel Like You Were The “Easier Mark”
Did he actually say that to you?
He did not say the con part, but he did tell me that he had come to pursue her and decided to pursue me instead. Okay. He did tell me that later.
Yeah. Okay. So he told you that and your feeling is you were the easier “mark”.
Yes. Her parents and their relationship were more stable. I have a mom that’s still in the midst of abuse and a dad that does what he wants. For me, the scripture was really used in a not great place where I knew I could not leave my childhood home unless I was married as a female.
So that was a huge thing for me.
When you say you knew this was used against you looking back, you realize that wasn’t true. Is that what you’re saying?
Correct. And it was technically I could have left, but there was such a condemnation that went with it like, oh, well you shouldn’t do that.
“I Had Been Pulled Into Premarital Sex, Which Was Never My Plan”
So how old were you when this was happening?
We met when I was 19 and then ended up getting married 14 months later. Um, when I was 20 and I was pregnant and I devastated my family. It was really hard for me. I had been pulled into premarital sex, which was never my plan. I’m a stubborn person and it was never something that I, that I ever wanted to do. But that was, that was also part of the con, the shame, that I felt with that. He never felt that shame. Mm-hmm I lived with that shame for years. I had people shun me and my family because of it.
I’ve talked with several women who have had this experience where it was not in their value system to have sex before they were married, but they were coerced and manipulated into having sex, not realizing that was tantamount to rape. They didn’t realize they had been coerced at such a level. And then this quote-unquote righteous guy, who’s not righteous at all, who’s just putting on this mask of righteousness, ends up using that against them. Pretty much the rest of their marriage. Was that your experience too?
“Lucid” Moments With The Abuser
Yes. Like not directly, but he used anything he could to break me down. Like he had to make me as bad as him. He knew, I felt guilty. At one point he would have these, what I call lucid moments. He looked at me once and he, he told me that us sleeping together before we were married was a hundred percent his fault. Hmm. But then months would pass by and he had completely backtracked. But he would have lucid moments like that, where he knew he knew everything he’d done. He knew the truth –
And he likely knew the truth the entire time. He just, that day, for some reason, decided to tell you that small portion of the truth because he probably didn’t tell you the whole truth about anything, but just that small portion he admitted. Yeah. I, I don’t know why they do that. That’s an interesting thing. Because most of them do like have this moment where you think they get it and then later you realize, wait, they never got it. I think it’s the opposite where they’re just taking their mask off to sort of say, I’ve known this the whole time. And then they go back to pretending, like they didn’t –
Trust Patterns – Not Words, Not Even Actions
Know it. Yes. I, I agree with the latter a hundred percent, he would do that over the years where he would have these really extremely rare lucid moments. Like I could count on one hand where he would just say these things and he knew what he was doing. He told me that the kids and I would be better off with another man and then the next day denied that he said it. So it definitely became a pattern.
I also wonder, um, these lucid moments that you’re calling them. I also wonder if they’re a very poignant, different type of abuse and it is that they know that in that moment, the real truth would hurt you more. I’m talking about the universal you – not you specifically, Rachel – but yes, of course the, um, universal you in that moment, they’re trying to hurt us. They’re trying to hurt you. And so in that moment they think the truth would hurt her more right now. Yes. Or alternatively that they want to get out. For some reason they think, Ugh, if she would just kick me out and it would look like it was her fault, you know, something like that. And so they tell the truth in a moment to try and get you to kick them out or try to get you to do some kind of action. Did you ever sense that that was going on and maybe that was the reason he told you that little bit of the truth on that one particular day?
“He Wanted Me To Know That He Had The Control”
I agree with both. I definitely think that as the years went on, he wanted me to know somehow that he had the control. That he was able to twist it. So there’s definitely a form of pathological abuse going on because it was extremely thought out and on the other hand it was just so passive aggressive, where he just, he wanted to make me seem extremely unstable in the beginning. He, part of the reason that he got me, if you will, is he’d been in the Navy and been wild and everything else. He told me me he didn’t drink anymore after ending up waking up on the bathroom floor. So that was fine with me cause I was not a partying person. And he told me that he’d never slept with anyone before, but then he would allude to things of, you know, a coworker undressing herself in front of him and different things. And I, I believed, I believed all of it. And in reality there’s no way. I do not believe that he was a virgin when we got together. I think that that was part of his con.
Yeah. That’s highly likely. Now when I look back, I can think, I know that was a lie. Even though you don’t know for sure, that intuition that we have helps us to know. So you know, all these things, looking back with hindsight, knowing what you know now looking back. Yeah. Let’s just kind of go back in time. What did you think it was back then? Did you think he maybe had a personality disorder or that he was just stressed at work? What were your thoughts about what was causing the problems?
“I Just Thought There Was Still Enough Good to Outweigh The Bad”
Having a 19-year-old now myself, I think that there’s that time in our teenage-hood that we think we can take on anything and everything. And I think it was just a lot of a naive of the world and, and how it worked and maybe my more sheltered state. But I think that I just thought that there was still enough good to outweigh the bad, if that makes any sense. He was very family-oriented. He cared about his parents. So I’m not really sure what I thought it was other than that. Oh, well, everyone has their mistakes or quirks, as long as there’s more rights than wrongs.
Did you ever think it was your fault? Did you ever think, well, if I did this better, maybe he wouldn’t get mad or upset or something like that?
In the midst of the dating? Uh, no. He had a lot of honey and he made himself seem like the more stable one cause he would tell me, you’re really emotional, you really get excited about things. He was really probably doing things I didn’t understand, but is definitely making himself look like, you know, of course you wanna be with me, I’m the grounding force in your life.
Trauma Mama Husband Drama
I’m gonna take a break here for just a second to talk about my book, Trauma Mama Husband Drama. You can find it on our books page which has a curated list of all of the books that we recommend. My book trauma, Trauma Mama Husband Drama, is a picture book for adults. So it is the easiest way for you to explain what’s going on to someone who might not understand it. It’s also just a good reference for yourself because it shows what’s happening with very telling and emotional illustrations as well as infographics at the back.
So as the relationship progresses and you’re kind of thinking, okay, well this is just his personality and maybe, you know, my past and my messed up family has created some problems for me and trying to fix it. Was there ever a point that you decided to go to couple therapy or, or get help from maybe clergy or something like that? And if so, how did that go?
When They Use Childhood Trauma To Keep Abusing You
Oh, I love this question. So he’s adopted and has adopted sibling and um, different things. And there were some issues with that. And so he’s very against counseling and he made this extremely known for a while. Counseling. It messed me up as a kid. I don’t do counseling, I don’t do this. And so he was able to push me off of that subject a lot with these kind of false traumatic kid statements about how trauma messed with him as a child and how his parents did it wrong. And what I should have caught on to before I answer your question is that he was always very family-oriented, but he always had something negative to say about his parents behind their backs. Always it did not fail. It would happen daily. Sometimes I started to notice that one a little bit when he would tell me I was so against him.
And so therapy, uh, or church counseling of any kind came very rarely. We tried once when we lived in this church and the couple that headed it up at the time clearly should not have been there. They wanted you to go through this whole personality test and everything and how you, you know, would be compatible with each other and I’m like, well, we’re already married. So what are we trying to do here? And then they were very much on the topic of how your sex life was. And I’m thinking, I don’t want to tell you it was our first experience in trying to do counseling, which he was very against. So it took a lot of convincing from me. It, it was totally screwed up. And so we didn’t continue of course, because what good was it gonna do? And, and so the years went on at this point, he had decided that he was not going to do counseling at all because somehow his abuse and that the counseling and all that happened in his past, it was even worse for him.
Abusers & Couple’s Counseling
He just couldn’t do that. And so in the very last couple years, uh, we tried again, uh, different city, different town, different church. And then it was about, well, the money and paying for it, you know? So it had to be through the church. We couldn’t go and pay for it anywhere else, cause he did not deem that important to pay for counseling. So vouchers from church trying to find the right person because he had this saying that he did not want it to be husband bashing. And at the last one he wanted to do more of the talking, which is funny. Because I usually have a lot to say it’s because he knew that I could paint a really bad picture of him because he knew what he is.
He wanted to be equal. He wanted to be true couple therapy where it’s a problem that you both have that you’re both working on rather than it’s his problem that he needs to fix. Is that, am I guessing, right?
Yes, absolutely. And what I started to see and what I now, um know is that the biggest issue was not just that we were going to church and that we were trying to seek counseling, but that the church, uh, multiple ones did not see or understand that you can’t go into marriage counseling when there’s abuse happening. So he told some of our friends, we needed really big marriage counseling and that, that was gonna help, a lot of ladies maybe don’t understand is that marriage counseling in the midst of abuse, it makes abuse worse because not only was he controlling everything else. Now he had a narrative when he finally did agree to do it because he didn’t have any other excuses left, then he didn’t wanna talk about anything. That was actually real. I wanted to talk about his abuse and his treatment of our son.
Did you call it at abuse at the time? Or was, was that not in your vocabulary yet with the therapist?
I’m trying to remember. I think I called it his treatment of our son. Okay. I think is what I called it. He ended up getting mad and walking out. He walked out of the session. That one might have been more pointed to me, the next counselor and therapist, because clearly it was the issue. Mm-hmm what I learned later, which was really funny to me is this counselor that I still think is a very good man, I’ve heard very many good things from just my community about him as a person. I found out later that my own parents went to this very same man. And um, that my dad didn’t like him either. And I went, huh, that’s interesting. So I let my abuser come back once because I was still, I was still hooked.
And all of us feel this way, our clergy didn’t help us because they, they don’t know that, um, you shouldn’t do couple therapy when there’s abuse involved. Right? I mean, we all like feel that way. Yes. It’s unfortunate that they’re not educated about abuse. Even if they say there’s abuse, they wouldn’t know that, but they might think, okay, well maybe there’s something that you are doing that would trigger him or something. They don’t know it’s abuse. So you go in and you’re describing this behavior to them. They don’t think it’s abuse. They think maybe it’s a communication issue or maybe an anger management issue or something else. But you also don’t know it’s abuse. And so that’s what makes it so difficult is you’re going to get help from someone you don’t know what it is. They misidentify the thing that you’re describing as a communication issue.
Why Couple’s Therapy Isn’t Safe For You
Or maybe you’re not having sex enough or something like that. And then because it’s misidentified, you go down the wrong road for a really long time. In my case, it was pornography addiction. Yeah. So that’s the road I went down. Other people, they go down, maybe a personality disorder. And I think the thing to us that’s interesting is those two things might be true. They might have a personality disorder or they might be addicted to porn, but that doesn’t make it not abuse. It’s still an abuse issue. And so I don’t wanna like let clergy off the hook or let therapists off the hook or anything. But you would think therapists would know that it’s abuse when you described it. But the average therapist does not, they are not trained in abuse. And even if they did know it was abuse, they would not know what to do.
They would just be like, let’s dig into your childhood trauma. And from what you’re describing to me, it sounds like the thing that you thought it was was just the leftover trauma or habits or perceptions he had from his growing up. That’s why he was acting this way. You didn’t think of it as abuse as just more of like, he just needs to get over his childhood problems. I don’t wanna let people off the hook, but I think it’s interesting that we don’t know. And the people that we go to for help also don’t know. So it makes the whole situation so difficult. I’m really sad that women don’t know, like to go immediately maybe to this podcast and listen here and be like, oh, that’s exactly what I’m dealing with. Oh, it’s abuse. And have it be identified really early on in the situation. Yes. I wanna hold a little bit of grace for ourselves for not knowing it was abuse for clergy.
Support the BTR Podcast
Yes. Oh absolutely. Absolutely.
It’s also okay to be angry that we were screaming and yelling for help and nobody could help us. Rachel and I are gonna pause the conversation here. So stay tuned for the continuation of our conversation next week. If this podcast is helpful to you, please support it. And until next week stay safe out there.
This is so true! Rachel’s story is very much my own except I was 64 and a widow. We were states apart, introduced by mutual friends, and he used my vulnerability to woo me.
We attended the same Christian college and had common spiritual beliefs. He admired my faith and wanted a strong Christian marriage.
I didn’t know it was abuse, but his anger and hostility began before we were married. In six years we’ve seen eight different counselors. With the last counselor, I finally used the term “abusive behavior” and was told “well, it may or may not be abuse” and people react differently to another person’s anger. I told the counselor and my husband I wouldn’t go back. Of course my husband was quick to blame me for “giving up.” I also said it was a waste of time and money if he couldn’t be truthful with the counselor.
In all of our counseling, my only complaint was his anger, hostility, name calling, accusations, etc. No one addressed it as verbal or emotional abuse. I have recorded rants and rages, I have emails and texts. Six counselors in my individual sessions have said at his age (70) there’s little or no hope for change, especially if there’s a personality disorder.
I now have a counselor through Women’s Protective Services which is free and I have an attorney. I’ve given up hope that things can change and I want my life, health, and well-being.
Our therapist basically said that his porn addiction is him sexually exploring himself, and I should leave him alone. Bah, to my marriage covenant, bah to everything I was told at the altar. Bah to the promises that I made. I can live with a porn addict. I can’t live with someone who thinks this is healthy. If he would admit the truth that he has a problem then I could stay. I’m not leaving, but I feel so lost. We were best friends and this thing is consuming him. He used to hide it from me now its everywhere, and I get flashed all the time. The worst part he still thinks we’re best friends, but best friends don’t cause pain. I’m really praying for the right answer, if you’re reading this ask God to lead me in the right direction.
You got it. I just said a prayer for you:). You’re in the right place. We’re here for you.
“Couple’s therapy doesn’t work in an abuse scenario because abusers want everything to be equal. He wants it to be true couple therapy where it’s a problem that you both have that you’re both working on, rather than it’s his problem that he needs to fix.”
My ex was also trained in counseling psychology so he knew the talk. Even after I filed for divorce, he filed a false restraining order against me to make it appear that I was the abusive one. He lied and misrepresented entire situations. Luckily the court saw through his crazy, but it was final proof of the manipulation and desire to make me the problem.