Does Couples Therapy Always Work? Should It?

If I had a dollar for every problematic thing people said to me once I announced that I was getting divorced... I'd be richer than I am today. People are so full of opinions about whether or not I should get divorced, even without knowing any details about our relationship or the reasons for divorce. I've even had people attempt to "stage an intervention" to try to tell me that divorce is the wrong answer and I'll regret it forever if I divorce.
But some people are less forceful, but just still inappropriately express concern about the state of affairs, asking me if I tried going to couples' counseling, and when I told them we did, but it didn't work, nearly always, the follow up question is "Was he abusive?"

So I want to talk a little bit about that.

Not about Michael and myself, because frankly, that's no one's business but our own, but the general concept of abuse.

There are healthy behaviors and there are unhealthy behaviors. There are things that are clearly abuse, and there are things that are less than clear abuse.

With enough unhealthy behaviors and in the right conditions, certain relationships qualify as abusive, but you know what?

I think today's society has too much of a focus on abuse. Especially in circles like my own where marriage is placed on a pedestal, often for religious reasons, people think that divorce is only an acceptable option when it is an abusive marriage.

So much of the discussions on women's boards that I'm in talk about what is abuse and what isn't abuse, and questions such as "Is passive aggressiveness abuse?" or "Is screaming abuse?" or so many other permutations of that are ever so common. I mean, I'm sure you might have had those thoughts about a boss or a neighbor, questioning whether or not they are abusive.

I had a talk with someone I highly respect about this topic, and she said something that really struck me so much that I wanted to share it with you.

"In today's society, with such an emphasis on what is or isn't abuse, what happens is that the lines of what is abuse gets fuzzy, and then people start doubting themselves if something is "actually abuse" and then start doubting if they're making the right decision to end the relationship, whether it be a marriage, a work situation, or a situation with a friend."
This person continued and then said that its important to realize that you don't need the label of "abuse" in order to realize that a marriage (or other relationship) is unhealthy and needs to end.

That is such an important statement, because I know so many people who get trapped in this thought cycle of  questioning themselves: "Is it abuse, isn't abuse, should I really leave?" and then doubt if they're making the right decision to leave. It is so important to realize that you don't need the label of abuse to realize that your relationship isn't healthy and needs to be ended.

So I'm going to go back to those people who, in the best of intentions ask me if I tried marriage counseling, and if my husband was abusive.
And to them, I'll say "Marriage counseling doesn't always "work" in the sense that it is able to save a marriage. Sometimes good marriage counseling will help you realize that a relationship isn't healthy and can't be fixed and helps you realize that its best that both of you move on." And no, a relationship doesn't need to be abusive for a marriage to need to end.

Sometimes divorce is by far the better option.

Many times divorce is the better option.

And by focusing on whether something is or isn't abuse, it not only is prying into someone's relationship where it has no business, its completely missing the point that sometimes relationships aren't healthy and need to be ended.

P.S. I just wanted to give a caveat that mental health counseling is really, really helpful. Sometimes its to help improve a relationship. sometimes its to help realize that a relationship just isn't working, and sometimes its to help you realize you need to get out. I do recommend if at all possible to go to therapy, ideally on your own, in addition to attempting as a couple, if you're unsure about whether or not to stick to your relationship or end it.

Thoughts? To those readers who are divorced, what are the most ridiculous comments you got when announcing your divorce? What were your responses to them?

Penniless Parenting

Mommy, wife, writer, baker, chef, crafter, sewer, teacher, babysitter, cleaning lady, penny pincher, frugal gal


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  1. "So if the marriage was so bad, why'd you have the kids?" --- as though, somehow, before having them, you're supposed to see into the future and know, right?

    1. I'll have to admit that I sometimes wonder why a couple couldn't figure out that their marriage wasn't working before they had so many kids. It makes it so hard to move on when there is tremendous child support required and so many kids to bring into a potential blended family.

    2. Wouldn't part of the problem - of why couples "can't figure out" that their marriage won't work out - is because everyone is coaching them on how to keep trying, to give it more time etc. There are a lot of voices out there.

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