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Why You Should Never Attend Couples Therapy With Your Abuser

Updated: Sep 15, 2023

A woman is being shouted at and should not attend therapy with abuser

Abusers are master manipulators and seek out opportunities to gaslight, manipulate and control the people they are abusing. Attending couples therapy with an abusive person who hasn’t received treatment of their own yet can result in the abuser weaponizing the sessions as part of their abuse. Here’s why you shouldn’t attend couples therapy with your abuser.

Key takeaways:

  • Intimate partner violence affects one in five adult women and one in seven adult men.

  • There are multiple forms of abuse, including emotional/verbal, sexual, and physical.

  • Many people experiencing abusive behavior from their partner think that attending couples therapy will save the relationship, but this is not true.

  • Attending couples therapy with someone abusive is not recommended at all, is often unhelpful, and can actually put you at further risk of violence.

  • Abusers who have not received individualized treatment for their abusive behavior are likely to try and weaponize and manipulate couples therapy sessions, making them unproductive at best and using them as another mechanism of abuse at worst.

If you suspect you’re being abused, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or visit their website – please be aware computer usage can be monitored; be safe.

Seeking Couples Therapy While in a Abusive Relationship

Domestic abuse, or intimate partner violence, is sadly too common. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately one in five adult women and one in seven adult men report experiencing severe physical violence from an intimate partner in their lifetime. Sexual violence in the form of rape, although likely underreported due to stigmatization, has been reported at rates of approximately 18.3% for women and 1.4% for men.

While many people think that attending couples therapy with their partner may save the relationship and stop the abuse, sadly, this is not the case. Attending couples therapy with someone abusive to you is not recommended, and can actually put you at risk for further abuse.

What is intimate partner violence?

The CDC defines intimate partner violence (IPV) as “abuse or aggression that occurs in a romantic relationship.” This is also sometimes called “domestic violence,” or “dating violence” if it occurs during the dating phase. The phrase “intimate partner” is a broad term that can refer to spouses both current and former, as well as dating partners. Here are some things to know about IPV.

  • The intensity and frequency of IPV varies

  • Violence can be a singular occurrence or episodic, occurring chronically

  • The impact of the violence can vary as well, causing lasting and severe trauma

While most people are familiar with physical violence and readily classify it as abuse, behavior can still be abusive without being physical.

Types of abuse

As mentioned, violence doesn’t have to be physical for it to be considered abuse. There are multiple forms of abuse. Abuse occurs along a continuum; usually by the time physical violence has occurred, the non-physical forms of abuse, such as emotional/psychological abuse, will have already been used for quite some time.

  • Emotional, verbal, and psychological abuse: These are non-physical behaviors such as threats, humiliation, manipulation, isolation, intimidation, gaslighting, insults, or controlling behaviors such as ignoring boundaries or monitoring.

  • Stalking: Stalking is defined by the CDC as “repeated, unwanted attention and contact by a partner that causes fear or concern for one’s own safety or the safety of someone close to the victim.”

  • Sexual violence: Sexual violence is forcing or attempting to force a partner to participate in sexual activity when the partner doesn’t or can’t consent. This is not limited to penetrative sex but also includes sexual touching, oral sex, and even non-physical sexual events, such as sexting or talking about sex. This includes coercion.

  • Physical violence: Physical violence is the type of abuse most people think of when they think of abuse. This is when physical force is used and a partner is hitting, kicking, throwing things, or otherwise acting out physically.

All of the above are considered forms of abuse. This means you can still be abused – even if your partner has not yet laid a hand on you. This can be difficult for some people to understand, and they think the issue is a relational or communication problem, and try to seek out couples counseling.

Why can’t couples counseling help?

Couples counseling is great when you and your partner want to improve communication or help address repetitive patterns in the relationship. However, couples counseling cannot address the underlying cause(s) of abuse, which is about power and control. An abuser is seeking to control you and their use of violence is all about trying to steamroll over you and the situation. That’s why you may notice the more loss of control they experience, the more violent they might become.

Attending couples counseling with an abuser can further empower them to weaponize the therapy sessions against you, and even try and manipulate the therapist. Abusers are very skilled at manipulation, and are often very skilled at impression management, having an uncanny ability to charm those they meet and win them over.

This is why many times their victims remain isolated and silenced, because abusers will often bring up how no one will ever believe the victim, anyway. They use their charming public persona to their advantage to make their victim feel as if being believed is hopeless.

If you are in an abusive relationship, the best thing to do is to get out now. Unless your partner gets individual treatment specifically for their abusive behavior, the abuse will not end; it will only increase and continue to escalate over time. Couples therapy should only be attempted once your abusive partner has received treatment for their abusive behavior (depending on what it was), and their therapist has recommended that it is safe to proceed. Your safety should always be your number one priority, period.

Get support from a qualified therapist in Miami, FL.

Recognizing abuse in your relationship and seeking out therapy can be a powerful step toward healing. Individual therapy can help you learn to set boundaries again and help you rebuild your self-image, as well as challenge any harmful ideas you may have built about yourself due to the abuse.

The team at Love Discovery is ready to welcome you with open arms. If you’re ready to get started in therapy to help facilitate healing within yourself and your interpersonal relationships, make an appointment with any of our therapists today. Feeling hesitant about how we can help? Call 305-605-LOVE to talk to a member in our team.

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