Need advice for someone close

trudi_dMay 27, 2002

My friend and her husband are going to counselling. She says he's an abusive swine. They've only been going to counselling for a month or so, every other week they go together and once a week they go seperately.

The counsellor gave her the phone number for a women's support group to attend secretly on the side...domestic abuse survivors (or something like that). My friend's counsellor says that her husband is not yet ready to be told that he IS abusive. She wants to know when that could or would be as he's still being a swine. Does he have to brought to a point emotionally that he can handle the truth, or could it be that the counsellor is also afraid of the guy and can't tell him to his face. She would like her husband to get help as she still loves him but she also doesn't want to suffer much longer....does anyone have some experience here that I could relay to her?

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Can your friend see the counselor alone for a session? That way she could actually ask what the counselor is thinking and why about that particular aspect of the situation.

One problem which can sometimes occur is that in order to get effective counseling, a person has to be able to 'trust' or at least be able to work with the therapist. It's important for a counselor to be honest. Sometimes counselors can be correct, and sometimes not like any other human beings. A solo session might allow your friend to get some clarity there. Hopefully she won't be able to get the counselor to participate in name-calling; or wouldn't use any information given as a weapon in argument... or to further entrench her own view of him as other than a human being.

Generally, if her thinking and feeling is a blanket 'he's an abusive swine' odds are that relationship therapy would be long and involved and might involve solo sessions (or another counselor entirely if she can't work with this one) for her. Where is there to go from that position? If it's correct she might be better served by ending that relationship. Then there's the comparasins between 'objective' or at least more emotionally distant third parties, and her subjective experience within the relationship.

Her partner has his own subjective experience of the 'exact' same relationship and events. How does he see his behaviour, if not as abusive? Is the relationship good for him, being with someone who really thinks/feels that he is an abusive swine? He might benefit from solo sessions too. It might be that in a couples session, the counselor needs to work with both people and therefore wants to avoid negative labelling as much as possible... things can easily deteriorate if one partner then feels they have more 'justification' or 'entitlement' to be calling the other an 'abusive swine' or acting towards them as if they are. Holding on to that belief will create a self-fulfilling prophesy situation where he will act accordingly.

That kind of thing can be a complicated mess with more than enough madness for everyone. What is the nature of the abuse? That can get at what their respective sensitivities are in the relationship, unless things are pretty clear cut from an objective standpoint. People who have Asperger's syndrome like traits, or things like that may truly not have an understanding of 'normal' or more than normal emotion in others; but these people as much as other people are or can be 'normal' in a general sense. They can give the appearance of being 'emotionless' or might react inappropriately to the emotional displays of others. They aren't emotionless, and they are not incapable of learning and changing behaviour in relationships. They are not driven the way that it can seem like 'normal' people are driven to have lots of casual friends and socializing in their lives. This kind of problem can result in what feels like 'controlling' or 'abusive' behaviour and it can really look that way. The result can sound or look like a Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus type of situation; but the effect is much more severe because the person or person's in the relationship might be at the far edges of 'normal' in one way or another. (The up side of course is that the lack of a drive to socialize with lots of others is that there can be a feeling for the partner of getting total attention when being courted. Once the relationship is established, the person can be perceived as 'abusive' when they just are who they are and who they always have been... not interested much in socializing and liking or needing to be aware of all the details in their lives. A more 'normal' partner can feel that as very abusive and swinish in a controlling manner but find that same partner might be clueless, or too rational and logical in calmly explaining how they are not abusive.)

It would be more problematic if one or both people had something like a borderline personality orientation to the world, or a lot of antisocial traits or other kinds of potentially disordering traits. These make people more 'needy' than others, of understanding and patience with their various sensitivities and needs. In this kind of situation one or both people may not be able to handle 'abandonment issues' of any kind without enduring unbelievable internal stress which can lead to acting out verbally or physically. They can affect men or women and may not be or have been 'diagnosed' in an official sense.

I would guess that if the counselor were truly afraid subjectively, then they would have found a way to get out of having to counsel them. Has she tried approaching the counselor, alone to ask why exactly the abuse and the abuser have not been identified in the context of a session? (this subject gets complex because people reacting to abuse can also be very abusive and it may be difficult for the counselor to have figured out what to really think about the situation). The worst of things are when both people in a relationship have a need to feel 'in control' or 'aware of all the details' because then both people can end up feeling abused and controlled... and they may be.

if she feels like she is suffering and under stress, and that she is 'having' to live with an 'abusive swine' then she might consider a separation (with or without the counseling, just to give her some living space where she can kind of decompress); you would have to use your best judgement or she hers in order to determine if this would be best accomplished by using shelter services

P.S. This site address has lots of information about abuse and abusive relationships. It was organized by someone who was abusive in their own relationship and who did, at one point apparently need to be exposed to the 'truth' of their relationship and abuse.

    Bookmark   May 28, 2002 at 10:26AM
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If there is a danger of abuse the only secret activity she should be considering is leaving him and disappearing without a trace.

I hate to say this, because I am guilty of forgiving my DH more than once for things that people say I should have left him for (although no cheating or abuse). But once an abuser, always an abuser.

A previous boyfriend I had started with comments and worked his way to physical punishments. I couldn't do anything without getting something from him. He went to counselling, got better for a while, then went right back to the same old ways. I broke up with him, from the urgings of a good friend that knew what she was talking about.

He eventually got married to someone else, and he abuses her now. Black eyes, broken arms, chasing her down in the street. He almost kills her, gets arrested, goes to counselling, gets better for a while, then it starts again.

Perhaps the counseller is trying to build her self esteem to the point where she will feel strong enough to leave him, to keep her from starting the never ending circle?

    Bookmark   May 28, 2002 at 10:41AM
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Thank you Amy and Dances.

This is a 22 yr marriage, the physical battering ended ten years ago but the psychological and sexual abuse have continued. She is going to attend the women's coalition meetings to get some support from others who have been down the same road. Her husband, evidently, was abused as a child, and this is part of why she can forgive him. I suppose it's that he must dually accept that he was abused himself while accpeting that is why he IS an abuser. (Much like in alcoholism an alcoholic must admit being an alcoholic before they can accept and begin a lifetime of treatment.) He will always be an abuser and so she too must accept that his bullying behavior will always be his nature and that his actions can always return.

She just needs to know, and she will have to ask the councellor for this, that maybe there is some sort of timetable...or even a timeline, as to when he can come to terms with being an abuser. She doesn't want to live in fear anymore, and his knowing and understanding that he is cruel will (initially) put a damper on his actions. When they have some breathing space she'll be able to seek legal council if that is the route she wants or needs to go.



    Bookmark   May 28, 2002 at 11:41AM
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Does she think the counselor is effective, or is showing an accurate understanding of their relationship history?... at least enough to be able to help them move foreward?

Relationship counseling may be useful or even necessary in relatively uncomplicated stressful situations in relationships.

Adding factors such as prior long term abuse or battering, or verbal abusse patterns and things like that require particular knowledge and expertise on the part of the counselor. An analogy would be with body health issues where if a person has a chronic health condition (allergy, asthma, MS, lupus, pretty much anything) then even when they see a GP that doctor needs to have experience with those particular chronic conditions. It's not always the case that the first counselor seen is going to be able to be effective and people may have to consult others before finding a counselor who can help.

It may be better for them both to have separate counseling as well as relationship counseling. People who have been abused for 22 years have 'issues' that build up and they have developed ways of existing in abusive situations which may not be effective for existing in nonabusive situations. Even just leaving postpones this issue which would come up when forming relationships or even friendships with people who are not and who won't be abusive.

A person can be forgiven without being returned to.. There is a flip side from how the abuser got to be how they are (sometimes they are female). The person who is abused has sometimes been 'trained' in childhood or even in their initial relationships to accept that abuse is 'normal' or something that 'should' be tolerated. Sometimes they even end up 'taught' that they deserve or have somehow earned their abuse.

Back to the therapy question of when to tell the abuser that they are abusive? The problem is it sounds like there was objective abuse that anyone would see as abusive. It was more physical a decade or so ago but the way the person who has been abusive thinks and feels has not apparently changed. If the abuse was objective enough that everyone could see and note (and even the abuser has changed tactics) then everyone probably already knows. Bringing the subject up, at the request of your friend sounds it would be a bad move. It has the appearance of her enlisting some 'authority figure' or parent proxy or whatever to label someone based on a snap-shot of their actions. It would be more appropriate probably, for her in private counseling to explore how her perceptions were and are correct. She doesn't need to have him present to get help for herself; and in some ways it would even be better for her counseling if he were not.

If the abuser wants to change, they should get their own separate counseling. Such change, which would hopefully go beyond just changing tactics requires a whole cognitive-behavioural overhaul. Having a relationship counselor label this person as 'abusive' in a session isn't going to help identify something or someone that isn't already well-known by all.

Relationship counseling, for the good of both and having a whole relationship is not as good for in-depth work on or with one or both partners. It is useful when having the individual counseling to also have relationship counseling so that rough edges can be worked out, but if major changes are required relationship counseling may not be enough.

he probably already knows and understands he is abusive

P.S. The Dr. Irene site has good information about verbal abuse and control issues and all kinds of related issues.

This is a good page about denial and how to tell in one's self when a thought or feeling might be denial.

P.P.S. It's a good thing to be able to have enough compassion and free-flowing empathy to be able to understand or even 'forgive' an abuser for their behaviour. It goes to unhealthy extremes when the person who is that model of forgiveness ends up staying for another decade... in relationship counselling and chomping at the bit for the counselor to call the abuser an 'abuser.' That's not going to have a magical effect of getting him to all of a sudden accept personal responsibility and just morph into prince charming. With or without a timeline it's probably not going to induce any positive change. But; if she really feels she wants to get clarity on that point with her counselor then she should ask for what she feels would help her (a timeline or whatever, basically if having a concrete kind of framework will help her she always has the right to ask... and no matter what she won't be any worse off.)

    Bookmark   May 29, 2002 at 10:58AM
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The counselor doesn't "think he's ready to be told he is abusive"? What does that mean? Even though the beatings have stopped, the abuse still continues, and needs to be addressed head on. The psychiatric field has been reduced to holding the patient's hand instead of saying "Get rid of this guy, he is doing you harm!" If the counselor feels threatened by this guy, she/he should leave the door to their office open during all sessions. Do not have a session without an administrator or similar person on duty. As far as coming to the point of "letting him know he is abusive," who knows what could happen until that point is reached and until then, the abuse continues.

Sometimes what these people need is a huge wakeup call. Sometimes they won't listen to friends, but if they pay for the advice then it suddenly hits them. In my experience working in the mental health field, I've really only known one psychotherapist who would say "Hello! Wake Up! This guy is an abuser!" instead of "Ok, let's address these issues," like a pansy. I was having problems with my soon to be husband and this woman took me into her office to talk for nearly an hour, just coworker to coworker. She was very straightforward and no BS. Sometimes the truth hurts. But I would hate to see this woman continue to get hurt. Please advise her to get out quickly while she still can.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2002 at 12:15PM
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Thank you Phyllis for your insight. I was thinking very much the same thing, that the "ok, let's work on these issues" is not going to do much for her, but might be more of some help to him. I used to be an EMT and whenever we had a psych call the doors were ALWAYS left must provide an exit for either yourself or the pt to escape through. I am concerned that the delay which is proprosed as needed to get the guy ready to accept the concept that he is abusive may in effect endager the woman. I truly do not believe that she will be hurt physically because she has told her husband that he WILL go to jail if he lays a hand on her. I believe he is quite afraid of going to jail as well as all that goes with it, so I do not expect there will be a return to physical abuse. He, basically is, as most bullies are, a true spineless coward.

But I do believe that he will continue to belittle her, and swear at her until he comes to terms with being abusive. This is injurious to her psyche, especially when she is finally finding a voice for herself and the courage to say STOP! NO MORE! to him.

Is it possible that the counsellor is being negligent by not telling this guy asap that he's got big problems and needs to change? I'm talking "medical-legal" negligence. How is negligence defined for counselling? How is it proven? Is it possible that this guy really does need to be brought to an emotional state of acceptance before he can be told?

As an EMT we touched upon some of the emotional concerns of our patients, but it was mostly about ways to help calm them so they could be transported for us first. There is nothing more harrowing than transporting someone who is tied down and doesn't want to be that way. They can pump up an amazing amount of adrenilin and are really scarey when they break loose.

Or could it be that the counsellor is, by "getting him ready", doing what she can to prevent him from freaking out when the bad news is delivered? He must eventually come to terms with that he is abusive.....and he IS the type that MUST here the words from an authoritative figure.

I thank you all for your input, I thank you for my friend.


    Bookmark   May 29, 2002 at 5:16PM
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I don't see what this counselor needs to "tell him." He knows he is an abuser - how can t his marriage be considered a loving, nurturing relationship? You didn't mention the sexual abuse in your second post: without going into explicit detail, what is the nature of it? Against her will? If so, that is considered sexual assault, whether you are a married couple or not. Unless this man is some kind of complete embacile, he should know that what he is doing to his wife is not normal, humane, or the proper way to treat another person, especially his wife. I think the best way for him to "come to terms" with his abusive behavior is either to sit in a jail cell or live the rest of his miserable life without the love and support of his wife. I think that would do it.

As far as legal issues go, at least in the state of Pennsylvania, where I worked, a counselor could only intervene and breach confidentiality when they felt the patient's life, or the life of another person, was in jeopardy. For instance, hopefully if in confidence the husband told the counselor he was going to hurt himself or his wife, the counselor would seek legal action. The mental health laws, at least in PA, seemingly were made to protect most of all the patient, and sometimes don't appear to protect the victims of such abuse who are closest to the patient, including loved ones. There may be a crisis telephone number through the agency that your friend receives counseling that can provide her with some help, most importantly a place to go such as a women's shelter for victims of domestic violence.

    Bookmark   May 29, 2002 at 11:54PM
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If the situation is abusive and could reasonably escalate, legal issues or what the counselor plans for the future in relationship counseling is pretty much irrelevant.

Those can be worried about later if at all. The legal issues are complicated because what they tell their counselor in their sessions may be different from what you hear, or know about them and their personal history. There is no way to judge from a distance what the counselor knows or 'ought to reasonably' know. They might present themselves at their sessions as a couple who really is nonabusive but just has 'normal' problems to be worked out with some guidance. They might appear that way to the counselor.

The site about verbal and physical and controlling abuse has lots of good information and commented letters and things like that. The problem of abuse in all its forms is that it can often be effectively hidden or obscured, especially with reference to outsiders (including friends or counselors). People who were victims can lash back or people responding to subtle abuse/control attempts can respond more vigorously and verbally. That can cause a 'victim' to look like the 'abuser' to an observer.

The counselor might not have, and maybe cannot have an accurate objective picture of their relationship if they do not provide one. In abusive situations which are long-term people may not provide one. One partner may have an interest in not wanting to appear like a physical batterer (they might have some internal image of what a physical batterer, or abuser is and they just know they are not _that_). One partner who has remained, despite ongoing abuse probably doesn't want to just come right out and share that... for their own personal reasons as well as because the abuser is right there. (The partner who goes back, or who has endured that kind of abuse for years and years probably has an idea in their head about 'why didn't they leave?' or 'those who choose to remain victims' and they just know they are not one of _them_.)

The thing is abusers can escalate. People who have been abused and continue to be, can end up feeling justified in all kinds of actions against their abuser. The situation is not safe for anyone, and they are both probably stressed enough and capable of causing the other dire harm.

what, exactly is your friend's goal in couples counseling? (after 22 years of developing patterns of acting and reacting with each other between the two of them, how is couple's counseling going to induce meaningful change when the people (plural) involved don't seem to want to do the work of personal change?)

P.S. These self help pages have good information about patterns. They all have good links. This page address goes to their page defining martyrdom and how it differs from victimhood. Your friend might 'need' escape and individual counseling and a lot of personal work on her own part to become more healthy-- no matter what becomes of her partner who has been abusive. She will have to take normal adult responsibility for maintaining her personal bodily and mental integrity. That is not the counselor's basic responsibility... there might be legal issues later but they would be very difficult to prove because what the counselor knew or suspected of their relationship is confidential and limited to how they presented themselves.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2002 at 11:00AM
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When I said legal actions, I meant calling the police immediately, not necessarily going through the court system.

    Bookmark   May 30, 2002 at 11:22AM
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