Oh, this is a long one. So if you’re in a rush, scroll down to the summary at the end.
Therapy can be a life-saver for many of us. It helps us manage, understand, and evolve. If you’re involved with a Jerkface, you might (understandably!) think therapy could help you work things out and make everything stop hurting. I certainly did. But for therapy to work it must be based on trust and goodwill – neither of which a Jerkface is able to bring to the table.
Truth is, if you’re with a Jerkface, couples therapy is doomed.
Therapy with Jerkface will most likely be unhelpful, and at worst it could be very hurtful – to you alone. In order to understand why, I’m going to get a little more technical than I usually do on this blog and deconstruct what constitutes a “Jerkface.”
See, there are jerks and Jerkfaces. Just like Jerkfaces, jerks can be thoughtless, selfish, and inconsiderate. But unlike Jerkfaces, jerks can (eventually) see things from your point of view, even if they disagree, even if they aren’t very gracious about it. Jerks can feel bad when they hurt you, even if they do it repeatedly because of weak character or because you aren’t their top priority. It sucks, and you shouldn’t settle for a jerk either, but it’s still better than being with a Jerkface.
Why? Because a Jerkface is a narcissist, and that means all of those things that make therapy helpful – trust, goodwill, empathy – just aren’t there. A narcissist is incapable of understanding your feelings, except to understand how to manipulate you when you feel certain ways.
Therapy with a narcissist is like giving a burglar a schedule of when you’ll be out of town, handing them a map to your jewelry, and then giving them the keys to your house while you’re at it.
Therapy is about revealing and sharing, which non-narcissistic people do with the understanding that the sharing will be reciprocated and used for the shared good of the relationship. Not so with a narcissist. Instead, you’ll give away all of your secrets, while Jerkface adds everything you reveal to their arsenal for surefire ways to hurt you later.
Unfortunately, most therapists are just as hoodwinked by narcissists as us normal people, so you and Jerkface will be treated equally in couples therapy. You’ll complain about how Jerkface belittles you, and Jerkface will say you refuse to have sex and that’s why s/he puts you down – because they’re so hurt by your rejection. Masterful! Now you look like a regular couple with regular problems, so the therapist wraps the session with some helpful “suggestions” for how you two can start getting intimate again.
End result: Jerkface knows belittling hurts you so they make a mental note to use that against you later, but tonight you’ll get guilted or forced into having sex because “the therapist said we should, and you’re the one who wanted to work on our relationship.”
What a nightmare. You’re just trying to save your relationship and stop hurting, but you unwittingly handed an inordinate amount of power to Jerkface. I’m not saying that there aren’t therapists who are skilled in dealing with narcissists, but I never found one while I was with Jerkface. I know I’m not alone.
My advice? Individual therapy – with the explicit goal of leaving Jerkface.
Even the National Domestic Violence Hotline cautions against going to counseling with an abusive partner. Remember, therapy is about working together with trust and goodwill. Has Jerkface EVER delivered in that regard?
SUMMARY: Don’t waste your time or money in therapy taking equal responsibility for the abuse that is Jerkface’s fault. Being angry that you have been abused does not also make you an abuser. Go to individual therapy instead and plan your escape.
Related: Myth: Relationships are HARD.