Why couples therapy won’t help (AKA – abuse is not a “relationship” problem)

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.

Myth: Relationships are HARD.

Oh, this is a long one. If you’re in a hurry, just scroll down to the summary.

It always surprises me how many people proudly trot out this old chestnut. They wear their misery like a badge of honor, proud of what they’ve endured, anticipating the moment they get to chastise you for wondering if it really has to be so hard. “Of course it’s hard, honey,” they admonish. And shame on you for daring to question if life has to be so painful all the time.

This damaging myth was no doubt started because so many people made bad decisions (or were subject to someone else’s decisions) about who to spend their lives with, so they had to console themselves with this sad philosophy. But you don’t have to do this. It’s not the 50s. There are options now. You can choose to be with someone who makes your life easier, not harder. You can also choose not to be with anyone and make your life easier that way.

The real truth: BAD relationships are hard.

Good relationships are easy because you’ve chosen a person you actually like as they are right now and you’re not compelled change them. And your person feels the same way about you. How nice that is, being with someone who delights you, who delights in being with you and never asks you to compromise who you are to make the relationship work.

When a relationship is hard, it’s not a relationship – it’s a project. My relationship with Mr. Jerkface was so much work that I dreaded Fridays and looked forward to Mondays. If you’re in a bad relationship, you know what I’m talking about. Work should not be your respite from your life at home. It should be the other way around. But when you’re in a relationship with a Jerkface, life is upside down.

Here’s what I wish someone had told me when I was with him: your relationship is hard because he actually doesn’t love you. He CAN’T and he WON’T. Love means being true, real, and vulnerable, and Jerkfaces are scared to death of those things. Jerkfaces don’t want to be vulnerable. They want to have power and control.

Does that sound crazy to you? It would have to me, but it is absolutely what I needed to hear, even if I didn’t believe it right away. It’s so hard for us to understand the Jerkface mindset because we’re nice people who want to help. We believe love conquers all. We believe we’re different and that our love for Jerkface will make him or her feel safe.

Maybe some of you will succeed with this. People can change. IF they want to. But watch out for Jerkface saying you’re part of the problem because you complain about their behavior and that’s mean. That’s not mean. That’s normal. Objecting to being treated badly is not an example of you abusing them back.

Objecting to being abused does not mean you’re also an abuser.

When you’re in love with a Jerkface, what you’re usually arguing about is usually not where to go on vacation or which grocery store to go to tonight. YOU’RE ARGUING ABOUT HOW JERKFACE TREATS YOU. Right? The fight you had last night – was it because s/he said you’re starting to get fat? Was it something about your choice of words, or did you dare to laugh too loudly? And then when  you ask to be treated with kindness, you’re a jerk, right?  Well, despite all the complicated mind games that probably ensued in your last argument, no matter what Jerkface says, nothing you did or will do warrants abuse. Nothing.

Don’t you want to be in a relationship where you argue about music or chicken fingers instead? Don’t you want to dread Monday like those other people who aren’t getting pummeled emotionally or physically all weekend? It’s not a fantasy. Or at least it doesn’t have to be.

Summary:  If your workweek is more enjoyable than your weekend, you might be in love with a Jerkface. Relationships aren’t hard. Bad relationships are. In an abusive relationship, you’re arguing about how Jerkface treats you. In a normal relationship, you get to quibble over silly stuff like dirty feet on the yoga mat.