When the jig is up, why is the therapist telling you stay?
She is shaking. The tears never stop running down her face. It is a while before she can form words to say what she has found out. When she does her story is disjointed and out of sequence—the best she has are half-finished sentences. Then she stops, looks up and away, staring silently into the abyss of her life. Still the tears pour down. Eventually the story comes together like this: The doctor says her ovary must be removed. The chlamydia went undiagnosed for too long. There’s no money in their savings account. Her husband is acting as if there’s nothing wrong. She tries to understand how he could do this to her. He tells her she’s overreacting, she’s making a mountain out of a molehill. He won’t tell her if he’s stopped hooking up for sex with couples. He loses his temper and rages at her. He yells that he doesn’t have to tell her anything and she needs to stay on her side of the street, and slams the door on his way out. “Why is he treating me this way? What did I do? I can’t take this anymore!” she cries out in despair and fear.
The therapist is nodding as if she understands. She waits for the wife to pause, and then leans in earnestly taking her two hands into her own, saying “It’s a terrible shock to find your husband has been unfaithful. You have so much to learn about your husband’s “disease”. You also have a chance to save your marriage. After all, you don’t want him to get better for someone else, do you? We can do this together. But we recommend that you not make any decision to live separately until you’ve spent a year in recovery with him.”
So, what’s wrong with this picture?
The wife has provided enough information to indicate that her husband, through his secret life, has done her serious physical harm and expresses no remorse. He is emotionally and psychologically abusive toward her, and has also compromised her financial security. But all her lived truth is diminished by the therapist, and excused as the effects of his “disease”. Instead of protecting this abused woman, the therapist tries to shame her into working to save her marriage so another woman might not snap him up after he’s better. Then, instead of ensuring the woman’s safety above all else, the therapist recommends she stay with this man for at least another year before making any decision to live separately. (Presumably so he can get right to work on destroying the one ovary she has left?)
The first step in treating a traumatized person is to provide safety, and help that person secure safety in her life. Suggesting a woman stay with an abusive husband or boyfriend violates everything we know about domestic violence and everything we know about treating trauma. Yet, this dangerous garbage is still being served up to wives and partners of the men called sex addicts as a professional recommendation.
If anyone suggests you should take this kind of risk after what you have endured and what you have learned about his activities—including how easily he took those risks without giving you any chance to protect yourself and how he is treating you now—they are not paying attention or they are wholly incompetent.
Tell your therapist you need to be safe in his or her office, and you need to be safe where you live in order to recover and make the best decisions you can. And you need a therapist who understands that is the #1 priority. Don’t fall for the covert suggestions that “you can fix this” in the tactics these treatment practitioners use. You can’t save this marriage by putting yourself at risk. And you don’t even know the marriage you are in! Save yourself first. Always save yourself first. Because no one in these scenarios is going to make that a priority if you don’t.
You don’t have to stay with an abusive husband or boyfriend to save him or the marriage. And if someone is suggesting you do that, please contact me, because your story is safe here. And so are you.