How Do You Know It’s Time to See a Marriage Counselor – Part 2
Part 1 of this article was posted on January 2, 2013. It addressed various issues of communications problems that can occur in marriage and point to the need for marriage counseling. If you missed it or want to review it, here’s the link.
This month I'll be looking into more serious marital issues of abuse, mistrust, and betrayal. These issues can present themselves in the following ways that necessitate counseling.
There are several different kinds of infidelity. Sometimes a sexual boundary is crossed and sometimes it isn’t. Either way, one spouse is giving something away that belongs exclusively to the other spouse. This can include things like intimate conversation, private jokes, and trust. Marriage counselors call it an emotional affair. The church may call it spiritual adultery. The bottom line is certain things should only be shared within the safe confines of marriage. Gift exchange and extensive texting and emails are examples of crossing nonsexual boundaries. You might want to get some support and validation to sort this out and clarify what’s actually going on. It can be overwhelming to work this through alone. That could mean professional help or a trusted friend.
Infidelity or cheating is never about the third party a spouse is having the relationship with. It's always about what's happening or, more importantly, what's not happening in the marriage. Though the damage done through cheating may seem impossible to repair, take heart; God is in the business of restoration! He paid a huge price for our redemption and that includes our marriages.
Pornography is a distinct form of infidelity and highly addictive but not a topic for our discussion today due to the brevity of our Q and A and the depth and scope of this particular addiction. For those who struggle with this battle for purity, New Life Ministries has a comprehensive list of books and resources for men, women, and teens. They also have a referral list of professional Christian counselors who specialize in this area.
Other Areas of Broken Trust
Besides infidelity there are other areas where a spouse may feel betrayed.
This tops the list for breaking trust; not just substance abuse, but also overt or hidden destructive habits like gambling, overspending, and shopping to name just a few.
This is a betrayal of trust. For example, if a spouse says they are one place, when actually they're in another. A spouse who puts in many hours at work, but never discloses that part of the reason for their delay in getting home is a stop they make after work. This stop could be shopping, going to a bar, or meeting with friends. Covering up spending any part of personal or family monies and time is a form of deception. The spouse who is deceived feels a type of betrayal similar to the spouse who finds out their husband /wife has been unfaithful to them.
If there's any type of abuse--ranging from verbal to psychological or emotional--it is past time to see a counselor. I would suggest that the abused seek counsel on your own first to get help making an assessment as to what your options are and some initial practical guidelines. Other types of abuse include withholding finances, controlling/limiting a spouse’s activities, or being verbally abusive. For the definitive book on this area of abuse, I highly recommend Patricia Evans' book, The Verbally Abusive Relationship. Another book Evans wrote that I recommend is entitled Controlling People, which highlights many different forms of control and abuse in any relationship where control is an issue.
Crazy making is a form of psychological abuse that deserves to be highlighted as a separate category. The abuser may say or do things and then deny those things or events were ever said or done. The goal is for the spouse to second guess themselves and eventually just resign themselves to being one down in an insidious power struggle. The sad thing is that only the abuser is engaged in the power struggle. The victimized spouse is merely trying to survive. We all may insist we're "right" when we know we could be wrong, but crazy making is not that! It's usually the scheme of the narcissist to gain control over their spouse. (The Verbally Abusive Relationship, mentioned above, addresses this problem also.)
If you're dealing with any of the above issues in your marriage, seek help now to prevent further damage. In some cases the best recommendation is to get professional help just for you if your spouse refuses counseling. Also consider enlisting the help of your friends and church community, including your pastor. It takes a village to raise a child and it may take a village to save your marriage as well. Your marriage is worth it!
Focus on the Familyrecently aired an interview with Dr. John Townsend. The topic was Beyond Boundaries: Learning to Trust Again in Relationships. This interview is excellent and I think you'll find taking some time to listen is well worth it. Beyond Boundaries brings great clarity to some of the things mentioned in today's article.
A Few Final Thoughts on Marriage Counseling
In this two-part series, we covered everything from communications issues to the more serious issues of abuse. However your marriage doesn't have to be in trouble to benefit from some couples work. It's amazing how much it helps to sit with an objective third party who is trained to "hear" what each spouse is struggling with. The marriage counselor partners with you to improve communications by teaching conflict resolution skills and effective dialogue techniques to name a few strategies. Of course if you're addressing issues of infidelity and abuse, marriage counseling is more intense and may require a psychiatric evaluation and other interventions. You can get a recommendation from your pastor or your friends or even look online. A personal recommendation might make you feel more comfortable.
* NOTE: PHYSICAL ABUSE CANNOT BE TOLERATED.
If you are dealing with physical abuse, marriage counseling is probably not the initial answer. You need to inform your pastor about your situation or if this does not seem feasible or you’re not attending a church, you need to seek help from the National Domestic Violence Hotline at one of these numbers: 800-799-7233, 800-787-3224, or Safe Horizon at 800-621-4673.
Susanne Ciancio, LPC, is a Licensed Professional Christian Counselor. She has been serving the Christian community as a professional Christian counselor in Essex county and the surrounding area since 1986. Beyond her private practice in West Orange, NJ she is involved in teaching, consulting, and pastoral supervision in various churches in the area. Click here for Susanne's website.
EDITORS NOTE: While Susanne can’t answer specific counseling-related questions, she welcomes your thoughts, comments, and suggestions about what kinds of topics you’d like to see addressed here at Circles of Faith. Click here to contact us.