Pushing his buttons.

I began reading a book by Lundy Bancroft that is called Why Does He Do That? I read a lot of it last night. I got to one part near the end of the book that helped so much….a section called The Abuser In Couples Therapy. It hit the nail right on the head for me and I know others here have shared about difficulties with partner in marriage counseling. Here is part of what it says~Attempting to address abuse through couples therapy is like wrenching a nut the wrong way; it just gets even harder to undo than before. Couples therapy is designed to tackle issues that are mutual. It can be effective for overcoming barriers to communication, for untangling the childhood issues that each partner brings to a relationship, or for building intimacy. But you can’t accomplish any of these goals in the context of abuse. There can be no positive communication when one person doesn’t respect the other and strives to avoid equality. You can’t take the leaps of vulnerability involved in working through early emotional injuries while you are feeling emotionally unsafe- because you Are emotionally unsafe. Couples counseling sends both the abuser and the abused woman the wrong message. The abuser learns his partner is “pushing his buttons” and “touching him off” and that she needs to adjust her behavior to avoid getting him so upset.This is precisely what he has been claiming all along. Change in abusers comes only from the reverse process, from completely stepping out of the notion that his partner plays any role in causing his abuse of her. An abuser also has to stop focusing on his feelings and his partner’s behavior, and look instead at Her feelings and His behavior. Abuse is not caused by relationship dynamics. You can’t manage your partner’s abusiveness by changing your behavior, but he wants you to think that you can….and even if that worked, is that a healthy way to live? Couples counseling can end up being a big setback for the abused woman. The more she insists that her partner’s cruelty or intimidation needs to be addressed, the more she may find the therapist looking down at her, saying, “It seems like you are determined to put all the blame on him and are refusing to look at your part in this.” The therapist thereby inadvertently echoes the abuser’s attitude, and the woman is forced to deal with yet another context in which she has to defend herself, which is the last thing she needs. I have been involved in many cases where the therapist and the abuser ended up as sort of a tag team, and the abused woman limped away from yet another psychological assault. Most therapists in such circumstances are well intentioned but fail to understand the dynamics of abuse and allow the abuser to shape their perceptions. The therapists’ reassuring presence in the room can give you the courage to open up to your partner in ways that you wouldn’t normally feel safe to do. But this isn’t necessarily positive; an abuser can retaliate for a woman’s frank statements during couples sessions. (the author gives some examples of this…scary) If couples therapy is the only type of help your partner is willing to get–because he wants to make sure that he can blame the problem on you–you may think, “Well, it’s better than not getting any counseling at all. And maybe the therapist will see the things he does and convince him to get help.” But even if the therapist were to confront him, which is uncommon, he would just say: “You turned the therapist against me–” the same way he handles any other challenges.

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