couples therapyFew people know that my husband and I were in couples therapy awhile back. It's not exactly the kind of tidbit you bring out at cocktail parties. But there is one thing that will force it out of me: if someone mentions making an appointment with my therapist.

Suddenly I will go from calm, cool, and collected to waving my arms like a crazy person and yelling, "Abort! Abort mission!" You see, my marriage may be intact after couples therapy, but it's no thanks to my therapist.

If anything, my marriage counselor is responsible for just how close to divorce we came. And by close, I mean in our last session with this supposed expert, we were kaput. I'd told him I wanted him out of the house immediately, and he was ready to hit the road and not come back.

It was one of the worst nights of my life and one I don't like revisiting, but if I can protect other folks from going through something similar, I will.

So here's the deal: when we were struggling to connect, my husband and I agreed we needed to go to therapy if we wanted to save things. Neither of us had ever been, so we did what many couples do -- we looked up therapists in the phone book and called the nearest one. Did he work with couples? Could he see us after work hours? Great!

The first few sessions were fine; I suppose. We didn't really know what to expect. The number one complaint I'd heard from couples who'd been through therapy was that their therapist picked sides, and this guy didn't do that.

As time went on, however, we realized he wasn't favoring my husband or me, but he was focusing on issues that weren't really about us at all. He would launch into stories about himself and then push and prod us into talking about things that were really not issues of contention for us at all.

Could he have been looking for underlying issues? Perhaps, but he was ignoring some of the more glaring ones in the process, as he played what I look back now and realize was a dangerous game with two human beings as his pawns.

As the weeks went on, things only got worse -- for my marriage. We could maintain outside of the therapist's office, but inside we were like a powder keg and he was the spark.

That last session, the night we both declared it was over in front of him, things were completely out of control. We were angry, and he was doing very little to tamp down the fires.

But it wasn't until we got home and proceeded to fight on our own, without his interference, that the tide began to turn. My husband didn't want to leave, and I didn't want him to leave. Why either of us had said it, we weren't quite sure. But what we both realized is that we felt like we'd been set up, pushed to opposite sides and then made to fight each other.

The more we hashed it out, the more we began to realize we'd been pitted against each other rather than helped to come back together.

I wish I could say that realization fixed everything for us. It didn't by a long shot, but it did take divorce back off the table and it was the night that we decided to quit therapy in favor of really working things out.

It's been three years, and we're in a much better place, although the wounds created in that room are still only scabbed over, the scar tissue has yet to fully form.

We have had to face a lot of tough issues -- issues that should have been brought to light inside that therapist's office -- on our own.

One thing that's helped is recognizing what happened to us in that room for what it was or rather what it wasn't: quality therapy.

I finally researched our therapist, something I realize now I should have done much earlier. He may see couples in his practice, but it turns out that's not his specialty. In fact, he specializes in addictions counseling -- a far, far cry from our troubles -- rather than marriage and family therapy

Unfortunately, there are a lot of psychologists, social workers, professional counselors, and psychiatrists out there who advertise an expertise in working with couples, but that doesn't mean they actually know what they're doing! It's only a marriage and family therapy program that will teach them the specifics of working with couples, and yet what they're doing is perfectly legal. They can hang out a shingle and say what they want.

And unwitting couples like my husband and me can get ensnared easily because they need help and, hey, this guy or gal says they're an expert, right? 

If you've hit a rough patch in your marriage, don't just pick the first guy in the phone book and put your life in his (or her) hands. Do your homework. Is the counselor a member of the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (they have a handy therapist locator that can help)? Is couples therapy their main source of income or just something they dabble in on the side?

Ask questions about their methods -- a good therapist should be willing to submit to a pre-interview before being hired just like a good pediatrician. And if you're in the room and you feel uncomfortable, tell your partner. It may be hard -- because, duh, why else would you be in couples therapy? -- but you've already taken the tough first step of going to counseling; you can do this!

Whatever happens to your marriage, just remember it should be you and your spouse calling the shots in the end ... not some therapist.

Have you been through couples therapy? Any tips for other couples?

 

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