Too many counsellors are quick to encourage clients to leave their marriages. Given that divorce is a traumatic, life-changing event for the couple and their children, why would counsellors encourage break-ups rather than work to save marriages?
Ethically counsellors are not meant to impose their values on clients; however it is impossible for counsellors not to operate from their own values, biases and life experience. Sadly, vulnerable clients are not functioning rationally and are usually desperately seeking direction from an “expert” and susceptible to being influenced by a counsellor they’ve put on the pedestal of authority.
It would be more honest for a counsellor to openly state at the outset of a counselling program their values to give clients an informed choice.
One counsellor might state: “I strongly believe in marriage and will do everything I can to help you save your marriage.”
Another might state: “I believe leaving an unhappy marriage is the best solution and I will help you make the break.”
Still another counsellor might fence sit and say: “I have no set view. I will help you explore the options and allow you to make up your own mind.”
Some counsellors hold the view that a marriage can run its course, that two people develop in different directions and in order to “grow” they need to “move on”.
Many female counsellors encourage women to break free from “controlling” husbands to discover independence and liberation. They believe they are performing a great service in helping their client find the courage to leave their unhappy marriage.
When you scratch the surface you discover that most of these counsellors are divorced or separated themselves. Having escaped painful marriages in the past, they are now on a mission to “save” other downtrodden spouses. I suspect they could be projecting their own issues, and unresolved anger and bitterness, onto their clients to justify their own choices.
I also see counsellors misusing the co-dependency model. Co-dependency was a term coined in the 70s, which applied to marriages between an alcoholic or drug addict and an “enabling” partner. It identified dynamics such as how the addict manipulates their spouse into supplying their drug, turning a blind eye or covering up for their habit. For the addict to overcome the addiction, the enabling partner has to leave temporarily. The caring spouse must also protect themself from being emotionally drained by the addict’s demands.
This concept of dysfunctional co-dependence has been wrongly applied to normal marriage. Granted there are destructive habits within marriages such as physical and verbal abuse, which are completely unacceptable and must be eliminated. However these serious problems can be solved without terminating a marriage permanently.
To care for the needs of your partner and to want to be loved is NOT co-dependent. The desire to give and receive emotional support is normal and natural. Humans are wired to grow up and leave parents and seek an intimate lifelong connection with a loving partner and raise a family together. This is healthy interdependence.
There’s another reason why counsellors are quick to give up on couples in crisis. Effective marital therapy is complex and requires great skill, patience and perseverance from the counsellor. It is one of the hardest forms of counselling.
In fact marital therapy has a low success rate because there are so few skilled marriage counsellors. It is easier to throw in the towel and give up on a couple, with an attitude: “Well, it’s just too hard. Why don’t you break up and put us all out of our misery!”
So I will state my values openly. I believe that divorce is an agonising tragedy to be avoided at all costs. I believe that marriage is worth saving and that it is possible to build a strong, happy marriage despite conflict and crisis, once you discover how.
I know this because we’ve been there. Our marriage survived despite the misguided advice of counsellors and friends with their own agendas. Fortunately, we found a pro-marriage counsellor and supportive friends who valued our marriage enough to help us save it.