Marriage counselors and therapists create a safe space for their clients to unpack and process difficult personal material. In order to maintain the client's emotional safety, marriage counselors and therapists will typically not recommend or suggest a divorce.
Can a Therapist Tell You to Leave Your Partner?
If a therapist tells you to leave your partner, they are creating an uncomfortable space for you to process freely. If the client knows that the therapist supports the idea of divorce, they may begin withholding information and lying to the therapist to protect themselves. This is the exact opposite of what you want to happen in a therapy session. If the client no longer feels safe, the work cannot be done. Telling a client what to do not only violates their trust, but enforces the notion that they are unable or incapable of making their own decisions.
What if Your Therapist Tells You to Get a Divorce?
If you are in an individual session or couples session with your marriage counselor and they directly suggest that you seek a divorce, it's important to take time to process what happened. You have a few options as to what to do next:
- If you feel comfortable doing so, speak with your counselor about the feelings that came up for you when they mentioned divorce. Your counselor may have had a slip up, or the context may have been misunderstood. Think about if you feel safe continuing to work with them.
- You can let them know that you'd like a referral to another counselor because you don't feel like it's working out. Your therapist can transfer their therapy session notes to your new counselor if requested to do so.
What if the Couple Asks About Divorce?
If a couple or individual directly asks their counselor if they should get a divorce, the counselor will most likely help the client(s) explore why they asked in the first place. In other words, most counselors will assist their client in unpacking this topic without noting their personal opinion about the clients' marriage. The counselor may ask questions or make statements like:
- I'm curious as to why you are asking me whether you should get a divorce. Let's explore this.
- Divorce is a huge decision and a very personal one. To that end, it's only a choice that you and your partner can make.
- Sometimes we ask others for their opinion when we feel unsure of our thought process. While I can't make this decision for you, I can help you and your partner explore this if divorce is something you two are seriously considering.
What if There Are Signs of Abuse?
If there are signs of abuse and the counselor has been seeing both partners, they will most likely set up individual sessions so they can better understand both sides of the story. If child or elder abuse is learned about, the counselor is mandated to make a Child Protective Services or Adult Protective Services report even if the client doesn't want them to. If the counselor feels that one partner is in imminent danger, the counselor will take necessary steps to ensure that their client is able to stay safe. They may or may not bring up divorce directly, but may discuss several options with their client including:
- Exploring the idea of not being with their current partner and what that would look/feel like. Discussing the level of danger that their partner poses based on the client's specific history.
- Helping the client develop a safety plan that may or may not include staying with someone else, heading to a safe house, and/or removing pets and children from the house as soon as possible.
- Providing resources, information, and referrals to those who can assist with the situation if the client moves forward with separating, a divorce, and/or getting a restraining order.
What Does a Marriage Counselor Do?
Therapists go through years of extensive schooling, training, and supervision to understand how to best empower clients in making their own decisions, understanding their behavior, and developing healthy coping skills. Counselors and therapists aim to help their clients develop insight into their behavior, better understand their relationships, and connect past patterns and experiences to current behavior. Some counselors focus on the here and now, while others help their clients explore how their past has influenced their future. Marriage counselors may help their clients:
- Explore current marital issues
- Connect past individual behavioral patterns to current relationship issues
- Help clients build healthy communication skills with each other
- Help clients explore their childhood and note how certain experiences and attachment patterns have influenced their marriage
- Provide psycho-education regarding specific issues and themes that clients continue to go back to
- Help clients cultivate empathy for each other
- Help clients explore their relationship options without giving personal opinions
- Help clients who are in the divorce process make it through more amicably and/or explain the situation to their kids
- Help clients post divorce who want to maintain friendship and/or healthy co-parenting relationship
Does Counseling Help a Marriage?
Couples therapy has about a 75 percent success rate regardless of what method your specific counselor uses. Factors that impact whether couples counseling is likely to improve the marriage include:
- Solid alliance with each other despite disagreements
- Developing increased insight into each partner's own behavior
- Accepting aspects of each other that cannot be changed
- Both partners feel like the therapist aligns equally with both clients and not just one
Can Couples Therapy Make Things Worse?
Counseling uncovers sensitive and painful issues that were often shoved aside for years and when they emerge can make the situation feel worse and more intense. This doesn't mean that the relationship cannot improve. Sometimes, couples need to look at the hurt they've faced individually and as a couple before they can move forward with rebuilding their relationship. There may be circumstances where your couples counselor is inappropriate and/or incompetent. In these cases, counseling can make it worse and a new counselor should be sought out.
Why Good Marriage Counselors Don't Recommend Divorce
As a therapist or counselor, the main goal is to create an open and safe space for your clients to process their thoughts and emotions without judgment. When a therapist or counselor tells their clients to get a divorce, they are violating their clients' trust and creating a restrictive and judgmental space.