I tried marriage therapy with my Runaway Husband, which did not go how I thought it would. Here I will discuss what you might want to expect.
Alternative Reasons He Goes to Therapy
Initially, when the Runaway Husband has made his decision to leave and committed sudden spousal abandonment, he isn’t eager to change his mind. Often times they may still agree to marriage therapy anyway, which gives abandoned wives a false surge of hope. If you are experiencing this, please lookout for the following motivations:
- To play victim. The most common reason he tries marriage therapy after abandonment is to get confirmation that he made the right decision. To the betrayed wife’s horror, he may exaggerate and falsify horrific claims of abuse against her. He may invent a reason for his betrayal and wants it affirmed by a professional, to solidify the story he is telling himself and others. His stories may be one-sided, vilifying, and misrepresenting. He may also bring up singular events from years prior, before the marriage, over issues that were forgiven or misunderstood, and use that as grounds for the marriage issues.
- Shame. The runaway husband may feel shame and pressure from outside sources, and feel obligated to go in order to keep an image. If you have informed him that you are attending the session with or without him, that may be enough for him to go for fear of being talked bad about and his warped reality not being told. These men are usually controlled by their shame, which is part of the reason he did not look his wife in the eye with his unhappiness, and instead ran away in hiding. This is very closely tied to the next point-
- To say “I tried”. This will be especially true when children and family are involved. The divorce will bring up a lot of questions and sometimes judgement, harsh feelings or unsolicited advice. It becomes far more acceptable if he is able to tell people that “we tried therapy and nothing changed”. He will appear more reasonable and level headed, like the decision to leave was not hastily made (which is contradictory to the reality). This is the point where many outsides will sympathize and assume that he did everything to save the marriage, and that the problem was not him. This is also a way for him to defend himself, by telling both his wife and himself “Marriage therapy didn’t work, there is nothing I can do” and leave without guilt.
- To get the abandoned wife to leave him alone. One of the most gut-wrenching stories was reading someone’s experience on how they went to marriage therapy only for her husband to briefly state how the marriage is over and walk out before the therapist even has a chance to intervene. It is important to remember that Runaway Husbands are cowards, and he may use therapy as an expensive way to give a searing one-line statement in the presence of someone who he sees as a mediator.
- To negotiate/stall a divorce settlement. At the point of abandonment, the Runaway Husband is no longer the person his wife remembers. Do not put it past him to manipulate feelings in an attempt to get lawyers called-off or divorce issues delayed or dropped. Even if he says it is ‘for the kids,” often times these man are thinking with an “addict brain” and are looking at the dollar signs in their bank inhibiting them from the fast paced lifestyle they have traded in their security for. Most Runaway husbands struggle with an addiction and overspending immediately after the abandonment, and it is not uncommon for them to delay divorce long enough to drain marital assets to support their new obligation-free lifestyle. Many stories of these men returning have ended in them setting up financial arrangements that would screw-over their unsuspecting wife within 6 months.
The Things To Expect from Him
When the abandonment first happens, many women try to save their marriage at all costs- after all- this is usually the first time we know something is wrong. Now that he has become someone unrecognizable, it’s helpful to know what to expect from the new him:
- He may be distant. If or when he arrives, he may seem oddly composed, expressionless, distant and even annoyed. This is a sign of him actively working hard to disconnect his feelings of guilt, shame and regret. In short: these are defenses.
- He may play victim. Using words like “I’m afraid of her” and “she abuses me.” He will rarely bring up specific events, just the overarching terms to drive the point across because it will rewrite his abandonment or infidelity as an “escape from abuse”.
- He may demonize you. Painting a story of how emotionally unstable, unhinged, demanding, controlling, abusive and crazy you are.
- He may exaggerate, falsify or tell one sided tales. Did you ever tell him to pick up after himself? He’s about to say: “She tries to control everything I do when I come home, I am walking on eggshells”
- He may “forget” significant pieces of information. Did you guys have a disagreement on anything? He will selectively remember the parts where you look bad- even if you were reacting to his mistreatment.
- He may give up. If he is not being validated, or if truths come out that don’t fit his narrative, he will use the biggest weapon in this scenario: divorce. It changes the topic, gives him a surge of power, and allows him to control what is allowed to be said in sessions.
Things to Expect from the Therapist:
Marriage therapists, especially good ones, will try not take sides after the first meeting. More commonly, though, a marriage therapist may attempt to “build rapport” with your Runaway Husband, since their treatments will require him to be present. This is both because he is a man, and because he is a leaver- which means it may be assumed that talk-therapy is uncomfortable for him, and that as a leaver he is the most likely to quit sessions. Therapists need to keep clients, so there are some forces working against betrayed wives in these cases.
You might not walk out feeling validated, because the primary concern will be making HIM feel validated enough to keep both of you coming back. This was something I wish I knew before.
Another issue is when the therapist validates the lies, one-sided stories, and exaggerations that your husband will inevitably share. Therapists are trained to “treat patients where they are at,” meaning, if the patient believes they are victimized and blameless, the therapist starts there. They are not trained to detect lies- in fact- therapy is based around the assumption that the clients are being honest with their experiences, and will be treated as such. For example, if your husband was caught in a lie and you responded by raising your voice, he might tell the therapist, “She always comes into the room and screams at me for no reason, I’m in constant fear of her abuse.” Therapists will encourage clients to keep a safe space, which means uninterruptible him will only be seen as ‘invalidating his experience’. The therapist may nod and say that his fears are reasonable, which is exactly what the husband was wanting to hear. Even if he knew he had exaggerated, it doesn’t matter, he s hungry for any and all confirmation of his stories.
This will feel unfair, and the first reaction from the wife (the true victim) is to correct the lies, stories and set the record straight. At this point it is hard to not get upset at the blatant injustice of it all. This can be traumatizing, and often victims of this abuse will become re-victimized in these sessions.
If you are still dead-set on attempting therapy with a Runaway Husband, please keep these cautions in mind. Some of these triggers will not be within your control and studies have shown that therapy with an abuser will hurt the victim more.
One method that I have seen from good therapists, is asking for specific information when their client is claiming they were victimized- prior to validating anything. Asking “what did they say, exactly?” or “what was the conversation before this?” This is a strategy used by professionals who don’t play games. As a wife, we can reply to our husband’s lies by doing the something similar, rather than outright calling him a liar. When a husband tells the story; “You always scream at me” you can reply with a question, “I’m not sure I understand. When was the last time you’re referring to?.” When he replies “I don’t remember” or “A few months/years ago,” the therapist will get a more accurate sense of what’s going on: his exaggerations. You may also ask “What did I say?” and the husband may also reply “I don’t remember”. Regardless, the conversation is turned back to the issues at-hand. In rare cases, this method might bring him to clarity, but there is usually another example he has to validate his narrative. Sessions with a runaway spouse can be like “pulling teeth”- prolonged, painful and exhausting with little reward.
What He Said, What it Meant
These are things I learned after taking notes about key phrases he would use. Whether the true meaning came out in therapy, or he admitted them himself, these are the truths I learned:
- “I deserve to be happy”
He has viewed himself as a altruistic victim that is entitled to a reward for his suffering. He feels that at this point, his decisions should not have consequences, and is using the term ‘happiness’ to achieve a fallacy of moral superiority.
- “I can never make you happy”
He is speaking about how he is unable to make himself happy, and thus, tried to control your emotions for his own identity.
- “I have to manage your emotions”
He has attempted to manipulate you into reacting only in favorable ways, because his self esteem has relied on others.
- “It’s been all about you for so long”
He is constantly looking at other’s peoples moods, reactions and feelings, and focuses more on others than himself, because he is unable to meet his needs
- “I can’t deal with [this/ you]”
He can’t deal with his own negative emotions. Sadness, vulnerability, and guilt are all feelings he has masked with either anger or disassociation.
- “You are always angry”
His efforts to escape and deny his internal emotions has led him to project his feelings onto you. Any negative emotion you have had has been interpreted as the only negative emotion he has ever allowed himself to feel: Anger.
- “We always fight” / “We never get along”
A hopeless, defeated statement. This was said both because he held silent resentment, and also because he viewed “fight” as any conversation where opinions were different. It was discovered that conflict-avoidance came into play and “made mountains out of mole hills”.
- “I am never allowed to [have emotions/disagree]”
He has taken his emotionally neglectful childhood traumas, and projected it onto the marriage. Instead of facing his own fears, he blames his wife “not allowing him” so that he does not have to feel vulnerable or responsible for his inability to voice his needs.
- “I can’t ever tell you how I feel”
This was made as an accusatory statement. He is unwilling to take responsibility for his decisions to hide his feelings. Other times, he couldn’t even identify those feelings- but would rather blame his wife than come to terms with his emotional disconnection with himself.
- “You’re just trying to make me feel [guilty/ angry/etc]”
The feelings he is avoiding surface during any type of confrontation. in an effort to avoid feeling those feelings, he addressed his feeling, but without being responsible for it. The guilt was not from a guilt-trip- but his own conscious telling him that his actions were wrong. Anger came from a secondary emotion to avoid the primary one: feeling small and vulnerable. Feeling controlled stemmed from his unwillingness to face natural consequences (ie. not coming home will result in divorce even if he does not file- the wife will).
- “You hate me”/ “You never cared about me”/ “You don’t love me”
This is the ‘story’ he has told himself, in order to take the burden of leaving off of himself and put his guilt elsewhere. It is more about his own unwillingness to take responsibility. He wants to stay in a state of pretending to be powerless in a situation that he has created. The need to escape guilt overrides reality and becomes his new truth.
Have you been to marriage counseling with a runaway spouse? Feel free to share your experiences below
Thank you for reading!
More from this Blog:
- A List of Traits
- Does He Feel Guilt?
- Exploring Reconciliation
- His Story
- Intro to the Runaway Husband
- Letter to Abandoned Wives
- Mama's Boy
- Marriage Therapy
- The Meddler in Your Marriage
- Understanding the Runaway Husband
- Why There is Always an "Other Woman"
- Why You Didn't See the Signs