Archive of ‘Recovery’ category

When Is It Time To Get a Divorce?

As a couples therapist, I see couples who are struggling to re-invigorate their sex life, they are struggling with finances, they have trouble raising their children, etc. Having these reasons in mind as to why many of my couples come in on the brink of divorce, researcher Dr. John Gottman says that the main reasons why couples divorce is due to sex, finances, and raising children. I must say that though Dr. Gottman has a point, I disagree—couples divorce due to lack of emotional connection. 

If you are not emotionally connected and engaged in your marriage, you will not be able to manage a sex life together, manage money together, or create a safe parenting space together. Dr. Sue Johnson, creator of the dynamic Emotionally-Focused Couples Therapy, says that the erosion of an emotional bond between two partners is the beginning of the end to their relationship. As humans, we are wired to connect in a safe and emotionally healthy way. If we do not have this in a marriage, we will slowly disconnect and eventually divorce if no action for couples therapy is taken. 

Disconnection can look like many different things. Maybe you and your spouse keep arguing about household chores or who will walk the dog next. Perhaps a spouse can feel unsupported in their idea to switch careers. Maybe there is just an overall feeling of loneliness on both parts in the marriage. The main point to understand on a general disconnect in the marriage is that it can be understood and helped. Much of what we do in couples therapy at Austin Family Counseling is strengthen the emotional bond between partners as well as create a safe space for re-engagement and for couples to work on issues that have been reasons for feelings of disconnection in their marriage. Basically, a general feeling of disconnection is not a valid reason to divorce when there are many resources and tools to help build and strengthen your marriage. Rarely do couples come to me with the presenting problem of lack of engagement and leave the therapeutic process unhealed, reassured, and optimistic about their exciting new opportunities to re-spark their romantic life. 

Extreme cases, however, can absolutely be reasons to separate. In my years of practice, I have seen such reasons for a therapist to recommend separation as physical abuse, emotional/verbal abuse, and active addiction.

Physical Abuse

This is perhaps the main reason that couples should divorce. Physical abuse of any kind is not acceptable in a marriage or any other kind of relationship. Physical abuse is seen in marriages where one partner has significant anger issues and has not managed their emotion to the point of it being unsafe to be close and vulnerable to this person. Women who stay married to physically aggressive men are very likely to have come from abusive households where they see abuse as a “natural” thing. 

According to the American Journal of Emergency Medicine, since the stay-at-home order has been put into effect in 2020, an alarming increase of domestic violence cases has occurred in the US. More partners are shut into their homes with their spouse, putting them more at risk of physical danger when the aggressive partner becomes triggered. Other effects that are brought on by the stay-at-home order are alcohol abuse, depression, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress, all VERY easy triggers of physical abuse. 

If you are involved in a physically abusive marriage, I urge you to reach out for help and escape from a dangerous situation as soon as possible within your boundaries of safety. If you are in Austin, the Salvation Army’s Austin Shelter for Women and Children, the SAFE Children’s Center, and Casa Marianella are all places where women and families can go for refuge from a physically abuse situation. As a couples therapist who becomes aware of physical abuse, I am ethically bound to stop couples therapy immediately and let the abusive partner know they need to do their own counseling and anger management if couples therapy ever resumes. 

Emotional/Verbal Abuse

Aside from physical abuse, verbal and emotional abuse is another form of abuse that is sadly much harder to spot. Physical wounds leave visible marks, but emotional wounds can go unseen for sometimes decades. Emotional abuse is defined as any form of emotionally manipulative behavior perpetrated by one person to another that can cause PTSD, stress, or anxiety. Some forms of it are below:

  • Gaslighting: making the partner being gaslit think something is different than they actually experienced it.
    Example: “Something must be wrong with your memory because I never said that!”
  • Minimizing: making someone feel inadequate or unworthy based merely on how they are feeling
    Example: “I don’t know why you’re feeling that way, you didn’t have it that bad!”
  • Intimidation: using threatening language to reinforce a sense of control by the partner through invoking fear.
    Example: “I will hit you if you say that to me one more time!”

Though no form of abuse is ever acceptable, there tends to be more hope for emotional abuse than physical abuse in the couples I see. Sometimes, separation is key for partners where verbal abuse is going on before they are able to come back together and make the decision to either stay together or divorce. However, in my sessions with couples, a hard boundary I hold is to have no gaslighting, minimizing, intimidation, or name-calling in session. If you believe your partner has narcissistic qualities in them, definitely seek help for mental health as these can have longlasting negative effects on someone’s sense of self.

Active Addiction

Though many treatment modalities indicate couples can survive an active or recovering addiction, in extreme cases a marriage cannot always survive. If a partner is currently abusing alcohol and becomes physically or emotionally abusive, it is in the other partner’s best interest to leave when the marriage becomes an unsafe place. Unless the addicted partner commits to going to AA or therapy to work on their addiction, the marriage will become an unsafe place for both people, triggering an abusive cycle that both partners will be feeding into. 

When a partner is addicted to an illegal substance (i.e. cocaine, methamphetamine, heroine, etc.), the marriage is further complicated due to the unlawful possession of illegal substances in a household. Not only is the marriage riddled with addiction and addictive patterns, but this presents the marriage with far more dangers and reasons to divorce. Though only one partner is using, both spouses when living together are subject to legal ramifications that puts the non-addicted partner in a very precarious position. 

When couples come to me with an addiction present, I hold a firm boundary that the person who is addicted seek help through groups (i.e. AA, NA, SLAA, etc.), separate individual counseling, or in further cases checking into a detox and addictions treatment center for couples therapy to continue. It is unethical to do couples counseling while a noticeable addiction is going on due to the fact that the vulnerability needed in couples therapy can at times exacerbate the addicted spouse’s addiction. 

Written by: Ian Hammonds, LPC, LMFT


Shame: The Insidious Defeater

It wasn’t until after I was out of graduate school and well into my professional career that I really learned about shame. While many of my clients seemed to receive help and work through tough problems and even trauma, there seemed to be a few areas where we would sometimes get stuck. After training with Dr. Brené Brown and her team on shame resiliency, I began to notice huge progress both within myself and in my clients.

Jennifer Alley, LPC

By: Jennifer Alley, LPC

Most of us don’t talk about shame. By definition, shame is that which feels unspeakable; the things that keep us awake at night or nag us throughout our daily tasks. They are the messages we hear in our head when we want to be vulnerable or make a connection with another person; the voice that discourages us when we think of taking a risk or doing something brave. For many of the clients I work with, the voice shows up as something like, “not ____________ enough” (fill the blank with words like good, smart, pretty, skinny, sexy, funny, etc). It also dresses up in messages like, I’m unloveable, flawed, disgusting, broken, worthless, a phony, or a fraud. When we have a fight with someone we love, shame is often the feeling that causes us to curl up in the corner feeling completely defeated and “bad” or lash out and blame the other person, perhaps even shaming them.

For many people, these messages and statements are so insidious, so ingrained that they are perhaps not even really consciously noticed. Instead, they may just be internalized as “truth,” minimizing the chance that the person feeling shame might take that risk, share something vulnerable, or succeed at something hard. It often keeps people from having the close relationships that they would like to have because they fear that if people only knew the “truth” about them, they wouldn’t be liked or considered worthy of connection.

As part of the work I do with clients, I ask them to notice the “tapes” that play in the back of their minds. When they feel challenged, when they are trying something new or difficult, when they feel scared or hurt, what messages are they hearing? They often come back surprised by the amount of negative self-talk or shaming messages that are on replay throughout their days.

Particularly in my work with individuals who have a trauma history including family of origin mental illness or dysfunction, domestic violence, assault, or abuse, with clients who have experienced divorce or made the difficult choice to abort or give a baby up for adoption, and with clients who are in recovery from various types of addiction, there is often a great deal of shame happening consciously or unconsciously.

The biggest problem with shame is that it jeopardizes relationships, stunts our growth, keeps us from connecting with others, and makes us feel very alone. The anecdote to shame is owning our story with self-compassion and love in addition to sharing our story and our shame with those that we trust.

To learn more about Dr. Brown’s work on shame, visit http://www.brenebrown.com. If you are interested in joining a group or receiving individual counseling about shame/shame resilience, visit http://www.austincounselors.org.

Upcoming Group Offering:

Daring Recovery– an eight week group for women in recovery based on the work of Dr. Brené Brown. Facilitated by Jennifer Alley, LPC, CDWF-candidate at 5000 Bee Caves Rd. Suite 100.

Mondays 6:15-7:45pm

October 27-December 15

Group objectives:

  • Gain courage to own, share, and live our stories
  • Learn how to live life sober, transforming the way we live and love
  • Choose authenticity over numbing, pretending, and perfecting
  • Increase self-compassion, empathy, and connection
  • Understand our shame triggers and what drives that feeling of not being enough
  • Connect bravely with other women

Contact Jennifer at [email protected] or 512-761-5180 to register or for more information. You can also visit http://www.austincounselors.org.