What do many people do when their marriage is in trouble? Get help. Getting help normally means going to a counsellor.
The counsellor would quite naturally assume that both partners in the relationship want the same thing – to solve the issues – and they will both do their best to work on it. It is also assumed that there will be a degree of honesty and openness with the counsellor, otherwise why bother. And finally, if you are going to counselling you must be a reasonable person that has some insights into your behaviour or are at least willing to look at yourself and take responsibility for your part in the problems.
For most of the population, those assumptions would be correct, but not if one (or both) of the partners displays the behaviours of a personality disorder, or another similar term – high conflict personality.
Do the personality disordered tell the truth? No
Are the personality disordered self aware? No
Do the personality disordered assume some personal responsibility? No
Are the personality disordered reasonable? No
* I know I am generalising – and this is a controversy/debate – but on the whole these answers are true for any Cluster B Personality Disorder not in treatment*
I went to counselling with my ex husband to save our marriage by working through the fall out of the infidelity I had just found out about, to help him with his sex addiction and to work out what had gone wrong. I thought that was what he wanted too.
I was wrong.
He went back to his cheating and promiscuity within two weeks of our first appointment, but just hid it better so I wouldn’t find out. I know this because he told me three years later when I found out he hadn’t stopped at all – getting someone pregnant is rather an undeniable proof of infidelity.
I spent 3 years going to marriage counselling with a man who would sit with me and seem to talk sincerely about the issues of his infidelity, my lack of trust,his sex addiction and the problems in our marriage – all the while using his new secret mobile to hook up with strangers he met on the internet. Honest? Open? That would be a big fat NO.
Counselling can actually make things worse. My ex would remember only the things the counsellor said that I should do.
‘Maggie told you not to raise your voice’ but what Maggie wasn’t there to witness was James winding me up deliberately to the point where he knew I would lose it and shout at him.
‘Maggie said you should walk away when things get heated and we can talk about it later’ which was James’ way of avoiding talking about problems because ‘later’ never came.
Abusive, manipulative, superficially charming people can con a counsellor as easily as they conned their partners into believing they are good people who want the best. How can a counsellor see through the charm in an hour a week?
Through blogging, unrelated online support groups and real life, I have met people still in a relationship with a High Conflict Personality. When they talk about going to counselling as a way of trying to fix the problems I send them the first two articles below – they explain in more detail why marriage counselling with High Conflict or Personality Disordered people won’t save a marriage. I wish it could, but it just can’t.