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Marriage Counseling Quackery

When I read on infidelity boards, I’m always shocked to read about people’s shitty marriage counseling experiences. Not to diss all marriage counselors or the act of seeking counseling, but when it comes to infidelity, there are some serious quacks out there.

The quack experience usually goes something like this — a couple comes in and one of them is cheating/has cheated. The other one wants to save the marriage. And the shrink tells the cheater and the person gutted by infidelity that, hey, everyone is at fault here, and both people contributed to the current state of affairs (no pun intended). I assume the shrink slathers the blame around to make everyone feel equal — equal in their shame, by way of a perverse sort of welcome. I also assume this is done to win the trust of the cheater who is reluctant to be there. And the conversation goes something like, “Well now Betty, tell me the ways in which Carlton has failed you…”

Infidelity quacks seem to be operating from several flawed assumptions.

1) That people cheat because of something lacking in the other spouse.

2) That infidelity is just a symptom of larger marital issues and is not the main event worth discussing.

3) That you can “nice” people out of cheating.

Let’s take this crap point by point. 1) People cheat because something is lacking in THEM — connection, empathy, a soul. Cheating is about greediness, narcissism, and opportunity. You might actually be a crappy spouse, but you did not make your spouse cheat. That decision is on them 100%. There was a giant decision tree of available options (therapy with a non-quack, a divorce lawyer, an improving hobby) — cheating was the rotten branch they chose.

2) Once someone decides to cheat — THAT is the bullet in the marriage. THAT is the issue that needs addressing first before you get into your love languages, communication styles, and FOO shit. There is no point in discussing any of the rest of your marital relationship when one party is actively not committed to the marriage. It’s like choosing dinner selections on the Hindenburg.

3) Cheaters don’t need insight that cheating is wrong. They don’t need a shrink feeding their already inflated appetite for attention and ego kibbles by asking them about themselves and their childhood hang ups. They are grossly mistaken if they think that the cheater and the betrayed spouse want the same marriage. Because cheaters aren’t working from the same rule book. Cheaters KNOW what the rules are — they just don’t think the rules should apply to them. They need to be called out on their shit. (You can do more reading about the proper approach to therapy with disturbed characters at Dr. George Simon’s blog

I had a quack experience once in marital counseling with my cheating ex. The guy just sat there impassively  and asked us how we “felt” about everything. I told him about the infidelity, the rages, and how he wouldn’t agree to get an STD test. My cheater then piped up that he felt I was “punishing” him by asking for such a thing.

The shrink sat there and sagely nodded. Then told us that we needed to learn to “dialogue.”

I was so incensed that I called the practice. “I want a new shrink. This guy’s a quack. I’m married to a serial cheater. He’s a lawyer and a verbal steamroller. I need a pit bull shrink. Do you have one of those?”

The man on the other side said, yes, as a matter of fact he did. And he gave us Janet.

Janet was a tiny, Jewish woman with a New York accent that swore like a sailor and didn’t take any shit. She told my ex that he had his “head stuck up his ass,” that he was greedy, that he didn’t know what love was. She told me that I was “exquisitely codependent.” She didn’t pull any punches. She all but did a puppet show behind my ex’s head that said LEAVE HIM! LEAVE HIM NOW!

When my ex would try and give her a line about how he “didn’t remember” where he was on Christmas Day or with whom, she yelled at him “BULLSHIT! I’M A JEW. EVEN I KNOW WHAT I WAS DOING ON CHRISTMAS!”

When he would say something ridiculous (such as “I like being a narcissist!”), she would stop, pause, look at me and say ARE YOU PAYING ATTENTION TO THIS? ARE YOU LISTENING? THIS IS WHO HE IS!

God love her, she wasn’t nice. She was effective. The therapy world needs more Janets.

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  • OMG! I laughed out loud! I can totally relate to the quack therapist experience, although mine was an individual counselor (Phd mind you). It took awhile for me to realize that this lady and I were definitely not a “match”. I can laugh about it now, but at the time, it was really hard to tell if she was a quack or if I was just so messed up that I couldn’t understand her point or could own my shit. Turns out that, much like with cheaters, sometimes you just gotta walk out on a shrink.

    • Ooh, that’s a good point. You’re there because you’re in a crisis and feeling muddled. And a bad shrink is going to make you doubt yourself… should I believe the crazy? Am I the crazy? That’s why the quacks anger me. As if you haven’t suffered enough.

  • Too true. After D-day and finding out my husband had been cheating with hookers for 10 YEARS, everyone told me to go to counseling. So I did. For nine months. I’ve never had therapy before, had no idea what was supposed to happen. She kept wanting to talk about communication styles and how everyone talks “abusively”, even though I have never even yelled at him or called him names once in this whole business. She totally jumped the shark the day she told me that obviously he is clueless, so I should “forgive him, for he knows not what he does”. Yeah, right! That was my last session.

    • OMG. Hookers for a decade and the shrink thinks you should get over it? I wonder if she wasn’t trying to say he is clueless about how you feel about it, so if you stick with him, you may as well “forgive” and look forward to your STD-filled life. Or maybe she’s so toxic as to think, oh hey, men see hookers. No problem here! Wow.

      Hope you got away from that husband as well as that shrink!

  • Had three MC experiences. Learned so much from each. First MC laid responsibility firmly on WH shoulders. WH responded that evening by reading me one of his journal entries saying that he loved his girlfriend. This was watershed #1

    Second MC said she could “see this” when WH said that he HAD to have his long term affair to function in our family. I responded by kicking him out of the house. He is still seeing this therapist ( how surprising!). This was watershed #2

    Third MC asked what my non-negotiables were – this was 6 months after I discovered the affair. I said that WH must go no contact with his girlfriend. MC calmly said that I had made that an non-negotiable six months previously and that since WH was still in a relationship with girlfriend I had made it a very negotiable point. BINGO. Watershed #3

    That ended my foray into marriage counseling. It all proved enlightening to me but it took took three different shrinks and six total session for me to hear Janet’s words “ARE YOU LISTENING?” !!!!!

    • Oh trust me, it took me more than six sessions of Janet for it to sink in with me. So I applaud you your watershed moments!

  • While attempting reconciliation with my ex, we went to a marriage counselor who told me, “It’s important to figure out what was missing in your marriage that led your wife to think she had to go outside the marriage to get it. Because only then can you supply that something she needs.” As a co-dependent, I lapped this up. It was like dangling crack in front of Charlie Sheen. You mean, the problem lies with ME? And I can fix it? I can control it? I can ensure by my actions that it never happens again? Well then, I’m IN!”

    What a stupid and cruel disaster. Turns out the “missing thing” my wife needed? Was boyfriends and secrecy and thousands of hours on World of Warcraft and no job or any responsibilities around the house. I couldn’t control shit. Except myself. So, I divorced her. Much, MUCH happier ever since.

    The best counselors speak in short declarative sentences, don’t waste time talking about how people “feel,” call bullshit when they hear lies or evasions, and pass judgment when people avoid responsibility. That is, they Make. People. Own. Their. Shit.

    Which, among other reasons, is why I love Chump Lady.

    • Aww. Thank you. LOL at “like dangling a crack pipe in front of Charlie Sheen”!

      Yeah, codependents like that hit off the crack pipe of hope.

    • Sounds like we had the same therapist and the same wife (minus the WoW).

      After D-day, I told her I’d give her 4 months to save our 16 yr marriage (with 3 young kids). But in my heart, I knew I could never, ever trust her again. After 4 months (and 2 more guys!) I filed for D.

      Just found this blog – love it Chump Lady!

    • Nomar, good for you; you made the right decision. I wish you happiness and peace in your life.

    • Nomar this sounds so similar to my experience…even down to the WoW. I had a MC tell me the same bullshit. Dynamics missing in the marriage contributed to his affair (I only knew about one at the time). And my codependent self also eagerly sought ways to supply what he needed even down to wasting hundreds of hours of my life playing WoW with him. Did my ex make that same effort? Of course not. I feel like that MC handed him a Get Out of Jail Free Card and he ran with it. After 6 months of trying to reconcile I was a mess. I decided to find a counselor for me who specialized in infidelity and she was my Janet. She had to tell me many many times that anything I contributed to any dysfunction in the marriage could easily have been worked out within the confines of a safe and healthy marriage. Actually, my issues were pretty normal stuff when sharing a life with another person. Infidelity is another story. He inflicted the mortal wound. I did not. So why was I putting in all the effort to reconcile? Well I stopped revolving my world around him and then discovered that lack of cake led him to a “Dating for Married’s” website. Totally sick…he had no intention of changing.

      I used to wonder if our first MC wasn’t such a quack maybe that could’ve changed the outcome of my marriage ie, reconciliation. Two happily divorced years and hearing similar stories here have really helped squash that notion. Thanks for the site CL!

  • I went to a therapist last month on the advice of the psychiatrist who is dispensing my anti-anxiety and sleeping prescriptions so I can function somewhat normally, and it lasted two sessions, she just couldn’t understand what infidelity does to a person. I thought about trying another one, but I just couldn’t face the search again.

    I’ve been on the Talkaboutmarriage forum and honestly, I love getting the direct no bull advice from people who have been through it. Best therapy there is IMO. My handyman brother from Florida who has been through this himself told me the day after D-day to “run from that dirty w*ore” and of course I thought he was crazy, end my marriage? She’ll come around, I just know it. Didn’t quite work out that way.

  • I almost fell out of my office chair laughting at the advice of Jeff’s handyman brother, ““run from that dirty w*ore.”

    Infidelity advice . . . FOR THE WIN!

  • The God’s must have been smiling at me when I picked my therapist off the internet. She is amazing. She called STB on his shit, did a few IC with me and made it clear that he was toxic. When I finally refused any more therapy she said, at our next IC, ‘Thank god, I didn’t think you were ever going to get it. He will crush this young girl he’s seeing and he will never stop. You would never have been able to trust him again. And hey, it only took you 6 sessions to see it!’.

    She is amazing and the best thing I ever did was start seeing her in IC.

    • You got a Janet on the first go? That’s so great. I’m glad you’re getting good support. I would think the shrink prognosis for serial cheaters is pretty grim.

  • Thanks so much for this post. Our therapist wasn’t quite that bad, but I really think that he fed the fire of the narcissist and made him believe that his behavior was my fault, too. Problems in the marriage…I own. Cheating…that is ALL HIS, baby. It isn’t an obvious conclusion that someone will cheat. It just isn’t. BS. BS. BS.

    As for the ex-narcissist…Sorry I wasn’t giving you blow jobs in the car like your mistress. Maybe we could do that in front of our 10 month old, 2 year old and 4 year old…maybe while in the carseat? Muy romantico.

    Thank you chumplady for saying things that NO ONE ELSE WILL!

    • What is it with OW and blow jobs in cars? Is that always part of the job description?

      And yeah, of course he thinks the cheating is your fault. Text book. Shouldn’t shrinks see through that? Do they think we possess some magic powers that make others DO things? Because in my world, I can’t control any one. (Ah, that I could…)

      Because if you could EFFECT things like Making Him Cheat — do you really think you would CHOOSE that? Oh shit, I better turn that power off! I made him cheat… now I need to flip the switch and make him un-cheat!

  • OMG! Chump Lady you “crack me up” with your wit, your insight and your No BS attitude. You had better believe that if the Betrayed Spouses could “flip” some switch that would shut down these Cheating assholes, we would do so in a “New York minute”. If not to save ourselves, at least spare our children, loving family members and dear friends the pain of watching us suffer through the trauma of infidelity. (Infidelity murders the soul and kills the spirit–it goes deeper than the marrow). Cheaters are concerned only with themselves; they could care less how the discovery of their affair or affairs will affect other people in their lives. They are only concerned with getting the next “blow job” or engaging in some other freaky shit they saw on some porn site. Listen, if a wife wants to be a “dirty whore” who screws every man except her husband, or a “serial cheating” husband wants to “poke” anything with an orifice, then go for it! Just don’t get married or involved in a committed relationship. And for pity sake, don’t drag innocent children into your “cluster”. Just plan on …cking everything you possibly can before your genitals either drop off or dry up. But please –leave the rest of us the “hell alone”.

  • The woman who my ex cheated with was a married Phd. marriage counselor. I consider this person to be extra vile as she not only knew me and my family, but as a psychologist knew exactly the kind of harm she was causing me and my family.

    On the flip side, I found a fantastic counselor who helped me wade through the pain and crap of being cheated on and regain my sanity and self respect.

    Love your website, the way you cut through the bullshit that surrounds this topic. Wish I’d found it sooner!

    • Thanks Firepainter. The OW was a SHRINK in MARRIAGE COUNSELING? Wow. That one takes the biscuit. As OW go, that’s extra special fucked up. I’m so glad to read you got a good shrink and regained your sanity.

    • I’m a therapist and know that what this woman did was a violation of her professional ethics. I strongly suggest contacting the Board in her state and reporting her.

    • On one infidelity website, there’s an OW who claims to be a marriage/family therapist who specializes in children’s needs.

      She’s been the OW for 7 years. She kinda makes me insane. She’s easily the most narcissistic twit I have ever witnessed knocking about the boards.

      And the best part? She threatened to use her job to have her MM’s other OW committed.

      yup. She’s a peach. And by peach ? I mean total whore. LOL

      • OMG. You know, I knew a woman from a board whose OW was a therapist as well. Four year affair, the woman left, and now OW is with her ex and cozies up to the kids. There are some true sickos out there.

    • I’d consider a lawsuit. Allthough alienation of affection is not a viable cause of action in most states, if this woman did any counseling of you or your family(not sure if she did), you may be able to sue her. Many states that have abolished alineation of affection, do allow suites against counselors who cheat with their clients.
      Seems the counseloor is held to a duty to his or her patients that is breachedby sleeping withone.
      Not sure, however, that your situation involved her counseling you or your H.

  • Anyone seeing a therapist should inquire re personality disorders.I’d never heard of them before I went to therapy. My I suggested i research them after i described some of the really mean things my wife would do.
    He also told me that a very high % of his business and that of other MCs concerned attempted reconcilliations after cheating> He told me that in about 10% of the cases he had, the couple stayed together. No comment on the % of those that were ever happy after deciding to stay put.

  • Dear Chump Lady… I’ll drink to everything you say… every time… EVERY SINGLE WORD! Cheers!

  • My IC/MC was basically a Janet.
    I could see it oozing out of her that she loathed my cheating shit of a husband.
    She even joked to me that I should “chop it off”.
    She was JUST what I needed!

  • I had two of the best marriage counselors in the world.

    I am happily divorced now, but they were friggin awesome. The first one, Louise, was a Janet all the way. She called the fertilizer fertilizer, she pinned down evasions, she helped me recognize some of what he was saying, as opposed to what he wanted me to hear. (Which I was actually hearing correctly in the first place, I was just getting beat down when I sought clarification.)

    My H demanded a different therapist, insisting that he was not “clicking” with her. Second therapist had been my husband’s therapist previously. Guess the hubs thought this would give him an “in” with Paul. After one session, Paul requested we do separate sessions. When I went in to see him individually, he advised me to get a divorce as fast as our state would let me.

    Both the MCs & my personal therapist & pretty much the entire psychology office have my Ex pegged.

    Its hillarious to me that the Ex now b*tches about how the medical billing office treats him. I’m thinking to myself, they can see all the insurance claims for STD testing; for Xrays and painkillers & sedatives; the medical diagnosis of sexual abuse; AND they can see which person actually PAYS them each month and which one does not.

    And he’s pissed because they have very little respect for piss poor example of a human being?

  • Amazing article! It is riveting to see someone so expressive in their writing. I know plenty of equal shares counselors out there trust me. I also know if you find the right one all though rare they can be very helpful. Of course that depends on the situation. I can’t “Just get over ” being cheated on nor would I expect anyone to but some problems can be helped with the right counselor.

  • I liked where you were going until you got to Janet.

    My wife has been on the spectrum of abusive for several years now. She capped it off by having an affair. I found out about the affair after asking her many times (feels like millions) asking her if anything was going on. Her excuse was that it was my fault, that there were bigger things going on, that she feels trapped in the marriage, oh and the coup de gras, that she felt single starting a couple of years ago. WTF does that mean?!?!

    We went to a quack who acted just as you described. My wife would complain and point fingers and I would have to listen. And, when I directed the conversation to the affair my wife quickly shut me and the conversation down saying that wasn’t the issue. The quack complied.

    When I tried to point back I was quickly shut down being told that we aren’t pointing fingers or laying blame.

    There was definite gender bias going on. The quack acted as though I must have been doing something behind the scenes to make her act the way she did. Of course, women must all be victims.

    So, I really liked what you were saying until you got to Janet the Destroyer. What she, you, and your husband apparently failed to introduce was the most important part of the equation, and that is the kids. Peoples children and their well being is the most important thing.

    So, while Janet may be a hard ass, she’s misled. She is just another quack who failed to put things into perspective and jumped right to “divorce”. That was ugly, ugly, wrong headed advice.

    • I didn’t have children with my cheating (now EX) husband.

      She didn’t jump to divorce. She asked me if this relationship was acceptable to me, and pointed out that I wasn’t paying attention to his abusive actions.

      Shrinks are not super heroes. They can’t make an unfaithful person faithful, or get a willful disordered person to take responsibility. When there is NOTHING to work with, there is absolutely NO shame in divorcing. None. You cannot save a marriage by yourself, Gerald.

      • That’s what I had with my MC as well – we had had individual sessions and joint sessions with the MC until one session where my W went ballistically into rant mode and refused to go again.
        MC gently pointed that I needed to move on as W was just not treatable in her current state. It took a while for me to accept this – but good MC’s will call people on their shit.

  • Right, never at anytime, ever, on the face of the earth, has a poor prior relationship with a partner had anything to do with later cheating. This concept, which is obviously false, gives the partner who originally had poor relationship skills a reason not to recover after an affair. The caustic parts of a marriage never get addressed because of the pass given to the partner, who over years, or decades, used the social / legal apparatus of marriage to play with another human being.

    And right, a marriage counselor is a “quack” when he or she addresses caustic parts of a marriage which could be from the betrayed, as well as, the wayward partner.

    • Quit with the passive-aggressive crap. As a matter of fact, no, a poor prior relationship has nothing to do with cheating by the other spouse, any more than a poor prior relationship has to do with spousal abuse, or wearing a short skirt has to do with a woman’s getting raped. Cheating is a choice: no one acceidentally cheats, and no one is forced to cheat. It’s a pathetic response mechanism, whether or not there’s something to respond to. Attempting to claim that the cheater’s pathological lying, hooker-fucking, waitress-banging behavior was because of their partner’s “poor relationship skills” is nothing more than pure victim blaming. So, yah, fuck you, Jorge.

      • Go Arthur!

        Cheating is always a choice. If its so horrible you are “entitled” to cheat, its also so horrible your spouse — who trusts and respects you — has a right to know they are married to someone who does not respect them, does not believe they have the right to control their own body or make informed choices about their own health, and is married to someone who believes they are so special they do not have to keep their promises.

        Note: Its not the horrible spouse doing these things; its the person choosing to cheat who does not respect, who dehumanizes and degrades, who unilaterally takes control of their trusting spouse’s right to make choices regarding their own health and safety, who is breaking vows.

        I’ve got to ask, cause I’m actually kind of interested in the answers: Exactly how many times does going to bed angry justify giving your spouse an STD? How many arguments justifies giving your spouse HPV or HIV? How many times does going out with your sister and/or best friend for a drink in a six month time period — once? twice? three times? — justify fucking around in the spousal bedroom, while the kids sleep in the next room?

        Exactly what the hell kind of bullshit bad relationship skills justifies doing that kind of shit to someone who trusts you?

  • “Cheaters KNOW what the rules are — they just don’t think the rules should apply to them. ”

    THIS explains my ex in his entirety. Unfortunately it was always part of his character (or lack thereof) and I should have seen the signs sooner. His entitlement, his belief that he didn’t have to play by the rules, that he could do whatever he pleased and everyone else would just have to eat his shit sandwiches and smile…this behavior drove me insane. I should have left earlier. Of course cheating was the culmination. Well, now he is free to do whatever he likes, fuck whomever he pleases…and so am I 🙂

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