Many couples and individuals come to counseling with the primary goal of getting the counselor “on their side.” In most cases, I don’t think of sides when working with couples because the only side is the relationship. Some clients spend a lot of time pointing out their partner’s faults and looking for validation that they are “right” and their partner is “wrong.” Clients love if this is pointed out, but if and only if they are on the “winning” side.
The reality is that we have seen a lot. While every couple is different, there are recurring patterns. It’s natural to think your issues are unique, but they are probably way more common than you realize. I’ve seen a person who admitted to having over 40 affairs, and the couple is still together. Therapists should care about their clients’ welfare, but it’s not healthy for us to go home and obsess about who is right or wrong0. Most go into the profession to help people, but we can’t want to fix your concerns more than you.
The same applies to other situations that make people anxious. One may be anxious to try something new and worried that others will judge or look at them when others tend to have their own things to focus on. Counselors aren’t there to judge you or criticize you. If we think about you before or after you leave, it is about how to help you attain your goals, not to worry about what you have done in the past or if anyone is more to blame.
One of the worst situations for a couples counselor is when people come to marriage, relationship or individual therapy with a secret goal of getting the counselor on their side in the event of a custody battle. The reality is we have very little impact on the courts (unless there is a serious issue like child abuse or a strong risk of suicide or homicide, in which case we are mandated reporters). Making any statement about custody recommendations to an authority figure is beyond our scope of practice and can result in a loss of licensure. The cost of having us testify is high for valid reasons and we usually just say that we can’t say anything. If trying to get a therapist on your side for a legal reason is why you’re attending counseling, everyone is probably better off if you don’t go. We carry about the same weight as if your lawyer were to comment about you.
You don’t have to want to stay together either, as 1/3 of couples come to counseling wanting help deciding if they should divorce or understanding how to co-parent or separate amicably. This is part of discernment counseling.
We generally don’t care if you raised your voice first or your partner did. We don’t care if you forgot to buy the milk or your partner neglected to mention that the last gallon was empty. In short, we want to help you have a better future and don’t care about the “right” or “wrong” about your past. The past can be relevant when it comes to trauma or identifying recurring patterns. These are the only reasons why the past matters… to help you have a better future by learning from it and not taking a side.