Skip to content

Marital Counseling: Look before you leap…

August 29, 2013

I received a call from a woman seeking marital counseling. She said it was a last ditch effort to save her marriage. She said they had tried other counselors before, but her husband never returned past the first session.

As I do with all my referrals, I asked for questions about abuse, domestic violence.

  • Is there ever any yelling or shouting between you and your husband?
  • Does it go both ways or one way?
  • If there is yelling and screaming, sometimes people are up in people’s faces. Are your ever up in each others face?
  • If you are up in each others face, sometimes there is pushing or shoving to get the other out of one’s face. Has there ever been any pushing or shoving?
  • And if there is pushing and shoving, sometimes someone slips or falls and may get hurt. Have either of you ever slipped or fell when pushed or shove and if so, has either of you been hurt as a result?
  • At times when conflict gets so out of hand, there can be outright hitting or kicking. Has that ever happened between you?

I ask the questions and track the answers. I continue on another track. I explain that I work on a fee for service basis and that I have a sliding fee scale based on the couples joint annual income.

  • I ask if the caller knows her husband’s income.
  • I ask about who does the banking and who manages the household money.

The result of my questions, I determine this woman is in a physically violent, let alone, emotionally abusive relationship where her husband is also financially exploitative. He has told her what he considers her rights to be under the law if they separate. She has it all wrong.

She really wants couple counseling, but I am concerned that to meet with her and her husband would actually put her at an elevated risk of harm.

I explain my concerns for her well being and ask that before we consider setting an appointment, she first consult with a local women’s shelter and develop a safety plan. I also asked that she consult with a family attorney to review her rights under the law should she chose to separate.

This woman called me back a month later. She had done her homework.

She has a bag of clothes packed in the trunk of her car. She has photocopied all important financial documents. She knows all her bank account numbers. She has a safe-house she can go to with her children if things get out of hand with her husband. She has met with a lawyer and understands her rights under the law should she chose to separate.

She is ready to enter into counseling with her husband, less fearful, less intimidated and fully capable of asserting her needs wants and issues with regard to the relationship.

I am happy to see her now with her husband and will do so.

Bottom line: Marital counseling can be dangerous. Look before you leap. If your counselor doesn’t ask similar questions before setting an appointment… Move on.

I am Gary Direnfeld and I am a social worker.


Gary Direnfeld, MSW, RSW

 (905) 628-4847

Gary Direnfeld is a social worker. Courts in Ontario, Canada, consider him an expert in social work, marital and family therapy, child development, parent-child relations and custody and access matters. Gary is the host of the TV reality show, Newlywed, Nearly Dead, parenting columnist for the Hamilton Spectator and author of Marriage Rescue: Overcoming the ten deadly sins in failing relationships. Gary maintains a private practice in Dundas Ontario, providing a range of services for people in distress. He speaks at conferences and workshops throughout North America.

If your relationship is faltering, then set it as your priority.

Read: Marriage Rescue: Overcoming ten deadly sins in failing relationships.

Amazon US

Amazon Canada


From → Uncategorized

  1. This is wonderful.

  2. Thanks for the kind comment.

    Thing is, many women are in not only abusive relationships, but actually dangerous relationships.

    Marital counseling is an intimate process of self-disclosure. If the woman is intimidated, she cannot express her issues and nothing changes, further, if she does express her issues and is unprepared, she may be at risk of a dangerous backlash for outing the behavior of the abusive partner.

    It is the responsibility of the therapist to mitigate risk of harm in therapy. Hence all persons who seek to attend for marital therapy should be screened for domestic violence before arrival as a couple.

    Here is my statement on domestic violence:

  3. This is really helpful, thank you.
    I note how diligence performed has empowered the subservient person in this relationship. I am however uncertain how this altered the husband’s behaviour committing to the process in relation to therapy appointments? (Sorry if I’ve missed this!)

    • Hi Bob,

      The first issue is always safety. If it isn’t safe for the clients to attend therapy, you cannot do therapy.

      Beyond that I will have to address with the husband his view of respective behavior and address same in the context of counseling.

      However, if not safe, then no counseling.



  4. This article was re-posted on the veryloudyouth Facebook page at the following link:

  5. faithskye permalink

    I’m really happy that you do what you do, and it seems like you really care. I tried couples’ counseling with an abusive ex-boyfriend, too, and after he told us that we should separate because of the abuse, I felt like he’d basically left me to fend for myself. It’s really wonderful to have someone like you out there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: