Don’t be Surprised if Your Marriage Counselor is Biased – We’re Supposed To Be

Being a marriage counselor is hard work. Sure, I’m not out in the sun sweating all day. And sure, I don’t have a boss looking over my shoulder. But it’s hard because it’s mentally challenging trying to manage all the psychological things going on between a couple in my office in order to create healing and fix problems. It’s kind of like that feeling you get after talking to that friend of yours who always has some never ending crisis in their life. Except it’s multiplied by several hours a day. I often come home just as drained as I did back when I was working construction for my brother in college.

One of the most draining things in counseling is trying to balance is each spouses’ perception of whether I’m being biased or not. It’s hard because everyone’s heard that a marriage counselor isn’t supposed to be biased. But the truth of the matter is, we actually are biased. And it’s hard balancing being biased with the popular notion that we’re not supposed to be. Because we are, in fact, supposed to be. Our training teaches us to. And if you really had an unbiased marriage counselor, you wouldn’t want them. Let me explain:

Yes, Your Marriage Counselor Really IS Biased

As a marriage counselor, We study for years what ideal situations are for families and couples. Researchers study what a healthy family unit looks like, what the ideal divorce situation is, how many hours to work a week before it starts interrupting family time, the effects of drugs on a family, etc. And we study it in our training. So when a couple comes in and is having problems, there’s something going wrong in the relationship. Things like a spouse working too much, or one spouse drinking too much, etc. And it’s our job to find the problems and help you fix them.

So when I see a couple and I offer an observation that one of them is doing something wrong (like drinking too much) it often comes across to that person that I am being biased – that I am teaming up with their spouse against them.

The truth is, I really know when a spouse is drinking to much and I am absolutely biased that that behavior needs to stop – the fact that your spouse agrees with me is not a consideration in my mind. And it does not make me biased. I’m not saying this because I like your spouse more than you, it’s because I really do believe you’re drinking to much and it needs to stop.

We Do Want to Make Your Marriage Work


Another way we marriage counselors are biased is that if you’re coming to us for counseling, we assume that that you want us to help you make your marriage work. So don’t be surprised when that’s what we try to do. If you’re going to a marriage counselor and don’t want to fix your marriage, then why are you going to a marriage counselor? If you don’t want to make your marriage work, save yourself some time and money and go straight to a divorce lawyer.

One important caveat here. In obvious cases of abuse and neglect the good marriage counselors will always address these first before delving right into marriage counseling.

Yes, We Actually Do Take Sides

 

If you’re going to a marriage counselor but don’t want to fix your marriage, why are you going to a marriage counselor?  

Another misconception people have is that we shouldn’t be on either spouse’s side – that we’re supposed to be completely neutral. The truth is, we’re we’re not neutral. We actually take sides. We take both spouses’ side. When one spouse “wins” that means the other has to lose. And relationships are unique in that if one spouse is losing, the relationship is losing. So we take both partner’s sides to help you both win. That means that it might actually seem like we’re on your spouse’s side – because we are. We’re also on yours. When you both win, your relationship wins.

Healthy relationships are built when both partners own the problems that they’re contributing to the relationship and work to fix them. You have problems with your spouse that you want addressed, but that doesn’t mean they have to fix it first. And it doesn’t mean your marriage counselor is going to start with your spouses’ problems first, either. Sometimes your marriage counselor might start with you. Again, that’s not us being biased. We just have to start somewhere.

We’ll call out your spouse for the stuff they’re doing wrong, and we’ll also call you out. So don’t be surprised if you go home feeling called out by your marriage counselor.That’s not them being biased. That’s your counselor telling you to take responsibility for the problems you’re contributing to the relationship. That’s also your counselor doing what is therapeutically necessary to help your relationship.

Being Biased Creates Accountability in Your Relationship

If your marriage counselor wasn’t biased they wouldn’t hold you or your partner accountable to the changes you commit to in counseling. They wouldn’t because it might come across as taking sides if they did. So they wouldn’t hold anyone accountable. And you and your spouse would continue having the same problems because there’s no accountability to change them.

Because your counselor needs to create accountability, hat means they will take the necessary steps to hold each partner accountable to commitments you make in counseling. That’s not being biased, that’s being a good counselor.

Ultimately, you want a counselor who is fair. And doesn’t only take one person’s side.
The problem is that your perception of fair isn’t always what your partner’s perception of fair is.

A marriage counselor is trained to objectively see what’s going on in your marriage. So don’t dismiss what they say because you think they’re just taking your partner’s side. We’re supposed to take their side after all – just like we take yours, too. It takes two in every relationship. And the good marriage counselors have to be biased so they can focus on both.

12 Responses to Don’t be Surprised if Your Marriage Counselor is Biased – We’re Supposed To Be

  1. First off. I will apologize for this therapist's miscommunication as counselors are not trained to be biased. In fact, counselors undergo extensive training to watch for transference and countertransference as well as judgement. Counselors are trained to assist couples in achieving a relationship that works for the couple according to the couple's definition of health. Counselors don't get to decide what that is. If it works for the couple, it works. It's not the couple sides that are examined but the health of the relationship according to the couple's goals. The main entity is the relationship and both 1) partner #1 and 2) partner #2 fail when the relationship fails. There is only one side ; the relationship. It's a team win or a team loss. Simple as that. When a football team wins each player celebrates the victory and when the team loses each player suffers a loss. Being biased doesn't support a team effort.

  2. Yes, Yes they should be trained to be biased. I would want a Supreme Court Justice to be biased towards upholding the law, regardless of whether it's in my favor or not. And I would hope NFL referees would be biased towards the rules and regulations of the game as well, regardless of who it's in favor of.

    The point is, if you want a marriage counselor to take only your side, you're going to counseling for the wrong reasons. Marriage counselors can't just take your side or they'll be bulldozing your partner which isn't fair to to your partner or to your relationship. As a result, we will take your partners side, too. This keeps your partner from being teamed up on and it helps you BOTH to address the problems you're each contributing. Remember, marriage takes two so your counselor will talk to both of you.

  3. You have proven my point that the judicial system and NFL referees are bias toward a code and not particular individuals. Whenever a couples therapist begins to show a blatant bias towards member on the couple, it's best for the therapist to refer the couple to another provider because sound professional judgment has been compromised.

  4. Aaron, where is the therapeutic equity in biased marriage counseling? If a spouse is displaying unacceptable behavior, like drinking or infidelity, due to an unhappy marriage, why would his or her actions be the foremost concern? Why not concentrate on the triggers initiated by the spouse. Why are both parties not to be held accountable for their actions?

    • Hi David,

      I hope this article didn’t give that impression that only one partner is targeted in counseling. BOTH partners will get their turn in the spotlight. Sometimes that means it’ll be your turn in the spotlight and it’ll feel like you’re being targeted. As a counselor, we don’t focus on you because we don’t like you. We focus on the problematic behaviors and who owns them. Yes, sometimes behaviors are triggered by your spouse but, again, you own your behaviors. It’s your responsibility to stop them. We’ll work with your spouse, too, and help them stop their triggering behaviors. But If your spouse does not fix their side of things and continues their triggers, then learning to stop your behaviors will go towards benefiting your next relationship. This isn’t biased. This is just how things work.

  5. what happens when a counselor listen to only one side of the couples history and then when one of the person says a thing he asks for verification from the other…our counselor has done that many times in sessions where he takes my partner’s side to verify things that I have said when it is what I heard a the time and she doesn’t remember nor does he believe me…what do I do about this???

    • Mention it to your counselor. Just say “Hey, I feel like when I Say something you have to verify it with my spouse to see if it really did happen. I feel like it’s really invalidating”. Most counselors are open to hear things like this.

  6. I 100% agree with your perspective on biasness. I read your article and chose a balanced way of looking at what you were saying. I believe the word “bias” is what sets people off (which explains the negativity I am reading on the thread). Society has a difficult time with truth and unfortunately many are becoming so emotionally sensitive that they personalize what someone has written or said, truth or not. I am reading a lot of judgement on this thread;which is ashame because part of our role as therapist is not to judge. I firmly believe and respect that each and every one of us have our own perspective on things and that alone does not make our perspective wrong just because it differs from others. Society needs to accept this fact, not feel that they have to agree or disagree and stop judging. If they feel being bias is wrong for their practice then they should not engage in it. But attacking a fellow therapist is unprofessional.

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