Should I Leave My Husband: What Your Therapist is Thinking
*This blog post is not medical advice and is not peer-reviewed. It is my opinion. Please see your medical professional for assistance.
“Should I leave my husband?” my client asks.
I pause. Take a breath.
“What’s going on? Tell me more,” I say.
“No, Jackie. You already know my story. Just tell me. Is it time?”
I might be thinking: Leave him. He’s had it coming, and I wish you would have come to this conclusion sooner because your heart is broken. I also might be thinking, Don’t leave! You’re giving up too soon!
But I keep my mouth shut.
Therapists tend to not give advice–especially about a pivotal life decision. Further, I can’t dip into girl talk during therapy, even if I’m feeling a Steel Magnolias moment. I’m the therapist, not the friend.
No matter how much I want to follow you home and help you pack up your belongings, I remain your therapist–not your mentor, girlfriend, sister, or clergy member.
Instead of answering your question about leaving your husband, I respond with a comment that may come off as patronizing, but it’s meant to draw out your reasoning, calm your nerves, and show compassion.
I say, “You sound like you’re at a breaking point. Describe what’s going through your mind right now.”
“No, no. I just need someone to tell me if it’s time to leave,” my client says.
“Making this decision is so, so tough. You’ve got so much invested in it,” I say.
“You’re right. I just don’t trust my own judgment and need someone to help me decide,” my client says.
If a client insists on asking for advice, I gently remind her that my advice is not actually what she wants. As a therapist, I think about how I can remind her of what she already knows about her relationship so she can make her own decision.
“What are a few things that are pushing you toward breaking up with him?” I say.
Or, I might say, “Your voice is showing me how much urgency you feel about making a choice. Am I reading that right? Please tell me about those feelings of urgency.”
My thinking during this session is that I need to help my client believe in herself, organize her reasoning, examine her heart, and trust her judgment. I remind myself that she may feel exasperated that I won’t give her direct advice.
If you’re wanting advice, try journaling about your decision. Make a list of pros and cons. Jot down a list of unanswered questions.
Consider making the decision in secret and living mentally in the decision for a few hours. Test your reaction to the hypothetical decision you made.
And of course, you can be direct. Say to your therapist, “I really want advice about this. I want you to decide for me. Please help me unpack the complexity of this choice.”