The Most Critical Marriage Lesson I Learned In Couples Counseling

My husband wasn't the only one in the wrong.

Couple at therapy Antoni Shkraba | Unsplash

“Colleen,” said our marriage counselor. “That’s what we call armchair psychology.” 

His delivery was direct.

“Did anyone ever tell you that you have a little Dr. Phil in you?” I said jokingly. It was my reference to some of our recent dialogue and how he didn't pull any punches. Our therapist told it like it was.

"Why yes," he said. "I have been told that before."

There was a reason he was calling what I said armchair psychology.


RELATED: My Marriage Counselor Told Me I Was Being Overly Responsible For My Husband

It was the infancy of couples counseling with my husband and me. It was our third appointment and I should have been listening more and talking less. But we went to marriage counseling because we were unhappy, frustrated, and needed to vent. 

The Number One Thing I Learned in Marriage CounselingPhoto: wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock


Some marriage counselors are Licensed Clinical Social Workers (LCSW) and some are Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT). Ours was a psychologist. 

I had just commented on my husband’s behavior.


Because naturally, my husband was the problem. 

Isn't that why we all go to couples counseling? We believe the finger is going to be pointed at our spouse. I’m sure that was the only reason my husband even went: to be able to place the blame on me.

RELATED: 3 Signs To Look For If You Think It's Time To Go To Couples Therapy

One day I met with our counselor alone, “Colleen,” he said. “Your husband is who he is but you made all of the choices you made to stay with him.”


That wasn’t what I wanted to hear. It sounded like some blame was being pointed my way.

Good counselors teach us to heal and we can’t heal unless we take responsibility for the choices and decisions we’ve made. We stay stuck in a victimization mode. An attitude of, "Another person did this to me. I’ve been wronged."

My ex-husband was diagnosed as lacking empathy and having narcissistic personality disorder on the severe end of the spectrum. Some would believe that would give me a get-out-of-jail-free card. I couldn’t possibly be culpable in any of our marital problems.

I was and I wasn’t.

I don’t take major responsibility because I always say there was a third party in my marriage: addiction and narcissism.


There can’t be two sides to the totality of the wrong. Instead, there was a party misbehaving and an enabler.

I was the enabler. There is nothing healthy about an overly caring person who tolerates repeatedly bad behavior and makes continued excuses for the one they love. An enabler who lacks the self-protective instincts and boundaries to get out of an unhealthy situation sooner.



RELATED: When My Husband Said This To Our Marriage Counselor, I Knew He Was A Narcissist


But the number one thing I learned in marriage counseling was to focus on myself.

I had to learn about who I was and grow from the mistakes I made.

I had to learn that I had a pleasant personality. I learned that I was a pleaser and a fixer who tended to rescue people. I learned I was an enabler who needed to learn what healthy boundaries are. I had to reflect on the fact that I kept myself in an unhappy situation for far too long.

Some people were angered by that, especially since I had left a diagnosed narcissist. 


They believed it was victim-shaming.

But I don’t identify with being a victim.

My ex-husband’s behavior was his own. It wasn't mine. He did what he did. He’s responsible for all of his decisions and bad behavior.

I am only responsible for my own.

I went to couples counseling to focus on my husband. But the most important lesson I learned was to focus on myself.

RELATED: I’m A Reformed Enabler Who Now Lives By This Mantra

Colleen Sheehy Orme is a national relationship columnist, journalist, and former business columnist. She writes about love, life, relationships, family, parenting, divorce, and narcissism.