Couples therapy can be a useful tool for couples who want to address issues and improve their relationship. It can be extremely effective at improving communication, resolving conflict, and increasing overall relationship satisfaction. However, the presence of abuse can impact the relationship dynamics and the effectiveness of couples therapy in various ways. That is why, couples therapy is often not recommended when there is ongoing abuse in the relationship. We’ll explore this further as we move ahead in the article

Understanding Abuse

Abuse in a relationship can take various forms, including physical, emotional, verbal, sexual, and financial abuse. The presence of abuse often creates a power imbalance in the relationship, leading to an unpleasant and unsafe atmosphere for the partner who is the victim of abuse

Couples Therapy For Abusive Relationships

As mentioned earlier, couples therapy is not the best option and can even be ineffective if there is ongoing abuse in the relationship. This is because of various reasons, some of which are:

  • Lack Of Safety

Couples therapy aims to create a safe environment for both partners so that they can talk about their concerns openly. However, when someone is in an abusive relationship, there is always a risk of physical or psychological harm and violence based on something that is said in the couples therapy session. Thus, couples therapy may unintentionally end up proving to be a trigger for more abuse in the relationship.

  • Power Imbalance

Couples therapy works best when both partners treat each other with respect and show empathy and understanding towards each other’s concerns and experiences, establishing equality. However, abusive relationships often have a power imbalance, where the abusive partner exerts control and dominates the victim. 

Such power imbalances might show up in therapy sessions in various forms, where the abusive partner may dominate the conversation, interrupt the victim, dismiss their concerns, or shift blame onto them. With such harmful dynamics, it is usually impossible to make any real progress.

  • Accountability

One of the most important requirements for couples therapy to work is responsibility and accountability for both partners. However, in the case of most abusive relationships, the abuser is very unlikely to take any responsibility for their behaviour. Many times, they may only come to couples therapy expecting their partner to change. With such a lack of accountability, it is difficult to make progress

  • Abuse Is Not A Relationship Problem

Couples therapy is most effective when both partners share responsibility for the issues being addressed. However, abusive behaviour is primarily an individual issue rooted in the behaviour and choices of the abuser, rather than a mutual problem within the relationship. 

Can Couples Therapy Work For Abusive Relationships?

Although it’s very rare, couples therapy can be helpful for abusive relationships only when the abusive partner is ready to take full accountability for their actions and demonstrates a genuine willingness to change. 

What Are The Alternatives?

While couples therapy may not be the best option if your partner is abusive, there are certainly other sources of help that you can consider. They are:

  • Individual Therapy

Individual therapy can be helpful if you are in an abusive relationship. It can provide you with a safe environment to express yourself without fear of your partner and also help you develop skills to set boundaries and cope with the abuse in the relationship.

  • Support Groups

Joining a support group for survivors of abuse can provide valuable emotional support, validation, and coping strategies. These groups offer a sense of community and allow you to learn from others who have experienced similar challenges.

  • Crisis Helplines

Domestic violence and crisis helplines can provide immediate emotional support and help you with coping strategies or connect you with other relevant sources such as therapists, etc.


In most cases, couples therapy is ineffective when there is ongoing abuse in the relationship due to a lack of safety, power imbalances and a lack of accountability from the abusive partner, In such cases, it is advisable to look at individual therapy and support groups for help. Having said that, couples therapy can be effective if the abusive partner takes accountability and is willing to change.


  1. Can Couples Therapy Work in Abusive Relationships? (2015, August 27). Psych Central.
  2. Why Couples Therapy Doesn’t Work For People In Abusive Relationships With Narcissists. (2019, September 28). Psych Central.

Dhruva Koranne

Dhruva Koranne has completed his Masters in Applied Psychology from Tata Institute of Social Sciences, BALM. He has been practicing as a counsellor since 2020 and works to create a safe space for clients where they can open up. In addition to this, Dhruva loves researching and studying about upcoming theories in the field of Psychology. Connect with him on Linkedin