Many people suffer for years in unsatisfactory marriages. Marital therapy is a last resort effort to correct intolerable frustration. Those who summon the courage to come to therapy often have little hope and a great deal of anger. Most of the time they are not sure they still love their spouses. They do not realize that too much anger stifles love.
If they have come soon enough, often the marriage can be saved. Initially, the therapist will want to hear the couple’s story. She will want to talk with the couple together and then separately to get to know them individually as well as together. Meeting individually with the therapist gives each member of the couple a chance to have less tense an experience. It also gives the counselor a broader evaluation.
Many people report that their spouse will not go with them to marital therapy. lf one member of the couple is unwilling to go to counseling, the willing member should go alone. Marital therapy can be helpful to the willing partner by contributing to his knowledge, understanding and growth. This knowledge can impact the marriage in a positive way and perhaps, at some point, change the unwilling member’s mind.
As the therapist works with the couple, she will help each stop blaming the other and begin to look at himself. Giving up the stance that the other person is at fault and looking at one’s own areas of responsibility is important. This will lead to a deepened understanding of oneself.
As each individual develops a relationship with the therapist, the therapist will begin to give nonjudgmental feedback. This feedback is something like holding up a mirror to help each one see himself accurately. The therapist will also help each explore what he learned about relating intimately in his family of origin. How one coped in one’s family of origin may be influencing how one is relating in the present. This exploration can also give new understanding about one’s self and one’s partner.
This therapeutic process takes energy, effort and, sometimes, hard work. Marital therapy is not a quick fix, or a panacea for troubled marriages. Some are not willing to make the effort. The ones who do, find it very interesting, very supportive and encouraging, occasionally difficult, but often fun. More importantly, it is very rewarding, as it improves relationships and saves marriages.
Sometimes the couple has waited too long – it is too late. lf this happens, it is important to learn what went wrong in the marriage. This knowledge is essential to help prevent the couple from making the same mistakes the second time around. Just as important as this self-understanding is also learning how to have a better divorce than they may have had marriage. If children are involved, this learning becomes even more important.
There are many types of marriages. One type that I am often asked to help is the Healing Marriage. In this type of marriage the couple is involved in a relationship to help one or both heal from childhood traumas. Sometimes these couples form their relationship based on helping each other. Other times they are surprised that their relationship evolves this particular way. These couples have an ability to tolerate dysfunction, as long as they know their spouse is on a path of healing.
In Healing Marriages, the hope to provide a safe, loving place that is far different from the traumatic background one, or both, came from is very strong. It is possible they may trust each other enough to create a shared vision based on this hope. They work very hard together to prevent repeating old childhood patterns. They look toward each other for motivation and inspiration. If they have children they may work especially hard on parenting, becoming the 50% who do not repeat abusive parenting — even becoming extraordinary parents.
At difficult times the healthier spouse is able to provide an exceptional amount of love, nurturing, support, and patience. Often, greater degrees of closeness, attachment, and commitment are the rewards. Enormous growth is possible in these relationships. That growth can be further enriching for the couple. At some point in time the marriage then is able to shift focus from healing to enjoying each other and their life together.