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Friday, March 11, 2011

Marriage Counseling

"Imagine a couple trying to find their way through a maze of streets in an unfamiliar city.  The two of them are pouring over their map---no, wait, they've got two maps, two different maps.  For a time they seem to cooperate, comparing their maps to find some common ground between the two.  ...The conflict over whose map should prevail heats up.  When it starts to rain the battle is joined in earnest.  There's even the risk that the two will decide to go their separate ways. both trusting their own map and rejecting the map of the other."  Stephen Goldbart, Ph.D. & David Wallin, Ph. D.


Many people, if not most, enter couples' counseling with righteous indignation.  They are there for a purpose and that purpose is to be the one who was wronged!  They fully expect the counselor to see how misguided their partner is and to authoritatively tell him/her about their bad behavior.  It is almost as if they expect the therapist to reprimand their spouse.
Meanwhile, the therapist has two patients.  The therapist has two people to try to consider and to attempt to give equal attention.  The therapist is not there to 'point the finger' nor to decree who's right and who's wrong.  The therapist is not there to make a judgment.  (Therapists are helping professionals, not judges!)  The therapist is not there to vindicate anyone either.
In fact, the counselor really walks a tightrope in marriage counseling sessions, attempting to remain in the middle, not to take sides, and to try to give equal time and attention to each partner.  Often one or the other partner will leave a marriage counseling session feeling it was unfair.  And, of course, it is impossible to direct each session so that each person gets exactly equal airing of their gripes.  Over time, everything can be told.  But, the patient needs to be patient!

 It is understandable how people end up for the first time in a counselor's office (or the first few sessions, often), with this expectation.  Usually they are there, presenting their troubled relationship because they've been deeply disappointed or terribly hurt.  They want things put right---as they see it.  They are hoping to feel better and usually see the path to that goal as being through change in their partner.  A more likely scenario is that both will need to make some changes---changes in behavior, or thinking, or attitude, or understanding.
Often people enter marriage counseling not expecting how very painful it might be.  There may be some unpleasant surprises.  You don't know, going into counseling with your spouse what they may have to say.  It's very personal, very revealing, at times, and neither partner can control what happens.  

Another frustration that people new to marriage counseling will encounter is how long it takes, or how slowly it seems to go or how they don't get to say their side in a session.  When there are three people in the room-all trying to get a word in edgewise-it sometimes seems like there's 12 times as much happening!
Instead of one therapist focusing in on all the aspects of an individual person and what that person is presenting (as it is in individual therapy), there are not only 2 presenters but, there is also the, sometimes intense, reactions each has to what the other says.  In addition to these practical matters, of there only being so much time in each session, there is the question of just how many issues are there anyway?  Oftentimes, if a couple comes in, having not done any individual work, and having been inattentive to the issues that came up in their relationship as they went along, there can be quite a backlog.

In addition to being a manager, and a referee, trying to establish a personal connection with each partner, trying to begin to analyze what the source of the problems are, the therapist has to do 2 other things in these early sessions---attempt to give the couple some sort of helpful intervention, some reason to hope and, last but not least, to prevent them from leaving the office feeling shattered.  Most initial couples' counseling sessions are quite busy for the counselor.  Most counselors are, by necessity, more directive in couples' counseling than in individual sessions.
In individual therapy, the patient is the primary director of the course the counseling takes.  It can't be like that, in large part, in marriage counseling  simply because so many things can be thrown out by the couple that you would end up with a pile of problems and no movement in the process.  A free-for-all would be disastrous for some couples; the therapist must be in charge.

Naturally, every therapist is different in their approach:  My own answer to the question of what a therapist primarily does in couples' counseling is to work on defining and then improving the dynamics in the relationship between the two partners.  The role of the counselor is like that of a sports coach.  The relationship in individual therapy between the therapist and the patient is very important.  In couples' counseling the relationship between the couple is the focus.

The good news is that, for people who stick with it, couples' therapy can make a huge difference in their life together.  Misunderstandings can be resolved, structures for processing problems can be established, new information can be revealed to each partner, learning happens, the needed-to-be-said gets said, resentments get cleared, and, indeed, changes are made.

One of the most dramatic and gratifying couples' treatment I ever did was one in which the step-dad had developed terrible problems in his relationships with his step-kids and was full of resentment for them. By the time that he and his wife arrived in my office, he had inadvertently  put her in the position of choosing between them and him.  We worked together for a long time.  Eventually, they were each able to see and comprehend the other's position in the difficulty.  With the understanding came a change in attitude.  With the change in attitude came the gradual relief of a lot of hurt.  They were able to begin to relax and finally, to be comfortable and contented with each other.  That's putting a lot of work, in many weekly sessions, over several years, in a nutshell, but it was wonderful to see that success and I'll never forget it.

Related posts are titled, Design By Default and, Oh!  That First Visit:

http://therapiststhoughts.blogspot.com/2010/10/design-by-default.html

http://therapiststhoughts.blogspot.com/2010/12/today-i-was-in-medical-office-for.html 

Do you have a marriage counseling experience you'd like to share something about here?

3 comments:

  1. I have found out this that most men are full of lost for women only few are faithful to their wives this was something i battled with for close to nine years we got married he goes out with different kinds of girls he is never tired of it and the worst he sees nothing wrong with it it became so unbearable for me and now he was planning for a divorce after i had two kids for him this really broke my heart because i really loved him so much because i was a virgin before he married me and he is the first person i ever slept with.I ran to my cousin for advice she then told me that she knew of a man that can cast a spell that will remove the spirit of hatred in him towards me and before i know it he will begin to change for good and be faithful to me and stop going out with other girls i ask for the man's contact she then told me it was with her friend whom Priest Ajigar helped to revive her marriage long ago we both went their and she gave us Priest Ajigar contact email i contacted him and he promised he will help me bring his senses back after the spell was casted his mood began to change first he stomped coming late at night and he deleted all the girls contact he had and on one faithful day i was cooking in the kitchen when i saw him knelt down in front of me begging to forgive him for being on unfaithful,he promised that he will never do such things again i forgive him and since 2 years now he have not go out with any girl again what a wonderful spell caster Priest Ajigar is and don't you think you need his help also quickly here is his email priestajigarspells@live.com just contact him and i bet you will testify between three to four days the way your marriage will turn around for good.Priest Ajigar is really the best spell caster ever

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  2. When I first got married, I never imagined my husband and I in need of couples counseling. We didn't have problems until our second child was born, and she was a still born. After that, we had a hard time communicating with each other. Now, we are in a position that I never thought we would be in. We agree that couples therapy would be good for us, to help us learn how to communicate again.

    http://www.ocfi.ca/

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  3. It’s a blog with full of latest and spectacular information’s to how we can solve our marriage problem issues and provide the effective tips to solve marriage problems– This blog has helped me to gain much more information on marriage counseling. I would like to appreciate the blog owner for his efforts.

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