I just received a call from a woman seeking “marriage counseling.” I asked, as I always do, “how did you decide to call me”?
She responded as many people do. “I’m just going down the list to see who is taking new patients. “.
So I asked if I could explain some things. Sometimes when I do that people get angry.
You see, this woman just told me that she thinks all therapy is alike. Just find someone—anyone—who will see me/us!
The most important mark of a REAL relationship therapist is that the Relationship is the patient, not the individuals.
Therapists not trained in interactional dynamics often break up relationships by asking individuals what each WANTS rather than, what is good for the relationship.
In real relationship work, the RELATIONSHIP is the patient, not the people who are seeking help.
Couples have to want to be together more than they want anything else—more than they want to drink, or drug, or have secret partners.
A good question to ask prospective therapists when shopping is, “is it easier to see one person at a time when working on a marriage or both in the beginning of therapy? Answer for yourself before continuing.
The answer is BOTH. And in family work— everyone. The individual therapist will answer “one”. The relationship person knows seeing everyone involved is easier because we can then observe how people deal with each other. That is how we can diagnose what isn’t working and what would work better.
Therefore, what is involved in marriage counseling? First, the relationship is the patient. Now, second, how does that relationship work?
People often lie to each other, fight to be right, ignore what their partner asks, or withdraw when bothered and stonewall.
All of these responses hurt the relationship.
When couples come for marriage counseling they often need to learn a foreign language. That language is different from what they have been doing. They need to learn truth telling, saying things respectfully, sometimes saying things at all, and behaving in ways that don’t drive the partner crazy.
We recently arrived back from Patagonia. On our trip we spent four nights on a ship between Ushuaïa and Punta Arenas. At our table was a lovely couple from Seattle.
My husband opened a conversation about the political arena. (Ed is a brave sort). Our table companion replied, “ I would love to talk politics with you but it would bother my wife. What a wise fellow! When I later retold the story to a client, he replied, “I’d have talked politics! My wife can’t tell me what to do.” Well, no—not unless the peace of the relationship is more important than the temporary energy of the political conversation.
The bigger issue is that it is disrespectful to do as you please if it bothers me. If everything bothers your partner this may need addressing. But it is important to be able to live together without driving each other crazy. So we consider the well being of the relationship over the well being of the individual. And if the relationship thrives, the individuals will thrive. It puts people into positive cycles of pleasing each other.
Then the children thrive and the upcoming generation has relationship skills to maintain marriage and family and the outcome is a more stable world where people know how to connect with each other.