Putting it back together (Part 3 of 3)

“There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved.” ― George Sand

By the time couples come for therapy, the damage, the erosion of the marital relationship, is so extensive and deep for some of them that saving the marriage is an impossibility.couples therapy

Almost immediately in couples therapy I ask clients to answer the question “Are you here for marriage therapy or do you really want help in figuring out how to extricate yourself from the marriage without hurting the children?”  In most instances, after giving it some thought, people choose the first option and we begin the difficult process of fixing what’s broken, saving and building upon what’s positive in the relationship, and throwing out anything that gets in the way of the repair and rebuilding process.

If you talk with 100 divorced individuals after the smoke, blaming and anger has cleared from the divorce process and ask them to reflect on what happened, you’ll invariably hear that “we stopped talking.”  Certainly, infidelity, drinking, or other deal-breaking behaviors will be discussed, but always, if we dig a little bit, we’ll find that a breakdown in communication, simple conversation, led to loneliness, resentment and regret and opened the door for those toxic behaviors to take root.  It boils down to becoming disconnected and apart and it starts with the communication piece.

The work of the therapist, particularly those trained in Family Systems Therapies like Minuchin’s Structural Family Therapy, will examine what was good about the couple’s relationship in the beginning, what got lost along the way, what can be resurrected, and what new structures and activities can be adopted to allow the couple to, once again, feel coupled in a way that is gratifying and fulfilling.

The process of repair always must begin with honest communication.  On the surface this may seem simple, but it’s never easy.  We’re dragging out long-held disappointment, resentment and hurt, and we’re usually assigning blame to our spouse.  Difficult to do under any circumstance, but particularly scary when we realize that the marriage and future of this (our) particular family hangs by a thread, the therapist must actively moderate, mediate and manage the communication, bringing it from darkness into the light in a way that is informative but not hurtful.

If the couple can endure the discomfort of this early stage dialogue, the chances for meaningful, self-directed communication increase dramatically.  The therapy, likewise, begins to take shape in such a way that the business of repair becomes more and more central.      

As therapy progresses and the couple feels a renewed sense of hope, it’s time for the therapist to begin the process of withdrawing.  After all, the couple can talk to each other, can enjoy being with each other and will feel a stronger, more open and better grounded sense of their couplehood.

Eventually, the therapist can leave the business of being married to the couple, safe in the knowledge that they’ve adopted new tools and mastered new skills.

Also, the therapist is clear that he’s available to the couple for future tune-ups, and knows that they’ll return to do marital maintenance work when they know it’s time for a neutral and trusted third party to be involved.     


On October 1, 2015, posted in: counseling, mental health, psychotherapy, relationships, therapy by
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