Have you or anyone you know ever thought about getting marriage counselling?
In the past 20 years I’ve worked with enough couples to know that a home can often turn into a place of high drama and stress rather than the refuge it used to be. Marriage problems or even problems in a long term relationship tend to show up in some predictable ways. Sometimes a couple can’t remember the last time they had great sex. In fact, they’re not having fun of any kind together anymore. Their negative memories start to outweigh the positive ones in such a way that one or both people are swamped with feelings of despair. Does anyone you know match any of the above? If you do then marriage counselling is probably a great idea. Just make sure you understand there is good marriage counselling and there is bad marriage counselling! If you’d like to know the difference then please read on. ( End of teaser)
Firstly I want to say that I’m really sorry if you’re having a tough time right now. Take the time to read this and I’ll give you a few pointers about what you could be doing differently. I know you started your relationship with great excitement, at some point your partner was the love of your life and you were looking forward to building a future together. I know that’s where it started because that’s how it always starts. I also know that relationships will always hit problems, it’s entirely normal. The thing is, and I say this with the greatest respect, some people know how to get out of trouble naturally and some people don’t. It would appear you’re in the second camp! Which is why you could end up thinking about marriage counselling. Let’s face it, if you could fix it yourself you probably would have by now. And I know it’s not due to a lack of effort on your part.
When you start having marriage problems marriage counselling is everywhere! Everyone has an opinion and I’m sure you’ve been told that the key to a happy marriage is at least one of the following;
- You better learn to compromise
- You need to improve your communication skills
- You must learn how to negotiate
- Invest in some fancy underwear or buy a manual
- Go away on an expensive holiday together
- If all else fails just try harder.
Has anyone ever said any of those things to you? The thing is, all those things are just opinions, it’s made worse by the fact that a lot of marriage counselling is based on those same opinions. But when you look at the research, and John Gottman who wrote ’10 Lessons to Transform your Marriage’ did thousands of hours of it, none of those approaches actually pay off without a much deeper understanding of what is actually going on.
In fact Gottman found absolutely no link between great communication and marital success, it just wasn’t a feature. And let’s face it, if you start to build in compromise then neither party is happy anymore! Doesn’t that seem obvious if you just stop and think about it? So you’ve worked really hard at fixing your marriage but you’ve been given bad advice, that seems so unfair to me.
Most marriage counselling is stuck in a model based on ‘focused listening’ and ‘unconditional positive regard’. Just between you and I ‘unconditional positive regard’ is pretty much impossible with anyone you’re in an intimate relationship with. Think about it for a moment, ‘unconditional’ would mean you didn’t care what they did you’d just keep on loving them. This could mean that your partner is out partying ‘til all hours and you’re supposed to keep on with the ’unconditional positive regard’ until he or she changes because you’re doing such a great job of loving them. You’d have to be a saint and I’m guessing you’re not.
This is especially dangerous for a couple in crisis. In my experience having a couple talk to each other about everything that’s driving them nuts about each other is actually going to drive them further apart. I’ve heard stories about couples who haven’t spoken to each other for weeks following that kind of marriage counselling.
I wrote a book called ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ which talks about how things go wrong in a relationship. People found it so helpful I decided to put in on the website for free so more people could read it. I make the point that relationship breakdown is only about two things chemistry and communication. Of those two things the most important is actually chemistry and if you don’t have that you may well be wasting your time with conventional marriage counselling because they don’t focus in on it. This is a disaster because if you don’t take the time to re-ignite your chemistry then there is very little chance of your relationship making it.
When it comes to fixing your marriage the thing that matters most, more than anything else, is your willingness. Your willingness to really engage in understanding the underlying dynamic that is hurting you both. If you don’t have chemistry then you won’t have willingness and the marriage counselling just serves as an elegant way to say goodbye. Don’t let that happen to you!
If you and your partner have been struggling for a while I can absolutely guarantee you that one or both of you is full of resentment. If you’re full of resentment you are no longer thinking clearly about your marriage as it’s just not possible to do so. You say things you don’t mean, you think things that just aren’t true, frankly you’re not to be trusted because your resentment leads you to act like an angry adolescent. You wouldn’t let one of those drive your car so why let it dictate the route your marriage takes? And yet this is exactly what happens in those ‘focussed listening’ sessions.
If you really are looking for help then I have a couple of suggestions. You want to be looking for someone who’s trained with John Gottman or Terry Real as they both work with a marriage counselling model that is much more about the context of a relationship than the content. I also suggest that you take a look at ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go’ because it will help. I’m sorry you’re struggling right now but it’s completely possible to re-light your fire and get your chemistry back up. If you’ve got great chemistry then you’ve both got a relationship worth fighting for.