I am not neutral when it comes to marriage. I am strongly in favor of marriage, especially where children are part of the family. In fact, I believe the needs of the children trump the needs of adult parents, by virtue of their dependency status. Every time! Does this mean I think people should stay married “no matter what”? Absolutely not! Where parents cannot or will not put the needs of their children and their spouse before their own self, a harmful and toxic environment is often created. And certainly where abuse of any kind, abandonment, or addictions are part of the picture, separation and even divorce may be the better course of action. However, each couple and family is unique and there is no “automatic” determination of what is the best answer that would fit everyone. In fact, it’s not even my job to make that ultimate decision. I am not an arbiter, a mediator, referee, or judge. I am more of a coach, an educator, an interpreter, or a guide.
Let’s face it: In today’s society, unless a parent is determined to walk away from the children permanently and make it difficult to be found (and the other parent is willing to allow this), once you have children, you are linked at least for the time until the youngest child is 18 years old. Often, for much longer as you each participate in life events of your children for the rest of your lives. So, it’s in the best interests of everyone that the adults figure out how to behave in the healthiest manner possible and how to become the best version of themselves. Sometimes that can be done together, and sometimes not.
I do believe that “staying for the sake of the kids” is a good enough reason to start. But not to end. Stay for the kids, but then have the courage to make the kinds of changes needed for the health and happiness of both the children and the adults involved. Life is too short to stay just to continue creating misery, and role modeling for children how NOT to do marriage.
Even without children in the picture, I am still in favor of marriage as the best place to experience the opportunities for growth that simply do not come in any other way; the best place to be challenged to grow, learn, and be different and better, all while stretching oneself to learn to accept and love “as is.” In marriage is where we wrestle with such dualities as acceptance and change, striving and contentedness, individuality and connectedness, among others.
In my couples workshops, I often share a true story of growing up and seeing a paper on my Dad’s bedroom wall, hanging over his dresser. It had a picture of 2 feet facing 3 feet. Underneath, it said, “You’re different. I like you”. As a small child, I puzzled over that picture and what it could possibly mean, since, clearly, “nobody has 3 feet.” Today, I am grateful that I saw that picture enough times for it to be engrained in my memory as a reminder that I can choose to like and value someone else’s differences — especially my husband’s and my children’s.
I have very strong biases, but they may not be what you initially assume. I am neither biased for nor against women or men by virtue of my gender. The same arguments that accuse me of siding with one over the other could be (and are) used with my male colleagues as well. I am biased neither for nor against the cheater nor the cheated upon; the addict nor the partner of an addict; the “rational” nor the “emotional” one. I AM biased in favor of any and all behaviors that promote love, health, happiness, affection, commitment, trust, honesty and purposeful or meaningful living.
I am equally biased AGAINST any and all behaviors that promote fear, harm, secrecy, dishonesty, contempt, ineffective behaviors, and a lack of health or thriving – personally, in the marriage, or in the family. I see it as my job to identify when these harmful or ineffective behaviors are occurring – regardless of who is doing them – and assist each person and couple in replacing them with healthier, more effective actions, thoughts and ways of being. If this means you feel “picked on” in therapy at times, and at other times like you need to leap to the defense of your partner when they’re being “picked on” by me, then rest assured, I am doing my job.
I used to tell my couples, “It’s my job to push and pull on each of you, as needed, for the benefit of the marriage. You have hired me to help you with your marriage, so your marriage is my client first. You will feel picked on and challenged at times. I hope you will also feel validated and reinforced at times. I hope we have fun along the way, but I also hope that my office is the place where you can unpack the hard and ugly stuff so you can go home and focus on the rebuilding the positives between you. Eventually, you will gain confidence in managing the hard and ugly stuff and you’ll even take that home with you, but knowing how to manage it more effectively”.
I also have a bias towards using our therapeutic time well. I have been on the other side, writing the check for an hour or more of martial intervention and help one week at a time. I know that one of the dualities every one of my couples wrestles with is the painful need for guidance, direction and help, as well as the very valid wish to spend their time, money and energy elsewhere, living the life they wish to be creating. I am very patient with the necessarily slow pacing of healing, but I lack patience for game playing, manipulations, or deception. Trust me, if you are not in a place where you wish to do the work of change and growth, that is OK with me. But please do not waste my time or more importantly, the time of your spouse and family, with the illusion of “doing everything possible” while refusing to try new perspectives and behaviors.
One of the beauties of therapy is that, in most cases, it is voluntary – not compulsory. It is a process you choose to enter into for your own reasons, both stated and unstated. I invite you to be an informed consumer. Ask questions. Be an active participant in the process. My hope is that when we’re through, you will reflect on the time spent in therapy as challenging – perhaps even difficult and painful – but worth the time and effort invested.
Was this Blog helpful? If so, I highly recommend my couples weekend workshop: The Art and Science of Love, created by the Gottman Institute. Information and exercises are presented in an organized, cohesive manner. It’s a wonderful investment in your love life, and will truly strengthen your relationship!