By Judy Schrader, LMHC
I recently saw a couple, who I’ll call Bob and Jane, came for marriage counseling. They were already planning their separation. Bob was unsure he wanted to stay married, he was having an affair that he was reluctant to end. Jane however, although very hurt, wanted to salvage the marriage and had convinced her husband to come to therapy. By the end of the first session, Bob had realized that he had a great deal to lose and decided to recommit to the marriage and end this relationship. It was clear that although the couple had grown apart they still a great deal of love for each other. The last few years they had been living separate lives, sharing almost nothing besides a residence. Bob had gravitated to someone he worked with, who had a sympathetic ear and some common interests. This is a very common occurrence, impacting many marriages. This couple had been married for 18 years and known each other since childhood. After discussing the life that they built together and all that they had invested in each other, they both agreed it would be a significant loss and decided to not separate just yet. After six sessions they had a deeper understanding of each other and recommitted to their marriage.
Bob learned how to be sensitive to Jane’s feelings without tuning out or rolling his eyes. Jane learned that Bob had felt unappreciated and to acknowledge his endeavors. Several sessions later they felt good about their relationship and therapy came to an end. Although, it doesn’t always work that way, for this couple, marriage counseling provided a safe environment to speak openly about the hurts, disappointments and importantly the positive experiences they’ve shared. Bob and Jane began to spend time together doing the things they used to do before they drifted apart. They learned how to communicate effectively and listen to their partner with empathy. They gained problem solving skills along with tools to enhance their intimacy.
When a couple enters my office the first question I ask is how committed they are to saving their marriage/relationship. I don’t always get the same response from both parties as illustrated above, however after some discovery it is not unusual for couples to recommit. Learning how to listen with respect for your partner, does not mean you have to agree. It’s learning to agree to disagree.
While marriage counseling does not always work, with effective communication skills a couple is more likely to have an amicable divorce allowing them to transition from marriage partners to parenting partners. This however is a topic for another day.