Marriages and other deeply committed relationships can suddenly crack, exposing deep rifts.
This may occur as the result of some painful event such as an affair coming to light. But it can also happen as if out of the blue, when a couple who have been together for many years suddenly realise they don’t seem to know each other any more.
This is a pivotal point in a relationship.
Very often, and especially if left unattended, the rift deepens and the couple seeks divorce.
But this is not inevitable. It is possible to use such events as disruptive indicators of a call for change.
If the couple can heed that call they can find their ensuing years to be richer and more fulfilling than their earlier ones.
I hold a very positive view of marriage.
I see marriage as the highest form of the human expression of love. Love practical. Love physical. Love universal.
It is the most challenging union open to us and consequently the one with the most potential for reward. Its demands range from the most mundane to the most idealistic.
From this perspective, marriage counseling is not a last ditch effort to wire together some broken ornament. Rather, it is a thoughtful process of re-evaluating individual strengths and redesigning the context of the relationship to enable both partners to achieve fufillment.
Sometimes there is no future
Any partnership requires a certain amount of commonality in order to succeed. These factors in a marriage might include:
- Common value system;
- Shared understanding about whether to have a family and how big it should be;
- Broad agreements regarding independent use of time;
- Specific agreements on the management of money;
- Shared beliefs on the upbringing of children;
- Mutual recognition and support for the needs of different gender roles;
- Mutual understanding on the place of a sex life, a social life, exercise time, other pastimes and hobbies, ongoing learning, politics, religion and so on.
One of the first tasks of relationship and marriage counseling is to establish whether the couple has enough healthy commonality to build a stronger union.
That will not always be the case. A call for divorce or separation then becomes hard to resist, not least because it gives both partners a chance for a better relationship in the future.
If sufficient mutuality exists
When a couple can point to substantial agreement on all or most of these factors it is able to start the glorious work of creating the emotional and biological equivalent of a Matisse painting: “an expressive marriage of differently colored and proportioned surfaces”.
Borrowing from the artistic statement, I use the term ‘expressive marriage’ to describe that part of marriage that is not strictly legalistic. It is a way of honouring marriage and the individuals who create it as an expression of dignity and worth.
This aspect of marriage is open to both traditional and non-traditional couples, whether or not their marriage is recognised by the state or by a formal religion.
Marriage counseling as a success factor
As a couple counselor, I know that the success factors in a marriage have everything to do with the ‘workability’ of the partners.
All marriages come under stress, both internal and external.
Internal stressors might include the nature of the marriage – society can be unkind to same-sex, mixed-race, or experimental power-exchange relationships – or it may be due to the natures of the individual partners.
External stressors include careers, extended families, aging, illness, the economy and so on.
As far as the marriage is concerned, the problem is not the stressors but the effect they have on each person’s ability to collaborate on meeting them.
This is where marriage counseling has its greatest impact. It:
- creates an emotionally safe place for difficult discussion;
- reinforces the strengths and ability of each partner to collaborate;
- stimulates creative responses to resistant problems;
- re-introduces each partner to the joy they have found in the other;
- softens the need for defensive responses;
- eases negotiations to introduce inevitable change.
Personal growth impacts the couple dynamic
A common cry among couples goes along the lines of: “Why can’t s/he be like s/he used to be?”
This is often the source of great pain because we can feel rejected or controlled when our partner’s growth takes them into places where we find it hard to follow.
Accommodating to change is always difficult. The human biopsychology is geared up to performing in a habitual manner. Shifts in the status quo are quite literally painful.
The best way to adapt is first to understand the true nature of the new dynamic. Ask: is it really a rejection of me or does it just seem that way? Then look for opportunities for yourself that might arise in any new circumsatnces.
For couples, this is best done in a constructive environment where the idea of two people forming a mutually empowering and rewarding alliance is considered to be the inevitable outcome of their partnership rather than an amazingly happy coincidence.
That is the premise on which my form of relationship coaching and marriage counseling is founded.
If it seems desirable to you, please send me an email (below) to set up an exploratory interview. I will be very pleased to meet with you.