Monday, March 5, 2012
I suppose thinking about marriage counseling almost five years out from the break-up of my marriage is a little like closing the barn door after the horse has escaped, but this recent piece from the New York Times caught my eye. The piece is essentially about how much couples therapy/marriage counseling stresses out therapists. “You have to like action. To manage marital combat, a therapist needs to get in there, mix it up with the client, be a ninja. This is intimidating," says one of the therapists interviewed for the article. I'll say. And it's also pretty intimidating, I might add, to be half of a couple seeking therapy.
Couples therapy, the article goes on to say, didn't become popular until the upswing in the divorce rate in the 60s and 70s. The therapist considered to be the pioneer of family therapy claimed that the goal of couples therapy is “not to maintain the relationship nor to separate the pair but to help each other to take charge of himself.” There were three episodes of marriage counseling in the thirty years of my marriage. As pointless as it now may seem, I wonder how I might have changed and how my marriage might have changed if I had embraced the goal of taking charge of myself. Maybe the marriage would not have lasted as long as it did. Maybe we'd have turned things around.
Apparently, one of the most successful types of couples counseling is based on the attachment theory of parenting. "...good relationships are built on secure attachments, ones that are engaged and emotionally responsive." I subscribed devotedly to attachment parenting as a young mother. And the results, with my daughters now in their twenties, seem hard to argue with. Maybe the couples therapy my ex and I received was not built on that model. Or maybe it was, and somehow the attachment between my husband and me never really existed or had already dissolved. The only solid memory I've retained from the experience is that it was terribly difficult to make the demand on my husband's time. The request for counseling was yet another burden heaped on a day without enough hours.
Which brings to mind one of my old theories about parenting. The quality time argument was big then. Working moms spent "quality time" with their kids, while those of us that stayed home, the quality camp claimed, were lost in hours and hours of meaningless drudgery. I figured that time was time. No, I wasn't taking my kids to the zoo everyday, but we were together, responding to one another in ways large and small, fun and less fun. I think time, both quality and quantity, was what my marriage lacked.
Time in the context of the affair with the man who loves me does not seem divisible into quality and quantity. We spend two or three nights a week together. Almost always we stay in. We cook. We eat. We clean up the kitchen. We don't watch TV or movies. We talk. A lot. We make each other laugh. Sometimes we listen to music or dance. These quality quantifiable hours spent fully engaged are undoubtedly a force in the love affair. And I believe, that since the end of my marriage, I have taken charge of myself. Those are the things, at this point in my life, that seem central to love.
How about you? Got any observations about love? Would you go to counseling (given the fact that a lot of therapists seem to dread the process) over a troubled relationship or just move on?
photo credit: flowerpowermom.com