Monday, March 5, 2012

Marriage Counseling

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?

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Ms. Moon said...

I think almost anyone could benefit from good counseling- couples or otherwise. The keyword, though, "good," is what makes it so difficult. It's so easy to find the wrong counselor and because you are the one seeking help and they are the "expert" it makes it hard to be realistic and brave enough to say, "No. You're not the one."
Which can make a situation just that much worse.
So. It's iffy. It's scary. It's difficult.

Lilith said...

My ex and I went to couples counseling for a year. You can see how successful that was. It did help me though to not feel so crazy.

I've seen a Jungian analyst for the past 2 1/2 years and that helped a fair bit. And now, now I'm realizing I need to take up meditation and take a long, loving look within. Wish me luck.

Anonymous said...

The trick is getting "good" counseling. But, yes, you should, because you're still carrying heartache. The fact that you're still talking about the dirtball indicates you need a nudge to get on with your life. I read that you can expect to grieve 1 year for every five years you were married if you went without counseling. It's really the kids that have to endure...imagine having unwanted half brothers/sisters. Imagine having to rely on a father who lacks integrity for moral and economic support. Their existence is tainted by their association with the's harder for them to "escape."

Elizabeth said...

You give me hope.

janzi said...

WEll, its over 23 years since my divorce and at the time relationship counselling was not available as normal. So we did not go to sessions to find out if we could stay together.. There really was only one reason that we split up and it was his drinking, so as that did not get better, until he had divorced me, we split** Booze is a real killer factor, and sadly it proved so in our case, because underneath it all he was a good man.. but weak. I think that I would accept counsel if this marriage went wrong, because there is no definate reason to pin on if it failed.. we talk, we laugh we explain and do things together.. what we dont do, is travel or go out much, and that could cause difficulties at times, but not enough to tear the fabric.. so I guess what I am saying is counselling is good with the right person to guide you.. a case of trying to see who that person is and not be afraid to try out several until you find the one to work with and then get it sorted out.. good luck, you are still hurting so much by being left high and dry by your ex.. you need to get back in touch with you, and then the fact that no man needs to validate you, you are wonderful enough!!!

Sandra said...

My first marriage happened when we were too young. It needed to end. The second has been a roller coaster sometimes, but love is often expressed in ways one would not consider. Like the husband spending his Saturday stripping horse stalls for the wife. He is not one for gifts or sentiment, but those Saturdays speak volumes.

Anonymous said...

My ex and I tried this about 3 times. The first counselor weighed about 350 pounds and I could not respect her. The second ones (male-female team) had us focus on sex, which for us wasn't the problem. After 3 appointments, we were unable to get a 4th appointment and pronounced ourselves cured.
The third one's main concern was dragging out the process. By that point we were broken beyond repair.

Anonymous said...

It was one of the few demands I ever made; that after (his second) affair, we seek help. After our third session I worried that she (the attractive, younger-than-me & thinner-than-me therapist) was taking his side. Then I worried that I was paranoid. After the fifth session she told me she could no longer see us as a couple. I grew even more worried that I was paranoid . . . but I wasn't - eventually he admitted that yes, he and the therapist had slept together, several times.

A happy ending, of sorts, however, as I eventually found a (different) therapist who really helped me get myself back on track.

Tyler Goodwin said...

I wouldn’t mind going to a marriage counseling session when I know that my partner and I need help. I believe that counseling exists because couples want to save their marriage, but they just don’t know how. They need guidance on how to go back to the right path in order to achieve their goal of a happy relationship. I admire couples who go through this, because they don’t give up on finding the solution to their marital problems.

Tyler Goodwin