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Couples Issues



I am a Marriage Friendly Therapist!

I support a values statement that holds marriage as an important personal, professional, and social value. I believe in helping couples restore their marriages to health if that is possible. Most couples assume this is what all therapists believe. But it's not so. Because of their professional training, many therapists hold a "neutral" value orientation towards whether a marriage survives or whether the couple divorces. In fact, this is the most common stance even among therapists who identify themselves as marriage and family therapists. In a national survey of over 1,000 marriage and family therapists, over 60 percent indicated that they are "neutral" on marriage versus divorce for their clients. Only one-third said they "I am committed to preserving marriage and avoiding divorce whenever possible." Disturbingly, 2.4% said they frequently recommend divorce. (You can contact me for the citation for this peer reviewed journal article.) The bottom line: most therapists are neutral when marriages are in trouble, whereas I aim to directly support the viability of troubled marriages. This is a big difference, and it’s why I use the term "marriage friendly."

Life is filled with tragedy. Not all marriages can survive, and some marriages are so destructive to health and human dignity that they should be dissolved. Sometimes couples come to therapy when one spouse has made an irrevocable decision to divorce. In other words, there are times when every experienced marriage therapist knows that the cause has been lost and that the best approach is to help minimize the damage of an inevitable divorce. There are responsible divorces, and therapists can assist in that process. But that does not mean that we hold the view of one prominent therapist who says, "The good marriage, the good divorce—it matters not." Like a surgeon facing a wounded limb, I first want to find a way to save a marriage, even if at first a spouse is demoralized and feels like giving up. A good marriage therapist, in our view, offers hope and works hard to help couples succeed in their marriage, and then accepts their ultimate decision on the future of their relationship

Because relationship problems are the main problem people bring to individual therapists, individual therapists are treating marriages whether or not they realize it. Unless the therapist has values that support marriage and is careful not to turn the non-present partner into a villain, individual therapy can undermine a marriage. Every experienced marriage therapist has heard these stories: a spouse goes into individual therapy, receives support for a one-sided view of the marriage problems, and becomes increasingly pessimistic about the marriage. The therapist then questions why the person stays in an obviously bad marriage. The other spouse is clueless that the marriage is unraveling in therapy, and is not informed until it’s too late. These therapists do not intend harm, but often their orientation is to the personal happiness of their individual client who is distressed in a marriage, without enough regard for the welfare of the other spouse and the children—and for the lifelong commitment that the client once made to the marriage for "better and worse." Sadly, it is not uncommon for therapists to recommend divorce after a few individual sessions without a real assessment of the marriage and its possibilities for survival and renewal.


 

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