Fix my Partner
aka Marriage Therapy; What it is and What it isn’t.
Today I want to talk a little bit about what I do, about couples therapy, what it is and what it isn’t. What couples therapists can do and what they can’t. So, whether you are in couples counseling, thinking about couples counseling or just want to improve your relationship, these tips will be useful.
OK, first off. Marriage therapists are not referees. When you see a couples counselor, they may let you fight a few times. That is important in order to understand your style of arguing. Do you interrupt each other? Do you name call? Are you respectful? Do you have any positive interactions in the heat of the argument? Do you listen to your partner? All of these factors impact a couple’s ability to resolve differences and to feel close. Couples do not feel close when individuals do not feel heard or respected.
But, I repeat, I am not a referee. It is not my job to tell your partner that they are wrong so you can say, “See, even the therapist thinks you are being ridiculous.” I will tell you what is effective, such as “when you show remorse for an indiscretion, it goes much further in rebuilding trust than defending your actions.” Or “every time you criticize your husband in that way, he shuts down. I don’t think it is helping you get what you are looking for.” Or “It’s really important that you wife feel like you ‘get it,’ like you understand why that upset her.” Even though, on very rare occasions, I might be heard saying, “I gotta agree with your partner on this one,” that is not the point of marriage therapy. The point is learning how to do better, so you no longer need marriage therapy. Many times, that means coming to understand why you and your partner may act and react in certain ways so that you can consciously choose better, more effective ways to act and react.
And that brings me to my second point, I will not fix your partner. I am not a mechanic. You can’t bring me your faulty partner and drive home with him working properly. I can’t tell you how many couples come into my office because “everything would be great if only my partner would” (or wouldn’t)….fill in the blank. Unless you are willing to look at your own role in your relationship, don’t even waste your time or money. It’s not worth it and it rarely works.
Not Judge and Jury
Sorry if this is offensive, but your relationship problems are not just your partner’s fault. They just aren’t. Therapy can sometimes be lopsided at times and I may work more closely with one partner. But even when this is the case, both partners have the responsibility and the power to self-reflect about how they have contributed to the situation, and what they could be doing to make it better. Let me give a few examples. Let’s say your wife is in the throes of depression or addiction. If this is the case, it is not your job to fix it. But it is your job to understand how you impact the illness. Are you helping your partner open up? Or shut down? Are you making it easier or more difficult for her to get treatment? In what ways are you enabling the behaviors? Rarely, does demanding that your partner change result in positive transformations and increased harmony. But you can learn to set kind and healthy boundaries for yourself; what behaviors you will tolerate and how you will respond if those boundaries are crossed.
And yes, this is even true in cases of infidelity. No, you did not “cause” your husband’s infidelity. Never, ever is it appropriate to hold one partner responsible for the choices of the other. You can’t make your partner be unfaithful any more than you can make them drink. But you are responsible for your part in contributing to the state of the marriage. And if you are interested in improving the relationship then your part, your behaviors, is a valuable ingredient in the successful reconstruction of the marriage. Side note, when working with couples after an affair, it is almost always more effective to address the hurt caused by the infidelity and the idea of rebuilding trust before requesting any self-reflection or behavior changes from the betrayed spouse. I am sensitive to this and it is my initial primary focus.
So, as a marriage therapist, I am not a referee and I am not a mechanic. I am sometimes a mediator because initially, that is what many couples need. They may have a difficult time giving on their positions and looking towards a solution.
I am sometimes an interpreter, “OH, you said…, but your wife heard…”
But, I am ultimately a teacher. My goal is to help each partner understand their own thoughts, actions, and reactions and how those things impact their relationship. I teach any person who is willing, how to truly listen and understand what your partner is telling you and how to express yourself so that your partner can truly listen and understand you. I teach couples how to be more effective in having a closer, loving relationship.
So, whether you come to see me, or another therapist or you are just looking to improve your relationship without therapy, take this to heart. Your chances of having a closer, loving relationship go up dramatically when you are willing to understand and improve yourself and your part of the equation.