Why Marriage Counseling Doesn’t Work

Wondering why marriage counseling doesn’t work?

Every day we tell ourselves lies: “No more sugar!”  “No more yelling.”  “No more spending.” “No more drinking.” “This week I’m going to exercise.”  And then what?

How about this week, we agree to tell the truth?  No more lying to ourselves about all the big changes we’re going to make?

Let’s face it, changing ourselves is a big job.  It takes constant vigilance, steadfast commitment, rigourous honesty, infinite patience, and tons of support.  So doesn’t it seem a little bit nuts to think we can change our partners?

In my experience, when marriage counseling doesn’t work, it’s because couples come into therapy hoping I’ll help them get their partners to change.  They don’t realize that their best chance at getting something different from their relationship is to change how they respond to their partner’s objectionable behaviors.

Typically, women complain that their partners are lazy, clueless, narcissistic and immature–which they well might be.  But what they don’t realize is that by continuing to overfunction and tolerate unacceptable behavior, they are actually reinforcing it in their partners.

“I’m always cleaning up after her!”  Why is that?

“Why is it that we both work full-time and I’m still responsible for organizing all the social events, all the holidays, and everything that’s going on with the kids?”  Good question.

What actions are you taking to be kinder, more honest, more respectful, more responsible, less reactive?

Blame is a waste of time. Focus on changing yourself.

Men complain that their wives are never satisfied or that they show more affection to their girlfriends than they do to them. I ask them to get curious, not resentful. If you’re getting more support, affection, appreciation, or focused attention from a girlfriend, why wouldn’t you enjoy being with them more?

If I’m doing marriage counseling, the focus is always on what each person can do be kinder, clearer, more respectful, more responsible, congruent, less reactive.  In short, their highest self.  This means recognizing the ways in which your behaviors, reactions, beliefs, choices miss the mark. How does your silence, blame, drinking, lying cause suffering for yourself and others?

How does your silence, blame, drinking, or lying, cause

suffering for yourself and others?

For one person, that might mean changing jobs, working fewer hours, being more attentive, learning to be curious, fighting fair, giving up alcohol.  For another, it might mean learning to forgive, not being a martyr, making requests instead of demands, stretching more.

If you are considering marriage counseling, make sure that you are ready to work on yourself, and not looking for someone to take sides.  Real change happens in relationships when we are willing to stop blaming others. To make real progress, start taking greater responsibility for the ways in which you may be causing, creating, or reinforcing behaviors in others that we want to stop.

Affairs, Separation, Divorce Part 2: What about the kids?

In Part 1, I discussed why most affairs fail. If you have kids, your risk of failure is even greater. If you do decide to separate, divorce, or continue with an affair, Part 2 contains a list of Dos and Don’ts for parents to follow.

  • Do make sure your kids have someone to talk to: a counselor, clergy, or other trusted adult besides their parents.
  • Don’t think that just because they’re not talking about it, they aren’t struggling.
  • Do answer their questions honestly, but with restraint.
  • Don’t burden children with information they don’t need to know and won’t be able to forget. Remember: They are counting on you to make them feel safe in the world.
  • Do treat your spouse with respect. Your kids need two parents who can disagree, be angry, even fall out of love, but never be disrespectful of one another.
  • Don’t talk negatively about your ex or their affair partner to your kids, or within earshot of them, or in texts. It hurts them and makes you look heartless, cruel, or petty.
  • Always always communicate directly with your ex about changes in plans, requests, complaints.
  • Don’t put your kids in the middle. For example, Don’t pressure them take sides or ask them to “get your mom to say yes.”
  • Don’t pump kids for ‘dish’ on ex’s affair partner
  • It’s okay to share your sadness with children in general terms about what’s happening.
  • Do not over-share. For example, don’t discuss a spouse’s abusive behavior, unless the child has witnessed or overheard it, or you have concerns about the child’s safety with the other parent: chemical use, violence, extreme volatility.
  • Don’t use a child as your confidante. This is damagaing to teenagers as well as children.
  • Don’t expect them or guilt them into taking care of you.
  • Do assure them you are getting outside support (and get it!)
  • Do comply with agreements between you and your ex.
  • Don’t bribe kids with things the other parent can’t or won’t get them.
  • Don’t ever ask them to keep secrets from their mom or dad.

Above all, remember: Nothing you do as a parent is more important than keeping them healthy, mentally and physically during this difficult time for your family.

photo courtesy of Unsplash

A note from Betsy Sansby

For years I’ve wanted to share this tool with a wider audience. In its original form, it was a paper and pencil homework tool  I called “The OuchKit.” I designed it for couples in my therapy practice who kept asking me to come home with them so they could have the kind of conversations on their own that they were having when I was there.

And now, with the advent and convenience of the iPhone and iPad, anyone interested in deepening their relationships can use Express Yourself ECards to understand themselves better, and express their feelings more effectively to get a more positive response.  And the best part, is that you don’t need a therapist in the room to help you do it.  For 99 cents, you can do it all by yourself. And it can change your life.

Please let me know how you like using it, and feel free to send me your Express Yourself ECards stories, good or bad.

Express Yourself Ecards app

 

 

Contact

Hi,

I’m hoping you’ll download my new app and write a review on the App Store. It will really help me get Express Yourself E-Cards out into the world. And I’d love to hear your success stories, as well as suggestions for new cards you’d like to see added to the library. I hope to hear from you.

Betsy