You may baulk at approaching a therapist to set your marriage on the right path. But in these changing times it is a necessity, not a taboo…
It's quite extraordinary how resistant most people are to the very idea of seeking professional intervention to help solve an impasse in the marital relationship. And though this tends to apply more commonly to the male of the species, it does not automatically follow that all women are comfortable with the idea of seeking help. They aren't. Although seven times out of 10 the first of the two partners who meets me professionally is the woman, I must add that, in the last decade I have seen at least three men out of 10 who are highly sensitive to the issues on the relationship and are more ready than their wives to allow a stranger to intervene in their lives.
The reasons quoted by reluctant spouses when faced with the prospect of visiting a marital therapist are usually variations of one of five themes. The first of these is: Our parents managed perfectly well, so why can't we? Hey, we live in different times! The demands made by external reality on contemporary human lives are inordinately more than those that were made on our parents. We expect more from our relationships today than our parents ever did. And equally we are willing to invest more in our relationships than our parents ever thought possible. So what worked for our parents isn't necessarily going to work for us.
Consulting the expert
The second is the belief that a man and a woman should be able to solve their problems on their own. Fair enough. There is a need that exists in all of us that we should be on top of our own problems and on the face of it, nothing may appear to be wrong with this proposition. However, when it becomes clear that the problems in the relationship are progressively less fathomable and despite one's best efforts, the resolutions aren't taking place, then does one just wait for something magical to happen, or go out and find someone who knows a little more about the subject and get some counsel?
The third question posed by the recalcitrant spouse is, how can an outsider tell us what we don't know about ourselves? The dynamics of marriage are, by and large, unconscious and it would be unreasonable to expect anybody who has not had the benefit of training to pick up, interpret and deal with them. What the trained professional does is to help you understand the dynamics and patterns in your relationship that even you are not aware of.
The fourth concern is, how can we possibly share all these intimate details with a stranger? I know it's never easy sharing what we consider personal information with a stranger. The fear of loss of privacy can often be a strong deterrent to seeking help, particularly in those people who, for a variety of reasons, are more private than others. Here it becomes a trade-off kind of situation. If your quality of life is going to be enhanced as a result of this sharing, then it's probably worth putting up with the initial unease that the process entails. And remember, you don't have to share everything at once, you can do so slowly as your comfort with the professional increases.
And the final entry barrier: Surely our marriage is not so bad that we need ‘therapy'? It's a fallacy to believe that only people with ‘broken marriages' need to seek professional intervention. If I had my way, it would be made mandatory for every couple to talk to a professional if only to iron out some of the glitches in their relationships. However, in our country, we have a strongly ingrained belief system that only ‘disturbed' persons need the services of mental health professionals. A great pity really, for, when we think this way, we lose valuable time and build up more baggage before we deem the situation ‘serious' enough to warrant intervention. In truth, if ever you visit a marital therapist's office you'll only come across normal people who are in the process of de-bugging their relationships so they can get out of a bottleneck with relative ease, not ‘disturbed' people or people with ‘fractured' relationships. As a rule of thumb, the better the marriage, the more valuable can therapeutic intervention be, for, such a couple is geared to making use of the intervention effectively.
There is something to be said, of course, for doing things one's own way and learning in the process, but this would hardly apply to say, removing your appendix, would it? So too is it with marriage. One can hardly perform the demanding role of a contributing spouse without knowing what to do and acquiring the right tools to do so. I usually encourage reluctant spouses to take just a session or two of therapy before making a commitment to it. And the good news is that once they realise they're not going to be judged by the therapist, but that the therapist's objective is to foster understanding, all of the above arguments fall by the wayside, reluctance turns to comfort and therapy proceeds at a canter.
The bottom line: It is the fear of judgement that makes many people reluctant to enter therapy. The footnote: Nobody can judge you but yourself. Your therapist is not a judge, merely an interpreter; and therapy is not a sentence, merely a catalysis.
The writer is the author of the forthcoming Fifty-50 Marriage: Return to Intimacy and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.