Who’s Really In Control?
All marriage conflicts are alike to the degree that confronting marital struggles forces the couple to reevaluate their relationship. In some marriages, the conflicts tend to trap both parties in an endless round of bitterness, revenge, and self-pity. Why they stay in the marriage is often as puzzling as why they can’t get beyond their mutual antagonism. Their dialogue has become rigid, narrow, and predictable. Tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty is vital to discovering a space from which a more creative and robust relationship can emerge. I frequently ask unhappy couples who come to my office, “Why don’t you treat your friends the way you treat each other?? I typically hear the same response, If I treated my friends that way, I’d lose them.” (Really ?????)
Many come to therapy wanting their partner fixed. For them, therapy seems more a part of the penance rather than a mending experience; there’s no absolution in sight. At the core of many arguments is a conflict of values, inherent in the debate itself, not just in its resolution. When people talk about their fears, often they’re really thinking about their values. When they say, “I don’t want to break up my family,” they’re also saying that they hold dear family continuity. When they refer to the shared history with their spouse, they express their respect for loyalty and commitment.
For some couples, however, the conflicts can become a transformational experience and catalyst for renewal and change. This outcome illustrates that therapy has the potential to help couples reinvent their marriage by mining the resilience and resourcefulness each partner brings to the table.
When I work with these couples, I always include joint and individual sessions, keeping all information from the individual sessions confidential. The purpose of solo meetings is to provide a private space in which each partner can resolve his or her individual predicament, no matter how long it takes. With these couples, the therapeutic process is one of reasoning and rational thinking, as a way to temper the turbulence of their emotions. My sessions are meant to guide couples through the crisis and to help anchor their relationship. Meaning, it can be difficult for estranged or distressed couples to focus on what drew them together, but within every couple’s creation myth, lies the key to understanding the unfolding story of their relationship and who?s really in control. The only person’s behavior we can control is our own!