On Reconciling a Marriage
Recently I was doing marriage counseling with a couple who had been separated for a few months, had gotten back together and now were looking for some ways to preserve their marriage. I have to admit that I was really reluctant to see them as a couple, which is a practice I normally don’t do because most couples use the opportunity when they are together to point the finger of blame at the other person. It is usually just too addicting and too tempting to do anything but blame. It is to accept the part that you have played in the dissolution of the marriage. Blame keeps a lot of marriages apart and when you bring it into therapy, it keeps it apart.
So when they came in I used this format which was really good.
1. I asked each of them why they had chosen to get back together and what they hoped to get out of the meeting.
2 Then I had then write down the worst things about themselves that I had contributed to the break up of the marriage.
This ended up being really powerful because they were both very honest. So I had to remind them that if they wanted to keep their marriage together, then they each had their own work to do in themselves to develop new parts of them. One of the two was always trying to boss the other one around, which made the other want to run away always and be quiet which only made her do more bossing. The other was quiet and held all of his feelings in.
3. Then I had them write the positive characteristics that they liked about each others and share them.
The things they said were all things that they liked when they got married a decade ago, but never said before, which is a pattern that many people have. They never get around to telling the other person how wonderful they are and to specifically name what they admire. What usually happens when I do this exercise, is that they name a virtue and then start saying the bad things.
The reason that people dwell on the bad things is that they want the other person to have the quality that they need for them.
The format seems to work really well. Of course it is important to really intervene and be strong when they start blaming and when they try to use validation to get the other person to do their own work.