Every once in a while I attend a professional workshop which challenges some of my basic assumptions about psychotherapy. Such was the case of an intensive, five day workshop I recently attended entitled Putting Marriage Back Into Marriage Therapy.The workshop was presented by Michele Weiner-Davis, author of the book, Divorce Busting a Step-By-Step Approach to Making Your Marriage Loving Again" (Fireside, 1993), and this year's recipient of the outstanding achievement award of the American Association of Marital and Family Therapists.
Ms. Weiner-Davis is strongly anti-divorce and does all she can to prevent divorces in her therapy and workshops. The divorce of her parents when she was a child had a devastating impact on her which led her to her divorce busting work, an example of how something positive can come out of childhood suffering.
What challenged me was her conviction that you don't have to work with both spouses to improve a marriage. She believes a therapist can work just as effectively with only one spouse rather than two and still help make the marriage better. I had always thought it was preferable to see both spouses together.
Her belief is based upon the assumption, which I also hold, that a change in one spouse will change the relationship. In fact, I always tell spouses there is nothing they can do about their partner's behavior but plenty they can do about their own.
It is often the case that one spouse wants to work on the marriage in therapy, while the other does not; one spouse wants to save the marriage while the other is undecided.
At the risk of sounding sexist, frequently the husband does not want to come to therapy despite the entreaties of his wife. He doesn't want any shrink to tell him what to do, so I am often told, which is a misconception since therapists rarely give advice but help people determine their own solutions to many of their problems.
What Weiner-Davis encourages her clients to do is to stop doing over and over what has not worked in the past and decide on new behaviors they can try to get their spouses to be more loving. These behaviors should be positively stated, action oriented and broken down into small steps. For example, asking your spouse to quit ignoring or being critical of you is not as effective as asking him to show you more love by hugging you once a day or having a date every other week. In her therapy, she keeps hammering away at solutions rather than problems, at positive, concrete, attainable behavioral changes rather than insights.
So if you want to try to improve or save your marriage, but your spouse refuses to see a marital therapist, you are not helpless. Go to a therapist yourself to determine what you can begin to do differently in relating to your spouse. Remember the assumption of a family systems approach to problems: If you change, your marriage must also change, hopefully for the better.
This does not mean that you are the problem in the marriage, the major contributor to your marital difficulties. It is still a bedrock conviction of mine, which no workshop will shake, that both spouses contribute roughly equally to the painful marital interaction. Your being in therapy only means, in my biased view, that you have the strength and courage to work on you marriage by yourself.
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