Service of Couples Therapy
April 11th, 2016
We enjoy “Doc Martin,” a program about the socially crippled but bright small town physician Martin Ellingham played magnificently by Martin Clunes. The drama takes place in a charming fictitious village, Portwenn, which is really the scenic Port Isaac in Cornwall. The Doc falls in love with the town school headmistress Louisa Glasson—the actor Caroline Catz–and after a few false starts they marry [Photo below, right]. Married life with the misfit doc isn’t easy, they separate and of late the doc and Louisa took their marriage to a couples therapist whom they fired just as she came to tell them she was taking a break and leaving town. The therapist wished them “good luck” in a sarcastic tone filled with insincerity and doubt.
Dr. William J. Doherty, interviewed by Elizabeth Bernstein for her Wall Street Journal article, “What a Marriage Therapist Really Thinks,” wouldn’t approve of the therapist’s overt pessimism about the future of their marriage. Dr. Doherty told Bernstein: “Therapists differ widely in how much hope they carry for deeply troubled couples. A lot of therapists, particularly those who do some marital therapy but aren’t experts, do a history and say to themselves: ‘This marriage will never last.’”
In addition the St. Paul, Minn.-based marriage and family therapist told Bernstein: “It is almost like a spiritual discipline to monitor my internal side-taking. One of the things I tell myself is there is always more to the story. The other thing is that in most marriages when people are showing their angry, frustrated side, those are hard feelings. There are usually soft feelings under that: helplessness and vulnerability. When someone is acting out harsh feelings, it is my job to keep in mind that there is something soft they’re not expressing.”
The family therapist says it’s a mistake to take sides and/or gang up against husband or wife as tempting as it might be. He wants each party to recognize their “contribution to the marital problems.”
He also shared: “A good question to ask your therapist is: ‘How many couples do you see who are successful?’ The answer you are looking for is ‘the great majority.’ The answer that should make you run for the hills is: ‘It depends on how you define success. For some, divorce is successful.’ This is the response of a neutral therapist who doesn’t have a stake in helping you stay together and being happy. You wouldn’t want an oncologist who says: ‘A lot of people die. Some live.’”
Doherty, who has been married over 40 years, never tells a couple that therapy isn’t working. He first wants to know what they think. He observed that “people idealize a therapist’s marriage. I tell couples that every married couple has two to three chronic problems that never go away. You learn to live with them more graciously and don’t let them hurt you as much.”
Of note: the word “love” didn’t once crop up in the article. Can you imagine why? Do you think that a business partnership or a team leader with warring staffers might pick up some pointers from such a practical, experienced couples therapist?