Service of Couples Therapy

April 11th, 2016

Categories: Love, Marriage, Therapy

couples therapy

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.

Doc Martin and FamilyDr. 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.”

take sidesThe 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?

 Love

 

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7 Responses to “Service of Couples Therapy”

  1. hb Said:

    I readily follow how you make the analogy of couples therapy to employee/employee relationships in the workplace, but I don’t buy. Most marriages at some point have had an element of romance in them. However, in my experience, romance in the workplace between bosses and subordinates uniformly end up in disaster for both parties, and a loss of valuable human assets by their ultimate employer. Given its cost in time and money, it is not curable by therapy and only by the departure of one or more of the parties involved. If no romance is involved, then it’s not couples therapy that is needed.

    For that matter, I also have my reservations about couples therapy in general. Once the first blush of marital bliss has worn off, most couples begin to realize that their spouse is not perfect, and the trouble starts. Adam starts thinking that Eve should use deodorant and Eve starts thinking that Adam should brush his teeth. Eventually they end up with a therapist who tells one or both of them, that if they want to save their marriage they have to change. He or she gets their back up and we are off to the races. Change is not what is needed; tolerance is.

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:

    hb,

    If the problems in a marriage or relationship were as simple as brushing teeth or using deodorant the change would be relatively easy. Even so, I think change is possible and I’ve seen it happen.

    However, there’s disaster ahead if a person thinks that the irritating things a fiancé does when they are engaged will change because they will have the power to change their spouse. They don’t. They must be brave enough to say what annoys and can only count on changing their reactions/feelings about the grating characteristics or actions.

    “Tolerance” has negative implications and reflects passivity. I prefer compromise and negotiation.

    It also helps if both aren’t in a bad mood at the same time and there’s nothing like humor which is very difficult to muster if you’re feeling crushed, disrespected or ignored.

  3. Hank Goldman Said:

    Conflict resolution. One of the most difficult of problems. My daughter’s specialty. Her company is Alignment Strategies. Jennifer said conflict resolution should just be called conflict management. Can never be resolved! I don’t envy people in that field.

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Hank,

    Conflict management. I guess Jennifer selects the management term because she’s realistic. The “resolution” word implies a fix. It nevertheless sounds like fascinating work and well needed. A high number of successes might be hard to come by but then, what else comes easily? Very little. What joy and satisfaction when Jennifer has helped people manage their conflicts!

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    “Love” is an elusive and highly overrated emotion, so it’s right not to mention it under above stated circumstances. Assuming addiction or related problems are not responsible for marital disarray, much depends upon a couples liking and respect for one another, along with mutual willingness to work things out. Remove those factors from the equation, then divorce is undoubtedly best.

    I’m no marriage counselor, so these remarks are based on observation.

  6. Martha Takayama Said:

    I tend to agree with hb and do not put great faith in couples therapy.
    Expectations from marriage also have a lot to do with the ability to weather conflict. Flexibility is important for making a go of such a commitment. Realistic evaluation of how a divorce will alter your life is also important. Alternatives to therapy can be sharing thoughts with close friends or relatives as well as spiritual advisors.

  7. Jeanne Byington Said:

    Martha,

    If the couples therapist knows what he/she is doing, I think the process can be very effective. If people going to any therapist, couples, family or by themselves, think that this person will solve their problems and all they have to do is sit there–the equivalent of swallowing an antibiotic to rid a body of infection–nothing will happen. It takes work for all people involved.

    One reason people are probably better off marrying at older ages is that they might have become more realistic about what to expect from marriage and from another person and they also may have developed a stiffer spine, knowing when to be quiet about a minor irritation and when to draw a line.

    When a person is stressed, the cap off the toothpaste tube is far more aggravating than when they feel happy and are rested, at which point the discovery could generate a shrug and maybe even a smile.

    If money is no object and if both parties have a vaguely similar outlook on how to spend or save money and there are no overt power plays in the relationship, feathers tend to stay in place. They fly if money is in short supply and they disagree about how to spend what exists. Add fatigue and stress and KABOOM!

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