It Time to "Appreciate the Value" of Your Marital Investment?
Mary Gerstner Basham MS, LMFT
Licensed Marital and Family Therapist
With the current focus on our economic woes, there seem to be few places we can invest these days that will see any “appreciation” in the short run. Is it possible that you may need to use this time to step back and redirect attention not only to your relationship with money, but to one of the most important relationships in your life—your marriage partnership?
Why is it that so often we put off investing in building and preserving the equity in our marriages until it is “too little, too late?” According to a leading marital researcher, John Gottman, couples in professional marital counseling wait an average of five or six years after their problems begin before seeking help. It is not uncommon for couples to have built up mountains of “debt” in the form of resentments, and miles of distance between them by the time they walk into a therapist’s office.
A marriage may limp along for years “depreciating in value” until some wake- up call catapults the couple into a marital crisis that gets them into therapy. In many cases the crisis can be the catalyst that gets both partners paying attention to their relationship patterns that are not working and make changes. The crisis can, however, be the tipping point that leads to divorce.
The saddest aspect of divorce is that many could be prevented if the couple sought counseling earlier in the life of their problems. As time goes by, conflict may turn into indifference or hopelessness and the couple may slide into more isolation and withdrawal from each other.
The best investment you can make in your marriage is to take a proactive approach to addressing problems early. If you have been fighting (or avoiding fights) over differences for a number of years, it may be time to think seriously about marriage counseling.
Marriage therapists recognize that one the hardest things for a couple to do is to make the decision and follow through with counseling. Thankfully there is less of a stigma about going to counseling than there once was; however, there are often roadblocks that keep a couple from getting started. Here are a few common concerns and ideas that may break down barriers to getting started.
WHAT IF MY PARTNER IS REFUSING TO COME FOR COUNSELING? This issue keeps many couples from seeking help. If you wait to get the green light you may be waiting a long time. Make contact with a marital therapist and get an appointment for a time you both can come. Let your partner know well ahead and make it clear that you will be going to the appointment and would like him/her to be there. More often than not, the reluctant partner will want to be represented at that first session. If your partner absolutely refuses, come yourself and get started with your own counseling to see what you can do differently on your end. While it is preferable to have both partners start counseling together, there are definite things you can do to change the relationship patterns that aren’t working.
HOW DO I FIND A SKILLED MARITAL THERAPIST? The best place to find a good marriage therapist is through a trusted friend, relative, primary care physician or pastor who can make an informed recommendation. Your employee assistance program through work and/or your insurance company may be able to direct you to a therapist in your particular network. It is always best to get at least a couple names and speak with them to find out their experience, training, philosophy and treatment approach , availability and fees.
WE HAD A BAD EXPERIENCE ONCE BEFORE WITH A THERAPIST “TAKING SIDES” WITH MY PARTNER WHO BLAMED ME FOR ALL OUR PROBLEMS. Skilled relationship therapists see both sides but do not take sides. They are trained to help you see the patterns that are not working and how each of you contribute to keeping them going in a vicious cycle. This is done in such a way that neither of you should feel blamed. In order for therapy to be productive, however, each of you needs to transition from blaming the other to taking responsibility for making changes in your own behavior.
MY PARTNER WANTS TO END OUR RELATIONSHIP AND I DON’T FEEL WILL MAKE MUCH EFFORT IN THERAPY, BUT WILL COME ONLY TO SAY COUNSELING DIDN’T WORK. Most therapists are used to this situation and can adjust the therapy to start out with assessing the motivation of each partner in separate sessions. At this time, the therapist can offer to help you both step back and look at what patterns led to your current situation without putting immediate pressure on “saving the marriage”. Many couples get divorced without understanding what each of them did to create the situation and will often repeat this in future relationships. Sometimes, just giving the partner who is leaning toward divorce time to reflect can help him/her reinvest in the marriage.
It is important to work with a therapist that can hold out hope for your relationship even when you or your partner cannot. Couples must become realistic and wise “investors” in their own future. Is this the year to put the investment into your relationship? You’d be surprised at how it can “appreciate in value”!!
Mary Gerstner Basham practices at the Brookfield and Milwaukee offices of Cornerstone Counseling Services.