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Fix Our Marriage NOW!
Most of the time a couple calls me when they're in a desparate situation. They need help, and they need it fast. I can tell they're in dire straits when one of the first questions they ask me is, "How soon can you see us?" I can hear the urgency in their voices, and I can feel their pain over the phone.
Relationship problems don't arise out of nowhere overnight. They build slowly. In the beginning, the couple thinks, "I really want this to work and we love each other, so we'll figure this out together." Any most of the time, that's what happens. Couples work their problems out. However, there are some problems that they just can't work out on their own. (We call these "perpetual problems") This is when they call me.
One couple I worked with last year, Steven and Michelle, have been married 14 years. They came to see me because the fighting between them had gotten so bad that their son began having panic attacks. Whenever their voices raised, he would start shaking, hyperventilate, and cry uncontrollably. They didn't want the conflict in their relationship to traumatize him, so they decided to get help.
During our first session, they admitted that they've been having problems since the first year of their marriage, but had never sought help from a marriage counselor before. Imagine that? Spending 14 years frustrated and disappointed? The described the problem as sort of "creeping up on them". At first it didn't seem so bad. Then it got worse, but they thought they could figure out a way to fix it. And then it got so bad that they became hopeless. They gave up trying to fix it, until it affected their son so dramatically.
Sound familiar? It might. Research shows that it takes almost 6 years for a couple to seek marriage therapy once problems begin to arise.
So it makes perfect sense that by the time they come to see me they are frantically seeking something that can make it better almost immediately. They've struggled for so long, have nearly given up hope, and see therapy as the last chance to save a troubled marriage.
When I first began my practice, I often made the mistake of offering immediate steps to take to improve things. I could empathize with the pain and suffering and wanted to help fix it. Over time I learned that while my intentions were good, my approach was flawed.
My best efforts to offer immediate help backfired on me. I've now learned that the most essential step to truly helping a relationship in trouble is truly understanding that relationship.
Now I spend the first 4 sessions with a couple completing an assessment. Then our fifth session is when I present my findings and we create a plan for treatment.
Can you imagine going into a heart surgeon and hearing him say, "Well, I don't know what the problem is, so we better hurry up and operate"? Of course not. He would run a series of tests and come up with an accurate diagnosis. Only then would he begin the proper course of treatment.
What I've learned is that by spending a few extra sessions in the beginning to complete the assessment, we're then able to proceed more rapidly once treatment begins.
As Steven and Michelle told me, "We'd been living with this fighting for so long that we'd given up trying to figure it out. You helped us see what was really causing all the tension. Our problem really wasn't the fighting at all. It was that neither of us felt valued anymore. By learning to reconnect with each other, the fighting is no longer an issue."
I know that the decision to call a marriage counselor is a difficult one. You're already frustrated and struggling, and you just want it to go away. And I want to help you fix it. But first we need figure out what the problem really is. Otherwise just be putting yet another band-aid on it. And your marriage deserves more than that, doesn't it?
© Copyright 2013 by Jennifer Sneeden, therapist in Boca Raton, Florida. All rights reserved.