Most couples wonder, “Is it too late?” The majority of married people who come to see me have waited a long time to seek counseling for a chronically unhappy marriage. They have tried to work things out on their own with no success. Many are on the brink of divorce and decide to try therapy as a last ditch measure to save their marriage. Both spouses are angry, hurting and exhausted. Can I help? Sometimes.
Don’t believe any therapist who claims they have a 100% success rate. It doesn’t exist. It all depends on the willingness of both partners and the skill of the therapist. Expectations are examined along with communication failures. Listening skills are taught and learning more mature ways to argue is paramount.
If there has been an affair, we look at it piece by piece to understand why and how the marriage broke down in the first place. What were the reasons that a third person was allowed into this sacred trust. I really think that one of the most wretched feelings is the loneliness that arises from feeling invisible while in the company of the person you married. If there is a will – yes, there is a way.
When a family feels broken, it is not working. It is damaged and is most likely dysfunctional. My techniques are based on a Systems Model (that’s psych talk). This basically means that the family itself is the “patient.” The structure of the family, including all of its rules and traditions, is examined and pathological patterns are identified. A family is almost like a very complicated machine. When one person malfunctions, it throws off the rest of the parts. Family therapy is usually short term and involves 1.5 hour sessions. Family therapy is accomplished either by working with the entire family at once or members individually, but usually a combination of the two. When a family is running smoothly, everyone has a good feeling as they approach their own driveway and enter their front door. There is no hesitation or feelings of dread. This is the goal.
Sometimes, regardless of everyone’s efforts, the damage that has been done cannot be fixed and divorce may be the next step. I love the quote by Robert Frost, “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.” You know, I always tell patients, “You can always get divorced later!” So try to hold it together a little longer, and then if that doesn’t work, let’s talk divorce.
When children are involved, there absolutely needs to be a workable, solid co-parenting contract. Bitter divorces that are not well orchestrated will always affect children, even adult children, in a dangerous and negative way. A nasty divorce has a “pebble in the pond” effect. The reverberations contaminate future generations. Some couples come to me and ask me to help them dissolve their marriage in a way that is less damaging to their children and to each other.
I know it sounds strange, but there is a way to have a good divorce. My goal is to structure the dissolution so that each family member, especially the children, are affected as positively as possible. Endings are always going to be hard, but they don’t have to be tragic. Don’t kid yourself, scars from a bad divorce never go away. They follow children like ghosts into their own adult.