Marriage Turbulence

delta-airplaneSo I’m on a plane at the moment, typing this blog post offline, while flying to Boston to network and speak with some other therapists on the East Coast. While on this flight, a long 5+ hour journey, the flight attendant has announced twice to “fasten your seatbelts, as the captain has turned on the fasten seatbelts light, and we are experiencing some turbulence”. I’ve had some of my current cases on my mind; marriages specifically that are in a state of turbulence.

Often couples don’t come into therapy due to the stigma that it appears to carry in certain cultures. Within LDS culture there tends to be a stigma in some areas that therapists are for those that are failing at home or that “just need to live the gospel” and yes, we do need to live the gospel that is our base, the sure foundation. Yet with these stigmas, couples life stable marriages due to the resistance of divorce but often unhappy! I see very stable marriages that also are very unhappy. You’d ask, “How can it be stable if they are unhappy?” Well, the prospects of divorce especially with kids in LDS culture aren’t very good. We are a family church, one that prizes eternal families and marital fidelity. Most feel that they already have the answers they just need to live them. Yes, the Family Proclamation does give us an outline of the framework of how families can and should operate. We do have the answers and yet are mortal and couple conflict and divorce still runs in our culture as much as some want to say it does not, and it is on the rise. While having the answers and the bedrock of the gospel, many couples that are locked in emotional gridlock can’t see with clarity due to hurt, contention, and at times bitterness thus stumble through their marriage with petty fights and quarrels that often are not ever resolved nor do they gain skills to prevent them in the future. These couples, no matter how many answers they feel that have, often cannot get patterns worked out. Patterns are ways of living that have become part of the emotional ‘dance’ or groove that couples fall into out of habit. Fact is that some of the most solid marriages are of couples that do work on their relationship and those that do still at times experience some turbulence value their marriage high enough that they seek outside help. We are not talking months of therapy, but often 4-7 sessions to iron old or existing issues out and gain skills to better meet their spouse’s needs.

Some resources I suggest you look into if you want solid professional guidance for your marriage but want to do so through some personal reading first are by John Gottman. He’s a marriage expert, one I reference as such. He has written a book I read over a decade ago when it just hit the press and I have referred couples to countless times. The book chronicles the important elements of not merely fixing or building marriage but gives solid sound guidance in making it work. Many self-help books provide a laundry list of what I call sunshine theories, ideas that will help your marriage for a day then just when the sun sets it fades. The text is called The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work and provides insights about what makes marriage last. This book can help, but if the patterns are really deep often books like this can support but it takes counseling to work through them.

Also, take a look at the readings I have indexed too. Those can be a huge resource too. It is located on my primary site, under ‘Reading Resources’.

Finding a good couples counselor is key; one that balances ferreting through the past and working in the now. What I mean by ‘working in the now’ is that they help you and your spouse in the present to gain skills, tools, and awareness of your dynamics and patterns. Therapists that don’t get this flow often spend time digging up too much of the history and end up wasting the couples time and money. Couples therapists often are trained in Emotionally Focused Couples therapy which I recommend for couples that are high conflict or alternatively have a lot of emotional distance with one another.

What if my partner won’t work on it? Good question, many ask themselves this and feel stuck. Often stating, “Why would I want to work on my marriage if he/she doesn’t want to work on it. It won’t work!” I hear that often and the fact is that often you must start with you. Dragging your spouse in or begging usually doesn’t net good results initially anyway so taken from a long-term perspective you’d be best off starting to change you. Typically trying to change small things about you is something you can control and does make an impact on the relationship. I’m not talking about moving mountains here either; I am talking like changing your tone and body language when you talk. Simple adjustments you can make today that will have a profound impact on how your spouse sees and interacts with you. Small changes do provide a softening that can allow and create space for larger shifts to occur and discussions to be had.