Another topic suggestion from Kathleen Duncan: What has been the most encouraging outcome you have seen in one of your cases? Pick a case you thought might never get better, but they did! What made the difference?
After nearly 14 years in the counseling field, that’s a tough one. Since the newest memories are the freshest, I think I’ll tell you about a couple I just started seeing about a month ago. We’ll call them Dan and Fran.
This is funny if you’re not fighting about who does what chores, or if, for instance, the husband objects to doing any houehold chores!
This is a fairly young couple, both working at responsible jobs although not being paid as much as they’d like. I’m not going to go into detail about their issues. Let me just say that it was clear they had developed a habit of talking AT each other instead of WITH each other; that they had persistent habits in their efforts of communication that I have often referred to as “the crazy dance.” It’s as if someone had choreographed their statements and responses, and they had learned the routine so well that they just didn’t know how to break it.
They’d been together for a long time, since high school. No children. Dogs they adore. A house that needs a LOT of work that they can’t always do without some professional help. He’s more laid-back; she’s more uptight. She’s ordered, he’s catch-as-catch can. In terms of personality, you have a strong choleric/melancholy (Fran) married to a strong sanguine/choleric (Dan). That’s a strong leader type, detail-oriented perfectionist with a happy, people-oriented leader who isn’t quite as strong as she is. He has no problem with missing a dish or two when he has kitchen duty. It drives her crazy when he doesn’t do the whole job.
Are any of you recognizing yourselves? Most of us have this type of conflict to some degree.
To complicate matters, she was struggling with some pretty severe depression. She had medication, but wasn’t faithfully taking it. So there were all the difficulties associated with depression.
Here’s what we did:
1. Take your meds. You won’t sleep well or be able to function well until the fog lifts off your brain. Promise? Yes? Good. (She’s following through, and the difference is visible)
2. I introduced them to one of my favorite communication techniques, called Active Listening, or Speaker/Listener. You can learn about it here, or from hundreds of other sites if you just search “active listening.”
3. We discussed their nonexistent sex life, and I suggested they have dates with the ultimate goal of intimacy. If you schedule it, you will think about it ahead of time. It’s one of the best aphrodisiacs I know. (And they have to kick the dogs off the bed and out of the bedroom! Good grief!)
I shared with them that what they are experiencing is SO normal! I got them laughing with my own stories of fussing over different ways of folding the towels on putting the toilet paper on the spindle. How silly is it to fight over these things? They are not the hills you want to die on! They are so insignificant that the best way to deal with them is to laugh.
There are some basic principles I always emphasize in marital counseling:
1. If either partner HAS to win ALL the time, the marriage is doomed. No one wants to be the one who HAS to lose.
2. You don’t have to attend every fight you’re invited to.
3. Not every disagreement needs to turn into an argument/fight. Sometimes, you can agree to disagree as long as neither partner is hurt by doing so.
4. You need to learn/develop the gift of forgiveness; you need to be able both to give it and receive it.
5. Humility goes a long way toward smoothing a rocky path.
6. Humor is a great aphrodisiac.
7. How you disagree isn’t as important as how you make up afterward. Mercy, kindness, forgiveness, and letting go are far more important than winning.
Obviously, we’re just scratching the surface here. I could write on this topic for a long time.
One thing I don’t want to leave out, though, is spirituality. I am a Christian, and my counseling is always strongly based on biblical principles and values. If the couple I’m working with share those beliefs, then of course we weave God’s Word throughout the whole process (One thing I never do, though, is start by preaching “wives, submit. . . .” There’s a right time and a wrong time for that. Something else I could spend a lot of time writing about.) The truth is that God created male and female, and He ordained marriage. He loves it. He told us how to do it. When I can use the Word, the counseling process is a joy. If I’m dealing with someone who objects to “religion” in their counseling, I can still teach biblically sound behaviors and ways of thinking.
This couple is doing very well. They like Active Listening, which, when properly used, eliminates anger, debate, accusation and pain. They’re learning to separate the important from the unimportant. They laugh a lot in my office, which is a total delight to me.
Believe me, it’s not always like that. Not at all. And those times, those couples, are enough to break my heart.