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The Healing of a Marriage
Written By: Mark Smith



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'The BASICS for a Healthy Life and Marriage' Understanding the Basics of
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Mike and Sue fell madly in love during their college years. Sue was very attracted to Mike's confident, strong, and sensitive nature, and Mike loved Sue's sweet, easy-going, and giving personality. It seemed to be a match made in heaven. The early years of marriage were easy, fun, and connected. Mike finished an graduate degree in engineering and accepted a lucrative position with a Fortune 500 company. Mike had been extremely poor as a child, and he was hungry, focused, and highly driven to be as successful as possible.

As the years went by, Sue's complete focus became the home and the kids. (There were three now). In the first 10 years of his career, Mike had accepted four promotions, which had also meant four long-distance relocations. Recently, a company on the East Coast had purchased Mike's company, and he was under a tremendous amount of pressure dealing with a massive downsizing of his department. His weekly work schedule, which had always been intense, had ballooned to 70+ hours a week. It had been years since he felt like he had time to work out, and he was beginning to put on quite a bit of weight, especially around his waist.

Sue was feeling absolutely overwhelmed at home-homework, discipline, soccer, and a house that never seemed close to being clean. A thick emotional wall had developed between Sue and Bill; in the early years they made love at least 3 or 4 times a week, but lately the frequency had been reduced to about once every other month. Sue was extremely lonely and depressed. This isn't what she had imagined family life to be like. It felt like she was a single mother. When Mike was home he was grouchy, exhausted, abusive, and pretty well useless when it came to helping with the kids or the house. When Sue would bring the issues up, Mike would instantly become defensive and angry. He was sick and tired of being criticized for having to work hard to provide for his family. It seemed like neither of them was able to truly hear and empathize with the other. Sue felt a very deep, seething anger toward Mike. It felt to her if he had actually chosen to abandon both her and the kids. She did not want to divorce because of the kids and her strong faith, but her marriage was completely barren and miserable.

Mike felt pressure from all sides; it seemed like everybody was angry and disappointed with him. Since Sue never seemed interested in sex, Mike rationalized that getting involved with Internet pornography was a harmless substitute. This became a very addictive habit. It got to where Mike needed to log on to a porn site several times a day. Sue was absolutely furious when she discovered what Mike had been doing on the Internet. After talking it over with her minister, Sue decided to give marriage counseling a try before proceeding with a divorce.

Mike seemed mighty nervous upon his initial visit to my office. He was sure that marriage counseling was a mechanism that Sue would use to punish and blame him. I began the session by allowing both Mike and Sue to share their perception of the marital issues. With a great deal of emotion, Sue poured out a litany of Mike's numerous sins as he sank deeper and deeper into my couch. From Mike's perspective the problems centered around Sue's not being supportive regarding his stress level at work, refusing sex, and just generally being angry and critical all the time.

Having explained the need to shift the focus off of the current conflicts and onto their life histories, I began with Sue. As we got into Sue's story, the room somehow changed; instead of being a tense, conflictual situation, the mood became one of vulnerability and openness. I asked Sue what her father was like when she was a little girl. Sue began to quietly weep. Sue's father had been a traveling salesman whose territory included the entire Midwest. He was frequently on the road from Monday through Friday, and when he was home she described him as being short tempered, controlling, and critical.

Sue had always had a tremendous hunger in her heart for her father's love and attention. She told herself that she would never marry a man like her father. During their courtship and the early years of marriage, Mike had seemed to be the very antithesis of her father; he was tender and intimate and nurturing. Sue was so happy during those years. At this point, however, it almost felt as if Mike had deceived her into marrying him; he had basically over-promised and under-delivered for too many years now. In recent weeks, Sue became aware of a very deep rage toward Mike. She was actually beginning to hate the man she had once adored. As she sat before me, I knew that she had very little faith that her marriage could be salvaged. I also knew that that was going to change very soon.

Mike's father had been an alcoholic who had raged and beaten Mike's mother. He completely abandoned the family when Mike was 10. Although Mike's mother did her best, she struggled to provide for Mike and his little brother with her waitressing jobs. Mike became the man of the house. Mike swore to himself that he would never rage, abandon his family, or, most importantly, EVER, EVER be poor again. The twin "barking dogs" of fear and never feeling quite good enough constantly nipped at his heals. Mike was not a bad guy; he was actually a very good man just trying to do his best given the tools that he was given. Mike seemed quite irritated and embarrassed when a few tears trickled down his face as he spoke about his lonely, impoverished childhood.

As we ended the second session I prepared Mike and Sue for what was coming their way the next time we met. I told them to come with open hearts and minds, that the feedback session could very well prove to be the most important 1+ hour of their lives. I told them that feedback was not for the faint of heart; it was psychological surgery with no anesthesia provided. I could tell that Sue's hope level had risen a bit as we scheduled our crucial next meeting.

When Mike and Sue arrived at my office on feedback day they were both seemed pretty nervous. Their hearts seemed wide open as I launched into my presentation. I focused on Sue, whose sense of victimization was threatening the existence of the marriage. I explained that God had developed a very wonderful and a very terrible mechanism for healing our unresolved childhood issues; it is called marriage. Anyone who has ever been married has been in therapy, even if they have never darkened the door of a therapist's office. I explained that we are all equipped with an infallible radar system that causes us to be attracted to exactly the perfect person for us to marry, a person who will love us with the same type and quality of love that our parents loved us with.

Sue grew up being abandoned by her critical, raging, workaholic father. She then was drawn to Mike because she sensed, on a purely unconscious level, that he was, in fact, a carbon copy of her dad. That is what we all do. We can't heal if we are hiding behind a whole battery of psychological defenses. Our spouse's job is to break us down and cause us pain, and Mike was doing a fine job of this with Sue. One picture I give new clients is this: Imagine yourself at the front of the church being introduced by your minister as the newly married Mr. and Mrs. So-and-So. After smiling initially as you walk down the aisle, you go into shock when your new husband slips off a mask like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible and it is your father (or your mother) standing there.

Mike's unconscious agenda was common for a well-defended male; he was attracted consciously to a sweet, non-critical gal who adored him and gave him 90% of the power in the relationship who would eventually become disillusioned, critical and ultimately abandon him just the way his father did.

You might not be buying my theory quite yet, but Sue totally got it. She was flabbergasted. She never in a million years would have connected her relationship with her dad to her relationship with Mike. That realization changed everything. She began to be much less bitter and critical of Mike. He almost instantly became much less defensive. I could see it in her eyes; Sue was no longer the victim, and therefore Mike so no longer the bad guy. The whole tone of Sue's conversations during our sessions shifted from blaming, belittling, and trying to change Mike to one of self-reflection, inventorying her own issues, and being much more positive and supportive of Mike.

Mike and Sue went on to each join a therapy group. They came to group weekly and to couple sessions every other week for over 2 years. The therapy changed both of them at their cores. Mike became less afraid about financial issues; he developed a spiritual life; he cut his work schedule by 30%; he developed some hobbies; he made time to enjoy his kids; and he learned how to be tender, gentle, and romantic with Sue. She was delighted with the new Mike. Sue overcame her depression, lost some weight, learned how to powerfully and respectfully set appropriate boundaries with Mike, and forgave Mike for his previous misdeeds and imperfections. They learned how to laugh and to like each other again. Mike and Sue now have a very solid, intimate, and fulfilling marriage.

Mike and Sue, as you might have guessed, weren't actual clients; they are however, the prototype of clients that we deal with frequently. The way Sue's issues matched up so well with Mike's issues is quite normal; it is an immutable law of Nature. Consider if you will: how did your childhood experience affect your marital choice(s)? Our therapists can help you unlock those hidden motivations and their implications to your relationship with your significant other. Give us a call. You too can begin to experience a powerful healing process in your relationship.




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This article was authored by Family Tree Counseling Associates, a marriage, individual and family counseling center serving the Indianapolis, Carmel, Fishers, Westfield and Noblesville communities in Indiana. If you would like to contact us, please fill out a contact us form or call us at 317-844-2442.
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