Skillful Marital Therapy Will Get You Heard!
Written By: Mark Smith
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When I am sitting in front of a couple knee deep in their issues sometimes I see pictures in my head that illustrate what is going on with them. I have a commitment to myself to always share what I see. This takes courage because sometimes I see the damnedest things. Okay, once I saw a needy, intrusive husband knocking on his wife's front door completely naked, complete with a rather large errection. The picture I shared caught the over enthusiasm and inappropriate neediness of the man. His only comment was that he was glad the word huge was included in my description! Lest I digress, a month ago, as a couple was striving mightily (with very little success) to communicate and hear each other I saw him in my mind with a pair of industrial ear muffs on and her with a gag on her mouth. When I shared my 'vision' she especially resonated with it!
The biggest misperception and cliche about marriage counseling Is the very tired old description of the problem "our main problem is communication". No it isn't! The problem is way bigger than that! People want 'tools' to help them communicate better, any marriage counselor who falls for that line and then scurries to provide some cute little communication tools is a complete idiot who will damage every couple he comes in contact with. Communication problems are just a symptom of the real problem...two broken, dysfunctional people who married someone who is the psychological clone of the people who wounded them the most during childhood. THAT is the problem my friends and 6 short sessions practicing new communication tools isn't going to touch it. Think more in terms of a lifetime process of addressing those issues.
My family of origin was and is heavily populated with loud, overly self-assured, arrogant, defensive, opinionated, reactive people who are completely incapable of objectively taking in any feedback or admitting that they might be ever wrong about anything. While certainly I am in the neighborhood with them, due to the work I have done on myself, I am quite capable of ingesting truth shared with respect and directness. However, I have managed to recruit as my significant other a woman who is put together with the same stuff as the whole crazy fam-damnly.
So the number one thing that pushes my buttons and makes me crazy (not being heard) is what she is especially gifted at. Due to growing up not being heard, being disrespected and discounted, I learned to develop an edgy voice that any rational human being could easily hear. Because my family couldn't hear me, out of survival I developed a cutting, titanium tipped, powerfully persuasive voice that has always been my very best gift in the therapy office. I can reach people most therapists can't reach. I just can't get my significant other to hear or see me once her defensiveness or her abandonment issues have been sufficiently activated. With my family and with the girlfriend making even the tiniest point is very much like banging my head up against a brick wall. Does anyone else have that problem? During a fight do your spouse"s ears shut down? Do yours? Stephen Covey likens hearing another person to offering them air to breathe. It is very uncomfortable to be suffocating while banging one's head against a wall. It is what we all do in love, recruit people who suck at meeting our needs while excelling at hurting us deeply. If you don't know this is a fact you haven't been in your relationship for very long.
Couples locked in mortal combat need a skilled interpreter/referee/mediator to offer objectivity, perspective, safety and insight. You know the credit card commercial that says "such and such is $50.00, such and such is $100.00 and such and such is priceless"? A therapist who correctly breaks down your fights on a white board like a football play and always gets it right is priceless! At Christmas you should reward such a therapist with a nice bonus. They could very well be the difference between a miserable marriage, a bitter divorce or a workable relationship that is pretty happy although there are still some suffocating, head banging moments.
My greatest moments as a therapist are when couples begin to see, hear and empathize with one another. They started the process as adversaries but through a great deal of learning, insight, paradigm shifting and humility they have evolved to a softer, less judgmental, kinder, more nurturing version of themselves. I am always ultimately able to get to that soft, safe, vulnerable, empathetic place with my combatant, I mean my sweetie, due to the excellent Recovery work that she has been doing for the past 4 years. If you aren't getting to the place where you deeply hear and nurture each other then your marriage is in trouble and you need to come see us. We can help you. We can help you hear and be heard. One woman said she felt as if there was a microphone on her side of the couch and a bunch of high powered speakers that enabled her to be truly and deeply heard.
Come get heard. Bring your combatant. We'll help to turn them into an empathetic, accepting, good listener (at least while they are in the sessions). That is a good start though. Eventually we will work ourselves out of a job and you'll be able to get heard at home for free (with some gasping for air and some head banging thrown in from time to time). That's about as good as it gets. The gag comes off, the ear muffs come off and intimacy has a chance. I love it when that happens!
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