Q. What is your advice to couples contemplating marriage?
A. Don’t go into it thinking that this is going to be a perfect union. Understand that marriage takes work, but it can be work that is very pleasurable, that helps you grow individually as well as together. Make sure your expectations are realistic. It’s a wonderful thing when a marriage works well, but I think you have to understand that it just doesn’t happen automatically.
Q. What do you think of couples living together for a while to iron out the kinks before they marry?
A. Sometimes that’s fine. But I find there is a different degree of commitment , and as we know, commitment is so important to a relationship. For some couples, it’s comfortable to live together and try out the relationship, and it may work in many cases. However, living together may be a way to discover incompatibilities. If the couple doesn’t have the skills to work out their differences, it is important that they discover this before they marry or have children.
We think premarital counseling is very important. It helps couples understand if their partner is able meet their needs in a workable, loving relationship.
Q. Do you see the depressed economy creating either new or increased problems for couples?
A. Of course, marriages do suffer from the extra stress of financial problems. With extra stresses, your defenses go down, and whatever problems you have may seem insurmountable. It’s important for couples to realize that these are difficult times for everybody, not a personal failure; but rather a pervasive economic situation that is affecting almost everybody. In therapy, we try to break down the issues in a comprehensible way to work together to find alternative solutions.
Q. How can a couple make a good relationship even better?
A. The first thing is to listen to what their partner is saying, for both to develop communication skills that are so important in a relationship. Couples also have to learn that they can’t win every argument – If one person always wins, the relationship loses. It has to be a win-win solution.
Q. Can a marriage survive the trauma of infidelity?
A. I think affairs are very destructive to a relationship, because it erodes a very important element, which is trust. In order to be really giving and caring in a relationship, you have to feel that you trust that person, that he or she is going to be there for you. But marriages do survive affairs. What has to happen is that the trust has to be rebuilt. It’s a slow process for the other partner to feel that it’s safe to be vulnerable again in a relationship with someone who has hurt you so very deeply. But it does not mean that the relationship is irreparable.
Q. How does counseling help to resolve these issues?
A. The deeper issues in a relationship often come out of the couple’s childhood. The first step for them is to go back and look at the patterns in their families and try to understand why they behave the way they do. We often tend to replicate the script of our family of origin. That’s why, when I work with couples, I like to do a geneogram of each partner, going back to the grandparents, so that I can see the patterns and how it’s affecting this couple today.
What therapy is about is helping the couple to rewrite the script so that they can divorce the old dysfunctional patterns and create new patterns of interaction that are more healthy.
Q. What types of problems do couples most often bring to you?
A. One basic issue is, who has the power and control in the relationship. People don’t recognize that as the problem. It may be presented in different ways – may be sexual problems, money issues, disagreements about child rearing or division of labor in the household. These are the issues which manifest themselves as problems, but what they are really saying is, who makes the decisions, who has the control in the relationship?
The other big problem area for couples is the battle between intimacy and autonomy, the struggle to maintain a proper balance between being separate and autonomous and yet being part of this unit. The difficulty here lies with some people confusing intimacy with fusion. In many cases we tend to unconsciously choose mates who make us feel whole instead of having the real feelings of completeness come from within ourselves.