Couples / Marriage

Only within the last half century has couples or marital therapy become a distinct discipline of its own.  (Notwithstanding, some of the secrets of good marital counseling have been around for hundreds or thousands of years.)

Many therapists who do excellent individual therapy, will avoid “marriage counseling.”  It is a very different kind of therapy, involving unique skills.  Many therapists just can’t get interested in “trying to manage couples who must argue endlessly.” It takes special skills (and patience!).

I was fortunate, both from my specific family background, as well as a unique undergraduate program at the University of Iowa in the 1960's, to have implanted the ability to translate between numerous different personal and professional “languages.” ;  This is a skill of singular value in marital counseling, where it seems one person is speaking Greek and the other Swahili. Even the alphabet is different – and they both think they’re speaking English!  When this is not a major handicap (though it usually is when a couple comes to see me), it can be a resource of tremendous energy and creativity – as the French say vive la difference!

Although most couples seek counseling initially because of a crisis in their relationship, some seek our services simply to enrich an already good (or at least adequate) marriage. It's not yet that common, but it is definitely time and energy (and money) well spent.

One important difference in doing couple or marital counseling, is that the therapy contract is with the relationship, not with each separate individual.

In a good relationship, it is the relationship itself that nurtures the individuals within it.  It's the marriage itself that keeps and cares for the two married persons.  And the best care given by each party is the care given to the relationship not just to the other person.  (Here is also a secret of conflict resolution within the relationship.)  I honor and reinforce this reality by making the relationship (or marriage) itself my client.

When one party leaves the relationship, (i.e. by divorce, infidelity, addiction, death) the relationship itself has collapsed.  When it is possible (i.e. the parties are still alive and not re-committed elsewhere), and there is some effective mutual desire, the work of our therapy may be the decision and struggle to rebuild the relationship.

Years ago I learned that when therapy becomes fuzzy (unfocused), it’s often because the contract is fuzzy (unclear). There are times when after marital counseling one or both parties may enter into individual therapy with me. (And to answer a frequently asked question: yes, I am comfortable and competent to see married (or cohabiting) persons separately with separate therapy contracts. It does involve a very special boundary-keeping ability on the part of the therapist.)

The process of couple or marital counseling begins by calling me for an appointment.  I like to see both parties together for a first session, if possible.  At that first session, I get to know both of you, and you get to know me.  If I believe that I can work with you effectively, I will then offer my services for future work.  And if you feel likewise, we then have a working therapy relationship.  Next, I usually meet with each of you separately so I can gain further information and acquaint myself with your background family patterns.  I do this because many or most difficulties in a relationship have their origin in family backgrounds, and it is my art to see and disempower them for you, when they "get in the way."

The duration of the therapy varies widely, and I generally can't offer much of an estimate at the beginning.  But even a short time of counseling can be of benefit to many couples.

Also, over the years I have found it possible to work on the marriage or realationship even when only one of the partners comes to see me.  

There may be times when my schedule and energy will not allow me to take on a new client couple right away.  But call me to see what we can work out.        

Call me - Bill McDonald,  Phone 810 629-0760