Getting couples or marriage therapy is a standard recommendation for anyone experiencing marital difficulties. It might seem surprising but even therapists go to marriage counseling and even marriage counselors get divorced.
My guest, Antonio Borello is a psychologist and relationship therapist. He was married for about ten years and divorced almost four years ago and he and his wife did go through counseling. Here’s Antonio:
I had been a marriage counselor for, at that point, ten years. I really worked hard and prided myself on helping so many people with all their differences. I was tough on people, especially if they had children, to make sure that they exhausted every possibility before I would say, “Okay, I think the best option for you is to go through with this divorce.”
So it was challenging for me in a personal way because I thought like I had an identity crisis or I needed to reevaluate my whole career and the direction that I wanted to go with that. I thought that I had a credibility issue because I went through divorce as well.
We did go to counseling before we split up. I wanted to make sure that we had exhausted every possibility and we went to someone who I would consider to be a very tough marriage counselor. There are some counselors that their stand on divorce is that they’re going to help you work through it. The person that we went through was kind of a no-nonsense type of person that said, “Hey, if you really want to keep your marriage, I’m not sugar-coating it. This is what you need to do. This is your problem. These are the issues that you have. These are the things that need to be fixed.”
After quite a long time, at least a year of contemplating, I decided that our family would be better off as a family that lived in two homes.
I still do a lot of relationship counseling, but my focus has changed quite a bit because as a single father when I have my children I want to be able to spend every moment with them. Marriage counseling requires a lot of evening and weekend work and so I’ve cut back on that quite a bit and I’ve focused more on academic and teaching, and also writing as well.
I still do see some people but that’s restricted to the two nights that I’m available. I’ve cut back quite a bit, but not because of any belief that I have in counseling. I definitely think that relationship counseling and therapy, in general, is such as an amazing tool and I feel very strongly that every couple should consider going through that if it’s possible, if they indeed want to try to save their relationship.
What has changed probably is my belief that if the couple is going to get divorced and they have children that they can still maintain a very healthy, positive, supportive co-parenting type of family or situation. When we’re going through the divorce, that six or eight months was very difficult. But shortly after the divorce was finalized my ex-wife and I, were both on the same page. We’re able to work together very well and we became supportive friends in raising our children.
The Divorce Coach Says
Does marriage counseling work?
I think that’s a bit like asking if mediation works and the answer is that it depends.
First, you need to work with a marriage counselor who is experienced in dealing with your specific issues and with whom both of you are committed to working.
There’s that word “committed.” You both have to agree that you’re there because you want to improve your relationship.
My ex and I went to couple’s therapy several times none of which I consider to have been particularly helpful in the long run. They were helpful in resolving the immediate specific issues we were dealing with but with hindsight none of those sessions got to the big, underlying issues which would eventually fracture our marriage.
I think that’s partly because my approach was to focus on the disagreement at the time and I saw the big issues as non-resolvable. My belief was, “This is what it is. We’re married. There is no divorce. I can’t change this. I have to accept it.”
I didn’t think that addressing the bigger issues would make the marriage last. I thought that by confronting them, it would cause more conflict and that would bring about the end of the marriage. That wasn’t what I wanted.
I don’t recall any of the therapists recognizing that there were bigger issues and so they festered.
With that experience, being “committed” to me now means being prepared to be 110% honest about what is going on.
I think it would have helped me to have done some individual counseling prior to the marriage counselling. I think that could have changed my perspective on seeing the bigger issues as needing to be discussed. When I did individual counseling quite a number of years later, I was assessing divorce so my mindset had shifted beyond making the marriage work.
You also need to be realistic about the time commitment. Just as I would say to a mediation client that you can’t expect to resolve six years of post-divorce conflict and issues in one two-hour session, three one-hour therapy sessions are not going to be enough to fix however many years of bubbling marital discontent. I think when employee benefit plans provide for a certain number of visits that may create an expectation that that is all that’s needed. Chances are it won’t be – like us, you may be able to deal with the immediate problems but I doubt you can get to the underlying friction.
So let’s say you’re both committed to the therapy and you find a skilled therapist you can both work with, is it a failure if you ultimately decide as Anthony did that it would be best for your family to live in two homes? Absolutely not. When you make that decision to end your marriage you want to be as confident as you can be that you are making the right decision. If marriage counseling helps you do that, then it is not a failure.
If you’re trying to decide if divorce is the right option for you, then you may want to listen to my free audio program, “5 Ways To Know If Divorce Is Right For You” or take a look at my online self-paced divorce coaching program My Divorce Pal, which has a entire track devoted to this.
Dr. Antonio Borello is a psychologist and relationship therapist. He and his ex are collaborating on a book about relationships. You can follow his tweets at @eDatingDr and follow him on Facebook at Relationships 2.0.
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