Advertising
Advertising

What Is Marriage Therapy (And How to Know If You Need It)

What Is Marriage Therapy (And How to Know If You Need It)

Relationships are complex and multifaceted. Arguments over infidelity, step-families, money, sex, in-laws, children, drug and alcohol abuse, illness, job loss, and a host of other stressors, can ignite a war sizable enough to leave profound casualties in its wake.

While some not so serious issues can be dealt with by a couple who is willing to cooperate with each other, and work hard to make things better, many more difficult situations are not that simple to fix. Under such circumstances, a valuable tool that can potentially help pull the couple out of its troubled predicament is marriage therapy, also referred to as couple’s counseling.

Thirty-two years ago, my marriage was in trouble. We had just gotten married after dating for less than a year. The relationship took an immediate hit only two weeks into dating when, my now present husband, was given sole custody of his seven-year-old son. I, too, had a son the same age from a previous marriage. Things got challenging fast. Soon, as it often happens in step-families, our new foursome split up into two camps: my husband and his son, and me and my boy. No one knew how to handle the ever-worsening familial crisis.

We tried, without success, to fix the blended family problem on our own, but it didn’t work. Things deteriorated even more when our third child came along. On the verge of divorce, we decided to give marriage therapy a try. The therapist worked with us, helped us understand what was truly happening, and offered us a variety of techniques to deal with our particular conditions. She normalized our experience and taught us better communication skills. A year later, we were doing much better, and were able to terminate our bi-weekly sessions, taking with us a set of highly-effective tools to help us should we encounter rough patches in the future.

In fact, I was so inspired by our success, that I decided to become a Marriage & Family Therapist myself.

What Is Marriage Therapy?

Broken down into its most simplistic form, marriage therapy is a helpful avenue provided by a trained and unbiased professional. The focus of a Marriage & Family Therapist is relationships. They help couples and families navigate through their most toxic impasses by:

  • processing and reframing what is said
  • assisting them in developing more effective communication skills[1]
  • helping them see what isn’t always obvious to the parties involved
  • providing effective approaches that aid in creating a genuine shift in the relationship.

Marriage counselors can be an invaluable resource for a couple in crisis.

Advertising

For example, in our blended family situation, my husband and I believed that one of our boys was the problem. The therapist explained that the infrastructure of the family lies in the strength and unity of the couple, and if a strong and solid foundation isn’t there, the children will often misbehave.

That helped us put things into a different perspective. We shifted our focus away from our acting-out child, to our relationship. Once we knew what the problem was, we started moving forward in a more positive direction. That eventually saved our marriage.

How to Know If You Would Benefit from Marriage Therapy?

If you and your partner have been struggling with the same issue over a long period of time without getting closer to any type of resolution, then you could benefit from couple’s counseling. A trained and unbiased third party can be instrumental in reviving the relationship.

Some distraught couples often want to work on the relationship on their own, without outside interference. Typically, one of the partners feels their problems are nobody’s business. What happens, then, is that their issues are on a constant loop.

Picture a Ferris wheel. Now imagine one of your biggest problems sitting in one of the bottom carts. It’s there, up front and center, then it disappears for a little bit, only to come back around again. Without the proper help, the problem doesn’t go away; it just keeps circling ’round and ’round; hence why couples end up having the same fight over and over again.

Most people don’t have the necessary understanding to know what’s actually happening in their relationship. They might see the obvious surface layer, and think that’s the actual problem, but they’re not equipped to see the obscured underlying issue. In his book, Irritating the Ones You Love, Jeff Auerbach, Ph.D, explains The 30/70 Split. This, he says,

“…refers to the fact that our reactions are partly due to immediate events and partly due to our pre-existing areas of sensitivity. The 30/70 Split provides a clear and concise reminder of which is which; approximately 30% of the total reactions are about what just happened, while the other 70% is the result of childhood feelings, or Jars, being activated.”

A marriage therapist can help figure out the concealed issue, and steer the couple onto the right path.

There is no perfect relationship out there. When two people come together, it’s not just them; it’s their parents, their siblings, their history—good, bad, or indifferent—their traditions, and everything else they’ve acquired along the way. In any relationship, there is usually a struggle as to whose side will “win.”

For example, let’s say that recently-married Jane has always celebrated Christmas Eve with her family. John, her new husband, has always celebrated Christmas Eve with his. Now what? At this point, if both Jane and John dig in their heels, there’s going to be a conflict. But suppose that Jane acquiesces, saying, “It’s okay, I’ll see my family another day.” Even though she’s trying to please John, she may be harboring resentment at missing Christmas Eve with her family.

There’s a potential here for hurt and buried feelings. There is rarely a winner in these types of scenarios. Even if it looks like someone’s side won—John’s, for example—Jane might be left with anger and bitterness. So no one actually wins.

What to Do When You Start Going to the Therapy

Let us suppose that you and your partner agree to marriage therapy. The situation has gotten so out of hand that you both feel only a trained professional can help. That’s a smart first step. Once you do start therapy, it’s important to:

1. Set Goals

Why is this important? If you want to get somewhere, you need to know where you are and where you want to go. Setting a goal is like punching in your destination on your Google Maps.

You can do this when your therapist asks you what the presenting problem is (where you are), and on what specifically you’d like to work (where you want to go). This is the point in which you can share what’s currently bringing you to counseling, and in what direction you’d like to see your relationship forge ahead.

Advertising

For example, let’s say that John comes home late every night. He gets so wrapped up in his work, he doesn’t take into account that Jane is waiting at home with dinner on the table. When he finally does get home, she’s fuming. “You’re late again! And dinner is cold! You are so inconsiderate!” she yells. John might respond with, “It’s no wonder I don’t want to come home; you’re always nagging me!”

In the above illustration, a goal might be for John to try and make it home by 6:00 three evenings a week. A goal for Jane, on the other nights, might be to just reheat his food, sit with him while he eats, and ask about his day. The goal is important because if it’s not met, then the couple, along with their therapist, can explore what got in the way. It’s a springboard from which to proceed.

2. Establish Priorities

What is valuable to one partner may not necessarily be valuable to the other one. Quite often, compromises have to be made in order to get the relationship out of neutral. When each person verbalizes what’s truly a must-have for them, the other partner needs to listen and make adjustments, so that both parties feel heard and understood.

Perhaps, for John, who might be a Type-A personality,[2] the priority is to get the majority of his work done before he leaves the office. For Jane, on the other hand, who is very family-oriented,[3] it might be to spend more quality time with her husband.

Sharing these priorities with each other will engender a better understanding for everyone involved. The marriage therapist, working in concert with the couple, can help pinpoint where the root of the problem really lies, and what can be done about it to achieve marital success.

Knowing what the goals and priorities are in a relationship is like having a road map. It can always be a reference point.

NOTE: as the relationship evolves, goals and priorities will more than likely change. Perhaps, for a newly-married couple, the goal is to go on exciting date nights every few days. The priority might be spending every weekend with close friends. As the couple grows together, however, that may shift. A few years later, the goal might veer into one of staying home, cozying in, and watching their favorite shows. As the case may be, their friendships may take a back seat. Maybe once a month is fine now instead of every weekend.

Advertising

WARNING: priorities usually do a 180 degree turn when children come into the picture.

Goals and priorities are important to have in order to make the marriage work in a more loving and respectful manner.

But What If the Relationship Is Irreparable?

What if the marriage really can’t be saved, no matter how good the marriage therapist is?

In some rare cases, marriage therapy can’t rekindle a marriage. Sometimes couples in trouble wait. And wait. By the time they get to the tipping point, it’s almost too late. I had a couple come to me as a “last resort.” They had already filed for divorce, and each had secured their own attorney. I didn’t hold much in the way of hope for the couple as there was way too much water under that bridge.

Even though not all marriages can be saved, sometimes the marriage therapist can bring about a graceful split. If there are children involved, this is a must. Break-ups do happen. Realize, however, that they don’t need to be catastrophic, hate-filled, or vindictive. Sometimes things just don’t work out; people fall out of love, or simply grow apart.

Final Thoughts

In general, couple’s counseling is a great benefit for a couple in distress. It can actually be the lifesaver they need. Having said that, couples must be open to change, and be willing to put in the necessary work. People grow intellectually, emotionally, spiritually, etc., so flexibility, and open lines of communication are far-reaching.

If you find that your relationship is in trouble, know that there’s help out there. Don’t rely on your own personal limited knowledge. You and your partner may be too wrapped-up in the ongoing drama to conceive that there is a better way.

Advertising

But there is a better way. All you have to do is reach out and get it.

Featured photo credit: taylor hernandez via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Habits for Wellbeing: 9 Effective Communication Skills
[2] Simply Psychology: Type A & B Personality
[3] Odyssey: 5 Signs You’re a Family-Oriented Person

More by this author

Rossana Snee

Rossana is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. She aspires to motivate, to inspire, and to awaken your best self!

Why You Feel Lonely In Your Marriage And How To Deal With It 11 Red Flags in a Relationship Not To Ignore How To Teach Your Kid About Emotions And Feelings How To Help a Teen With Depression (The Parent’s Guide) 8 Simple Ways to Be a Better Listener

Trending in Relationships

1 How to Improve Intimacy in Your Marriage and Rekindle the Passion 2 Why You Feel Lonely In Your Marriage And How To Deal With It 3 How To Spot Toxic People: 6 Traits To Watch Out For 4 10 Signs Your Marriage Is Over And It’s Time To Move On 5 11 Red Flags in a Relationship Not To Ignore

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Published on April 7, 2021

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

6 Signs Of A Controlling Person To Be Aware Of

Some of the most manipulative people are so good at what they do that their words and actions can convince you into thinking they truly care about what’s best for you when in reality, it’s quite the opposite. The most common signs of a controlling person are rarely obvious to outside observers. And for someone enmeshed in a controlling relationship or friendship, it can be incredibly challenging to stay away from this toxic person, even if you’re aware of their emotionally abusive tendencies.

While it’s ultimately up to you to decide whether to preserve or leave a lopsided, unfulfilling relationship, it’s nevertheless critical to understand the following six signs of controlling people so you can better advocate for yourself and mitigate the influence of their manipulative tendencies in your own life.

1. They Push Their Own Personal Agenda

Do you know someone who always tries to micromanage the words, behaviors, and attitudes of people around them? Does this person act like they have the right to know anything they want about you, including your location, what you’re doing in a given moment, who you’re talking to online, or any other private information about you? And when planning events and special occasions, does this person dominate conversations, steer plans in their own preferred directions, disparage others’ suggestions, and refuse to collaborate with anyone who might disagree with them?

If you answered “yes” to some of the above questions, then those are clear signs of a controlling person whom you absolutely need to be cautious around. Controlling people are reluctant to even consider alternative ideas, let alone enthusiastically work with people who have differing views. They prefer to be the captain of every ship—regardless of how much or how little an issue personally impacts them—and they have an arsenal of manipulative tactics to deploy if someone stands in the way of them achieving their own personal agendas.

In long-term relationships with controlling people, you may feel constantly pressured to meet their demands, follow their schedule, and focus on whatever they feel is most important. It’s not an exaggeration to say that these people act like the universe revolves around them, which can be exhausting to deal with for their family members, friends, and colleagues.

Advertising

2. They Make Everything Transactional

Controlling people aren’t always self-centered, but they’re not too empathetic either. Empathy for them tends to appear in the form of strategic concessions they use as a means to get what they want. They typically view interpersonal relationships as transactional opportunities to extract more value from people surrounding them, which can have a draining effect on those they interact with.

For example, one sign of a controlling person may be their insistence on “keeping score.” This can involve doing nice things for you with the ulterior motive of demanding something from you at a later date in exchange for what you thought was just an act of kindness or a friendly support.

Perhaps they shower you in praise (also known as “love-bombing”) or gifts then blow up at you if you don’t intuitively know they’re expecting something back from you. None of us are mind-readers, but controlling people behave as though everyone else should think and act like they want others to and those who fall out of line are punished for failing to meet their impossible expectations.

A controlling person may also threaten to withhold support if you don’t adhere to their demands, but they do so in such subtle ways that the guilt they impose blinds you from the unreasonable nature of their behaviors.

Some statements to be wary of include:

Advertising

  • “I did ___________ for you. What do you mean you can’t do ___________ for me?”
  • “Remember how I helped you with ___________? That took a lot of time and energy from me, but I guess you didn’t appreciate my help.”
  • “I always give you ___________. Don’t you care about my needs too?”
  • “You’re so selfish!” or “You don’t care about me at all!” (gaslighting if you respond with hesitation or politely decline their request for help for perfectly valid reasons, such as not having enough time or resources to assist them)

3. They Criticize Everything

One of the most common telltale signs of a controlling person is their capacity to criticize anything and everything, even small things that seemingly don’t matter. As with many toxic traits in relationships, these problems typically start out so small that you may not even notice. At first, you may even agree with their criticism or at least be able to understand their perspective when they bring up an issue.

However, the criticism tends to get more intense, more constant, and more perplexing for people who maintain relationships with controlling people. You’ll likely notice how they rarely seem to criticize something they do. It’s almost always other-oriented and these types of people are so manipulative that any rationale they offer can seem plausibly legitimate.

Some warning signs of a controlling person who’s overly critical to the point of abusiveness include:

  • Criticizing things about you that you have little to no control over (e.g., appearance, disability, family)
  • Criticizing your personal choices and interests, such as educational pursuits, career, clothing, favorite music, time spent on your hobbies, etc.
  • Punishing you for expressing vulnerability by invalidating thoughts and feelings you share with them
  • Attacking you whenever you express an opinion counter to theirs

4. They Balk When Someone Criticizes Them

We all know the adage, “what goes around, comes around.” But this statement doesn’t apply as much to toxic, controlling people. They’d much prefer to dish out criticism without ever having to take it in return.

For instance, if your friend constantly talks about your appearance with little regard for your emotions but flips out if you make just a single comment about their appearance, there’s a possibility that they could have some hidden controlling tendencies left unchecked. Remember, these people aren’t just controlling in their behaviors towards others. They’re also actively trying to stay in complete control over every aspect of their lives, which includes how others view them.

Advertising

This seemingly insatiable desire for control can prompt them to lash out against even the smallest bits of criticism, leaving people around them too weary or scared to speak up again in the future. While it’s possible they may suffer from something called rejection sensitivity dysphoria, this does not excuse them from the consequences of their words and actions. They should seek professional help to better manage their reactions to criticism.

5. They Socially Isolate You

Not all controlling people do this, but for manipulative narcissists, socially isolating victims is a go-to strategy for maintaining control because it’s effective at preventing people from truly understanding how toxic their partner, family member, or friend is treating them. Think of it this way—if you don’t talk to many other people in your life, there’s less of a risk that you’ll damage their reputation by revealing their abusive tendencies.

Socially isolating others also gives the person more control over you and your life as it becomes more difficult to break away from them if you don’t have other healthier channels of communication and interpersonal support to turn to.

This process doesn’t happen overnight, nor is it something you can readily recognize as abusive. At first, it may seem reasonable, such as asking you to stop engaging so often with family members with whom both of you disagree on major social or political issues. As the social isolation progresses, they may suggest cutting people out of your life—especially if they don’t like that person, regardless of how you personally feel—or even conjure up high-stakes problems like “it’s me or them” under the guise of saving you from people in your life whom they don’t like for whatever reason.

In a controlling person’s life narrative, they’re always the protagonist who’s incapable of any wrongdoing. The blame is always redirected at someone else, whether that’s you or other people in your life. The more they isolate you from other supportive people in your life, the more susceptible you’ll be to falsely believing that they’re right and you “don’t need” your other friends and family when you have someone as perfect as this person.

Advertising

6. They’re Emotionally Abusive

It’s hard enough to be in control of your own emotions but when someone else is constantly belittling you and your interests or leveraging guilt and shame to manipulate you into saying or doing what they want, this can make it even more challenging to stay in control of your own life and emotional well-being.

Emotional abuse is another sign of a controlling person that is often overlooked in relationships. After all, human personalities vary widely in terms of passivity, and it’s not uncommon for one person in a relationship to be significantly more passive than the other. This becomes an issue when the controlling partner or friend exudes signs of emotional abuse, which can start subtly and become much more pronounced over time.

Concerning signs of emotionally abusive language or behavior to watch out for include:

  • Dismissing your needs and/or belittling your interests in counterproductive ways
  • Privately or publicly shaming or humiliating you
  • Making you feel as though you can never live up to their expectations or do anything right (according to their own vague, subjective standards)
  • Gaslighting you into thinking they said or did something that never actually happened (making you question your own reality)

Final Thoughts

It’s sometimes hard to see the negative things about someone with whom we have a relationship. We may sometimes unconsciously overlook the signs of a controlling person, especially if that person is someone we have known for a long time or are close to us. However, cutting them off your life is the best thing you can do for yourself. Just watch out for these six signs of a controlling person and take immediate action when you spot them.

More Tips on How To Deal With a Controlling Person

Featured photo credit: Külli Kittus via unsplash.com

Read Next