I have heard a number of times “if I am trying to save my marriage, won’t individual psychotherapy make it more likely I will get divorced?”, or some variation of this idea.
The idea is that if a person is trying to save a marriage, they should be seen in couples therapy.
First, no therapist can ‘save a marriage’, that must be done by the two individuals in the marriage. In my experience people have ended marriages for all sorts of reasons, some very sensible ones and some seemingly trivial. I have seen people who I expected would and ought to stay together come apart and I have seen people that most observers would think should go their separate ways and yet they continued as married. I have seen marriages break up over the most fleeting of affairs and marriages that have survived and sometimes improved after repeated affairs.
The point here is that the marriage and the longevity of the marriage must involve the thoughtful choices of two people.
I might even suggest that a marriage does not necessarily deserve ‘saving’; a marriage needs to be beneficial and desirable to the two individuals and perhaps the children who exist in that marriage and family. Where psychotherapy helps is in guiding one or both of those people to recognize what they want and what actions are supporting their goals or preventing those goals. Individual psychotherapy can very successfully help each of the partners work on these issues and let the growth of each of the partners in their own therapy help them interact more successfully in the marriage and negotiate their futures together. Couples therapy is not to be dismissed. A skilled couples psychotherapist may be very helpful in increasing communication and understanding of the problems in a relationship. But, couples therapy is not the only path.
Sometimes I hear that psychotherapy causes divorce. Several ideas come into play, first that the psychotherapy draws one spouse away from the marriage or that psychotherapy is so self centered that if could not improve a marriage. Psychotherapy surely helps a person to become more clear about their own internal workings and their own desires and needs. But, equally psychotherapy helps the individual to fit those discovered needs and desires into the context of their lives and relationships. You cannot get everything you want, but you can learn to negotiate for what you want more clearly. And a product of a person’s individual psychotherapy is an increased empathy, in other words, a lessening of self involvement and a growing ability to understand the other’s point of view.
Psychotherapy is not an inevitable path to divorce.
Psychotherapy will help you think more clearly about what you want and how to find greater satisfaction in your life. That may require finding more effective ways of communicating and negotiating with your spouse.
Sometimes in the course of psychotherapy a person comes to realize that he or she cannot negotiate their relationship any further or more successfully. In the work of self understanding that person may come to the very difficult decision of getting divorced. This is not the bias of psychotherapy, but the result of more careful consideration of oneself. I have met with people who come into to treatment poised for divorce or separation and my suggestion is to slow that decision until some time in psychotherapy allows for a careful analysis of what is going on and what is going to provide the greatest improvement in life. Sometimes the decision to divorce comes up more firmly and sometimes the decision to enter more fully into the relationship leads to staying in a marriage and making it more satisfying.
Peter has a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and maintains a private practice in psychotherapy since licensure in California in 1984. Currently he lives and practices in Portland Oregon.
He completed additional training as a Psychoanalyst in 1996 and treats individuals in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis. Peter also supervises and consults to practicing psychotherapists.
You can contact Peter here to discuss your needs and questions about a consultation.
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