Five Big Marriage Questions

Marriage: It can bring out the best behaviours or the worst behaviours in a pair of people. Couples in trouble often turn to marriage counselors. Marriage—a relationship that warrants its own counseling methods—must be special indeed!

Dr. William Glasser, the founder of Reality Therapy, developed his own method of counseling couples. It’s called structured reality therapy, and in keeping with the spirit of Reality Therapy, he concentrates on what individuals can control rather than what they can’t. His method emphasizes the present rather than the past, and he declines to focus on victimization or blame.

Structured reality therapy focuses on what’s good for the marriage. By maintaining a rigid structure, there’s little opportunity for either party to blame or complain about the other, or even to express their misery. Because the helper is on the side of the marriage rather than on the side of either of the parties, it’s important that the helper avoid even implying that one party is more responsible for the marital difficulty than the other.

Dr. Glasser describes this deceptively simple approach in his book, Counseling with Choice Theory, as he works through a simulated counseling session with Bea and Jim.  The session is built around five questions that each person is expected to answer.

1. Are you here because you want help for your marriage?

2. Whose behaviour can you control?

3. What do you believe is wrong with the marriage right now?

4. What’s good about your marriage right now?

5. What’s one thing each of you could do this coming week that you think will make your marriage better?

Dr. Glasser’s experience is that the last two questions are the only ones that most couples in difficulty have trouble answering. If the couple cannot think of anything that’s good about the marriage right now, then realistically there may be little hope. And the situation looks pretty bleak if either or both parties can’t think of something—even a very simple thing—they could do to make the marriage better and then follow through by actually doing it for a week.

Relationships fall apart when one or both parties attempt to use external control on their partner, according to Glasser. The best solution to marital unhappiness then, is for couples to learn choice theory, including the basic principle of never saying or doing anything that experience tells you will drive you further apart. When you only do or say things that you know will bring and keep you closer together, you’re acting on the side of the marriage.

I’ll take a look at these five questions in more detail in future columns. In the meantime, you can learn more about this approach in Dr. Glasser’s book, available from the local library.

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