“Are you here because you want help for the marriage?” This first question in the structured reality therapy approach to marriage counseling seems to have an obvious answer. Why would a couple go to a counsellor if they didn’t want help for the marriage?
This article is one in a series on marriage. You can find the first article in the series here.
Sometimes, one (or both) wants to break up. The mind is made up and there’s nothing—neither a change in behaviour, nor circumstance, nor understanding—that’s going to make a difference. That decision can be hard to acknowledge, even to oneself. It’s natural to look for a way out of any feelings of guilt by being able to say, “I tried; we went to a counsellor but it didn’t help.”
Asking, “Do you want help for your marriage?” establishes whether the couple is seeking help because they truly want to have a better marriage, or because they see counselling as a necessary step before they acknowledge that what they really want is divorce. And Dr. Glasser, who describes this structured approach in his book, Counseling with Choice Theory, is clear about his role: “I am not a divorce counsellor.”
There’s another consequence to answering this question. When both parties respond, “Yes, I want help for the marriage,” they are acknowledging that each wants something to change; they want the marriage to be better. In essence, they are saying, “The marriage is an entity that’s separate from either you or me individually, and that’s what I want help for.”
In the scenario of Bea and Jim as described by Dr. Glasser, Bea is clinging to her grudge toward Jim for a past wrong. Jim had misbehaved, and that misbehaviour can never be undone.
While Bea came to counseling ready to unload about all the terrible actions, hurts, and injustices perpetrated by Jim, there was little opportunity to do so. Instead, she found herself acknowledging that she wanted the relationship to continue, as did Jim. Once that’s done, it’s pretty hard to wiggle out of committing oneself to taking some action to improve it.
When one holds a grudge, whether because of an action that’s real, imagined, valid or not, the choice may come down to, “Would you rather keep your grudge? Or keep your marriage?” That brings out the hard edge of choice, doesn’t it? If you can have one or the other, but not both, which would you choose?
If what the couple truly wants is to hold on to the marriage, the grudges may have to go. If you want to hear that everything is your partner’s fault, then in effect, you are not seeking help for the marriage. According to Dr. Glasser, any process that allows each partner to blame the other is not going be of much help.
What do you think of this opening question for relationship counselling?
This next article in this series on marriage is here.