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Difficult Choices

Difficult Choices

By J. Bailey Molineux, Ph.D.

There are two types of unhappy marriages: those that are actively painful and those that are neutral.

The partners in the first type of unhappy marriage give each other more pain than pleasure. Each has been hurt or disappointed in their marital relationship, and so strike out at each other through bitter arguments, criticisms, accusations or physical abuse.

Or a marriage can be unhappy not as a result of bitter fighting and mutual hurt, but because of the absence of pleasure. Neither partner is fulfilling each other's needs or giving support to the other. This is a neutral type of unhappy marriage that may seem fine on the surface but is dead or dying underneath. Unhappily married people seeking counseling for their marital problems have to make one of three difficult choices.

First, they can continue to live as they have without changing their behavior. Hopefully, however, marriage counseling will help them to understand their relationship and to better relate to other people even if they still can't, or won't change their unhappy relationship.

Second, they can decide to dissolve their marriage. The partners may realize that there has been too much mutual hurt and disappointment in the past to reconstruct their marriage on a more cooperative basis. The counselor's task then becomes to help them divorce as painlessly and cooperatively as possible.

At this point his concern also includes any children living at home because a bitter, angry divorce can be traumatic for the offspring, especially if they are used as pawns in their parents battles.

Third, they can choose to save the marriage but change it so there is less pain and more pleasure given. This is not easy to do, however. To change a long-standing, unhappy marital interaction takes great flexibility, hard work, and the willingness to accommodate and compromise. But it can be done.

In order to do so, both spouses have to be committed to saving the marriage and be willing to make the needed changes in their own behavior patterns that will enable the marriage to succeed. Marital counseling without the cooperation of both spouses is difficult if not impossible.

In short, the basic purpose in marital counseling - and indeed in all psychotherapeutic efforts - is to help people reduce their emotional pain and find more happiness in their the marriage, by dissolving it, or by accepting it.

Needless to say, the counselor must remain absolutely neutral on this question. Only the marital partners can and must decide what to do with their marriage and their lives. The counselor can only be an instrument through which they can explore their marital interaction in order to decide what to do about it. He cannot make that decision for them.

In addition , the marriage counselor cannot take the position that one spouse is entirely at fault or responsible for the marital unhappiness, and the other entirely blame­less. He cannot consistently take sides with one spouse against the other but must remain on the side of mental health however that is to be found.

It takes two people to make a marriage fail and two to make it succeed. In short, the therapeutic focus in marital counseling is primarily upon the relationship and secondarily upon the individuals in that relationship. To do otherwise is to fail to provide unhappily married clients with the best possible service that will help them to find more satisfaction in their lives.


About the Author: J. Bailey Molineux, a psychologist with Adult and Child Counseling, has incorporated many of his articles in a book, Loving Isn't Easy, Isbn 1587410419, sold through bookstores everywhere or available directly from Selfhelpbooks.com. Copyright 2002, J. Bailey Molineux and Selfhelpbooks.com, all rights reserved. This article may be reprinted but must include authors copyright and website hyperlinks.

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