By J. Bailey Molineux, Ph.D.
Every once in a while I attend a professional workshop which
challenges some of my basic assumptions about psychotherapy. Such was the case
of an intensive, five day workshop I recently attended entitled Putting Marriage
Back Into Marriage Therapy. The workshop was presented by Michele Weiner-Davis,
author of the book, Divorce Busting a Step-By-Step Approach to Making Your Marriage
Loving Again" (Fireside, 1993), and this year's recipient of the outstanding
achievement award of the American Association of Marital and Family Therapists.
Ms. Weiner-Davis is strongly anti-divorce and does all she
can to prevent divorces in her therapy and workshops. The divorce of her parents
when she was a child had a devastating impact on her which led her to her divorce
busting work, an example of how something positive can come out of childhood
What challenged me was her conviction that you don't have
to work with both spouses to improve a marriage. She believes a therapist can
work just as effectively with only one spouse rather than two and still help
make the marriage better. I had always thought it was preferable to see both
Her belief is based upon the assumption, which I also hold,
that a change in one spouse will change the relationship. In fact, I always
tell spouses there is nothing they can do about their partner's behavior but
plenty they can do about their own.
It is often the case that one spouse wants to work on the
marriage in therapy, while the other does not; one spouse wants to save the
marriage while the other is undecided.
At the risk of sounding sexist, frequently the husband does
not want to come to therapy despite the entreaties of his wife. He doesn't want
any shrink to tell him what to do, so I am often told, which is a misconception
since therapists rarely give advice but help people determine their own solutions
to many of their problems.
What Weiner-Davis encourages her clients to do is to stop
doing over and over what has not worked in the past and decide on new behaviors
they can try to get their spouses to be more loving. These behaviors should
be positively stated, action oriented and broken down into small steps. For
example, asking your spouse to quit ignoring or being critical of you is not
as effective as asking him to show you more love by hugging you once a day or
having a date every other week. In her therapy, she keeps hammering away at
solutions rather than problems, at positive, concrete, attainable behavioral
changes rather than insights.
So if you want to try to improve or save your marriage,
but your spouse refuses to see a marital therapist, you are not helpless. Go
to a therapist yourself to determine what you can begin to do differently in
relating to your spouse. Remember the assumption of a family systems approach
to problems: If you change, your marriage must also change, hopefully for the
This does not mean that you are the problem in the marriage,
the major contributor to your marital difficulties. It is still a bedrock conviction
of mine, which no workshop will shake, that both spouses contribute roughly
equally to the painful marital interaction. Your being in therapy only means,
in my biased view, that you have the strength and courage to work on you marriage
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.