Marriage Counseling – Who Needs to Change?

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Long Island Center for Marriage Counseling, Huntington, NY

When most people experience problems in their marriage, they usually march into marriage counseling, determined that the other person change. If that does not work, then they usually go to a lawyer and start the divorce proceedings… but first, both individuals go through much pain and conflict – and that pain and conflict often spills over into the children of the marriage.

Lets look at this process a little more analytically. Both individuals come into marriage counseling. Each usually thinks they are right. Each wants the other to either change or to accept them the way they are. Neither approach works as a marriage solution.

Why?

Neither works as a marriage solution. you cannot change another.

1. The only person you can change is yourself. Pushing your marital spouse to change just gets their back up.
2. Acceptance is often not the answer. You know there is something wrong in the marriage and you are not in marriage counseling to just accept things. You might as well stay home!

So what can happen in marriage counseling if both spouses are determined that the other change. Not much until they each take 100% responsibility for their own part in the relationship. For instance, in one marriage type that we see at the Long Island Marriage Counseling Center, one spouse is highly passive and allowing. The other spouse is demanding and controlling. Usually, in this type of marriage, the passive, allowing spouse has reached threshold and wants change.

The other spouse in the marriage does not want change because he is getting his needs met in the current marital arrangement. But what needs are being met? Certainly not his need for intimacy and closeness. Rather his need to be in control and in charge is being satisfied.

Why does someone have a need like that? It goes back to childhood and what we call Unmet Childhood Needs. This person might have been abused and made to feel unsafe in childhood by one or both of the parents. Under those circumstances, being in control of another brings the security and safety that was missing in childhood. Giving up control over the spouse would push such a person into extreme anxiety – it is like his emergency switchboard lights up and it is ‘fight or flight’. In his mind, controlling the spouse is the only way to calm down and feel safe.

So why would this spouse ever agree to change his role in the marriage? Usually only if he could find another way of feeling safe and secure, without controlling the spouse. There are methods and tools that can help someone feel safe and secure, and we teach these tools at LI Marriage Counseling.

And what about the other spouse? The other spouse needs to learn to stand up for herself and feel secure inside while saying no to her partner. For many people, to oppose someone else makes them feel tremendously frightened. They are afraid the other will stop loving them or will abandon them. The solution is for this spouse to learn to feel strong and resilient, no matter what the other spouse is doing. Yes, that is a tall order, but at our LI Marriage Counseling Center, we teach individuals to do just that.

So there are solutions to marital conflict through marriage counseling. But both individuals have to want to make the necessary changes.

If you have a similar situaion and want to talk, call me, Dr. Diane Kramer, at 631-553-1476 or send me an email at dkramer@peakskillslearning.com. I will get back to you within a small space of time.