Thursday, December 24, 2009

To Leave, Or To Stay?

In my most recent blog entry,I posed a question that someone sent me, requesting my help to decide whether to go or to stay in a marriage. This is Part 2 of my answer.

If you have sought marital therapy with a specialist in marriage and family therapy and you still are uncertain, the following questions can provide a kind of checklist for you.

Top 5 Questions to Ask Yourself:

1. Have you invested in understanding and improving your situation, or have you merely attended therapy? Worse yet, have you refused to get professional help completely? If you answered the latter questions in the affirmative, you have not been fair to your spouse, yourself, and any children whose lives will be impacted by your decisions now. Merely marking time in a therapist’s office will not help you be a better partner in your marriage or in your next relationship. And you cheat both your spouse, yourself, your children, and a new partner, should you decide to leave.

2. Have you taken responsibility for your part in the problems you are having? It is human nature to blame others for your situation. That way, you don’t have to change yourself. So you seem to get off scot free. However, it takes two to tango. It took two to create your situation, and you both need to invest in changing it. When you don’t step up and own your own contribution to the difficulties in the marriage, you give away your own power to change it.

3. Have you stopped blaming your spouse for everything that is wrong in your marriage? This is a close cousin to #2. There is no more blame when you have soul-searched and come up with your contribution to your problems. Take note. Assigning blame is not the same as accepting responsibility.

4. Have you owned your own feelings? Here’s a tip to remember. Starting sentences with “I feel that . . . “ is not the same as sharing feelings. Stated this way, it’s an opinion that masquerades as a feeling. To wit: “I feel that you shouldn’t work such long hours.”

5. Do you have a clear sense that you’ve done all I can, and it’s time to leave? If you can’t answer “yes” to this question, then it likely isn’t time to leave. In my experience both personally and professionally, people know when it’s time. They don’t have to “overthink” it.

As always, if you have difficulty applying these suggestions to your own situation, I offer a complimentary consultation. Just call my toll free number (888-546-1580) to arrange for it.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

“Knowing When to Hold ‘Em and When to Fold ‘Em”

Recently, I received a question from someone in cyberspace who asked for my help to know when to let go and when to keep fighting for their marriage. “After many years of counseling on and off, I’m still not feeling like I want to be with my spouse. How do you know when it’s time to throw in the towel?” The question was such an important one that I decided to offer some guidelines to help you answer it.

In order to provide the best help, I am blogging my answer in two parts.

First, I must offer a caveat. There is no right or one-size-fits-all approach to relationships. There are always exceptions. Use your own best judgment in applying these criteria to your situation. If you are confused, feel free to call my toll-free number (888-546-1580) for a complimentary consultation with me. I don’t have to tell you what an important decision you're facing. So it is best to give this question its proper due.

Dr. Beth’s Rules of Thumb for Sorting Out This Conundrum

Have you tried counseling? Especially with a long relationship, chances are that walking away without first seeking professional help can prolong your healing process. It leaves too many unanswered questions, most important of which is "Have we tried everything we can?" If you honestly can answer "yes" to this question, you have one indicator that you can go with a clear conscience.

Was it with a trained marriage and family therapist? This is an extremely important consideration. Why is that?

Several factors distinguish “real live” marital therapists from those who say they do marriage counseling.

o The graduate degree alone may not necessarily be relevant. Too often, people tend to disqualify those with a master’s degree in either social work or psychology in favor of someone with a Ph.D. or and M.D., just because they are doctors. However, the primary function of most psychiatrists (M.D.’s who have little or no supervision or training in providing psychotherapy) usually is prescribing medicines. Further, clinical psychologists typically have studied how to conduct research and how to diagnose and assign individual pathology. These don’t necessarily make them empathic and competent couples therapists. They may be. But they also can be analytical and lack the warmth required to create a safe space for delicate and often painful work.

o Having taken a course on Intro. to Family Therapy in graduate school does not make clinicians trained marital therapists. "Real" family therapists have studied marriage and family therapy, whether in graduate school or through an ongoing investment in continuing education courses.

o I recognize that many clinicians aren’t as fortunate as I was to complete two years of post-doctoral training in marriage and family therapy. However, if someone you are contemplating seeing can demonstrate an investment in making the paradigm shift from individual to systemic thinking, working with that type of person is best.

• A what shift? Because I already had a Ph.D. and had a psychotherapy credential (I was a Certified Reality Therapist), I remember how baffled I was in trying to make the shift in my way of thinking about relationships, psychotherapy, and my role as a therapist. In fact, I felt as if all I learned in the first semester of my post-doc was how little I knew! There is a qualitative difference in each approach.

o What that shift in perspective entails is learning to see relationships as an interlocking system of individuals who had formed a synergistic -– if problematic -- relationship that is larger than each of the individuals separately.

o That means that people unwittingly, usually unconsciously, cooperate in the creation and maintenance of the problems that are plaguing them and for which they seek professional help.

o Blaming one person, usually the identified patient, for all the family’s ills is not helpful at best and pathologizing at worst.

So the first question to ask yourself is in considering the question of going or staying is, “Have we sought professional help?” The next question is, “Have we found the best help possible?”

Even working with someone from a long distance who is well-trained and empathic usually is more effective and productive than meeting with someone who may have an alphabet soup of initials but who lacks the ability to see relationships as a system. These counselors tend to blame one person for all the problems and to let the other person off the hook. This does nothing productive. In fact, it creates a whole ‘nother problem.

Stay tuned for my next entry that will consider how to know whether to stay in a current relationship or, to go.