Marital Conflict


Marital Conflict
Here's how I see Marital Conflict, and how to effectively deal with the conflict.

    The first thing the therapist has to do is establish a role that is totally impartial. The therapist must insist, to gain any ability to be useful, on a strict neutrality. It is destructive, not helpful, for the therapist to take sides, for then one spouse will disengage from therapy. Without the neutrality the therapist would be no different than the husband's friend, or the wife's relative, who support only one side of a mutual disaster.
    Nor can the therapist take the position that the marriage should be saved, or the position that it should be ended, because whichever position is taken will threaten, and alienate, one of the spouses.
    Then what can the therapist do to assist both husband and wife? From my experience, the initial neutrality allows me to listen to both people, and let them know that what they are saying is being heard. Being heard is usually the first casualty in marital conflict. “You never listen to me,” or “You're not hearing what I'm saying,” is often the first clue that something is amiss in a relationship.
    It is also useful to point out to the conflicted couple the benefits of my neutrality. It is easier for both to accept that the focus of therapy is to resolve their problems, whether they decide, in the future, to stay together or separate. For if, after working on their problems, they decide to stay together, they have been learning how to resolve their conflicts. On the other hand, if they decide to split up, there is less emotional and psychological upset. There is less trauma and bitterness associated with the separation and divorce. There is less likelihood that someone will be counting the olives, in the jar in the refrigerator, to make sure that everything is evenly divided.
    As an additional benefit of therapy, it is important for each spouse to learn what they brought to the relationship that placed it in jeopardy. That way, if they stay together, they can return to a state of intimacy that will foster their own growth. If they decide to split up, at least they will have learned enough about themselves to avoid making the same mistakes again. And if there is one thing that people do, if they don't learn about their own role in the breakup of a relationship, it is to continue in the same behavior patterns as before, which usually include making the same mistakes, over and over again. This is especially true, as in our analogy, when both partners are too busy, trying to blame the other person for the conflict, to examine their own involvement.
    Making other people responsible for our lives rarely makes our lives better, for then we rarely bother looking within ourselves. Looking outward leads to further personal disasters, because then we must impose even tighter expectations on future partners, or mates, in order that we won't be hurt again. After a few more unfulfilling relationships, there is such a tremendous expectation that it is doubtful that anyone could fulfill it. At that point the searcher often stops searching, swearing off all men (or women), for the time being, anyhow. This may be a healthy development. For then the individual may just start looking inward in search of themselves, and what they contributed to the destruction of their relationships.

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