This guest article from Psych Central was written by Nadia Person, Ph.D.
Imagine a heavy-duty truck riding off the road, slipping down a hill and getting stuck in thick, sticky mud. Trying to get out, it desperately spins its wheels, mud flying everywhere with no resolve. After a long time, there is finally a hopeful sight of another car. The truck begins honking like mad, desperately wanting a much needed pull.
This is an allegory for many couples seeking therapy. They typically come at a high point of marital distress. The war has reached its peak; the partners are tired of fighting but unable to end it. Attempts to fix things only led to getting trapped deeper in a cycle of confrontation, standoff and increased feelings of hopelessness. They look at the therapist with a mix of hope and despair, ready to bargain for any quick solution. Deep inside, they sense a need for a major and complicated repair, but their pain is so intense that they want anything, to feel at least a bit better now.
The therapist, being that little car faced with the grave demand for a major lift, may simultaneously feel empathetic and overwhelmed. Even though it is true that there are no quick fixes, it is fair to expect that couples want some relief. What quick strategies can distressed couples use?
Strategies to Help a Troubled Marriage
One recommendation is to slow down, back off, and give yourself a major timeout. It may be contrary to what many couples tend to do in conflict. Feeling rejected and misunderstood, a partner typically increases the intensity of the pursuit to keep the marriage together, while also trying to apply some new solutions obtained from self-help books, magazines, and helpful friends. The spouse is only becoming increasingly overwhelmed, while disagreements intensify.
Think of driving on a highway and getting lost. What do you do? You probably do not push the gas pedal to its limit, hoping that divine intervention delivers you to your destination. You slow down and may even stop to read the map, to get your bearings, and then proceed with caution. The same advice applies to a marriage in crisis: when you don’t know what to do and are feeling lost, slow down and do nothing for a while. It is not a good long-term strategy, but is certainly more preferable in times of marital crisis. Take time to calm down, regroup, and think of reasonable solutions.