Are Those Offering Relationship Help Just Caught in the Crossfire?

July 11, 2012 by

There are many negative opinions about whether marriage counselors can help. In one opinion relationship counselors are likened to “tender empaths” who don’t always know how to rein in warring spouses because they simply weren’t made for fighting. The second opinion declares that marriage therapy to be less like a warzone and more like “trying to pour concrete years after the concrete has set.”

My experience as a Portland marriage counselor has taught me that, at times, both descriptions can be apt, and yes, you can feel like you’re caught in the crossfire. Some couples interact loudly and forcefully, and as experts, we must remain steadfast in our resolve to teach them the methods that we believe in.

Where I disagree with the first opinion is the assumption that therapists in general aren’t good at handling conflict. While I am sure that’s true for some therapists, just as it’s true that some cops, lawyers, and doctors are better than others, in my experience the majority of us are well-trained and well-equipped to deal with exactly this type of situation. Diffusing volatile situations isn’t even the hard part – the tougher job is making your clients accept what they need to change in themselves to get the relationship to work the way it should because typically both people are set in their ways.

Relationship Help: Pouring New Concrete Over Concrete That Has Set

When people go to a Portland marriage counselor, it’s typically because they feel like they’ve lost something. They don’t feel the same connection they once did. One or both partners don’t trust each other in the same way. The passion has faded. We might deal with these feelings by backing away or by confronting each other, but neither of those philosophies is especially effective.

Real relationship help requires teaching a set of tools that the couple most likely doesn’t have, because if they did, they wouldn’t be in therapy. You need to learn listening and communication skills, and ways of interacting with each other that emphasize the positive and minimize the negative. The problem – and the place where the concrete analogy fits – is that those of us who have been together for any length of time have already developed behaviors that have to be broken up and chipped away at so that we can “pour in” the behaviors you should be engaging in.

That is the real job of a good therapist – not guiding you through the “war zone,” but chiseling away at those bad behaviors that have set in and getting you to understand what you need to be doing to strengthen the relationship. It’s not that people can’t do this on their own, but it can be extremely difficult. If you feel like you need relationship help from a professional, being afraid to seek it out will only prolong the problem.