Oh the complicated job we therapists have!! Today I’d like to take a break from all of the complicated challenges I have with my job, so I’ll put you in my chair … watch out, it may turn your hair curly … here’s your case for the day …
A couple comes in for premarital counseling and the initial meeting is 90 minutes long. You listen to their story, address their concerns, and pretty soon into it you’ve found enough red flags and land mines to know that there is no way the couple should be planning on sealing a lifelong deal, at least anytime soon. Yet, you inwardly turn green when told that the nuptials are imminent … so, what would you do?
A. Ignore the troubles. Offer them your blessing and predict a bright future of love and happiness.
B. Tell them you are worried about them making such a permanent commitment in the light of so many issues and ask about the possibility of marriage postponement, including counseling to work through things.
C. Tell them their relationship is a train wreck and unless something drastic changes their marriage is certain to be miserable and will most likely end in divorce. P.S. Please don’t have kids.
D. Run screaming out of the room.
So, what did you decide??
Obviously a therapist wants to be somewhat subtle in passing along the idea that the relationship needs reworking and tuning before signing up for such an important commitment as marriage. But when a ceremony is weeks as opposed to months away, I will be more direct, as in, “In my opinion, your relationship is already showing signs of imbalance and you are likely to have serious marital problems if you marry now, so I would advise you to work out your major issues prior to making a marriage commitment.”
Then the conversation typically goes like this …
“What? Are you talking about postponing the wedding?” Her eyes are wide, her mouth is open.
“It’s probably something you ought to consider.” I reach for my tea.
“Oh my God! My parents have already made their plane reservations. We’ve spent thousands on deposits …”
“I know but …”
“Do you know what you’re saying?” She looks at me from the side, her eyes narrow.
“He may not want to marry me in six months if we postpone it now …”
“Isn’t it good to not get married if that is the case?”
“What will be people say? It will be so embarrassing!!”
“I was suggesting postponing the wedding, not canceling it.”
“Why can’t we just marry and do the counseling and repairing later?”
“You can. It’s just that will you do it? Will you see it through? Will you have the motivation? And what if the counseling causes you to recognize your incompatibilities, but now you’re married?”
“That won’t happen. We love each other. We are meant for each other. We will make it work.”
“OK, that’s fine, but I work with a lot of couples who have been in a similar place to where you are now, and who ultimately couldn’t work it out and divorced. Divorce is exceedingly painful, but in the end, it’s your decision.”
“Wow. We didn’t expect to hear this today.”
“Would you want me to not tell you what I see? I thought that’s why you came here today.”
“It is, but … “
After a conversation like this, couples typically take it hard, and never come back. I totally understand this, but at least I can sleep at night knowing that I didn’t mislead them about the possibility of their relationship being a happily-ever-after one. My hope, of course, is that they get help and work through their issues, past and present, and it doesn’t bother me one bit that the work won’t be done with me. I imagine that if they don’t, months or years later, when the relationship falls apart, one or the other will say, “You know, years ago that therapist Doctor-whoever-it-was tried to tell us we needed to work through our issues, but we wouldn’t listen.”
So, armchair therapists, what do YOU think??