By DR ROB DOBRENSKI
During a recent session, a couple who had been married for about five years decided to end their relationship. The wife told the husband very matter-of-factly, saying that “they had simply grown apart and couldn’t stop fighting.”
Neither he nor I were surprised given they had spent almost a year working on their relationship with no improvement in their ability to resolve conflicts or even increase their interest in spending time together. And, although the reality of the words ‘I want a divorce’ initially made him very anxious and distressed, he agreed that they were no longer happy together and didn’t see the point in continuing as well.
Couples in therapy split up more often than you might think. Couples therapy has a horrible track record for two reasons: one is that the couple usually waits far too long to seek help, long after arguments have gotten out of hand and the dyad has drifted in directions that can’t be saved.
When I first encountered a couple who I worked with who then decided to get divorced, I thought I had failed as a therapist. My supervisor, a Psychologist in her late 60′s, pointed out that I was being naïve, not only about the notion that “therapy can fix everything,” but also that “every marriage isn’t meant to go the distance.”
“Sometimes all you can do is give your blessing to a couple that it’s time to move on,” she said. “There’s no shame in that and it’s your professional obligation to do so.” Some might view this as a controversial take on marital therapy, especially Christian counselors, but the reality is it’s unethical to try to force a square peg into a round hole. If people are miserable together, the shrink’s position is to help them separate and live happier lives apart.
The couple’s recent separation got me thinking more about why marriages so often don’t work out. Depending on where you get your numbers, one in two new marriages ultimately end up in divorce. Statistics are dubious entities and this number can vary wildly depending on your source, but even as a simple approximation, a 50% divorce rate is a scary proposition.
What makes this “1 in 2″ figure even more sobering is the implication that the 50% of marriages that remain intact are happy ones. I see both individuals and couples who remain in the relationships for a plethora of reasons: financial, religious, a belief that it benefits the children, a belief that one doesn’t deserve better, fear of being alone or simply a lack of desire to deal with the legal red tape.
With respect to obvious precipitating factors for divorce such as abuse, addictions or adultery, let’s focus on some of the most salient reasons why marriage can be such a difficult business, as well as some things that can help those relationships thrive:
1) Marriage requires compatibility not just at the point of saying ‘I do,’ but across the entire life span.
You won’t be the same person in five, ten, or twenty years. Your goals, ideals, perspectives and interests can all change as you evolve. This isn’t a bad thing. However, as you move along your adulthood as an ever-changing being, your spouse is doing the same thing. Two people who marry at 25 won’t be the same people at 35 or 45, so your compatibility over the lifespan requires that you both evolve in mutually beneficial ways.