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Marriage in crisis? Be careful what advice you heed

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Benito Rodríguez - published on 08/28/21

If you're going through a rough patch in your marriage, some pieces of advice can hurt rather than help the situation.

Bad counsel in situations of marital crisis can lead to separation and divorce. The pain people feel in those moments makes them feel vulnerable as they look look for help and comfort. Not all advice is good, even if it’s well-intentioned.

Crises are opportunities to change and grow, but often we need professional help and the right approach. It’s worth trying everything before throwing in the towel.

Beware of unsound advice

Teresa Lamana, a psychologist at the Center for Comprehensive Family Care at Francisco de Vitoria University, tells Aleteia:

Nowadays, there are many married couples who come to counseling with delicate situations that have been exacerbated by various factors, including the advice they have received from other people (friends, acquaintances, relatives) or because they have not found a correct approach in counseling from certain other professionals in psychology, psychiatry, or coaching, among others.

The feeling of vulnerability in moments of weakness makes people seek advice before making a decision, such as separation or divorce. But Lamana insists that this advice to guide their decision-making cannot determine their decisions:

It is you, husband and wife, who know your marriage best, with its strengths and weaknesses, with its best and worst moments. And that intimacy that you alone have experienced should not be judged by anyone else.

Advice that can set off alarm bells

Family therapists give examples of some advice which—although it may be given with good intentions—does not contribute to solving the problem, but rather to increasing it:

  • “What you have to do is look for happiness on your own.”
  • “The important thing is you and your own happiness.”
  • “If he/she doesn’t show you love in these little things, then you shouldn’t do it for him/her either.”
  • “Don’t talk to each other about it; it will only make things worse.”
  • “Don’t tell him/her that it bothers you; wait for him/her to notice.”

Family therapist Monica de Aysa says that this advice will not, in fact, solve the problem. She recommends not cutting off the relationship easily, and not giving up hope, but rather trying everything to save your marriage.

Couples therapy with a Christian approach

When marital crises are complicated or downright seem to have no solution, and “home remedies” have not worked, it’s best to seek professional help compatible with your beliefs regarding marriage.

Clarity about your concept of marriage being the same as that of your therapist is important, since today it’s understood in very different ways by different parts of society. Thus, therapy rooted in principles different from the lifelong self-giving envisioned by Christianity can be counterproductive for your marriage.

Teresa Lamana tells us:

Among the professionals to whom you can turn, I could highlight: family mediators, in case you have to make a decision related to more legal issues; a priest, when the spiritual side of your marriage is the main sore point; or a psychologist specialized in couples’ therapy, to help you to improve communication and to be able to work on the wounds that at this moment are making you suffer.

Avoiding prejudices

The therapist Monica de Aysa explains: 

We receive many couples in which one of the two spouses doesn’t believe in therapy, and they come because the other one insists or begs for it. Ignorance about how therapy is carried out leads some people to prejudge what will happen if they open up … Professionals know how to protect confidentiality, receiving people individually so that the joint sessions only take place at appropriate times and when both are ready to correct attitudes and recognize mistakes.

Steps that couples can take together

If a couple is experiencing marital difficulties, María del Carmen González Rivas, director of the Vinculos Center of Psychological and Family Care, recommends these practices, in addition to professional therapy, before the marriage comes to a crisis point. A couple can turn their challenges into an opportunity for growth by:

  • Finding opportunities for communication
  • Maintaining attitudes of mutual respect and admiration.
  • Not shying away from difficulties or doubling down on differences.
  • Dedicating time, patience, and tenderness to each other.
  • Taking care of your marital sexual life. It unites the spouses as a couple. It’s important to take into account that every couple evolves and the spouses will have to continually adapt to each other. 
  • Establishing and respecting “personal space.” In marriage, both spouses are living a shared project and goals, but it’s necessary for them to give each other a certain amount of space.
  • Maintaining a balanced and flexible distribution of tasks and roles. The spouses should distribute responsibilities according to their abilities and preferences.
  • Strengthening bonds of love and companionship. It’s very important to be open to intimacy and learn to be life partners.
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