In the following Q&A, Barbara Wyer, MMFT, discusses some of the reasons marriages fail and offers insight on how to heal.
Q: Can you describe a red flag that a marriage is in trouble?
Barbara Wyer Marriage Counseling Brentwood TN: A sign that a couple’s relationship may benefit from a therapeutic intervention is when one partner piles the blame on their significant other for the entirety of the marital issues.
Q: Even when there has been infidelity…?
Barbara Wyer Marriage Counseling Brentwood TN: Even when one of the partners has had an affair, yes. While not a justification for the affair, it may be that they are trying to fill a void in the relationship, that they have lost the connection with their spouse. While an affair can happen for a number of reasons, the bottom line is that it’s often complicated.
Q: Is it possible for a marriage to heal after an affair?
Barbara Wyer Marriage Counseling Brentwood TN: It is a tough hurdle to leap, but forgiveness and subsequent healing for both parties is possible. Expect it to take awhile to rebuild trust and feelings of love. It took time for the relationship to break down; it will also take time to heal.
Q: Do you suggest staying in a marriage for the sake of the kids?
Barbara Wyer Marriage Counseling Brentwood TN: Children are intuitive by nature and easily pick up on tension between their parents, despite their best efforts to put on a happy front. Research has shown that when the parents’ relationship is replete with constant, extreme conflict, children may benefit from the parents ending the marriage. I don’t feel that framing your children’s lives in a “forced” family is healthy. Again, that is a complicated answer, and one that can be best addressed in the context of therapy with a trained professional.
Q: How can marriage counseling help us?
Barbara Wyer Marriage Counseling Brentwood TN: Having a safe place to openly discuss and acknowledge each other’s concerns can help you rediscover the love that brought your children into your lives in the first place. Many couples (90% in fact!) have reported significant improvement in their relationships after couples therapy based on the Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) model developed by Dr. Sue Johnson. EFT is validated by over 20 years of solid research and teaches partners to shift their interactional patterns and learn how to attach to each other in new, safe ways.
Q: Should couples keep secrets from each other?
Barbara Wyer Marriage Counseling Brentwood TN: Everyone – even a married couple – deserves respectful privacy, but intentionally withholding significant information from one’s spouse can lead to further secrecy that push partners apart and may sow the seed of deceit and mistrust.
Q: What types of events can be triggers for distress in the relationship?
Barbara Wyer Marriage Counseling Brentwood TN: Unusual new stressors, like major illness, death, or financial problems, can challenge an otherwise healthy partnership. Left unresolved, these types of issues leech into the relationship and may even lead to emotional detachment as each partner withdraws into their own pain and tries to protect him or herself.
Q: How do I mend a marriage that simply “doesn’t work” any longer?
Barbara Wyer Marriage Counseling Brentwood TN: As time goes on, circumstances can change us so that eventually our relationship dynamic may look nothing like it did when we married. That’s why the marriage vows often say “for better or for worse.” Sometimes one (or both) partners sees this as a negative, but the evolution is a normal progression that can – and should – be embraced. The first step is to try and find common ground where each partner feels safe and is able to discuss what is and isn’t working for them.
Q: Should couples try to “make it work” when they stop liking each other?
Barbara Wyer Marriage Counseling Brentwood TN: I would suggest that couples try to first understand what they don’t like before chalking the relationship up as a lost cause. It is very easy to fixate on specific behaviors or responses. Exploring the fears behind those triggers may unlock the key to your partner’s deepest longings.
Q: Is affection something that should be withheld to get a point across?
Barbara Wyer Marriage Counseling Brentwood TN: No. Using affection, or lack thereof, as a tool for punishment is manipulative and can destroy trust in a relationship. This can leave one partner feeling “less than” the other, and isn’t fair for either party.
Q: Do relationships require “tune ups?”
Barbara Wyer Marriage Counseling Brentwood TN: I believe so. Marriage counseling is a wonderful tool that couples can use to strengthen their relationship. Consider seeking help early, before a tune up turns into a complete overhaul. Many couples do a counseling check in once every year or two.
Q: Is marriage counseling a guarantee that our relationship will last forever?
Barbara Wyer Marriage Counseling Brentwood TN: As with the marriage relationship itself, counseling is something that must be driven by the commitment of both partners. If one partner is unwilling to open him- or herself up to the work of therapy, it won’t be optimally successful. That being said, individual therapy may help one partner find their voice in order to approach their spouse in a nonthreatening way so that they may later seek help together.
About Barbara Wyer
Barbara Wyer, MMFT, holds a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from Trevecca University in Nashville, Tennessee. She has received advanced training in Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) and uses the principals of this therapy to help her clients understand how emotional responses directly affect the dynamic of their relationships. EFT is a highly-effective therapy model that focuses on emotional awareness, regulation, and transformation. Barbara is a member of the American Counseling Association (ACA) and the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT).