Couples therapy is facing questions as to whether it is “pro marriage” or “marriage friendly.” Couples seeking treatment are evidently anxious that therapists might misunderstand what the partners want in marriages that look badly damaged & discouraging. There may be two partners who are in fact determined to stay married.
A True Advocate
Wouldn’t such clients want a therapist who passionately advocates for marriage itself, and committed enough to publicly say so? The National Registry of Marriage Friendly Therapists seeks “…therapists who see themselves as supporting couples’ original commitment to their marriage unless there is a compelling reason not to.”
What’s the Couples Therapy Agreement?
Therapists and clients could easily differ over what is a “compelling reason not to.” But really, this should be about the psychotherapy treatment contract. If two people come into my office and say they have the same therapeutic goal, then provided there’s no threat to health or safety, that’s the goal I begin to support. I cannot imagine being so jaded or discouraged about marriage that I would renege on this basic understanding with my clients.
Crucible Of Personal Development
My own “marriage friendliness” is based on the belief that personal development and growth occurs very profoundly when the decision to focus love, attach deeply and differentiate with integrity – with one or more ‘others’. Sometimes monogamy is several different relationships with the same person.
Beliefs About Marriage
I believe in marriage as the primary engine of personal growth. Monogamy sets up powerful dynamics for personal growth; Polyamory sets them up too and adds more complexity. It requires great thoughtfulness in order to succeed. Both require high integrity and self-calming during self-disclosure. Because I am primarily interested in people developing and growing, I have a personal stake in supporting marriages of either kind, and the people within them.
What Kind Of Marriage?
With any new client, I ask whether both partners are choosing to stay together. Although they might answer “Yes!”, they may also understand the terms of marriage very differently. The real question is not so much whether, but how the couple wants to be married. And that’s the work of therapy.
A Famous Therapist’s Position
Interestingly, one of the most articulate theorists about couples with different agendas and levels of marital commitment is Bill Doherty, Ph.D. He’s a spokesperson for the National Registry of Marriage Friendly Therapists. He has created the term “mixed agenda” couples (with great respect and understanding). The therapy approach that reveals these differences is called “Discernment Therapy” (as in, discerning different partner goals and purposes.)
I agree with the Registry when they advise couples therapists to concentrate their post-graduate professional training. They are concerned that lots of therapy fails because too many therapists lack that training. For that reason, I post my updated training summary here.