Another Unnecessary Marriage Death

I knew from the moment it started, it wasn’t going to be a great day.  First, the alarm didn’t go off.  My husband jumps out of bed when he hears our son’s alarm–fifteen minutes after we’re supposed to be up.  My trainer is supposed to be here at 6 am.  That gives me fifteen minutes to make two lunches, one breakfast, my smoothee and get dressed.  With my husband’s help with the lunches, I make it by 6:05.  At 6:20 I figure my trainer isn’t coming but now it’s too late to get to the gym.  Even with that extra ten minutes, I’m still late for my 8 am appointment because I chose the wrong route to work.

I didn’t really even want to show up for that appointment.  I knew it wasn’t going to go well.  You see, my job is to save marriages.  To borrow a phrase from a colleague, I am “psychotically optimistic” about improving any marriage.  Today, one fell through the cracks.

I’m often asked by potential clients what my success rate is for saving marriages.  For the ones where my clients want the marriage and are willing to put their hearts into it, the success rate is about 100 %.  For the ones where there is too much hurt and anger to really tackle the work, it’s about 0 %.  If I can get the clients to hang in for  just a bit as they try some new things, positive change starts to occur and the rate goes up.

After ten years of this work, I’ve learned I am only one part of the puzzle. There have been couples who have succeeded against enormous odds and couples who fell by the wayside.  Each one important and memorable.  As a therapist, I was taught I should be emotionally neutral, not get invested in the success or failure of the relationship.  It’s not a lesson I was able to master but I am usually able to keep my emotions in check.  Not today.

I can’t tell you what was different about this couple.  In fact, I barely knew them–they had only been coming to therapy about a month.  They were an engaging couple with two young children, one in elementary school and the other still in diapers.  No major traumas or severe difficulties had occurred in their lives.  They both had loving, supportive families.  Yet, the marriage was ending.  I’d been here before; too many times for my liking.  I always get sad, but this time I cried.  Not just eyes welling up, but actual tears running down my cheeks.

Maybe it’s the sense of waste.  I hate waste of any kind, but I really hate waste that could be avoided.  The kind of waste that causes real pain to real people.  Two young capable people were embarking on a course of action that would send them and their children through the muck and pain of divorce.  It all seems so unnecessary.  Not the pain my clients are feeling, but the idea that divorce is the only way to end that pain.

Unfortunately, this couple, like many, waited too long to get help.  There were symptoms of trouble along the way, but neither took action.  They continued to act as if nothing was wrong and time would simply resolve any unpleasant issue.  The only thing that results from time passing is we get older, not necessarily wiser or happier.

We have to learn to walk, talk, read,drive a car, play an instrument or a sport, etc.  We believe that if we learn to do our jobs well we will be rewarded with raises and promotions.  Somehow, though, we think that healthy, successful relationships come naturally.  Like physics, there are rules to relationships.  There are people willing to teach those rules to anyone who is interested.  The information is out there to be revealed.

Sharing my clients pain and hopelessness sometimes leaves me feeling like Don Quixote tilting at windmills.  I know it doesn’t always turn out this way.  Just for today, I cried.

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