By Glyndora Condon MS MFT LPC
Even with good intent couples can and do chip away at their own marriage. One may be concerned due to their spouse's health and may bring this concern to their spouse. And that spouse may attempt to be mindful of their health as they seek to comfort the other's heart; yet fail to cease the behaviors that are causing concern. Some examples of issues that draw concern over this and other concerns are: Gluttony, Substance use or abuse or other addictive behaviors, Harsh words, Controlling behaviors, Engaging in high risk behaviors, Choice of friends, Too much time invested in other things instead of in the marriage and/or family, and like issues. Some of the above issues are non-negotiable such as: Addiction to substance, porn and/or sexual infidelity, or violence. Any of these are stressful and often place added hardship on the family or budget such as: Hoarding, spending, hobbies, or verbal aggressiveness, defense mechanisms (lying, denying, blaming, projection, reactive formation, and etc...). Many of the issues include the belief and need to control or to change the other spouse. Each of these issues are serious issues and do need to be addressed in an appropriate manner.
Imagine with me please, the spouse who has the complaint rendered to them, who initiates the attempt to resolve the conflict-yet faces relapses and failures on their spouse's side. Their failure adds to their sense of being a failure. The spouse that rendered the complaint feels possible rejection or that their spouse is weak in will power. Both feel rejection as if they are not good enough. Both react negatively. The accused may attempt to rationalize or justify while the accuser attempts to pressure and blame.
If this is a non-negotiable issue then it is strongly advised for both parties to enter into marriage counseling with an adjunct of domestic violence prevention and anger management, or A&D therapy and support. However: Counselors often do not get consulted for help until the marriage is at high risk of divorce and is full of many hurts and pain. Marriages then erode as love and respect are replaced with fear, anxiety, disrespect, hostility, resentfulness, bitterness, and defenses.
For example; during the time that the couple/family are without professional help-the complainant will often use many manipulation tools that then chip away at respect (using labels and negative language that is with the attempt to cause shame and guilt). This then is followed with defense mechanisms (the silence treatment, blame, aggressiveness, and like) as well as, spreading the issue to family, friends, work, or others in order to add pressure. One then isolates, denies sexual needs, nags, threatens, and often will use children to triangulate against the spouse who has not changed their behaviors. One will cut articles and leave them around, constantly keep the issues central to each interaction, refuse to see anything good and valuable in their spouse as one focuses primarily upon the issue. One rationalizes that this is acceptable due to their own pain, distortions of thinking regarding the issues; as they blame and become bitter against the spouse when in fact it is the behavior and/or their own faulty filtering of the issue that is to blame. This rationalization and manipulation is instrumental in the disrespect and negative treatment that now drives the negative attitude that would have to be in place before one could resort to vengeful and hurtful words and/or actions that are rendered to their spouse-while attempting now to control and to coerce behaviors.
Meanwhile the recipient of the complaining, experiences great shame and guilt, becomes most defensive, and manipulative, resorts to more lying and deception, while lowering their self image, and which contributes to fear and hate of their relationship, spouse, and self. With secrets and isolation from this spouse as he or she then busy themselves with work, hobbies, or the targeted behavior that is in question. Then this causes more distrust and more discord with the accusing spouse. The recipient (the accused) often experiences such self loathing that they feel hopeless and helpless which often drives more of the negative behaviors. Sometimes they give up interests of pleasure, time with their spouse, and even could consider suicide. They cannot associate with the family, friends, and like who are now privy to their dysfunction and often hangs with others like them-with the same issues; or will cut off the outside world. Every harsh word cuts deeply as these individuals are swallowed up in the negativity, either owning it or blaming the other spouse. Neither spouse respects the other. Neither spouse feels loved or prioritized. Both feel locked out and not accepted.
When confronting these issues in effort to hold the spouse accountable, then one must be mindful of several factors: One cannot and should not attempt to control or change the other person. One can speak with love and concern as to their own fear or concern and how the behaviors are effecting one. One can speak of possible solutions for the issue and one can set boundaries as to their own needs with a reasonable deadline, and willingness to follow through consistently if the boundary is crossed.
Marriage counselors can assist as to ensuring that the boundaries are reasonable and guide the client(s) in implementing these boundaries-once the underlining motivation is without any distortions or attempt to control each other. The treatment will include (or should) tools that will help both to focus on the positive, identifying the faulty thinking and challenging it; understanding the defense mechanisms and manipulations that are involved, learning how to identify emotion, how to identify triggers, and automatic thoughts, calming tools, increasing communication tools, increasing self image, increasing empowerment, restoring respect for each other, and like issues while addressing the behavior that is center of the initial complaint. This often includes CBT, Solution Focused Therapy, Family Systems Therapy, and other modalities blended to aid in healing. Marriage counseling will need to work with the couple, each individual, and family as a whole when resolving the issues and to help in bonding as individuals confront and affirm their self and as they work as a team to comprehend how to appropriately resolve conflicts amicably.