How Group Therapy Can Help Heal Your Marriage
Written By: Mark Smith
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Heather had already contacted an attorney by the time she and Michael sat before me for their first appointment together in June of 2002. They said that their coming to me represented a last ditch, 11th hour effort to salvage their broken marriage. Neither of them seemed to have much faith in the possibility of my guiding them toward some sort of miraculous reconciliation, but on the advice of a friend they decided to try. I knew that I really had my work cut out for me.
The issues were as follows: Heather had lost respect for Michael; she saw him as a weak and needy man who was too passive with the kids and too emotionally and sexually needy with her. Michael had a real jealous streak in him and Heather had come to resent his controlling and untrusting monitoring of every activity. Michael indicated in the first session that he often felt like a bad little boy with Heather as she constantly scolded, criticized and attempted to control him in almost everything related to their daily family life. Michael would fit the description I gave of a sickeningly needy Counterdependent in my article "The Flavors of Counterdependency/Codependency." I think that I actually had Michael in mind when I wrote "His mother and/or father abandoned him as a child and he is famished for love, touch, affection, praise, acceptance, connection and sex. He generally focuses all of his primitive neediness on his significant other, not unlike how a duckling imprints on momma duck during the first moments after hatching. He is clingy, victimy, whiney, smothering, demanding and insanely jealous." Michael would get defensive and emotionally reactive as Heather browbeat him with her perception of his many failures. Communication had ground to a halt. They had spent over a year in marital therapy with another therapist and it had not accomplished much. They both seemed to be teachable though, so we plunged ahead.
Michael needed work in a lot of areas. He needed insight into his main childhood issue of abandonment and how it made him excessively needy and therefore powerless with Heather. He needed to learn about his issues with "shame" or over-sensitivity to criticism coming from Heather and how it tended to make him reactive with his anger. This resulted in Heather losing even more respect for Michael because with his emotionally reactive responses he tended to lose further credibility. Michael needed objectivity, insight, emotional healing, support and a place where he could safely develop some assertiveness skills.
Likewise, Heather needed some work. She tended to get judgmental and critical with people who were not as organized or strong as she was. Heather tended to be a rescuer of the underdogs of the world and she rarely showed much in the way of her own emotional pain. She had always been the over responsible kid who resented that others could actually get away with their imperfections. Heather needed to learn how to be more accepting, more vulnerable, less rescuing, and much more in touch with her own feelings.
About a month after we first met, I wrote a powerful prescription for both Michael and Heather that would help each of them in all of the areas of growth that I just listed. It wasn't a prescription for a medication; it was a prescription for the strongest medicine that Family Tree or any other therapy practice has to offer-Group Therapy. While Michael wasn't thrilled about being sent off to group therapy, if it was a choice between group or divorce, then Michael was determined to go to group and learn something if he could. Jump ahead to November of 2003. Michael and Heather are before me for the first time in six weeks due to their schedules getting jumbled up by having just moved back in together under one roof. The contrast between the Michael of a year and a half ago and the Michael of today was really stunning. This guy had been paying attention! He was not defensive in the least bit. He had strong opinions that he lobbied assertively for with Heather. He did not feel overly needy or weak. He had been lifting some heavy emotional weights on a weekly basis down at the emotional health gym-his group. When I asked Heather if she respected her husband, she said without hesitation that she respected him more now than ever before.
Heather also got a great deal out of her group experience. She learned to see some shades of gray between her previous black and white worldview. She learned how to give up some control. She became aware of her rescuing addiction and worked to empathize without losing herself in her attempt to help others. She learned how to share responsibilities rather than always playing the controlling martyr. She became a better mother and a much more pleasant wife.
Michael and Heather are not done quite yet. You certainly cannot re-make people in a year and a half. They still need to flesh out this whole living under one roof as a healthier couple thing. They both still attend their groups on a weekly basis and they will be doing so for some time. That isn't a hardship because now they both absolutely love going. It is the safest and the most supportive place for them to go for insight, support, friendship, caring, laughter and a sense of community. They are so thankful that a friend sent them to a place where they could gain the skills they needed to develop a mature, equal and interdependent relationship.
What is the condition of your marriage? What areas do you and your spouse need to work on? We can help more than you can imagine, but only if you are willing to do what it takes to take the prescription of weekly group therapy sessions. Not only will you gain the skills needed to rebuild a new and much healthier relationship, you will actually enjoy it a great deal.
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