Good marriage counseling should present to the client opportunities to change. First, it should be the opportunity to look in the mirror and see himself, his strengths, and his weaknesses. No person can change his or her spouse. We can only change ourselves. That, however, isn’t easy to learn, but if you do, it will be because you learned to look in the mirror at yourself. If you are not aware of what needs changing and you have no motivation to change, then things will remain the same no matter how much you dislike our life.
So in most cases, the job of the counselor is to present you with a mirror where you can observe yourself. You may like some of the things you see, but most likely you will also dislike other things you see. This is called insight where you understand that you are being unfair, unreasonable, controlling, impatient, unkind, or uncaring. Since you don’t like what you see, and you want to change. You then ask, “How can I change this?” Now the client is ready to accept strategies that will lead them toward effective change. No change is easy, but all change starts with understanding the need to change, and that starts with the mirror.
The second aspect of good counseling is the opportunity to look through a window. In this window, you see your spouse in a different way than you have before. You see their pain, their frustration, their fear, their anger, their sadness, their anxiety, their joy, or enthusiasm. The window allows you to see what you missed—what’s never been in your view before. What you see helps you to understand your husband or your wife better. You begin to see the positive aspects of your partner that your anger and resentment obscured from your view. You also see your contribution to the negative emotions in your spouse that you dislike so much. The distorted image of the other person slowly begins to focus.
When a couple comes to me for counseling, I evaluate how focused they are on changing each other. Most are obsessed with changing the other. You hear it in their complaints. I know if we are going to make progress, they will have to look in the mirror first. If this happens, then their attitudes change, which begins the process of change for both. Often couples have become accustomed to dysfunctional patterns of communication, avoidance, and conflict. When allowed to look through a window and see their spouse, which they have taken for granted, they are surprised at what they see.
The mirror and the window can only do so much. They can help change the perspective. They can help each person find insight and motivate them to change. They can help clear up the confusion. However, that’s as far as they go. Each person makes a crucial response as to whether they want to change or not. If they persist in blaming their spouse or they allow their hurts to be unforgivable—then no counseling or therapy can help them. The clients have to see where they want to go and determine they are going to make the necessary changes to get there.
It is extremely gratifying for me to see a couple make progress. All the hard work of talking, listening, explaining, and focusing on strategies of change starts to work. Negative emotions give way to positive emotions, and avoidance turns to connection as forgiveness does its work. Walls that have been erected over the years start to come down. The couple that was so far apart and so broken now begins to enjoy each other. They accept what they have rejected and affirm what they criticized. Their mutual enjoyment shines on their faces!