Term Paper: Marital Counseling

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Conflicts in Marital Counseling

Although conflict constitutes "an inevitable, natural process in important romantic relationships and can contribute positively to the relationship's creation and stability," when a husband and a wife do not resolve conflicting issues, frustration, disaffection, and dissolution frequently result. (Peterson, 1983; Wood & Duck, 1995, Duck, 1988; Bray & Jouriles, 1995; Kayser, 1993; cited by Pistole & Arricale, 2003) "The inability to manage conflict effectively (e.g., to reach satisfactory resolution) harms the relationship." (Gottman, 1994a; Gottman & Levenson, 1992; cited by Pistole & Arricale, 2003)

To Change or Not to Change?

Specific concerns that may regularly be raised in a marital counseling setting, research suggests, evolve from two sorts of issues that may have ultimately lead the husband and wife to seek marital counseling. Sixty percent of marital issues fall into the category of things that "cannot" be changed, Reverend Ken Potts, a pastoral counselor and marriage and family therapist with Samaritan Interfaith Counseling Centers, Naperville and Downers Grove, also author of the book: Take One a Day. The "cannot" change category relates to things a person cannot really change that much. Only about 40% of marital issues, Potts concludes, constitute ones husbands and wives have the chance to actually resolve. Consequently, one of the most important things a husband/wife needs to do in his/her marriage is to identify that 60%, the two categories that include:

Issues which arise from things one cannot change, and Issues evolving from things one can change. ("Got Perennial Marital Conflicts? Learn What Can Be Changed," 2004, p. 3)

When a person does not or cannot accept the difference between what he/she can and/or cannot changes, Potts contends, and if he/she does not correctly sort out issues he/she faces into the "cannot" and "can" categories, he/she may seriously damage his/her marriage. Some things are so grounded in each person; in his/her basic personality they cannot be changed. Potts points out a number of these issues in the following questions he uses in martial counseling to remind husbands and wives, a person may have to ability to adapt some in these areas, but not totally. Basically, these categories depict some that one cannot easily change:

Is the husband/wife naturally an ordered and structured individual or more laid back and casual?

Does he/she view the world through a more rational or emotional lens?

Is he/she an intuitive, big picture person; or is he/she a nuts and bolts, detail type?

Is he a highly social person who obtains energized by being with others, or is he/she more quiet and reserved and need regular alone time to recharge his/her batteries?

What level of sexual frequency does he/she prefer? What is his/her preferred love-making style?

Does he/she enjoy a high level of activity in his/her day or do he/she need a more reserved pace?

Not So Easy to Change Issues

The second category of issues, evolving more from a person's upbringing and choices he/she makes, albeit, represents ones an individual can change.

How does he/she celebrate holidays?

What are his/her favorite foods and restaurants?

What does he/she believe to be the best way to discipline children?

What roles do drugs and alcohol play in his/her life?

How does he/she spend and/or invest his/her money?

How does he/she resolve or attempt to avoid conflict?

Not only is it vital for individuals in a marriage to identify issues that cannot and can be changed, Potts states, it is also crucial to remember that just because a person can change in a particular area does not mean he/she will be willing to change. The negative effects of conflict damage to relationships, such as complaining and criticizing, may lead to contempt, which may lead to defensiveness, and which may lead to listener withdrawal from interaction or stonewalling. (Pistole & Arricale, 2003)

When conflict and/or concerns in a marriage or other relationship are not resolved, a "global negative view of the entire relationship: its history, meaning, and philosophy" (Gottman, 1993, p. 65; cited by Pistole & Arricale, 2003), "distress-maintaining cognitions (e.g., hurt and righteous indignation or hurt and perceived attack) become stable negative attributions or interpretations of the partners' behavior." (Pistole & Arricale, 2003) Consequently, unless a husband and wife resolve their conflicts/issue, the combination of a global negative view of the relationship and distress-maintaining cognitions "generalizes to and cascades the relationship to thoughts of separation and dissolution." (Pistole & Arricale, 2003)

Better or Worse?

The newspaper subtitle: "Marital counseling may only make things worse," completely contradicted the meaning of the article entitled: Most Couples Counseling Does Work. Contrary to the subtitle, "the main thrust of the article was that couples therapy is complex, specialized work that requires skills in empirically validated, effective approaches." ("Most Couples Counseling Does," 2005, p. A11) This paper examines a number of those skills and approaches.

Experts have traditionally advocated two extensive positions regarding the nature of helping services for persons from various populations. "One position, grounded primarily in person-centered approaches, essentially holds that 'helping is helping.' (Loesch & Burch-Ragan, 2003, p. 327)

The following depicts a sample of contemporary marital counseling from TV, facilitated by "Dr. Phil"

Healing starts from within.

Part of the problem in many relationships is that neither partner is willing to take ownership of their mistakes. Dr. Phil tells Chris and Stacy, "If you're going to heal a relationship in a family, it starts with you." He advises the couple to be introspective, and face the personal barriers that have prevented them from moving their marriage forward. Ask yourself: How do you contribute to or contaminate your relationship?

Face your control issues.

Dr. Phil tells Stacy that she damages her relationship with Chris because she feels the need to maintain a "death grip" on her marriage. He observed that her control issues stem from a need to protect herself so that she doesn't get hurt. "At times, that goes so far as, 'Get them before they get me,'" he explains. "Trust in others has so much to do with how much confidence and trust we have in ourselves." Often this includes letting go of the need for hypervigilance, and getting real about our fears.

Give yourself credit.

We've all had to deal with those negative inner voices that tell us we're not good enough, we'll never be loved or we're not entitled to happiness. He advised Stacy to stop doubting herself, and stay plugged into the positive things she has achieved in her marriage. Despite everything that she's been through in her life, Dr. Phil tells Stacy, "You need to give yourself credit for saying, 'I'm still here.'" Silencing those inner demons requires a change in your perspective.

Understand your history.

Many relationships are sabotaged when a partner brings in emotional baggage from past disappointments. In Stacy's case, Dr. Phil discovered that some of her trust issues stemmed from not having had a good relationship with her mother. "Everybody has a way of being in the world," he tells Stacy. "Yours is that you don't trust anybody." Recognize that personal barriers from the past may keep you from plugging in to your relationship.

Behave your way to success.

There's a thin line between 'fake it 'til you make it,' and behaving your way to success," Dr. Phil points out. If you want confidence, you have to take on a confident posture. This can be as simple as putting more confidence in your walk and in your demeanor. If your issue is trust, put yourself in situations where you have to behave in a trusting manner. Real change comes from within.

What's your approach?

Dr. Phil reminds us that attitude is all about how you approach things in life. He asks, "Are you being open-minded? Are you considering the things that you may avoid out of fear?" He urges Stacy to take a different approach to communicating with her husband. Instead of yelling at her husband or testing him, Dr. Phil advises Stacy to give herself and her husband credit for their commitment to making the relationship work. (McGraw, 2008, 145)

Divergent and Competing Theories

Biblical counseling, also known nouthetic counseling (from the Greek word for "admonish" or "instruct"), reportedly originates from the work of Jay Adams, a mid-20th-century pastor.

In "Psychology and Christianity: Four Views," Eric Johnson and Stanton Jones contend Adams' book, Competent to Counsel, to be reportedly, severely criticize psychiatry and psychotherapy. The National Association of Nouthetic Counselors and the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation, which Adams founded in 1968, nevertheless, support Biblical counseling. Wayne Oates, a pioneer in the movement to integrate secular psychology with theology, wrote 57 books, includingThe Christian Pastor, which shaped the pastoral counseling field. Wade Rowatt, one of Oates's students states, Oates led counselors to become informed about "...understanding persons through personality theory, and understanding families through family systems theory, and understanding groups of people, understanding society, and then integrate [these understandings] with sound biblical theological scholarship in constructing a theory for the pastoral shepherding of persons." Others, such as Russell Moore, dean of Southern's… [END OF PREVIEW]

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