Thought for the Day: It is Monday & I have not posted for three days. A friend is here doing work on our house. When I need to help make sure he has all the supplies to complete projects, my writing gets neglected. In the interim, I have also been moved by the outpouring of both tributes and celebrations of the life and work of Nelson Mandela. Ironically, one of his quotes inspired my Wednesday's Words of Wisdom post last week, the day before he died. Therefore, some of my thoughts on miracles in marital therapy today, will include my perception of Mandela's contribution to the psychology of reconciliation. At a later date, I will write about the mourning process in South Africa, since I am fascinated by the cultural differences in our societies. As promised last week, today, I am finishing a three part series on: Psychotherapy: Miracle or Science? (Part 1, Part 2). Although Linda & Henry's therapy is not completed, I'll be reporting the progress & thoughts about the science behind the miraculous moments in their work.
Last week, Linda and Henry left the session laughing and talking in a way I had not seen before the role play. They reported that their week, since the last session, was much better than before. They were speaking more frequently and able to work through rough moments better than in the past. Although Henry has been very busy at work, he has read more of the book and has been trying to apply the techniques he is reading about. Linda, who's life is consumed by caring for a small infant, has not made time to read the book yet, but is appreciating the change in Henry's behavior. She is not convinced that the changes will be permanent. Although she had been going out at night after Henry came home from work, she has been staying home more and spending time with him without it leading to arguments. My biggest concern is that Linda is not totally on board and still is questioning whether things can change enough for their marriage to work.
My job is to help them experience more and more of the miraculous moments in their interactions, so that they can rekindle and strengthen their relationship. Their marriage has been deteriorating since they began to live together. Linda who felt free and liberated before she married, has been feeling trapped and unfulfilled for years. I have made it clear to both of them that she is responsible for making sure she is following her dreams in life. If she feels trapped, she is the only one who can set herself free. Henry must be able to support her efforts, but he cannot do the work for her. I will be meeting with her individually to help her examine why she is feeling so stuck in her life. Reconciling their differences will take time and work on both their parts.
Here's where Nelson Mandela's miraculous reconciliation efforts are informative to me as a therapist. Mandela was oppressed, jailed and tortured as were his people. Fortunately, most married couples do not suffer to that extreme; however, if marriage begins to feel like a prison, they may begin to treat their spouse like a jailer with anger and bitterness. When this occurs, they can learn about reconciliation, as we all can, from Mandela. Other peoples have suffered from similar holocausts and have not been able to reconcile. Many survivors of political oppression remain angry, hateful and bitter. What allowed Mandela to reconcile his differences with his oppressors? After he was freed, he met with many of those who oppressed him and made amends with them. I believe, he discovered a liberating principle which allows for forgiveness without expectations of forgetting, revenge or retribution which led to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings. In these hearings full disclosure of the crimes with the possibility of amnesty led to healing. (Bill Moyer's PBS Series Facing the Truth gives a good introduction to the process).
Although the process can be painful, sharing feelings of discomfort in a marriage may be the prerequisite for the miracle moments that lead to reconciliation and healing of marriage therapy. As a psychologist, I help provide a safe place to air all the issues that have been troubling my clients in their relationships. Without trust, marriage cannot work. Therapy gives them a place where they can be truthful with one another. What do you think? Is psychotherapy a miracle maker or a science or a bit of both?
In subsequent posts I will share other techniques that tend to help people work their miracles in therapy.