In the fall, I attended a conference on couples therapy where I heard a speaker wonder if he, as a couples therapist, helped a couple stay together in a relationship that should have ended? It’s a good question. I wonder about that from time to time as well, but I have a hard time thinking of a moment when I would tell a couple that they should do anything. It feels heavy-handed to me.
It’s safe to say, though, that some divorcing couples could have made it, and some married couples could have had happier lives had they separated. To stay together or not is one decision a couple needs to make for themselves.
But I see a part that I need to play in that process. I am part of that group of people who promise to support a couple when they get married. During many weddings, the priest, rabbi, or reverend will tell everyone gathered, “Hey, thanks for coming. Enjoy the party, and don’t forget to help these two when they need it.” Couples don’t exist by themselves, they exist within community. We have to be there for each other. My friends and family are the relationship pit crew for my wife and me as well.
Support does not mean pushing a couple to stay together through abuse, though – never. I always advocate that a couple seek distance from one another when there is abuse, until some (usually) external assistance can be brought in to rectify the problem. But conversely, support also does not mean rubber-stamping a break-up at the first signs of disappointment.
Support means providing validation, comfort, guidance, and loving witness to people who are hurting. Also, it means acting as an encouraging boost to anyone trying to figure out how to live up to the vows they took, to love and cherish. Sometimes, this is simply accomplished by offering a listening ear, or a personal anecdote that might help someone feel less alone in their struggles, or even the (gentle) suggestion to seek professional help. In any case, it generally means opting IN to a view of marriage that has it exist as part of a broader community, and not just between the two married people.
I think it’s tempting, and highly cultural, to see other couples’ marriages as entities entirely on their own – if it’sgood on its own, then it’s a good marriage; and if it struggles on its own, then it’s bad and should probably end. We all struggle somewhat with balancing the desire to help with the desire not to appear meddlesome, or to protect someone’s privacy, and too often we choose not to “butt in” to others’ business. But this sells very short our possibly game-changing ability to provide caring comfort and support to those who may really need it.
Therefore, as an alternative, we can see marriages as they really are, a union of two supported by others. Support can take a marriage with problems and help it still be a life-giving one. I’m never in a position to pass judgment on what relationships should and should not be. I am always in a position, however, to help a couple live up to their vows of loving and cherishing each other.
If you’d like to talk to someone about support for you or your marriage we would be happy to help in any way we can. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or call us directly at (617) 834-4235..