People who think little of marriage counselling are missing the point. Marriage counselling is more meaningful today than you may imagine. More effective techniques are giving psychologists, clergymen, and others new skills in the art of counselling . If a middle-aged businessman, for instance, finds that stresses on the home front seem to be taking over, he might want to see a qualified man. He'll find no panacea. But he may get some surprising answers.
If you're the hard-driving executive type, it's possible that you may be a candidate for marriage counselling. "Don't be afraid of it," says Harvard psychologist Dr. George Goethals.
In considering this, note at the outset:
Preventive medicine is how some leading specialists describe marriage counselling ; it can dilute problems before they reach the critical stage.
Pre-therapy can be another of its functions; counselling can safely screen out the occasional individual who needs psychotherapy.
Family counselling will involve the problems of teen-agers, as well as the husband and wife; this can be important for many families.
The routine is simple. You go to the counsellor - clergyman, social worker, psychologist, psychiatrist - either alone, at first, or with your wife. You talk out your problems. This unwinding, in itself, relieves built-up tensions and frustrations. You'll gain the objective view of the counsellor, if nothing more.
Usually a series of sessions is needed. The average: weekly sessions running 45 minutes each for three to four months. "Husband-wife grievances have a habit of simmering beneath the surface for years," says the head of a suburban London counselling service. "Then something happens to add pressure - a child leaves home, a parent moves in, a business chance is lost. Counselling can avoid a blow-up."
In most cases the counsellor�s theme is simple: He tries to get the man and his wife talking - to pick up the lost thread of communication. "Or we help them find it for the first time," says the London expert.
Problems taken to counsellors range wide.
Typical is the executive who has "come up the hard way" and can't tolerate his wife's free-spending attitudes and habits. Conversely, there's the man who can't live with his wife's frugality, which may stem from her feelings of insecurity. A skilled counselor will help a couple see their own motivations. The career crisis that many middle-aged men meet is another cause of tension. A man of 45 to 55 will face a major career decision - and may have to accept the fact that his earlier aims were too ambitious. "Facing this adjustment," says a Westchester County (N.Y.) psychiatrist, "can be hard on the husband and hard as hell on his wife and kids."
Obviously, many couples run into marital troubles over sex. For example, at age 45 to 50, say the experts, some executives who battle hard in business will lose a degree of interest in sex, while their wives may have an upswing of interest. "A man, should realize that this low point for him is probably just temporary," says the Westchester adviser. Giving such reassurance is a big part of skilled counselling these days.
The hardest part may be finding your man, says Dr. Morton Miller, former director of special projects at the National Institute of Mental Health. "You have to do some careful looking at credentials." Clergymen do counselling, but generally limit themselves to what one experienced cleric calls "ordinary domestic tensions." The psychologist with limited training may be fine, but only for basic counselling .
The best qualified counsellors - at least, for possible long-term problems - are well-rated psychologists (many, of them PhDs) and psychiatrists. It's a case of careful inquiry, starting with your clergyman, family doctor, local hospital, or a member of the Family Service Association of America.
Reading up: Counselling in Marital Problems, by Richard H. Klenler, is an excellent general review (Williams & Wilkins). Try your public library.
Doing it on your own - facing daily life, that is - may become too much. An executive is foolish to push beyond a certain point without seeking help. A top management man worth his salt will have first-hand knowledge of tension, pressure, and anxiety. The question is, how well does he handle the stress? If he's in his 40s or 50s, and finds that his job and social responsibilities - and his sex life - add up to too much frustration, he might be wise to consider psychiatry.
There are important new trends in psychotherapy:
Sex problems faced by men over 40 are point one - and here there is new information, new understanding that wasn't available a few years ago.
Family... see: Psychiatry