One of Us :: Jay Slupesky
1. What are the five most common problems that motivate couples to attend marriage counseling?
Here are the top five, but not in any particular order:
Blended family issues. This occurs most often when one of the spouses has been married before and has kids from that marriage. If the kids are at least 10 or so, there can be trouble between them and the stepparent which then becomes trouble in the marriage.
An Affair. One spouse has been caught or has admitted to cheating. This is devastating, of course, and sometimes ends the marriage. But some couples want to work through it, and so they come to counseling.
Porn addiction. This is becoming a bigger issue due to the easy availability of pornography on the Internet. Some men become addicted to porn. They sometimes can hide it for a while, but eventually the problem surfaces.
Stage-of-life crisis. I see this more often in women than in men, believe it or not. The most common case is that of a woman who was a stay-at-home mom but who has something of an identity crisis when the youngest child leaves home. She frequently makes some significant life changes at this point and may re-evaluate whether or not she wants to stay married.
Communication problems. Many couples don’t know how to express their feelings to each other in a healthy way. At one extreme, they may argue constantly. At the other extreme, both people keep their feelings to themselves. Neither option is good.
2. Is it sometimes obvious to you after a session or two that the couple you’re treating would be better off apart?
Yes. For example, if I find out that the husband is physically abusing his wife or is extremely controlling of her and that he is not willing to try to change, then I think it’s better for the wife to leave him. I spent a year working as an intern counselor at a domestic violence shelter, so I am quite familiar with this pattern of behavior on the man’s part. Sometimes the man will claim that he had ‘no choice’ but to hit his wife because she ‘provoked’ him. Or I might find out that the wife has to let her husband know where she is at all times and that she is not ‘allowed’ to go certain places or see her friends. These are all red flags to me.
3. What problems do you sometimes see that can’t be solved through the counseling process?
Occasionally I will get a couple where one spouse has announced that he/she wants out of the marriage. The other spouse doesn’t want the marriage to end and has convinced the unhappy partner to attend counseling in an attempt to patch things up before agreeing to separation or divorce. Unfortunately, by this time it is usually too late to fix things because the unhappy spouse has been unsatisfied for years and already has one foot out the door. This is a case in which the couple should have begun counseling several years earlier.
4. Do couples have to be married to engage your services?
No. I see unmarried couples as well as married ones. This includes young couples who are planning to be married as well as older couples who have no plans to marry. Although many relationship problems are common to both married and unmarried couples, I have noticed that unmarried couples are more likely to have “trust issues.” They suspect that their partner is cheating on them and so will be spying on them by reading their email, checking their phone, looking at their MySpace page, etc. A lot of times people with trust issues have been cheated on in previous relationships so it’s not hard to understand why they fear that it will happen again.
5. Do you occasionally get couples with very minor problems that can be worked out quickly, but simply need an intermediary?
Yes. A couple may be generally happy and satisfied with their relationship but be stuck on one particular issue. It might be something to do with job choice, a financial decision, or a major decision involving children. When this happens they may come to me for a few sessions just to have an impartial third party engender a healthy discussion and point out options that may not have been considered.
6. Do you find that people are often surprised by what is said by their partners during a counseling session?
Yes, this happens sometimes. For example, sometimes a person will ’save’ an issue for the next counseling session rather than bringing it up at home. This is because he/she feels safer discussing the issue with me in the room; I won’t let the discussion get nasty or out of control.
7. What general advice can you give to couples who want a long, successful partnership?
Try to see things from one another’s points of view. I’ve written about this recently on my blog. It sounds easy, but in fact it’s not easy at all and requires some concentration. If you can put yourself in your spouse’s shoes and feel things as if you were in his/her position, you go a long way toward being able to understand him/her. When both spouses understand each other at this level, conflict goes way down.
The sad fact is that many couples will argue just for the sake of trying to convince each other of who is right and who is wrong. They completely gloss over the hurt feelings that caused the argument to begin in the first place. They should really be talking about the hurt feelings and not who is right and who is wrong.