Marriage Therapy versus Couples Therapy
Marriage therapy, in many ways, doesn’t look that different than couples therapy. Married couples and couples in long-term relationships have the same concerns in most regards. We work with plenty of couples in couples therapy who aren’t legally married, but have serious partnerships and want help. However, there are however some distinct differences in marriage therapy.
In Marriage Therapy, Marriage Matters
Marriage matters. People in the marriage see it as significant and people around the marriage (i.e. family, friends, etc.) see it as significant. In the world, we don’t tend to talk about growing up and entering into a long-term relationship or the challenges of partnership–we talk about marriage. There are ideas about marriage as the foundation of society and child procreation and it’s not just conservatives who feel this way.
Marriage, Not Just For Red State Conservatives
Recently, there’s been a ton of talk about marriage mattering less and less. I hear people say, both in and out of therapy, that marriage is silly and it doesn’t mean much anymore. And yet, people are still getting married over and over again.
Part of what accounts for that are legal issues–tax implications, better setup for managing money, having kids, etc. But, there’s also an appeal in being married–meaning, it really does matter to people beyond the structural reasons.
There’s something nice about the idea of being married even while there’s something silly about it. It has the symbolism of commitment and permanence. It means something culturally. We know statistically there’s a strong relationship between successful child outcomes and marriage. Married couples are more financially stable, tend to be happier and have less heart disease. None of this means that it has to matter, that couples have to get married to have these benefits or that any of these given items should be important to any given couple.
The State: The Third Person In Your Marriage
Marriage is a legal partnership with very real legal consequences. Divorce is expensive. In marriage, you have a third person in your relationship: the state. Quite literally, marriage is a contract and the state has rights in that contract. Governments, for a long time, saw the facilitation of marriage as unquestionably in the interest of the state. This adds a good deal of extra pressure and gravity to the relationship.
Marriage Therapy Turns Down The Pressure While Respecting Marriage’s Gravity
Both starting and ending a marriage is a big deal. Marriage has a particular gravity. It has symbolic meaning, as well as material significance. Because of this added gravity, there’s a particular sort of shame in “failing at marriage.”
In marriage therapy, we help investigate what marriage means to the couple. What gravity is being placed on the idea of marriage per se? How does that affect both a previous reluctance to get help versus any added resistance to considering splitting? In some ways, the task of marriage therapy is to turn down some of the pressure on marriage even while respecting the gravity of marriage. Thousands of years of human history can’t just be pushed aside.
Marriage Trouble Doesn’t Have To Be Apocalyptic
Sometimes making a marriage work can feel like serving out a sort of religious mission. Failure can feel so big. Sometimes a sense that “we must make our marriage work at all costs” can get in the way of looking at what’s best for everyone in the marriage.
Part of what married couples need in marriage therapy is help making moments of trouble in marriage more ordinary–two partners making sense of how to be (or not be) together right now. In marriage therapy, we help couples realize it’s okay–they can handle this. Maybe it won’t work, which would be sad and disruptive, but also manageable.
At times, allowing room to consider ending a marriage in marriage therapy is just what’s needed to give the relationship air. What could you be to one another other than husband or wife? Could you survive not being together? Knowing that there are options creates more options.