Increasing Peace In Your Home & Personal Happiness
Utilizing Marriage Counseling

by Dr. Simcha Sheldon

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This article appeared in “Connections” magazine,Israel. December, 5, 2006

Increasing Peace In Your Home (Shalom Bayit) & Personal Happiness Utilizing Marriage Counseling

By Dr. Simcha Sheldon

© 2006 All rights reserved.

Effective marriage counseling can help a couple or individual spouse to relate with more awareness, clarity, accuracy, understanding, compassion, responsibility, partnership, respect, friendship, love, trust, romance, patience, kindness, forgiveness, joy, pleasure, security, hopefulness, satisfaction, peacefulness, optimism, excitement, energy, calm, interest, health, growth, vision, and spirituality. It can be helpful in a variety of situations including: enhancing and strengthening a basically healthy marriage, resolving a particular problem, acquiring a skill, dealing with a crisis, or avoiding divorce.

A skilled marriage counselor can help individuals and couples during the different stages of marriage, by providing support, advice, understanding, appropriate expectations, and problem solving. Counseling is also helpful in the preparation for marriage (to prevent problems).

Marriage is a wonderful opportunity for personal growth – psychologically, emotionally, and spiritually. Many couples enjoy mutual love and respect, patience and understanding, and have the ability, willingness, and even desire to compromise and change, in order to be a better individual, and a better spouse. Yes, many couples have strong, healthy, and rewarding marriages – with happiness, fulfillment, and even fun.

Unfortunately, this is not the norm. A U.S. study found that approximately 50% of couples get divorced, 45% settle for being unhappy, with the remaining 5% taking action to improve their marriage. If you truly know your married friends well, you probably are aware that most couples experience challenges and difficulties in their marriages. Sometimes even those who appear to be “the perfect couple” may even be on the brink of divorce. You would never know, because most people do not want anyone to know about their personal difficulties, they rather maintain “the positive image.”

Why is this so? Many couples lack a basic understanding of, and adequate preparation for this very complex, important, major life change. Often one or both spouses enter their marriage with “unhealthy baggage” which interferes with their ability to cope, adapt, and grow while learning to share their life, logistically and intimately, with another human being who, by definition, is quite different. The consequences can be quite difficult and painful. The situation can continue and deteriorate for years until the couple realizes the depth of the problem or until a marital crisis develops.

In some circles, there is often a lack of emotional preparation for marriage. Often, immature youngsters (and even older adults) enter marriage with very little self-awareness, self-definition, and understanding or experience regarding emotional, physical, and spiritual intimacy. Many newlyweds go directly from being dependent upon their parents to being married, without ever having experienced adult responsibility and individuation.

Often a couple (or individual) seeks marriage counseling when one of the spouses is in great pain because the other has difficulty being connected to his/her feelings, does not know how to express them, or cannot connect deeply enough with his/her spouse’s feelings and emotional needs. Women often feel that their husbands are “simply ’not there’ emotionally,” (sometimes he is not present physically, as well). Husbands often feel misunderstood by their wives. Poor awareness and communication skills can be a marriage breaker.

Sometimes common, perhaps expected, marital issues, which could have been dealt with positively and successfully, turn into “irreconcilable differences,” when too much pain is “swept under the carpet” and not dealt with. Serious problems can be prevented by resolving such issues as poor communication, conflicts relating to extended family, in-laws, and friends, differences in role definitions and expectations of self, husband/father and wife/mother, hurt feelings, incompatible values, and boredom.

Spouses need to know how to resolve conflicts and difficulties that arise from basic differences in styles of communication, personal needs, personal and marital goals and dreams, cultural backgrounds, expressing and receiving love, assertiveness, intimacy, sexuality, spirituality (including, beliefs, values, expectations, practices), social needs, artistic-esthetic-musical-fun tastes, need for space-closeness-privacy-sharing, and in relating to finances.

Raising children can be a source of marital discord and psycho-emotional difficulties for the children. In order to have a peaceful marriage and home and a healthy environment for the children, it is essential for parents to know how to properly deal with their differences regarding parenting including  differences in beliefs, values, and styles, regarding how to influence, motivate, communicate with, inspire, reward, punish, and guide their children, as well as what to permit, forbid, and expect from them.

Severe marital dysfunction can be caused by financial crisis, deep seated psychological or emotional problems, depression, phobias, severe health problems, traumatic experiences, inappropriate anger, sexual dysfunction, addiction, gambling, lack of responsibility, violence, lack of trust, “emotional affairs” with another, and abuse (emotional-psychological-physical-sexual).

Good marriage counseling can help resolve most of the above issues. It can provide a basic understanding of the dynamics of marriage (although they may vary greatly from couple to couple). Spouses can learn how to heal the wounds and pain of negative marital experiences; acquire the necessary skills to be a good spouse; get rid of the “unhealthy baggage”; learn about intimacy; break destructive habits and acquire positive ones.

A skilled marriage counselor can provide the opportunity for wives, husbands, and couples to speak openly and honestly in a safe and comfortable environment; prevent hurtful or abusive actions and reactions; model positive modes of communication; build good will, trust, and hope between the couple; help husbands and wives to deeply and clearly understand each other; help the couple to understand the dynamics of the marriage; provide each spouse with the opportunity for private and confidential consultation, in which each is free and safe to express what would be difficult or destructive to express in a co-joint session; give each spouse and the couple the emotional support necessary; and most importantly, provide practical and effective guidance as to what can be done at home in order to improve the marriage.

It is important that the marriage counselor understands the individual’s and the couple’s psycho-dynamics, identifies the actual problems (oftentimes therapists work on the wrong issues), builds positive experiences; and avoids allowing the counseling experience to highlight or reinforce negative thoughts, feelings, or behaviors. Simply, bad counseling can cause damage, but good counseling can bring about wonderful changes for each spouse and for the marriage and family.

In our culture, both spouses usually have many responsibilities, pressures, and lack the time needed to nurture one’s marriage, as well as their relationships with children, other family members, and friends. Most families have very little quality time to simply relate on any kind of deep, meaningful, emotional level. The consequences are well known. Family relationships must be given priority in order to be healthy and rewarding.

Marriage counseling can increase intimacy as each spouse acquires a deep level of awareness and understanding for the self and the other; learns how to communicate more effectively, and resolve conflicts; identifies the real problems that need solutions; learns how to deal with emotions healthfully; receives guidance regarding parenting; learns how to relate more effectively with daily issues, such as finances, responsibilities, time management; and gains insights about creating a beautiful, holy, fulfilling relationship.

Some marriage counselors also have the training and the ability to help a spouse deal with and resolve deep personal psycho-emotional issues that are interfering with the marriage. Work with someone who is both an experienced marriage, family, and child counselor, and a clinical psychologist, who can help the couple, as well as the individual spouses in an integrative way that supports the marriage and the individuals. Be careful not to receive treatment from a variety of sources, for they may not be working in harmony towards the same goals. Please note that in Israel there is no license to do marriage counseling (there is a private agudah). Work with someone who is properly trained and experienced.

One might say, the fact that man had to be commanded: “a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh”  indicates that marriage is not something that comes “naturally” to a man, and therefore, it is understandable that he may need even more preparation than his wife (although this is not always the case).

Creating and maintaining a good marriage is as much an art as a science; a good guide is certainly helpful. Early detection of problems and proper intervention are important. The right marriage counselor can help a couple in the fulfillment of the marital prayer – may Hashem bless the beloved friends (of marriage) with the joy that Hashem gave His creations in Gan Eden.

Dr. Simcha Sheldon is a U.S. Licensed & Israeli Certified Marriage, Family, and Child Therapist, an Israeli licensed Clinical Psychologist, Medical Psychologist, and Hypnotherapist, and Clinical Member of the Israeli Society for Sexual Medicine, Israel Medical Association. Dr. Sheldon practices in Hashmonaim and Modiin (08-976-1056). © 2006 All rights reserved.


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