• Can You Learn Your Way Out of a Bad Marriage?

    Can You Learn Your Way Out of a Bad Marriage?


    Few things can have a greater impact on your happiness than the quality of your marriage. Yet, children spend more time in school learning about abstract mathematical concepts than about what makes a marriage succeed.


    Marriage education has a long and complicated history, as much of it was directed at reinforcing social or religious norms instead of focusing on instilling practical advice about how to achieve — and maintain — a satisfying and rewarding marriage.


    Northwestern University has, for the past 14 years, offered a marriage education course as part of their curriculum. Marriage 101: Building Loving and Lasting Partnerships focuses on teaching communications skills, conflict resolution and relationship skills. But you may find some of its lessons a bit surprising.


    The course’s premise is that to be a successful life partner, you must first know who you are as an individual — not only your character and strengths, but also your weaknesses and blind spots. Only then, the instructors posit, can you fully understand your partner, see where overlaps and conflicts arise and learn to deal with them effectively and constructively.


    Once students have a sound, objective sense of why they behave the way they do, they’re in a much better position to deal with the inevitable conflicts when they arise. That tincture of self-awareness helps them avoid behaving in ways that trigger defensiveness in their partners.


    The class instructors also teach their students that blaming, oversimplifying and self-victimizing are all common characteristics of unhappy couples and unsuccessful marriages. Rather than viewing conflicts from a zero-sum position where only one partner wins, students undergo a paradigm shift that allows them to see a couple as “two people standing shoulder to shoulder looking together at the problem.”


    All these lessons help students better understand the kind of partner they need to be happy and how to evaluate and invite a compatible future spouse into their lives.


    In addition to reading and classwork, the students are directed to talk to couples who have been successfully married for years or decades, including their own parents. The 90-minute interviews help students to delve deeply into the “secrets” and commonalities of these successful marriages.


    This class is useful for those still searching for a future life partner, but are there some methods that couples who are already in a committed relationship can adapt to help themselves?


    I think there are. Many of the principles taught are also foundational to Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy. But rather than a professor, couples have the assistance of a trained counselor who helps them realize the sources and causes of dissatisfaction in their marriage and offers specific techniques to improve the quality of their interactions.


    Together, the couple and therapist collaborate to uncover the triggers that can negatively impact their relationship, whether it’s preexisting trauma, poor conflict resolution skills or an inability to verbalize emotions.


    With expert guidance, I believe you can often learn your way out of a bad marriage and work together on building the partnership you really want. Even if you can’t enroll at NWU and go to marriage school, there are plenty of resources — including books and counseling — that can help put your relationship on a better path.


    If you need help, call Couples Therapy Orlando at 407-579-2070 for a free phone consultation to see if Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy might be right for you.






    Therapy services available via Telehealth.