What is the therapist’s responsibility? I can tell immediately when couples come in for therapy if one partner has one foot out the door and the other is grasping by fingertips to keep the relationship alive. What does a therapist do when one partner makes an appointment stating that he or she is involved with someone else, wants to leave the current relationship but promised to go to therapy? Is it the therapist’s responsibility to ty to glue together a cracked marriage or relationship? Go through a session or two knowing that one person is lying just to keep the peace and hopefully escape unscathed in the aftermath?
The traditional marriage vows evolved from The Book of Common Prayer, written by Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury in 1540. It was there he added the phrase that shakes fear into many, “’till death us depart.” The phrase was amended in 1662 to read “’till death do us part.” But it is important to take note that the average lifespan in those years was 35. Yes, people married at an earlier age, but they died long before their silver anniversary.
When we look at relationships today that last 30,40 50 years and more, that is now becoming the anomaly. According to the American Psychological Association, between 40-50% of those who marry get divorced. That does not count those couples who stay married because they cannot afford to get divorced and manage two households, or couples who never married, had long-term relationships and then separated. Since 1990, the divorce rate for those over the age of 50 has nearly doubled. The U. S. Census Bureau states that 41% of first marriages end in divorce. 60% of second marriages end in divorce. And 73% of third marriages end in divorce proving that the third time is not the charm. The average length of a marriage that ends in divorce is 8 years. Relationships often have a shelf-life. After a period of time, people tire of one another, look for other romances, other lifestyles, other adventures, or just solitary peace.
So back to the professional justification for trying to manage couples’ therapy when one person has one foot out the door. I, for one, will not ever attempt to become the catalyst for marital superglue. There is nothing more upsetting than a couple staying together “because they made a vow” (with apologies to all highly religious believers). I also do not preach that people should stay together for the sake of the children. Children are resilient. Couples need to spend more time learning how to be good co-parents than they spent trying to be partners. They need to be honest with one another and not attempt to live a lie.
So rather than banging my head against the therapeutic couch, it is of way more value to help couples voice their truths and find a comfortable path for a trial separation or a permanent break. And of course, if there is that slight opening in the door for reconciliation, find out just how real that is. But both feet have to be planted on the floor for that to happen.