Brenda and Tom’s 35-year-old marriage is in trouble. Despite their long history together, they’ve been leading increasingly separate lives. Tom is a small town physician who works long hours and when at home, prefers to rejuvenate through solitary activities. Brenda, an independently employed graphic artist who works from home, has considerably more flexibility in her schedule.
For years, Brenda complained that their marriage had not been a priority to Tom. Lonely and hurt much of the time, Brenda believed Tom’s first love was his medical practice. Tom, on the other hand, felt that Brenda simply did not understand the demands of his job which, in addition to his grueling schedule, often drained him emotionally due to the critical life-and-death decisions he was required to make about patients’ lives.
As a result of Brenda and Tom both feeling rejected, misunderstood, under-appreciated and resentful, they fought a great deal about the many issues that arose during their 35 years together. They frequently disagreed about the raising of their 3 sons, their sex life, and how finances were handled.
After a while, it just seemed easier- and safer -to keep their distance from one another. Brenda stopped complaining about feeling disconnected and spent most of her free time with their sons and their families and her girlfriends. Tom continued working long hours and started drinking more in the evenings to “help him relax.”
On Brenda’s 60th birthday, she had an epiphany- time was running short and she no longer wanted to live like this. They were either going to “fix” their marriage, or she wanted out. When Brenda approached Tom with her ultimatum, while he agreed that he, too was unhappy, carving out time to obtain ongoing professional help seemed out of the question. Given Tom’s time commitments, weekly therapy sessions were simply not feasible.
Fortunately, Brenda had done her homework before confronting Tom. Knowing that he might object to taking on additional responsibilities, she learned about an innovative and effective alternative to traditional weekly hourly counseling sessions – multiple-day intensive sessions that quickly get to the root of problems, and focus primarily on finding solutions to long-standing difficulties.
Happily, when Tom heard of a productive and efficient way to spark positive changes in his marriage without months or even years of weekly therapy sessions, he agreed to give it a try.
Problems with weekly 60-minute sessions
As a veteran marriage therapist of nearly 4 decades, I am one of a growing group of professionals who have found that the format of the traditional “60-minute” therapy session to be impractical, even inherently flawed. In the early stages of traditional therapy, people are asked to describe their reasons for seeking professional help. Frequently, many sessions are required for the therapist to obtain sufficient information about the underlying problems before any reparative work can begin. In the meantime, the problems persist, adding to a deepening sense of hopelessness.
Additionally, since discussing profoundly personal subjects can feel daunting, people often procrastinate, waiting until the end of the session to share their innermost thoughts and feelings. Ending sessions abruptly when people are in the throes of emotionally-charged conversations doesn’t bode well for the week ahead.
The 2-day marriage intensive
About 15 years ago, I felt compelled to respond to a need I observed in the on-the-brink couples who frequented my practice. They sincerely wanted help for their fragile marriages, and believed that time was of the essence. In addition to their hectic schedules, they felt that they didn’t have time to waste rehashing the past, repeating their “he says, she says” versions of their marital woes, or replaying their “I’ll change if you change first” mantras yet one more time; they wanted solutions.
As a result, I began offering 2-day intensive sessions. Each day started at 9:00 am and ended around 4 pm with a break for lunch. Instead of spending a great deal of time analyzing what caused their problems, we focused on ways to find and implement solutions. No in-depth history-taking about the impact of childhood influences, no gut-wrenching expression of feelings for the mere sake of “getting it out,” just in-depth explorations about each spouse’s strengths and resources and what they could do differently to bring more joy and connection to their relationships and the lives of their families.
The structure of these sessions stemmed from my work as a member of the team who developed the Solution-Focused Brief Therapy (SFBT) model back in the early 80’s at The Brief Family Therapy Center in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. SFBT is a radically different method for helping people uncover lasting solutions to long-standing problems. It is a goal-oriented approach that emphasizes people’s strengths and resources in lieu of their shortcomings. Rather than focus on the past to understand why people are experiencing problems, it focuses on the future, identifying the specific steps people must take to achieve their goals. SFBT is an evidence-based therapy model that is currently practiced around the world.
In addition to providing SFBT, I observed that countless couples in my practice were often lacking effective relationship skills such as being able to have constructive conversations about heated topics. Whether due to dissimilarities in parenting styles, the levels of sexual desire, or beliefs about finances or how free time should be spent, couples needed tools to overcome their differences. A portion of every 2-day intensive was spent on teaching couples the necessary down-to-earth relationship skills they needed to stop fighting and start healing their marriages.
Furthermore, beyond the generic problems that drove spouses apart, there were crises that jeopardized the very foundation of marriages… such as infidelity. These couples needed step-by-step guidance to manage the crisis and begin to recover. A 2-day intensive offered enough time to provide a crash course to jumpstart the healing process.
Finally, many couples found themselves at crossroads in terms of their levels of commitment to make their marriages work. Often, one spouse was seriously considering divorce and the other was fully committed to working things out. A 2-day intensive offered people the time they needed to explore their feelings in-depth and make the best possible decision for their future and if they had children, the future of their families. When a couple decides to call it quits, the intensive session is geared toward helping the committed spouse accept the decision and discussing strategies for effective co-parenting once the marriage has ended.
At end of the intensive session, couples are given written plans to take home with them in order to follow through with the commitments made over the two days. Also, since follow-up is important, they are offered options to solidify and maintain the changes made during their time together which typically includes phone sessions, future in-person sessions or connecting with qualified local therapists.
The results of the 2-day intensive format have been extremely impressive. Most couples experience major breakthroughs and report that the extended time period allows them to fully address their issues and leave with clarity about their courses of action. Plus, since most couples travel out-of-town to attend the sessions, they receive the additional benefit of taking a break from life’s routines to focus exclusively on their relationships rather than careers and children, and enjoy their adventure to a new place. Plus, for high profile couples or others who prefer anonymity, seeking help away from home can add a layer of comfort.
Two-day intensive sessions are available throughout the United States.
When choosing a therapist, make sure your therapist specializes in this format and is passionate about the merits of the 2-day intensive sessions versus weekly therapy sessions. That’s someone who knows the difference two days can make.