In our last posting we looked at how counselors who are not trained in working with couples or families can get overwhelmed when there is more than one other person in the counseling room with them. What they typically do then is refer one of the spouses to another therapist for individual counseling, and continue to work with the one spouse in individual counseling. The work that needed to be done in the marriage relationship is now postponed.
A second type of counselor that can be dangerous to your marriage is one who is “neutral” about marriage and divorce. The counselor looks at what the benefits are of staying together as opposed to the benefits of getting a divorce. They never think how that might be undermining the vows the couple made before God, their family, and their friends. It is not a neutral stance–it is undermining the marriage.
An example that illustrates this would go like this: I have a bias in favor of marriages being repaired and improved. I am very up-front about my position. If you ask me how committed I am to our marriage, I will say 100% committed. Now someone who hears that may point out that my position is not neutral. And I would say that that is true.
Now imagine that you ask someone else how committed they are to their marriage, and they say they are “50-50”–they are ambivalent and they don’t know where they stand. Technically we could say they are being neutral about their marriage. But what would we say the chances are that they will stay married? 50-50? Can you see how that so-called “neutral” position is really not neutral–it is really a stance that is the beginning of undermining the marriage stability.
My bias towards repairing and strengthening a marriage does not mean that no matter what, I will press and pressure them to stay married. I often say, “I don’t go home to their problems, so what they do as a result of the counseling is not mine to call–it’s in their hands. But I am committed to doing everything I can to support the possibility that a couple can repair and improve their marriage. I want to give hope, for when we hope for something, that may really be the beginning of change.
There is one way the counselor must be neutral, and that is that I can never take the position of siding with one partner against the other. A counselor may do that temporarily in a session, but over the course of counseling, he or she must end each session in a neutral position between the spouses. If you look back at my posting on triangular relationships, you will see why the counselor must avoid being triangled in –thus siding with one against the other.
In Part 3, we’ll look at two more marriage counseling concerns.
How do you see the question of neutrality in marriage counseling? Does staying neutral between the spouses make sense to you?