My husband and I recently attended a couples retreat to work on some rough spots in our marriage. Yes people – marriage therapists don’t have perfect marriages! We are human just like you. It was humbling and difficult. While I have no delusions that I am a perfect partner or in a flawless marriage, I do sometimes find it difficult to ask for help when I am the professional that others go to for help.
Many of us marriage and relationship therapists feel embarrassment or even shame for not being able to fix our problems or resolve relationship issues on our own; thinking “If I can’t fix my own problems who the hell do I think I am getting paid to help others?”
At the marriage retreat what I found most humbling was surprising but not surprising. I see it every day in my therapy office; whether my couples are struggling with sexual desire, sexual dysfunction, communication, or rebuilding trust. What I found most humbling personally was struggling to empathize with my partner. As a Sex and Relationship Therapist this is my strength. Dammit – I am great at empathizing – I pride myself in this. That is one of the qualities that make me a good therapist. So to see myself in a battle between empathizing with my partner and being right was almost a surreal experience. I see this all the time with my couples but getting caught up in this myself was disappointing. Now don’t get me wrong – I knew this about myself before the retreat. What I hadn’t realized was how difficult it is for me to change it when I know it’s the solution.
I often tell my couples that empathizing with their partner is often one of the first steps towards change – AND essential for working through difficult relationship issues.
I see couples struggle with empathy towards their partners every day in my therapy office. Couples seeking to understand their partners or to be understood by their partners but getting stuck because one or both of them needs to be right. Years ago, before I became a Sex and Relationship Therapist, I heard a therapist do a talk entitled “You can be right or you can be married.” I agree. Successful, happy relationships and marriages make space for feelings over righteousness. As you can see this concept has stayed with me and yet it continues to be a challenge for me. So boy do I empathize (smile). My marriage is a work in progress just like everybody elses – I can be right about that ;-).
Now – quit trying to be right and go have sex!