“We just keep repeating our mistakes,” Janell said. “Same stuff, different day.”
Janell and her husband, Robb had flown to Seattle in a “last ditch attempt to save our marriage.” Her discouragement during our opening intensive was palpable.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“We’ve gone to several marriage counselors, talked to our pastor, even went to a weekend marriage conference,” she sighed. “But, when we get home we slip right back into our old ways. It’s really discouraging. Each time it gets harder to talk Robb into working on things.”
I looked at Robb, who nodded in agreement.
“She’s got a point,” Robb said. “We’ve been marriage 17 years, and if we can’t figure it out by now, with all the counseling we’ve had, I doubt you’re going to tell us anything new.”
“Maybe yes, maybe no,” I said, affirming their discouragement. “I have to hand it to you for trying so hard, folks. You should give yourselves credit for reaching out for help. A lot of people won’t go to the trouble you’ve gone to to try to save their marriage.”
“A lot of good it’s done us,” Robb groused.
“Actually, all of your work might have done more good than you think,” I said. “We are going to figure out what you might be missing, trying to add the missing pieces to your picture. Would that interest you?”
“Of course,” Janell said, while Robb nodded.
We spent the next hour talking about all the services they had participated in, noting what had helped and what hadn’t. They had gained more skills than they acknowledged and felt slightly encouraged when I affirmed the hard work they had done.
Yet, in spite of their hard work, they had slipped back into old patterns quickly, creating unhealthy patterns of conflict, poor communication skills and many subtle, but powerful, patterns of disconnection. There was one significant omission, however, that really jumped out at me.
They had failed to create a healing container for their marriage.
I proceeded to explain to Robb and Janell something I’ve explained to countless other couples.
1. Every couple needs a healing container—your professional support team who will encourage and correct you.
This is a relationship with a professional, usually a pastor/professional counselor, who will help to hold them accountable for maintaining the changes they have agreed upon. At The Marriage Recovery Center, we help couples arrive at many new agreements that will bring health to their marriage. We then partner with them to maintain these changes.
2. Your healing container is a place where couples practice the agreed changes, making corrections where necessary.
There are no perfect marriages. Subsequently, couples must be prepared to practice ongoing patterns of growth. And, as we’ve all learned, ‘perfect practice makes perfect,’ not just practice. So, you will always need some kind of supervision and instruction.
Scripture tells us to seek wisdom “For receiving instruction in prudent behavior, doing what is right and just and fair.” (Proverbs 1:3)
3. Your healing container, and the healer, will help avert future problems.
Since none of us are perfect, we must expect problems. We are all ‘in process,’ needing ongoing instruction, encouragement and supervision. If your problems have been significant, you should expect even more need for supervision and encouragement. This is called growth. Only the fool believes they will never need any future correction.
4. Your healing container will help you practice the tools needed for a healthy marriage.
This person will join you and your mate in mastering the skills needed for healthy relating. Together you will discover your weak spots, raw spots and danger spots. You will discover your strengths, particularly important tools and become clear about your path of growth.
5. Your healing container will hold you accountable for change/growth.
There is no coasting in the world of growth. There is no time when you ‘arrive.’ You may cut back on your need for instruction/supervision, but may always need to ‘check in’ to ensure ongoing growth.
Far from being discouraging, admitting a need for a ‘healing container’ acknowledges that healthy relating is a challenge, even for the healthiest couple. Everyone needs someone to ‘check out perceptions,’ bounce ideas off of, receive feedback from and yes, receive confrontation and instruction.
Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my website www.marriagerecoverycenter.com and yourrelationshipdoctor.com. You’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.