Harmony in the relationship between couples is a basic or fundamental need for a healthy family foundation. Children who grow up in a happy family are more likely to develop a better adjusted personality and be happy as adults compared to children who grow up in a disturbed family environment.
Family members, friends and well-wishers are often the first line of people who try to resolve differences between couples. They usually try their best to resolve differences between couples providing advice based on their own experiences, their understanding of the personalities of the couple and societal expectations. However, there are differences in how a professional trained marital therapist addresses relationship issues compared to advice from well-wishers.
The most important fundamental difference is that a marital therapist maintains objectivity or neutrality between the partners. To explain this further, a close family member or a friend or well-wisher knows one or the partner better and may try to look from the emotional angle of one spouse more closely than the other. For example, if they are more closely related to the wife, their emotional closeness may influence how they see the problem and its resolution and objectivity may be lost. This may be a conscious or subconscious influence. With a professional therapist, the neutral or mentor position plays an important role to identify the factors influencing or straining the relationship. There is no biased emotional closeness to either of the spouses.
The next most important difference is that a relative or a close friend has limitations in that they can only provide general counseling as to how to adjust, let go, think for future and forget the past, which will be a momentary solace than a long term solution. A marital therapist is trained to identify specific factors that are influencing or straining the relationship rather than determining who is at fault. These may include, for example, a faulty way of communication, too much over-involvement of a third person, external stress factors, possible culture, lifestyle, socio economic status differences etc. Once the factors are identified, further objective work at finding practical and pragmatic solutions, implementing and evaluating the proposed changes, and further modifications are possible to rebuild the relationship. The neutrality of the therapist helps to reduce a lot of blaming each other and a defensiveness or lack of trust that may arise because one partner feels the other is being favoured. It also compels both partners to work equally towards resolving conflict. While a relative or close friend might help by guiding what is right or wrong, they may end up (even without meaning to) aggravating the problem and creating more conflict by appearing to blame one person more than the other.
An important part of resolving conflict is the ability of the couple to introspect and self-analyze their role in the stress situations and try to change towards a better relationship. Trying to see or blame one partner entirely is an unhealthy concept. For example, if one partner feels completely overwhelmed or helpless by the aggressive nature of the partner, we must understand that the very nature of helplessness exhibited by the person encourages the other partner to show aggression. A healthy balance that involves both partners realizing and working towards change is necessary.
Once a relative or close friend is involved into couple issues of concern, there is a continuous follow up or involvement of the relative over a period of time. This may create a dependence of the couple on advice and suggestions from the relative or friend. A marital therapist, on the other hand, works towards enabling the couple to understand their own stress and emotions and to use the skills acquired during therapy to address any future potential problems. Thus, the therapist enables the couple to independently address their own issues.
The first few years of marriage are usually stressful as partners try to manage and live up to expectations and adjust to differing personalities and life situations. This usually continues till the couple reaches a stage of appreciating the capabilities and strengths of their partners besides accepting limitations. Once children come into the picture, the relationship of the couple may disappear for a number of years as the needs of the child or children take precedence. Unless the couple is aware of the potential for stress and works at solving differences, the stress may affect the relationship.
To summarize, an objective unbiased eye can help identify one’s role in a relationship, suggest potential corrections at the right time, appreciate individual differences, and help look for pragmatic rather than ideal solutions. Well-wishers, although they mean well, may sometimes complicate the developing lack of trust between partners.