CHARLIE: At its best, psychotherapy creates a warm and understanding relationship through which we face ourselves and our feelings honestly in a way that allows us to heal from past wounds and accept ourselves as we are.
It is the therapist’s very being, rather than her philosophy or orientation, that promotes this process. The best therapists are not distinguished by their degrees or credentials, but by their ability to extend themselves into their clients’ world non-judgmentally with openness, honesty, empathy, and compassion. These qualities usually aren’t learned in grad school but rather are cultivated through conscious choice, life experience, and committed practice.
Although marriage doesn’t require you to take on the role of a therapist, it tends to thrive when both partners develop the personal qualities of a good therapist. While few of us come into a relationship with these attributes fully developed, the cauldron of committed partnership provides the context through which we can cultivate and enrich these aspects of ourselves.
Linda’s commitment to becoming a more loving person has helped me to accept myself in ways that I could not have accomplished on my own. Her willingness to view me (not always, but frequently) through eyes of compassion and acceptance eventually overrode my deeply embedded negative self-judgments. Over time, I came to see myself through her eyes and was able to find forgiveness for my perceived deficiencies, and acceptance of my “imperfections.” This has allowed me to experience genuine self-love for the first time in my adult life.
Linda’s capacity to lovingly extend herself grew over time and with practice. And as it did, I became increasingly more able to return her gift and help her to transform her own self-perception in a similar way. While marriage cannot be a substitute for counseling or therapy, which may at times be a necessary adjunct to healthy living, Linda and I are living proof that it can promote the process of becoming emotionally mature in profound and powerful ways. Like so many other things in life, it’s not about what you’ve got, it’s about what you do with it!