The dream of a marriage made in heaven is totally unrealistic…Every man-woman relationship must be worked at, built, rebuilt, and continually refreshed by mutual growth. ~ Carl Rogers in Becoming Partners
Linda: Contained within a marriage is an enormous potential to be a therapeutic partnership. The word therapy comes from the Greek therapon, which means comrades in a common struggle. Comradeship is “the friendship of others with common aims.” When partners have an aim that their partnership is for the purpose of healing, growth, and each other’s personal evolutions toward wholeness, their relationship takes on a unique and dynamic dimension.
For those of us who have participated in therapy with a professional for the purpose of healing and development, realize that therapy works best when we feel safe. The feeling of being protected from danger and injury, that is established in the therapeutic alliance, allows for our deepest feelings to be expressed. The positive regard with which the therapist holds us, allows us to express those tender vulnerable feelings that have been submerged.
Marital partners can co-create the same safe context. A lengthy period of professional training is not necessary to create such a protected environment. What is necessary for a strong alliance is a fierce commitment, on the parts of both partners, to be non-judgmental, caring, and compassionate. These are foundational in allowing opening and learning to take place.
We can move from the old fearful, self-centered, distrusting, stance weighted towards wanting to change our partner and to get our needs met. Instead, we have the choice of re-orienting towards wanting to serve our partner, understand them, and for them to get their needs meet. This generous orientation promotes trust and love to grow. With such a therapeutic alliance, each partner avails themselves of the safe context to contact and express their deepest fears, insecurities, and buried wounds from the past, where they finally can be healed.
The love and care that we were periodically deprived of in our childhood comes into focus. It soon becomes clear that those old wounds are activated to reveal themselves in our present-day partnership during arguments and moments of disappointments. Now, as adults, we can take the time to feel those feelings, name them, and be validated by our partner. We finally get the attention, appreciation, and respect that may have been lacking in childhood.
Our partner is sure to be different from us, different histories, attitudes, ways of processing information, values, and styles of being in the world. Our partner will have strengths we don’t have, just as we will have strengths they don’t have. The differences might threaten, annoy, or even aggravate us at times. But contained inside that irritation, there is a gold mine of opportunity to grow. When we form a therapeutic alliance, rather than the differences being divisive, we learn to use our understanding of them as building blocks for a stronger partnership.
This process works most efficiently when each partner takes a turn in the role of therapist. It’s useful to carefully watch our tendency to stay either in the role of the therapist or client. It’s likely that we will be more comfortable in one role or the other. For the marriage to evolve in the most constructive manner, it’s best that we alternate stepping into each role. That’s when we become proficient in our common struggle to learn from the wounds and traumas of our past. By taking turns being in the role of the therapist, the vision we have of living consistently in an engaged, cooperative, vital, trusting, joy-filled, delightful partnership, over time evolves to finally become reality.