Latest update: June 25th, 2012
There are some marital issues that are too sensitive for a couple to handle alone. These issues might include mistrust; lack of marital satisfaction; conflict involving in-laws, friends, siblings, and children; verbal abuse; and so on. When dealing with such problems, the best course is to ask a professional outside party for advice and opinions.
Why You Should Receive Expert Advice
Many people hesitate to receive expert advice because they are unfamiliar with it and feel uncomfortable. But professional advice is helpful and important because relationship experts have studied and dealt with similar or identical situations to yours, and can assist you in seeing your situation from many perspectives with several solutions, of which one or more will best suit you and your marriage.
No matter what your marital trouble may be, always remember these important steps:
- Acknowledge and accept the problem.
- Ask yourself why the problem troubles you.
- Approach your spouse with your thoughts and feelings.
- Talk it out.
- Stay rational.
- Seek an expert’s opinion and advice.
If after evaluating your marriage, you have found unresolved areas of tension, it’s important to try to resolve them before they spill over into the life of your children. Improving your marriage may be the most important thing you can do to help them.
Therapy in Action
A few years ago, a couple, Sarah and Joseph, came to see me about their son, Moshe, 16, who was experiencing extreme difficulty in school. Moshe did not have any serious learning problems. In fact, he was exceptionally bright and capable of succeeding in school. His problem was that he was frequently missing class. Recently he had started leaving school and spending time in an unknown location. Moshe’s parents were naturally concerned for his future.
When I first met Sarah and Joseph, I was immediately struck by how unhappy their marriage seemed to be. Joseph was quiet and reserved, compared to his wife, who was extremely worried about whether everything was all right with her son. When they tried to explain to me why they thought Moshe was in trouble, the discussion always seemed to turn into an argument. Joseph believed that his wife’s inability to nurture their son was the cause of Moshe’s school issues. Sarah, on the other hand, believed that the source of the problem was Joseph’s inability to communicate in a warm way with their son.
Here is a dialogue from one of our sessions:
Daniel Schonbuch (DS): Tell me more about the general atmosphere in the house.
Sarah: Well, our family time is not very enjoyable. I would say that Shabbos meals are the most difficult time of our week. To start with, Joseph doesn’t run a very nice Shabbos meal. He is so tired from work that when Shabbos rolls around, he goes to shul, makes Kiddush, and then totally withdraws into himself.
DS: Is Shabbos that hard for you?
Joseph: Look, it’s not that I don’t care about my family; it’s just that I feel so burnt out after work. When I come home, the kids are always yelling and I just want some peace and quiet. I guess on Shabbos I just need a break.
Sarah: It’s worse than that. You never have time for the kids or for me. When you’re home, you just surf on the Internet, and on Shabbos you read the newspaper. Don’t you realize that Moshe needs to talk to you?
DS: I guess things are hard during Shabbos. What about your own relationship outside of your children? How well do you get along?
Sarah: To be perfectly honest, we don’t have much of a relationship. Joseph isn’t very excited about talking to me and we never go on vacation anymore.
Joseph: That’s not true. Last Pesach we went away to Florida for the first days of Pesach.
Sarah: We barely talked the entire week. I think you enjoyed being with your friends more than you enjoyed being with us.
Joseph: What do you want from me? I tried my best. I can’t stand when everyone is nagging — your parents, the kids, you.
DS: Have you been having trouble relating for some time?
Sarah: Yes. I would say for about the last three years.
DS: Why? What was going on in your lives three years ago?
Sarah: Well, my husband is in computers, and after 9/11 his company started downsizing and he lost his job.
DS: What did you do?
Joseph: I was on unemployment for about four months until I found another job.
DS: Are you happier now?
Joseph: Not really. It’s an average job, and I don’t really enjoy the work I am doing. However, it does pay the bills.
DS: That’s a big burden, having to support your family doing something you don’t enjoy.
Joseph: I wish I could get out of it, but it’s not easy to switch at my age.
I realized that at this point I had found a small opening that perhaps would help us to explore their relationship in connection to their son’s delinquency. Sarah had mentioned that her husband lost his job about three years ago. I wondered if this also had a significant impact on Moshe.
DS: You mentioned before that the problems at work started about three years before. When did Moshe start having trouble in school?
Sarah: About two years ago.
DS: Is it possible that some of the work stress started spilling over into Moshe’s life just after Joseph lost his job?
Sarah: Maybe, but I’m not sure.
DS: Is it possible that the strain on the family became greater after Joseph lost his job, and this is the reason that you also are not getting along so well anymore?
Sarah: It’s possible. Two years ago I started working again, and since then I have been unable to give the kids the kind of attention I used to give them.
During that session, I was able to refocus their energy from solving Moshe’s problem to solving their marital discord. Over the next few sessions, we began exploring the way Relationship Theory could help their marriage. We talked about spending quality time together, understanding each other’s needs, and reducing critical and destructive language.
After six months of working with this family, I began to see changes in the way they related to their son. Moshe began to feel more comfortable in their home and was more willing to give school a try and focus on his studies. In general, Moshe’s family was typical of the families I see with teens-at-risk.
Often some type of emotional imbalance exists in the family and eventually one or more children begin to exhibit signs of distress. When such symptoms of distress crop up, the best approach is to seek out professional advice and find ways to improve the relationship with the teenager.
Resolving conflict between the parents is a positive step that parents can take to help support the emotional growth of their children. A good marital or family counselor will be able to break habitual patterns of triangling, and relieve the emotional distress that may be contributing to a teenager’s at-risk behavior.
First Aid Relationship Tips
- Explore your relationship with your spouse and check for any unresolved issues that may be affecting your teenager.
- Avoid triangling and using your teenager to communicate with your spouse.
- When necessary, seek professional advice on how to improve your marriage.
Next week, part 22 – Managing Money Together
Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, is the Executive Director of Shalom Task Force and author of a “First Aid for Jewish Marriages.” To order a copy, visit www.JewishMarriageSupport.com. For more information about Shalom Task Force, please visit www.shalomtaskforce.org. You can e-mail questions to him at email@example.com.
About the Author: Rabbi Daniel Schonbuch, MA, Marriage and Family Therapy, is an expert in marriage counseling, pre-marital education, and helping teens in crisis with offices in Flatbush, Cedarhurst, and Crown Heights. He is a certified PAIRS instructor, and trained as a Level 1, Emotionally Focused Therapist at the Ackerman Institute for the Family, and is a member of AASECT. He is the author of At Risk – Never Beyond Reach and First Aid For Jewish Marriages. To watch his free videos on marriage and parenting and for appointments visit: www.JewishMarriageSupport.com or call 646-428-4723
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