After I graduated from law school, I thought I had all the answers. I was trained to be an adversarial thinker – I mean, just think of any legal case. So-and-So “versus” So-and-So. The “versus” says it all.
When you’re faced with marriage problems, the same kind of adversarial tone can easily set it – you become opposing parties, each of you trying to convince the other that you’re right…or at least, that you’ve done nothing wrong…or if you have, you had a good reason for it. You had a good defense. There were mitigating factors.
If you’re dealing with a spouse who has hurt you through an affair or some other kind of serious wrong, this probably sounds quite familiar. And unfortunately, this kind of adversarial tone can get worse and worse, until you really do find yourself in court—divorce court.
For me, things changed after I began to work in divorce mediation. I saw how this adversarial tone had been cranked up so high that spouses couldn’t even hear each other anymore. And despite how many couples had reported going to couples counseling, things hadn’t changed. The tone hadn’t changed.
Even in the counselor’s office, some clients told me, it felt like a “versus” situation, one full of finger-pointing, accusations and excuses. When it came to marital issues surrounding affairs, there was even a sort of matrimonial perjury, where the unfaithful spouse continued to be dishonest about the affair, sometimes even lying about having ended it.
Eventually, I moved away from divorce mediation. I opened my Marriage SOS practice and began to use my skill set in mediation and conflict resolution to help couples keep their marriages together. Better karma, I suppose.
My practice was successful, but even so, I found it was a constant struggle to prevent my sessions with couples from descending into bitch sessions, with each of them trying to convince me, and each other, that they were right. I then moved into shuttle mediation, where I spoke with them separately, trying to get them on the same page. That worked better.
Eventually, demand for my approach grew enough that I developed my online programs and wrote a number of books, again primarily geared toward the spouse who was more motivated to save the marriage at that point.
Today, my practice is online, and focuses on helping individual spouses navigate their way through their partner’s affair, inappropriate friendship, midlife crisis, challenging behavior or apathy. For a spouse who is facing a marriage crisis, it offers an alternative to couples counseling, or sometimes an adjunct to counseling or another form of personal support. But why do I offer, and why do so many people choose, this one-spouse approach? Well, to put it plainly, because that’s often the only option that’s open to people. If their partner is currently not motivated—they may still be involved with someone else, or just very self-involved—it may be better than doing nothing or just giving up.
Of course, the ideal situation is that an unfaithful spouse becomes completely honest and cooperative, and the couple moves ahead together; however, like most ideal situations in life, it usually doesn’t happen that way. And that’s where my “Fair, but Aware” approach comes in.
Essentially, one of my goals is to provide the motivated spouse with the insights they need to understand and respect their partner’s needs, feelings, and perspectives, as well as their own. That isn’t always easy when someone has hurt or angered you, but it has to be done. It’s must-know information. It’s also the only “fair” way to go about resolving a situation that affects two people, even if it does not affect them equally or in the same way. Even a person who has suffered a larger wrong must be able to understand their role in conflict and the overall marital circumstances or condition.
Ultimately, it’s about the partnership, and it has to work for both people, or there’s no point going through all the trouble of trying to save it. That kind of unbiased balancing act is something that my background in mediation has equipped me to do.
Yet because unfaithful or otherwise uncooperative partners can sometimes be quite manipulative, it is also essential for a spouse to be “aware” of any manipulations. Whether it’s a partner who doesn’t want to end an affair, or who is in the throes of a self-indulgent midlife crisis, some partners will pull out all the stops to keep doing what they’re doing.
Such a partner might not be behaving in manipulative ways to be cruel—they may not even be fully aware of it—but they do it all the same. And unless their baffled and hurt spouse is able to recognize and manage those manipulations, the situation will continue to deteriorate.
And that, at its most basic, is the foundation of my “Fair, but Aware” approach. I do my best to help spouses approach their marriage issues in a way that is reasonable and respectful to both partners, but I also help them identify and manage their partner’s manipulations so they can break free of them and move forward. That is the only way for spouses to be on equal footing in a marriage, for the balance of power to be shared equally and healthily, and for self-determination on the part of both spouses to be possible and respected. That’s an essential part of a romantic partnership that works for both people in it.
Of course, in practice, it isn’t quite this simple. My programs contain hours of uninterrupted audio content, my books are thorough, and one-on-one phone consults can be intense; however, they all put this “Fair, but Aware” approach to good use. For a spouse who is willing to take the time to work through the information provided, to thoughtfully choose what is relevant and helpful to them, and to give those insights and strategies a try, they can prove invaluable.
So if you’re struggling with a marriage problem and are in the position of having to take the initiative at this point to prompt a change, you may wish to explore your options on this site.