Why wait till things go awry?

Why wait till things go awry?

11 June 2014
Why wait till things go awry?

In the first article in our Strong couple relationships series, Cathy Dixon describes the benefits of marriage and relationship education programs.

This is the first short article in a series of resources being released in June as part of our Focus on… Strong couple relationships.

The couple sit dejected in the counselling room, feeling hurt and sad. They are both good people; they had started their years together with love, a sense of hope and adventure and every intention of remaining with each other “till death us do part”. They are hurting from years of neglect, feelings of rejection, doubts about their self-worth, and loneliness. They look at photos of their children and remember the confused and lost looks they have seen in their faces over the past months.

What can they do? How can professionals help them?

Picture this same couple, 20 years earlier. They are sitting with confidence and optimism about their future together. They know each other well, they know they are well suited; they have shared lots of adventures and are now ready to commit to a lifetime together.

What if they had accessed professional help in the form of Marriage and Relationship Education (MRE) at this stage of their relationship? How could this contribute to a different picture for this couple?

An MRE program provides all couples with the opportunity to look at the strengths and challenges of their relationship. The very fact that they take part in MRE means that they have the experience of viewing and speaking about their relationship together. This common history makes it more likely that they will bring up issues at some later point.

People who have participated in an MRE program and who rated that experience as being positive (and the vast majority do so)2, report after the program that they are more likely to access counselling or another form of support when they are troubled in their relationship as a result of attending the program.

MRE develops an understanding that relationships don’t just happen; they need to be worked on. There are skills that can be learnt and honed that can contribute to building a healthy relationship.

Some of the skills involve paying attention to the little things that contribute to nourishing the friendship at the base of the relationship. This strong friendship acts as a buffer in times of crisis.

The couples learn strategies that help them navigate the inevitable times of conflict between them. They develop the skills to recognise when they fall into destructive patterns of criticism, contempt, defensiveness or shut down. They learn to have those difficult conversations in ways that in fact can deepen their relationship and protect it from loneliness and hurt. In the words of participants reflecting on their experience 6 months after the program:

“I make sure that I don’t walk away from issues, and that we address things that need to be discussed. I acknowledge my mistakes and try to correct them.”

Perhaps this reflection from a previous MRE program participant highlights how valuable this professional help is:

"I realised, possibly the first time, how special our relationship was. I always loved my partner, but had not loved our relationship. The concept of ‘us’ has changed the way I relate to my wife.”

Professional intervention at this stage of a relationship can help to prevent the erosion of goodwill and accumulation of hurt that we saw in the despondent couple in the counselling room.

So why wait till things go awry?

The feature image is by Christian Gonzalez, CC BY 2.0.

2. Based on immediate post program feedback forms and up to 12-month follow up surveys.

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Cathy Dixon

Cathy Dixon is Assistant Manager of the Marriage and Relationship Education Unit, CatholicCare Archdiocese of Melbourne.

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