I love baseball. I’m so glad that professional sports are back on, giving us something to distract from this pandemic. One thing came to mind while watching my hometown Astros. If a professional baseball player hits a career .333, he’s in the hall of fame. If a marriage counselor used that statistic he or she would be out of business. I have yet to see what the statistics are for a successful divorce attorney. A completely nonrandom poll asking colleagues educated me that most divorce attorneys settle well over 90% out of court. I wish 90% of my marriage counseling couples had that success rate but sadly I would guess the “success rate” is closer to Carlos Correa’s batting average.
Marriage counseling can be a challenging profession. Couples often see counselors when the problems have reached a crescendo and they have exhausted all options they can consider. Some couples enter counseling with the hope of progress while others hope for a decision on which way to go. Many couples attend marriage counseling for the first time after the destruction and carnage is so intense, coming back is a lost probability. I love hearing couples say, “We just don’t know what else to do.” That tells me they are willing to listen to fresh options. The contrasting opposite would be, “He/she just needs to…” That tells me I’m going to need a couple sessions to put out fires before the healing can begin.
Being a divorce mediator, Collaborative Divorce Neutral and marriage counselor has placed me in difficult scenarios as well. Some have japed, “I guess you have your bases covered.” This is far from the truth. Ethically, a therapist cannot switch hats from marriage counselor to divorce mediator. Also, the roles are completely different. As a therapist I focus on healing, developing healthy communication and conflict resolution. As a divorce mediator I focus on peaceful conflict management and clear, direct communication. Yes, there is a difference between conflict resolution and conflict management. Mediators facilitate communication between two or more opposing parties, attempting to find enough common ground to formulate a settlement that is acceptable for the parties to continue on in business or life.
Over the years I have changed my definition of what a “successful” marriage counselor is and is not. Each couple presents unique challenges. I attempt to clarify my objectives during each session, allowing the clients to identify their personal expectations for the therapeutic process and project the desired outcome. Success could mean processing a painful event or behavior that brought about disenfranchisement in the marriage such as substance abuse or infidelity. Or it could mean a party finally feels safe enough to explore deeply seeded emotions or specifically, resentments within the context of marriage. It could also mean finding balance, coming to understand mutually exclusive roles in family and marriage or understanding how individualistic roles overlap and complement each other. Balance and safety is the key. Healthy communication opens up the possibility of a couple finding peace in moving forward. That peace may mean moving apart. Couples do mature away from each other, finding a marriage hollow or lifeless. They can choose to heal the brokenness or break the marriage covenant and divorce. Divorce brings its own sense of peace; eventually, but probably not quickly.
Whether or not the couple decides to stay together does not define successful marriage counseling. A greater success could materialize when a subservient wife finally breaks free from a controlling husband. Or a husband finally accepts that he is not committed to his wife and gravitates toward closure of the marital relationship. That brings me back to divorce mediation and Collaborative Divorce. Successful divorce mediation could mean a settlement, obviously, but also peace and closure on a marital partnership so that each can move forward with life. Transformative mediation promotes a healthy break, one with dignity and opportunity. An opportunity to leave the marriage with minimal pain and damage. Transformative mediation provides an opportunity for parents following the divorce to co-parent children in the least contemptuous state, allowing children to mature and appreciate each parent, respectively. As a Collaborative Divorce Neutral, I bring all these principles together.
Success in one’s profession is idiosyncratic. Over my career I have come to redefine what success means and I challenge each of us to continue to grow as professionals so we can evolve and develop into better people and practitioners.