The writers of fairy tales often end their stories with the words, “and they lived happily ever after,” because the truth can be daunting—at that point the hard work is just beginning.
As the adventure of romance evolves into commitment, a new adventure begins complete with changing circumstances, changing bodies, and more. When problems arise, communication breaks down, and tension builds, it can seem your only options are suffer or separate.
Before things get too dire, consider this advice from two local experts on marriage and relationships.
Timothy McCarthy, PhD, LP and LMFT, (952.937.0866) says that while our culture places a lot of emphasis on building skills and knowledge to be competent in the economic sphere, people commonly enter lifelong relationships having given little thought on what it takes to make that work.
“We tend to have overly simplistic ideas about marriage: ‘you fall in love, you live happily ever after, if you aren’t happy you get divorced or have an affair,’” he says. “To look at marriage realistically, we need to understand that everyone is imperfect and there are going to be issues and patterns that get in the way of being unselfish, loving people.”
McCarthy suggests when both partners commit to a goal of becoming the best marriage partner possible, their marriage can be transformed. “A loving partner desires to examine what their own negative patterns are and commits to a growth process to change them. Once that happens, there is less defensiveness as partners learn to communicate their needs in a very clear and specific way.”
Reframing the idea of marriage, taking ownership for their own negative patterns and mutually committing to altruistic, or unselfish love are important elements in McCarthy’s unique approach, which he calls “co-coaching.”
McCarthy is in the process of writing a book on his approach, entitled Co-Coach Yourselves to a Fabulous Relationship!. He has been a marriage therapist for over twenty-five years and practices in Eden Prairie. He also does coaching for business leaders and sales professionals.
Karen K. Hasse, PhD, LP and LMFT, (952.934.9175) says that it is natural for people to change over time, and it is important that couples continue to try to get to know each other as this happens. “Drifting apart can be the natural course of a long term relationship unless intimacy is the focus and is worked on over the course of the marriage,” she says.
Hasse, who practices in Chanhassen and has been a licensed marriage and family therapist for 22 years, says that marriage therapy at its best focuses on a couple’s strengths, as opposed to uncovering all the bad stuff. She emphasizes the importance of self-responsibility and learning each other’s processes in good times and in bad.
Although many people would consider conflict to be divisive and undesirable, Hasse says that facing conflict together while being respectful builds intimacy. “There is natural inclination to either give up or avoid conflict which doesn’t leave that person in a good place long term. Facing conflict with each other restores a sense of aliveness in a relationship. I work with many couples to help them tolerate conflict and use that productively. This is incredibly important because there will be conflict.”
Hasse advises that while partners don’t have to be full of hope to find success in therapy, couples don’t have to wait until both parties agree they are in crisis to gain something. “It can be a supportive, educational process; it can help them feel understood and identify what is important to them.”
Most health insurance plans cover marital counseling. When seeking a therapist look for the letters LMFT after the name, which denotes the professional received specialized training in marriage and family dynamics.
To find out more about Dr. McCarthy, Dr. Hasse or other licensed local therapists, go online where you will be able to search for professionals by city or last name.