Couples Therapy Novel: “Listen to the Marriage”

John Jay Osborn, a seasoned writer who’s experienced four years of couples therapy himself, has new fiction out called Listen to the Marriage: A Novel. The only three characters: therapist Sandy and her 30-something clients Steve and Gretchen, a recently separated pair who address their issues, including infidelity, over the course of nine or ten months.

The point of view? The therapist’s. So, what kind of messages might be gleaned about marriage from reading this novel?

  • Publishers Weekly: “Marriage, Osborn seems to say, is uneventful, and to keep it going is even more uneventful—mostly, it takes dedication, self-reflection, and lots and lots of communication.”
  • Kirkus Reviews: “…Sandy explains that she sides with the marriage, as personified by an empty green chair that doesn’t match anything else in the office.”
  • Bookpage: “…(T)he couple learns to look beyond the surface of what the other says and examine what’s really happening in their relationship. The time they spend in Sandy’s office requires Gretchen and Steve to slow down, listen to each other and listen to their marriage.”

What Osborn told Ari Shapiro, NPR, about lessons learned from his own long-term couples therapy:

So, what happens in really good marriage counseling — the marriage counseling illustrated in this book — is that by the end of the process, when you really begin to get it, when you can actually understand for the first time in your life what your partner is really saying to you, you feel like a new person. It’s as if you’ve shed everything that happened before, right? I mean, so if you’ve had an affair before, it’s as if it happened to a different person. It doesn’t count anymore. You’re new…

Other points about couples therapy from his NPR interview:

  • Things learned in the therapy “you should have learned when you were growing up — maybe by watching your parents, but your parents didn’t have it together.”
  • Practice, and lots of it, is required to make adequate change.
  • In the book the marriage itself is like “a fourth character.” Sandy wants the couple to view it “as something that they built over time that’s very important, and that’s alive in a way that’s different from each of them.”

What might an actual expert say about effective couples work? Psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne, PhD, lists five principles she’s ascertained from a broad-based research review. For details click on the Psychology Today link:

  1. Changes the views of the relationship.  
  2. Modifies dysfunctional behavior. 
  3. Decreases emotional avoidance.  
  4. Improves communication.  
  5. Promotes strengths. 

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