Jan 08

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. 
Sep 17

“Making Marriage Simple” By Harville Hendrix, Helen LaKelly Hunt

In this year’s Making Marriage Simple: 10 Truths for Changing the Relationship You Have into the One You Want, counselors Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt have developed a “blueprint” of sorts for couples in committed relationships.

If you’re not already familiar with authors Hendrix and Hunt, they’re also married to each other and are the creators of Imago Relationship Therapy.

Another interesting qualification? Years ago these relationship experts were close to divorce themselves. They actually tried a bunch of different couples counselors: Hunt says “the fifth therapist even called us the couple from hell” (Rebecca KleinThe Huffington Post).

Today they presumably have the kind of “Partnership Marriage” that’s advocated in Making Marriage Simple. An Amazon reader/reviewer reveals the 10 truths the authors say are the keys. (For more details, we may have to actually read the book.)

  1. Romantic Love is a Trick
  2. Incompatibility is Grounds for Marriage
  3. Conflict is Growth Trying to Happen
  4. Being Present for Each Other Heals the Past
  5. It’s Not What You Say, It’s How You Say It
  6. Negativity Is Invisible Abuse
  7. Negativity Is a Wish in Disguise
  8. Your Brain Has a Mind of Its Own
  9. Your Marriage is a Laughing Matter
  10. Your Marriage is Your Best Life Insurance Plan

More info from the Publishers Weekly‘s review: The overall message—built on an enthusiastic notion of marriage as the core institution of society and following a structure of specific communication exercises—is one that divorce-happy America may not be ready to hear: ‘the best way to heal a relationship is not to repair the two people, but the Space between them.'”

John and Julie Gottman, another well-regarded therapist pair who both specialize in couples work, also give Making Marriage Simple a thumbs up: “Not only have Hendrix and Hunt created a delightful and easy-to-read guide to what every marriage needs, but they have done it by also revealing their own personal struggles (with their very happy ending) to the reader. We absolutely loved the cartoons. The book is the ideal combination of useful advice and very specific tips, and a real understanding of the huge benefits a new couple will gain from a lasting, intimate relationship. Here’s how to make that happen!”

And singer/songwriter Alanis Morissette, a fan of the authors, observes that their newest book is a distillation of their “greatest hits.”

You can watch the book trailer below: