At the dawn of the 21st century, the world is witnessing an increase in the number of family-related problems. Such problems include an increase in divorce rates, a decrease in marriage rates, and marriage postponements among others (David, 2000, P. 1-14). Robinson (1993) stated that these problems have been caused by the complex system that exists within the family atmosphere. The family atmosphere is comprised of forces that influence people’s behaviors (Piercy, Sprenkle, & Wetcher, 1996). For human relationships to be effective, interpersonal behavior should be present. Thus, people must socially interact with one another to achieve their social goals. Family therapy plays an important role in enhancing this interaction among individuals. It provides individuals with practical procedures on how they can relate effectively with each other. Loebl, (2000), suggests that every person is socially entrenched in an interacting social system. This entrenchment affects people’s behavior as each person strives to find his place in society (Ritzer & Smart, 2001).
This research paper is concerned with experiential family psychotherapy. The paper focuses on such aspects as the general view of marriage, spiritual aspects of marriage, the concept of effective therapy, conditions necessary for a healthy marriage, marriage failures, and how to conduct marriage counseling.
Personal views on marriage and the spiritual aspects of marriage
Marriage begins at courtship where two souls decide to unite and form one bond. In my opinion, marriage is a contract between two people. According to research by Bacon and Morse (2000), marriage is one of the most complicated agreements that people make during their lifetime.
In most cases, marriage life has lost its real meaning nowadays as compared to the past. This is because most people do not have reasons for marrying. Most people are rushing to make marriage decisions and in turn divorce quickly. The main reason why people should marry is for companionship and to have children. Tauber & Smoke (2007) in their study suggested that people are marrying for the wrong reasons such as peer pressure, financial security and to distance themselves from their parents.
In my opinion, marriage should be based on responsibilities and respect. Thus, couples must appreciate each other’s differences. I believe that the failure to accept each other’s differences is the main cause of divorce among many marriages nowadays (Nadeau, 1995, P. 222).
Marriage should also be about sharing, understanding, loving and communication. Thus, it should neither be assuming, controlling, judgmental nor having unrealistic expectations. Couples should share everything they have whether good or bad (Gungor, 2008, P. 239).
One must strive to be an ideal partner. This can only be achieved by treating the other party fairly. For the marriage to be successful, the partners should set clear goals on what they aspire to attain. They should also put efforts towards the accomplishment of marriage goals (Liau, 2006, P. 69).
Also, I believe that love is the key to a successful marriage. Thus, partners must love one another unconditionally. With this regard, they should understand the mood, desire, tastes, and tempers of one another. A true marriage should be based on love and mutual respect. Love is a key ingredient in any marriage that allows people to live together and prepare for the future together (Dara, 2010, P. 51).
It is apparent that for the marriage partners to coexist harmoniously, there must be effective communication between them. Couples should be free to express their feelings. I believe that many marriages fail because of a lack of communication. Communication is essential as it enables the partners to know more about each other and therefore relate well with one another (Coon & Mitterer, 2008, P. 382). I also concur with Bush that people should strive to know one another before they engage in a marital agreement (Bush, 2008, P. 7).
The spiritual aspects of marriage
Marriage is taken by many as a spiritual event and is therefore carried out in temples and churches. However, some of today’s marriages can be more attributed to traditional practices than to spiritual devotion. Research has clearly shown that the spiritual aspect is the key to creating a happy marriage (Sharrok, 2007, P. 279). Horton, Earey & Gay (2001) in their study suggested that most people have a common belief in spiritual values. According to them, people believe that religious faith plays an important role in enabling them to cope with each other. They held the view that religious faith enables people to understand their roles and expectations in marriage. The spiritual aspect plays a greater role in balancing marriages, i.e., it ensures that both the sexual and emotional aspects do not conflict with each other. The spiritual aspect provides couples with the moral basis for decisions that they make in their lives (Stevens, 2011, P. 76).
In many religions, women are required to maintain purity until they become married. All mainstream religions across the globe advocate for fidelity in marriage and sexual chastity before marriage. According to Muslims, a woman who is considered to have lost her virginity before marriage is exposed to social repercussions. Her family is also exposed to extreme shame as it is deemed to have ignored its rightful role of protecting the reputation of the girl (Kraft & Johnson, 2003, P. 40).
Virtually, all the mainstream religions conduct a marriage ceremony to mark the beginning of a new family. According to Christians, marriage is considered to be a gift from the creator and it should be sacred (Monger, 2004, P. 73). Marriage law has been a major issue among Christians for many years. The sole purpose of marriage according to Christianity is procreation. According to Judaism, marriage is an agreement that is made between a man and a woman in the presence of God. According to both Judaism and Christianity, a woman is expected to have children to enhance the continuity of families. According to Muslims, marriage age is not restricted; one is free to get married at any age provided he or she is economically, physically, and emotionally ready (Krivenko, 2009, P. 151). According to Muslims, there must be an agreement between the bride and parents for the marriage to take place. Any form of disagreement usually hinders the marriage from taking place (Ray, 2010, P. 140).
Onedera (2008) stated that couples should strive to give their faith a more central role in their marriages compared to other material aspects. They should pray and read scriptures together and take caution not to turn their spiritual lives into a burden. Couples should not view spiritual faith as the main cause of guilt or something which robs their joy. They should seek help from older people as far as the interpretation of devotional books and magazines is concerned (Farrel & Farrel, 2008, P. 179).
The synthesis of personal conceptualization of effective therapy in relation to marriage
Several marriages are well-grounded and peaceful at the outset but with time, they become hostile. Thus, married couples search for ways of restoring their once happy marriage. Maintenance of healthy marriages is usually a challenging task; therefore, couples must seek assistance from therapists once in a while (Lamanna& Riedmann, 2008, P. 331).
Couple therapy refers to an interface that exists between the couples on one hand and the therapist on the other hand (Crowe, Ridley & Skynner, 2000, P. 351). Therapists play the role of enhancing the couple’s relationships. Thus, he or she is hired by the couples to offer them professional advice concerning their marriages (Harway, 2005, P. 447).
Couple therapy has expanded over the past few decades. A big number of institutions across the globe are now offering therapy as well as training to couples to enhance their marriages. Initially, the field was considered as an individuals’ or family’s offshoot. However, this has changed over time as many people have now recognized that marriages can cause or prevent psychiatric problems (Lebow, 2008, P. 310).
Hecker and Wetchler (2003) in their study examined that therapists assist couples in making decisions concerning their marriages. In assisting the couples to improve on some aspects of their relationships, therapists are usually guided by several theoretical frameworks. Therapists take some assumptions while conducting their marital therapy. First, therapists assume that one or both partners in an unsuccessful relationship misperceive the spouse’s inspirations and personality. The other assumption that is held by couple therapists is that partners collaborate and work harmoniously with each other to enhance the dysfunctional symptoms (Keeran, 1996, P. 1-6). If one is in a marriage that has many issues, he or she should act quickly to seek professional assistance (Sprenkle, 1985, P. 166).
The research by Virginia Satir, Carl Whittaker and Carl Rogers explains what is meant by effective couple therapy. Virginia Satir research work was based on family therapy. She was warm, compassionate, and genuine, and she became a role model to several family therapists. Some people considered her ideas as simplistic and having mystical references. Her ideologies go beyond family therapy and address other issues like world peace and spiritual growth. She emphasized the need for interconnectedness among people. She held the view that congruent communication among couples is the key to a healthy marriage. She stated that couples should be honest while communicating with one another (Piercy, Sprenkle & Wetchlerr, 1996, P. 85). Also, Virginia Satir emphasized the triad concept. She believed that family triads represent interconnectedness. She thus stressed the importance of the father, mother, and child triad. It is through the triad that kids learn about family intimacy. Therefore, triads play an important role as far as growth in marriage is concerned (Turner, 1996, P. 273).
Carl Whittaker is the other scholar who emphasized on experiential counseling approach. Carl Whittaker was of the view that the main objective of family counseling is to enhance ones’ belongings, as well as individuality, in the family. Whittaker believed that co-counselors should be used in order to prevent counselors from being enmeshed within the family (Brock & Barnard, 1999). He also advocated the use of imaginative and radical techniques while conducting family counseling (Vacc & Loesch, 2000, P. 90).
Lastly, Carl Rogers was a therapist who emphasized on client-Centered counseling approach. This approach is based on a few assumptions concerning the couple’s issues. Carl Rogers emphasized the need to use the couple’s language to understand their issues on their own terms. Carl believed that couples are capable of solving their relationship issues. He believed that the role of a counselor is to listen to the couple’s problems with empathy and hence provide a lasting solution. He stressed the importance of a therapist being open and nonjudgmental during counseling (Fromme, 2010, P. 284).
Theory of the conditions necessary to have a healthy marriage
Married couples do not expect to have issues in their relationships. In fact, most marriages begin well and with no chaos but over time, they deteriorate. The following five conditions are necessary for maintaining a healthy marriage. Failure to keenly observe these conditions can cause marriages to deteriorate.
According to the Indianapolis Monthly (2002), the first step of maintaining a healthy marriage requires that couples look after themselves. The couples should encourage and care for each other at all times. Giving encouraging words has the effect of making a difference in marriages. Usually, people feel encouraged most when they are praised by their partners (Stuart, 2003, P. 160). Thus, couples should look for things that encourage their partners. They should strive to bring cheerfulness into their households. If one of the partners is a negative person, he or she should change. Instead of seeing the bad side of their partners, couples should have a positive attitude and instead view their partners as good people. In other words, couples should learn to develop positive thoughts. They can achieve this by controlling the way they think and choosing to concentrate on positive thoughts only and neglecting negative ones. Couples should ensure that they bring friendly speeches into their marriages. Thus, they should refrain from making complaints each and every time (Bowden, 2002, P. 7).
The second step towards maintaining a healthy relationship is that couples should refrain from merging their identities. When one becomes married, he or she tends to merge his identity with that of the partner. The couples should keep in mind that they are unique and distinct from each other. Godwin, Rubenstein, & Herrick (2011) suggested that each person has his or her identity and, therefore, each partner should look for ways of balancing his or her personal identity with that of the other. In order to develop and maintain a healthy relationship, each partner should devote a substantial amount of time doing what he or she loves to do. Each partner should focus on creating his or her own goals (McCarthy & McCarthy, 2004).
The partners should engage themselves in those activities that bring joy and amazement to their lives. People who are driven by the desire to fulfill personal ambitions usually expose their partners to new experiences in life. This plays an important role in enhancing marriage relationships (Ahlers, Allaire, & Koch, 1996, P. 175).
Enjoying the show is the third condition of maintaining a healthy marriage. The couples should be concerned about the major changes that occur throughout their partners’ lives. The process of having a healthy marriage is not an automatic one, but it requires the couples to constantly share their feelings and ideas. Couples should pay much attention to talking to each other as this keeps marriages fresh and alive. The partners should support one another to grow. People should be prepared to appreciate the changes that take place in the bodies of their spouses. Such changes include wrinkles, grey hair, tooth loss e.t.c. (Prosser & Qualls, 2004, P. 58).
The fourth condition of maintaining a healthy marriage is togetherness. The couples should engage in various funny activities together. They should be less serious while together and laugh more. Laughter is the key to a satisfying marriage as it cements life challenges. Married couples should seek to do things jointly i.e. they should spend a substantive amount of their daily waking hours together. They should ensure that they go on a date periodically. Spending time together plays an important role as it enables couples to listen to one another, understand each other, make plans, and set goals together. According to research which was done by Brothers (1990), togetherness saves marriages as it demonstrates understanding and support. The first step with regards to togetherness is developing a keen interest in the partner’s tasks.
The final condition necessary for a happy marriage is trust between the parties. The couples should not be unfaithful. Unfaithfulness ruins many marriages and, therefore, the couples should refrain from having affairs outside marriage (Robinson, Robinson & Cason, 2010, P. 48).
Theory of what causes marriages to deteriorate
Many factors can cause a healthy marriage to deteriorate. Some of the main causes of marriage break-ups include; infidelity, sexual problems, financial problems, children, boredom, and lack of communication (White, 1983, P. 333-336).
Infidelity amounts to sexual betrayal and it has the effect of destroying a healthy marriage. Sexual infidelity i.e. unfaithfulness occurs in both men and women though it occurs differently. There are two main types of infidelity i.e. emotional infidelity and sexual betrayal. Women are more disturbed by emotional infidelity than men. On the other hand, men are usually more disturbed with sexual betrayal as compared with women. Infidelity is caused by various factors some of which can be complicated. Usually, both spouses are responsible for infidelity in their marriage (Winfield, 1998, P. 127). The main causes of unfaithfulness are peer group influence, marrying while still young, marriage disappointments, and pornography. Sometimes, unfaithfulness arises as a result of sex addiction. Many people believe that a new affair provides them with satisfaction and higher self-esteem. After one partner finds that infidelity exists in their marriage, he or she must make decisions on whether to separate or save their marriage (White, 1983, P. 333-336).
The other factor that causes many marriages to deteriorate is sexual-related problems. Such problems include impotence and differences with regard to sexual desires. Sexual pleasure is one of the main factors that motivate one to get married. Barrenness leads to sexual dissatisfaction and many couples do not treat this problem lightly. Many couples do not stand partners who are incapable of satisfying their sexual desires (Rossi, 1999, P. 241).
With regard to financial problems, money is the main culprit as far as marriage deterioration is concerned. It is more common for poor couples to divorce than rich couples. Several issues cause most marriages to deteriorate. These include disagreements over the amount of money that should be spent on anniversaries and other special occasions, unemployment, and salary increase. Unemployment causes low self-esteem and lowers ones’ dignity. On the other hand, salary increases and promotions cause stress for many marriages and in turn marriage difficulties (Hargrave, 2000, P. 146).
Children also have the effect of causing marriages to deteriorate. While children provide couples with joy and amazement, they are the cause of many marriage failures. The couples usually differ on how to raise their children. They may also disagree about their children’s performance in schools. The task of bringing up children is also a major challenge in many marriages. Usually, couples argue over their roles and responsibilities in child-rearing. Such simple tasks like babysitting have the effect of causing rifts in marriages. In order to avoid divorce resulting from children, the couples should write down their roles and distribute them equally (Stahl, 2010, P. 233).
The other factors that cause many marriages to deteriorate are religious differences. Religion usually brings couples together. However, different religious settings can cause marriages to fall. Failure to tolerate the religious differences in a marriage causes rift (Markman, 2010, P. 308). Each person should treat his or her spouse’s religious background with respect. Though one may not fully accept the religious views of the other, one is required to love him or her. Couples should be ready to learn what their partners believe. Thus, one should make the effort of finding out why their partner believes in another religion (Aiken, 2001, P. 13).
Boredom or the desire to be independent is another factor that causes many marriages to deteriorate. After marriage, emotional connectedness diminishes quickly and many people become gloomy as compared to the period of courting. This, in turn, makes marriage appear resentful and unhealthy. Extramarital affairs can easily find their way, as a result, and result in marriage deterioration (Floyd, Mimms & Yelding, 2007, P. 59).
How I plan to conduct marriage counseling
Good marriage counseling should be well planned so that both partners and the counselor can achieve their goals. As a counselor, I intend to use the following plans in conducting marriage counseling; First, I would ensure that I conduct each session differently i.e. assessment session, the intervention session, and the termination session.
With regards to the assessment session, I would start by greeting the couple and introducing myself to the partners. I would discuss the basis upon which my counseling is based. For instance, I would inform the couple that my counseling is based on Islamic principles if I profess Muslim religion or Christian principles if profess the Christian religion. This is essential as it would make them feel more comfortable as I proceed with the counseling. I would also ask them if there is any other detail that they would like to know before the session begins. In this stage, I would express how I conduct marriage counseling. That is, I would explain to them the steps that are involved. Then, I would interview them and require them to fill out some questionnaires.
Intervention is the second stage of marriage counseling. In this session, I would give them a written evaluation concerning their marriage. This will enable me to analyze the strengths and weaknesses and make some recommendations on what requires to be improved. I would also consider the goals to be attained and whether or not counseling would be useful. This would provide me with an opportunity to determine whether the couples are ready to work with me or not. It would also help me to know whether my assistance is of great importance or not unto the couples. It is only after this session that I would ask them what they have decided about counseling. Then, I would ask them the main challenges of married life in today’s world. With this regard, I would allow each of the partners to express their views. After listening to the first spouse, I would proceed to paraphrase the main challenges. After both partners have expressed their views, I would review their statements and then provide them with a basis for describing their relationship’s history. I would thus wait until one spouse begins to talk. As they describe their marriage history, I would ensure that I make them recall the happy and intimate times. Also, I would steer the conversation to ensure that they do not criticize and blame one another.
The final stage with regard to marriage counseling is termination. In this stage, I would ensure that the couples reach a consensus. During this stage, I would enhance the changes that have been made by the partners.
The following are the interventions that I would use in conducting family counseling; I would ensure that I develop several approaches with regard to family counseling to handle every problem. With this regard, I would ensure that I take courses on family therapy to emerge as a qualified practitioner. According to Rogers, a counselor should be well qualified to meet the needs of clients effectively.
In counseling couples, I would adopt the Family Assessment Device commonly known as a FAD. FAD uses the McMaster model for effective family therapy. It focuses on such aspects as communication, affective responsiveness, and problem-solving. This approach recognizes the importance of family organization and structures. This approach will enable me to capture all the information concerning family interactions.
As a therapist, I would use other such approaches like the ones that were used by Carl Whittaker in an attempt to bring change in family dynamics. Carl Whittaker immersed himself in the family system, and this allowed him to bring change within the family by using his own initiative skills. He adopted an experiential approach in understanding the family dynamics that required to be changed.
By adopting the above approaches, I would ensure that individuals refer others to me for counseling.
This research paper provides an exploration of experiential family therapy. It also explains how experiential family therapy can be applied to enhance growth and intimacy in marriages. Family therapy is an effective way of dealing with marital problems. Therapists can use various strategies in treating families. Couple therapy aims at changing the partners. Experiential approaches to family therapy depend much on the personalities of their proponents. Virginia Satir felt so comfortable while interacting with her clients, and her humanistic experiential approach to family therapy replicated the way she approached life. Similarly, Whitaker held the view that therapists should engage with family members emotionally. Rogers on his part adopted a client-centered approach and emphasized that therapists should listen to their clients with empathy.
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