Marriage – some assembly required.

Assembly instructions © Christian Bridgwater | Dreamstime.comMarriage is like this: You are so excited, you get married, and when you open the box that contains your new marriage you find a thousand pieces and a note that says “Some assembly required”. Even worse, the instructions are not in a language you don’t recognise, and the pictures are so poor you are not sure they show parts in your box. Okay, go out there and live happily ever after!

If your parents have a great marriage, her parents have a great marriage, and you are in a church full of supportive folks with great marriages, you can probably figure out how to assemble the parts. For the other 99% of us, that box of marriage parts is more scary than exciting.

Unfortunately, most couples are too shy or too embarrassed to seek help, figuring they can muddle through and put together a reasonable marriage on their own. The longer they do it on their own, the less willing they are to admit they need help. They build mistakes on mistakes, creating a marriage that cannot work right, and that becomes more and more difficult to manage.

There is no shame in not having a clue, especially given the fact we live in a society that is generally clueless about marriage. If your problems are small, get help now before they become big. If the problems are already big, get help before they destroy the marriage. If things are not too bad, spending time with a couple with a good sound marriage may be all you need. If you need more help than that, PLEASE find a way. I hear repeatedly from couples who say they can’t afford counselling. Here’s the real truth – it won’t cost as much as a divorce, and it won’t mess your kids up. If your marriage is worth it, you will find a way.

One other warning – you may have to change much of what you have already done. If you had worked on an “assembly required” project and made a mistake early on, the only way to assemble it correctly would be to undo back to the mistake; marriage is much the same. Don’t cut corners, do what it takes to have a great marriage.

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8 Comments on “Marriage – some assembly required.

  1. I so love this. Reminds me of a client who had an epiphany that relationships aren’t natural. Falling in love is hormonally driven. Staying in love is developing skills and the willingness to use them. Thanks for your wisdom as always.

  2. Nice analogy. It’s true, counseling would more than likely be less than a divorce. And getting help you may find that you were not as far off as you thought, but those subtle course adjustments make a world of difference.

    From what I understand some people’s insurance may cover counseling or those EAP programs at work that are free that most companies offer for free are a good resource.

    • @David Patrick – As Lesli says below, insurance coverage is spotty at best.

      If the insurance companies looked at the health consequence of divorce for men, they would start pushing couples to get help!

      Many (but not all) who tell me they can’t afford it are spending hundreds of dollars a month on things they could live without. Funny how Starbucks we can afford, while saving our marriage we can’t.


  3. Unfortunately that’s what many do. If they make a mistake early, they simply start over. They throw out the husband who was their mistake and get a fresh do-it-yourself fixer-upper to work on.

    So careful with the “undo to the past mistake” as many interpret that to mean to undo the marriage. After all, that’s exactly what most divorces are, someone undoing to the the first mistake.

    No amount of counseling, insurance covered or not is going to address a situation like that as long as the person holds on to the idea that her marriage was a mistake and she needs to undo back to the first mistake.

    In fact, I suspect many counselors are actually telling their clients that their marriage was a mistake, and they should get out if they are not happy.

    So I question how helpful counseling is, given what Dr Harley says he’s learned about the topic. I believe he is quoted to say that about 84 (give or take) percent of marriage counseling is ineffective. Or it has an 84% failure rate. Something like that. So basically it works in 1 out of 6 cases.

    So I’m not sure I’d put much faith in marriage counseling as a means to help a marriage given the astronomical failure rate of marriage counseling as a whole.

    • Unfortunately, the statistics about the effectiveness of marriage counseling aren’t good. There are several reasons for this.

      One, couples wait an average of six years before seeking help. Often, we’re the last ditch effort before lawyers become involved. Couples also want a quick fix, not realizing the problems didn’t develop overnight and can’t be solved overnight.

      A bigger problem is that many counselors aren’t trained to do couples work. In the Marriage & Family field, only 30% of us will go on record as being pro-marriage; 40% claim to be neutral about marriage; and I won’t even talk about the other 30%.

      Being pro-marriage doesn’t mean that all marriages can, or should, be saved. It’s just that’s the premise we start from. But many shop based on their insurance coverage, not the training and mind-set of the therapist. In fact, insurance doesn’t really cover marriage counseling. For coverage, a mental disorder diagnosis is necessary. That usually isn’t what’s going on in the relationship.

      What we need is more of what this blog, and others, is trying to do. Through light on to what makes marriage work and point people to resources that can help them.

  4. @Lesli Doares – Thanks for the excellent points. Certainly earlier is better, and getting someone who is for marriage is importnat.

    Pastors are usually pro-marriage, but unfortunately many of them lack any real training. A pastor is still a great starting place – I know my pastor has a list of qualified people who share his world view.

    As to more doing what is done here (and on your blog) I am happy to say I see more and more of that every day. Of course some of it’s not as good as I’d wish, but much of it is excellent!

  5. What a great article and a truly beautiful website too! Thank you.

    My question is this: Who, upon learning about the massive evidence supporting the incredible and protective benefits of marriage for the entire family (not to mention the economy), would not instantly become Pro-Marriage?

    • Well, my ex-wife would be one of those who knew all about that evidence, yet thought an affair and subsequent divorce were even better than those benefits.

      You can lead a filly to water, but you can’t make her drink..

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