Marriage-Divorce Coaching


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Due to health reasons, the Divorce Support Plus website was closed several years ago, but Sharon Shenker is returning to her passion of helping others through family reconstruction, or even better, saving families by reconstructing the relationship(s).

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Getting a Relationship Tune-Up Before the Gasket Blows

AMY WILLARD CROSS. Globe and Mail, August 23, 2007 (via @globeandmail)

Vancouver couple Grace and Rob recently spent 24 hours improving their relationship.
Their coupledom had not been nicked by infidelity. They weren't fighting so dirty that the bad words wouldn't wash off. They weren't teetering on divorce - indeed, they weren't even married yet.

But it was not as good as it gets for this dating couple, so Rob's friend recommended couples coaching.

"You don't know what kind of baggage you're bringing into a new relationship until you get into one," says Rob.

About to move in together, Grace and Rob (who asked that their real names not be used) are part of a growing trend toward relationship maintenance - often called marriage enhancement or enrichment.

"I learned not only to check myself and communicate in a different way, but I became aware of his feelings," says Grace. "I did a complete 360, and was really ashamed and embarrassed."

Dealing with problems before it's too late is starting to catch on.
Provincial marriage and family therapy associations have started offering free "marriage checkups" with a therapist so couples can assess their relationship's health.

The practice has gained enough traction that in the spring of 2006, the Canadian Forces initiated Basic Relationship Training (BRT) at all of its bases. Many branches of the U.S. military do the same.

"As the profession of marriage and family therapy grew, there was a recognition of the need to do [preventive] stuff," says Annette Dekker, president of the Ontario Association of Marriage and Family Therapists.

Most people are pushed to seek a marriage therapist because they are having big problems. Typically, according to Ms. Dekker, couples wait six years to call a therapist after realizing that their "us" is not perfectly healthy.

Meanwhile, animosity and bitterness build up like hard-water scale on pipes. "Often, by that time, it's too late," says Ms. Dekker.

But among therapists and counsellors who advertise enrichment or enhancement, some estimate that 10 to 15 per cent of clients come to improve a relationship that does not seem problematic.

Couples are also attending classes, programs and retreats such as Getting the Love You Want, the Prevention and Relationship Enhancement Program (PREP) or the Practical Application of Intimate Relationship Skills (PAIRS) course.

The Canadian forces launched relationship training because "we wanted to be very cutting-edge and proactive," says Erika Lefebvre, a psychologist with the program Strengthening the Forces.

Ms. Lefebvre says her program is about building skills, not spill-your-guts counselling.

Even if couples aren't being deployed, she says, "I think anybody could benefit from this - a relationship requires regular maintenance."

Toronto therapist Sonya Gotziaman says relationship training makes sense because "our main role models are our parents and TV and movies, and I don't know which is scarier."

Rob and Grace say counsellor duo Michael and Janice Inch of Vancouver helped them to identify the triggers that make them react, then gave them tools to manage them. "We need to learn not to react," says Rob. "It's reactive behaviour that digs a hole for us."

Montreal's Sharon Shenker says many of her clients are seeking relationship enhancement and are attracted by her use of the Myers-Briggs personality test, which is commonly employed in corporate settings.

Knowing their personality types helps couples learn, understand and manage their differences, Ms. Shenker says.

Couples she has helped through divorce will sometimes return with a new spouse to head off problems before they begin, she adds.

Sometimes, life transitions push couples to get a little fortification.

Leah MacInnes, a Victoria-based marriage and family therapist, has had many clients who are dealing with a second marriage, a baby or an empty nest.

"Life transitions are difficult, and difficult times pull us apart or bring us together," Ms. MacInnes says. Seeing a therapist for preventive sessions can also be a money-saver: it will require fewer appointments and come nowhere near the cost of a divorce, she says.

Ms. MacInnes and her husband got a taste of her own medicine when they sought counselling during a stressful period.

"I'm a therapist, I know how to communicate, but sometimes there are things I can't see," she says. "Having a neutral party there to say 'What did you mean? What's your reaction?' helps to get you out of rut."