Honest to God confessions of a marriage therapist

Winifred M. Reilly, author of “It Takes One to Tango: How I Rescued My Marriage With (Almost) No Help From My Spouse — and How You Can, Too”

It’s always refreshing when mental health professionals admit struggling with the same issues as their patients. Especially when it comes to love problems.

Winifred M. Reilly, a marriage and family therapist in Berkeley, California, took things a step further when she published a book called “It Takes One to Tango: How I Rescued My Marriage With (Almost) No Help From My Spouse — and How You Can, Too.”  

Given her honesty, we dared Reilly to a little game. Here’s a glimpse into a marriage counselor’s day at work.

  • A phrase I’ve heard millions of times in my office: “The trouble is that we can’t communicate.” I translate that into “We struggle with the ways we are different.” Being able to tolerate our differences and even embrace them is key.
  • A piece of advice I’m constantly giving: Focus on what you can do. Never mind what your partner is doing.
  • The most humorous couple issue I’ve encountered and how I fixed it: I had just started seeing a very young couple, married for less than a year. The woman’s big concern was that she no longer adored everything about her husband. There were things he did that were annoying, like picking up bits of his food and saying, “hmmm” out loud while he was reading the paper. Fortunately, she believed me when I said that none of us adores everything about our spouse; we don’t need to. We have to learn to love the annoying, imperfect person we picked.
  • What marriage therapy is and what’s not: Not a permanent fix as in never reach a condition where we no longer have any struggles, challenges, annoyances. Not a repair job on your partner. Not passive, as in therapist will cure you. It’s an opportunity to discover the part you play in your difficulties.
  • If marriage were a game, it would be: A game of chess. You have your pieces, your partner has theirs. We don’t get to say, “I don’t like your move; you should do it over.” Instead we get to say, “How am I going to respond to that?
  • Telltale signs you need to go to marriage therapy: When people get bogged-down with their marital issues, they often feel worn out and discouraged, consequently bringing their B-game or worse. Then, they mistakenly conclude that they’ve tried everything or they’re beyond help.
  • Counseling couples is a lot like: Juggling…with an infinite number of balls. I’m listening to the content of what people are saying while seeking to grasp the underlying meaning of what they’re telling me, tracking the interactional patterns between the partners, reading their body language to notice stress patterns.
  • Because of my job, people assume that I: Have a perfectly blissful marriage. My husband and I are normal people with the same ridiculous struggles all couples have. What we have that my clients don’t (yet) have is a well-stocked toolbox for dealing with our difficulties.
  • When working on my marriage, the hardest thing was to: Walk my talk and trust that my hypothesis about having a healthy marriage — that it only takes one partner to create lasting, positive change in a marriage — would prove to be accurate.

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