Marital Conflict is Not a Mental Health Disorder

From Dr. Jacqueline Burnett-Brown’s Blog

When two people form a union, whether a legal union – such as marriage, or a domestic partnership, there will be conflict. These are the facts of life. How conflict is managed depends upon a number of factors. The most important of which, is how conflict was handled in that person’s family growing up. The other factor is personality of the individuals. The statistical data regarding the success of marriage counseling is inconclusive, but given that more couples are seeking therapy than ever before, and the divorce rate is on the higher, it seems that seeking psychological help for a non-mental health problem may not be the answer.

Studies show that one of the reasons marriage counseling and therapy do not work is that the marriage is treated as if it is a mental disorder. It is also treated as if it is a single entity forgetting that there are two distinct individuals involved in the relationship, ergo, the conflict. Marital conflict does not occur because either or both the parties suffer from some pre-existing mental health disorder. Marital or relationship conflict exists because of the breakdown or non-existence of effective communication and negotiation skills between two opposing forces.

Yes, that is correct. From the moment a couple meets and decides they want to pursue a relationship they are two opposing forces. Each come into the relationship as two different people who want differing things. Even the things they want have varying degrees of differences.

Somehow people entering a marriage, especially first marriages, do so with the belief that when two people love each other, everything will just work out. This is the biggest mistake people make. Many do not talk about important details that are necessary to operate a successful marriage; yet are shocked when conflict arises.

Marriage is a legal union. Romance, religion, and everything else aside, it is a legal union. If a person goes into a business relationship with his or her best friend, it is a legal union. If they do so without a clear understanding of where they want that business to go, and what steps they need to take in order to get there, that business union will fail, and so most likely will the friendship.

According to most research reports, couples do not seek marriage therapy or counseling until they have reached the point of marital dysfunction. Then, the therapy is only as successful as the couple’s desire to make it work, and the willingness to make some changes.

Some couples stay in therapy for years; only to divorce anyhow.

Marital or relationship conflict is not a mental health disorder. It is an inability to resolve conflict.

Mediation is not about fixing anyone or anything, it is about resolving conflict that affects the marriage. When a couple take their marriage to a therapist, the fingers invariably start pointing and the inevitable labeling starts and what was He Said/She Said becomes He’s Crazy/She’s Crazy.

When marriage counseling does not work, people then seek a lawyer. At this point the conflict has risen to a level they are now have new things to fight over. Children and property, and whose fault it is. If they cannot come to a resolution, then often a family mediator is hired to help resolve the conflict. Even in mediations where it is clear that divorce is happening, the argument returns to the marital conflict. This is a clear sign that neither of the parties want to divorce, they just feel helpless and unable to live with ongoing conflict.

Most mediations end in resolution, meaning the parties come to an agreement regarding child custody, child support, and marital assets. Many times, they even come to an agreement over why the marriage was broken.

That is something to think about.

Why not seek mediation in the first place? Resolve marital conflict before it becomes divorce and child custody conflict. Let a divorce mediator help you mediate your marital conflict, before it becomes a case for the courts, or a big payday for the lawyers.

Sources

Blinder, Martin G., and Martin Kirschenbaum. “The Technique of Married Couple Group Therapy.” Archives of General Psychiatry 17, no. 1 (July 1, 1967): 44–52. doi:10.1001/archpsyc.1967.01730250046007.
Dinkmeyer, D., and J. Carlson. “Adlerian Marriage Therapy.” The Family Journal 1, no. 2 (April 1, 1993): 144–49. doi:10.1177/1066480793012005.
Markman, Howard J., and Lane L. Ritchie. “Couples Relationship Education and Couples Therapy: Healthy Marriage or Strange Bedfellows?” Family Process 54, no. 4 (December 2015): 655–71. doi:10.1111/famp.12191.
“Marriage Counseling Statistics.” http://www.MarriageGuardian.com. Accessed May 7, 2017. http://www.marriageguardian.com/marriage-counseling-statistics.html.
“Marriage Counseling Statistics – Marriage | Laws.com.” Accessed May 7, 2017. http://marriage.laws.com/marriage-counseling/marriage-counseling-statistics.

                        author

Jacqueline Burnett-Brown

Dr. Burnett-Brown recently left public education due to injustices directed toward teachers as well as students on the rise in recent years. Due to her own experiences and incidents of discrimination and injustice witnessed, and also knowing the limitations of educator organizations such as PAGE and GAE, Dr. Burnett-Brown realized… MORE >

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