The Marriage and Family Therapist – A Friend in Need

The need for a marriage and family therapist is on the increase and yet nobody who chooses to get married, does so in the belief that he or she might, one day, require such help. Sadly, the statistics suggest otherwise and the alarming divorce rate in our country only serves to confirm that too few South Africans are actually seeking professional assistance other than that provided by a divorce attorney.

Even for a childless couple, the effects of marital strife on both parties can be severely debilitating and the consequences of divorce even worse. It is all too easy, however, to overlook the effect that both circumstances may have on the young children who must share in both conflict and consequences. In order to assist couples to reach an effective resolution through counselling the marriage and family therapist must involve all of those affected by the conflict and not just focus on the central antagonists. It is not uncommon today to find three generations living under a single roof and thus grandparents too may become the victims of conflict and, on occasions, may even be instrumental in its cause.

As children, we are often taught to stand up to a bully and to give ‘as good as we get’. Unfortunately, though often effective, the result is invariably estrangement rather than reconciliation. By contrast, a teacher would be more likely to encourage a pair of squabbling pupils to shake hands and put aside their differences. Though this is inherently the better approach, shaking hands is simple enough but reconciliation is always a more complex process and one that requires someone with the understanding and skills of a marriage and family therapist.

The role of these specialists tends to focus quite heavily on restoring and strengthening the interpersonal relationships between those already married but may also extend to providing pre-marital counselling – a course that can be particularly helpful where children from a previous union may be involved.

The term ‘irreconcilable difference’ is one that, today, is frequently used as a convenient marital escape clause. Nevertheless, there are circumstances such as persistent physical abuse, criminal tendencies, and adultery in which a divorce may genuinely be the only tenable solution. However, the eventual dissolution, even of an unsatisfactory relationship, will often still prove to be traumatic. Such occasions provide yet another situation in which all of those involved are able to gain some welcome support from a couple of sessions with a professional marriage and family therapist.

The value of this form of help is indisputable as is the growing need for it. Many of those who resort to divorce without first seeking professional counselling, in time, live to regret their action but find that any chance they may have had to reconcile has long since passed. It is, however, the first step of recognising the need for help and accepting its potential value that is the defining moment and the one that, for many is the stumbling block.

Dr Tienie Maritz has been providing this kind of support to couples and their families for around 25 years and, in that time, he has been instrumental in saving innumerable relationships that might otherwise have been forfeited if not for his exceptional skills as a marriage and family therapist.

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