If your marriage is not transformational, it’s not a marriage. This is the premise behind the work that I do with married couples in my practice. I am a clinical psychologist with over 30 years of experience working with couples, and have dedicated much of my career to working with couples to transform their relationships from merely functional to transformational.
What makes a relationship a transformative one? How do couples go from having a functional relationship to one that is transformative? Relationships go through developmental stages, just like individuals do, in terms of their psychological development. Transformative relationships evolve when both partners take responsibility for their own “inner” work and recognize the sacred nature of their connection. There exists a shared acceptance that love has a spiritual quality and that being together has a transcendent purpose and serves each of their ongoing growth. Most often, this does not come without tension and conflict. The realization that each partner is not going to carry the burden of making the other “whole” can be the beginning of his or her spiritual development.
In my work, I also look at the “unlived life” of a couple, the unlived life of the relationship. Most often in individual work, focus is put on the individual, going back and looking at those potentials and possibilities that have not been identified and developed. Relationships can also be looked at in that way. What are the unlived things in the relationship that got left behind because of the “deal” that he or she makes with their partner about various tasks, functions, and responsibilities? What would it be like to look at love in a relationship without grasping, wanting, hoping or wishing?
Legalities aside, marriage is a commitment in depth made by two people. It is a guarantee of nothing certain, but it claims to be an expression of intentionality, which is serious, long term, and in-depth. Explicit or covert conflict is inevitable and universal in relationships. Partners have different ideas, values, and beliefs, so disagreement is inevitable. One of the implicit demands of marriage is that issues are to be faced and worked through, rather than evaded. Anger and confrontation can spur development, and differences and disagreements can give rise to new and creative opportunities. I have developed a model that I use with couples that I refer to as “connected dialogue” which helps partners develop those attitudes, skills and behaviors that effectively identify problems and issues. Solutions reached through this process benefit both partners and leave no residual hurt feelings.
In my work, I consult with many couples, whether married or partnered in a committed relationship. Together with my wife, Dr. Kelly Smerz, I co-direct Medical Psychology Associates, a group of mental health professionals with offices in Glendale and Greenfield, WI. I can be contacted through our clinic’s website, MedPsychAssociates.com, or 414-962-1000 (ext. 115), and would gladly accept the opportunity to work with new couples.
by Paul Smerz