What Early Lessons in Partnership have to do with Marriage Therapy
That ten year old girl with the horse in the picture? That’s me and my first horse, Bart. He was the horse I’d later develop such a close partnership with that I could ride him without any tack—no saddle, bridle, halter, rope—just me and my horse, from a walk to a gallop, through sliding stops and over jumps. Our subtle communication and strong bond produced a seemingly effortless dance. But it wasn’t always that way.
One of the first times I ever rode a horse, I was 9 years old and away at camp. In a chaotic arena, my horse was packing me around in a bone jolting trot, my backside registering every stride. With kids and horses everywhere, I couldn’t remember the instructions I’d been given. I felt helpless, stuck atop something I couldn’t steer, couldn’t stop, and couldn’t make work.
Learning New Skills
Sound familiar? Ever tried to learn a new skill? How about learning to drive a stick shift for the first time? There’s a lot to focus on. Movements, thoughts, and reactions that will become second nature seem almost impossible to coordinate at first. And if you pick up some bad habits in the process, unlearning them can take even longer. Add stress, like a car too close behind you on a hill with your first clutch, or in your marriage, adding work demands, a kid you’re worried about, and never enough quiet time to figure it out—well, those second nature skills can be a challenge. So, what does this have to do with marriage therapy?
A lot goes into learning new things and new reactions to familiar but stressful situations. The same goes for relationship skills. Sorting out your last argument or stalemate, asking for the things you really want when you’re afraid you might not get them, listening to the other person do that too, when your own emotions are approaching red line? There’s a lot coming at you, and it can feel like learning to drive a stick for the first time in downtown Seattle. After a Mariner’s game. With a car full of tired people.
Help is Available
Wouldn’t it be easier to learn that clutch somewhere quieter? Say an empty dirt road on a lazy summer day? With someone patient beside you, providing sound strategy and breaking down the steps, giving you room to practice the basics as many times as you need? That person could gently give you proven tips on where to start, how to make course corrections, and where to go next as things improve. It would make a difference to have a patient coach providing direct instruction when you need it, but helping you stay loose and even laugh a little when you get too frustrated.
There’s a lot to learning new skills in anything we do, and there’s even more to making them habitual. I didn’t learn to jump fences on my horse without tack, or ride at a gallop blindfolded, without working with some patient coaches. No one has it all together when they start a new process, hire a new coach, or begin marriage therapy. But, just like a good riding coach or driving instructor can help to start turning things around in the first lesson, a good marriage therapist can give you tools to start turning things around in your marriage from the first session. And she can see you through the process of making great relationship skills feel like a good habit.