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Understanding marriage behavior doesn’t solve problems

Often couples spend hoiur after hour trying to understand each other or the root of a problem or issue that bothers them. Sometimes this is helpful, but more often than not, understanding a marital issue doesn’t necessarily provide the tools to change it.

Take the case of Karen who become terrified every time husband Ted yells at her. Ted thinks SHE is the problem because she is too sensitive; after all, he reasons, he is just expressing himself like everyone does in the family he grew up in. So, they enter therapy and discover that she reacts that way because she had an emotionally abusive father so she clearly “over-reacts” to her husband’s yelling.

Problem solved, right? Not necessarily! In fact, rarely, in my experience as a marital therapist and anger management trainer. In a case like this it is much more productive for the husband to acquire the skills of communicating without yelling, than for both to understand the reasons for her fear of him.

From a practical point of view, we feel it makes more sense to focus on how to FIX the problem instead of “understanding” it! Of course, sometimes we need to do both, but understanding it by itself without behavioral action to repair it is rarely effective.