In the last blog (Part 1) we began our interview with Laurie Abraham, author of The Husband and Wives Club: A Year in the Life of a Couples Therapy Group. Here we continue and ask Laurie about the group leader, what really happens in the group, gender differences, and whether couples therapy can actually make things worse.
Can you tell me a little bit about Dr. Coche and how the group felt about her?
She was a very experienced and active leader. I think the couples respected her. They did not always agree with her. She came across as a tough maternal figure. I think what mattered most was that they felt she was the expert.
Was there actually a process between the couples themselves or mainly between the leader and each of the couples?
Well, she would set the stage by asking something like “What do you want to take away today?” In the course of the group, she would often work with a certain couple and ask for input from other members. In addition, over the course of the year, the couples did jump in on their own to point out each other’s patterns. Someone might say “That sounds so harsh” or disclose a feeling they were having. Someone might begin crying while observing the painful reactions of another couple or share a similar crisis or loss that they had experienced.
Do you think the couples took risks in the group?
Well at first I thought they were too polite, but not everyone is as constitutionally as volatile as I am. I came to value their style. The fact that they were polite didn’t mean they were dead – they were respectful of each other.
Were there differences in the way men and women responded in the group?
In terms of goals, I think that women have higher expectations for improvement and I think most men want to end the criticism. In terms of the process, some of what I observed really dispelled the myths we have about men and women. For example, I think it is a myth that women are “the empathizers” and men are “the fixers.” Men are just as likely to be empathic with a gesture or a word and women are just as eager to fix. Everyone wants to fix their partner. In some ways the wish to fix can be a kind of empathy – not the intrusive pressure to fix – but a wish to fix from a more benign, kind place. It’s in the timing and the tone.
A lot of people fear that couples therapy is the road to divorce – Do you think it can actually make things worse?
I think if you have spent a long period of time not voicing discontent and that comes out in therapy, a lot of people would say that for a while things get worse. BUT it can’t get better until it gets worse. The leader and the process help the couple to realize that it is not acceptable to live like this – but divorce is not necessarily the answer. I saw the leader pushing the couples to try to get air around the ugly dynamics while at the same time fostering hope.
We will continue this interview with Laurie Abraham in the next blog (Part 3) to learn if and how “The Husband and Wives Club” made a difference in these marriages….