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Five Confessions of a Marriage Counselor

runninglateHero worship makes me uncomfortable. I am an extremely minor public figure, except among certain family members and friends who inflate my fame. As a marriage expert, I sense that many people who have heard of me think I must be a perfect marriage partner. This is not true.

I’m no hero.

When we idealize someone, we blind ourselves to the reality that we’re all human. Everyone possesses strengths and weaknesses. Would you rather compare yourself and your loved ones negatively to an unrealistic image of someone or know the truth — which is that we’re all in the trenches together?

I still recall a thought expressed long ago by Shirley Luthman, MSW, who cofounded the Marin Family Therapy Institute and was an enormously popular therapist in the 1970s and beyond. Many people idealized her, thinking she had it all together. She had said something like, “I have issues, like everyone else. The difference is that I know how to conceptualize them.”

Below, I’ll share a few of mine:

Confession No. 1

Personally, I’m often late — for get-togethers with friends, exercise classes and lectures. Some people view lateness as disrespectful, so I’m on time for speaking engagements and appointments with clients and colleagues.

Yet I give myself leeway in my personal life because…

Confession No. 2

I try to cram more into a day than time permits. A friend said, “You need to get one of those 26-hour days.” Sounds good to me.

From where did I get this attitude about time? Does it come from living in Marin County, home to myriad spirituality seekers and high achievers, often seen in combination, and maybe contagious? (I was punctual before settling here.) From my perfectionistic drive-to-accomplish nature, which keeps me working until the job gets done? Or is my lack of personal promptness due to my being in denial about a slowing down associated with aging, meaning things take longer to do now?

Next is yet another possibility:

Confession No. 3

I have people-pleasing tendencies. I tell my usually-patient husband, and think I believe it, “I can be ready to go in five minutes,” when I should know it will be more like 20. But I want him to be happy. He wants me to be ready now, to drive to a hiking spot, a friend’s home, or elsewhere. Now.

He sometimes says he’ll wait for me in the car. Twenty minutes later, I finally, guiltily, join him there. He doesn’t look happy. I want things to be okay between us. Here’s a typical exchange of ours:

Me: I’m sorry I kept you waiting.

Him: (low grumble).

Me: Do you forgive me?

Him: (softening) We’ll see — maybe once we get going.

Me: (on the road a couple of minutes later) Do you forgive me now?

Him: (half smiling) All right.

Confession No. 4

I was not always a marriage maven. I grew up without seeing a good marriage. After years of marital dissatisfaction, my parents divorced when I was 13.

As an adult, I found role models and teachers. They were friends, colleagues, and clients. I gained expertise in couple and family therapy after receiving terrific training at the Family Therapy Institute of Marin.

Yet I stayed single for a long time because I feared failing in marriage. Eventually, aided by psychotherapy, and by spiritual and other mentors, I gained faith that I could succeed. My husband and I are about to celebrate our 27th wedding anniversary. So far, so good!

So for me, the end was rooted in the beginning. My parents’ divorce when I was a child inspired me to find answers as an adult.

Confession No. 5:

I slip in an occasional you-statement in my personal life, giving a critical, blaming message. Yes, even a marriage counselor can get reactive when her buttons get pushed. When this happens, I’m ashamed and try to switch into a congruent mode, using respectful I-statements instead.

Enough confessing for now.

Actually, we all have some heroism in us. It shines forth when we accept our limitations. Doing so helps us to accept our dear ones’ imperfections with grace, knowing we all have room to grow — marriage counselors, too!

Running late photo available from Shutterstock

Five Confessions of a Marriage Counselor

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW

Marcia Naomi Berger, MSW, LCSW, author of Marriage Meetings for Lasting Love: 30 Minutes a Week to the Relationship You’ve Always Wanted (New World Library, 2014, audiobook, 2020), has a private psychotherapy practice in San Rafael, California. She offers and workshops for couples and singles, and continuing education classes for therapists at NASW conferences and online. She has taught also at the UCSF School of Medicine, UC Berkeley Extension, and Alliant International University. A former executive director of a family service agency, she earlier held senior level positions in child welfare, alcoholism treatment, and psychiatry.

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APA Reference
Berger, M. (2018). Five Confessions of a Marriage Counselor. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 4 May 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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