What Marriage Counseling and Photography Have in Common

Many people know that when I am not sitting in the therapist chair, one of the things I do as a hobby is photography. While these days I don’t have as much time for capturing moments on (digital) film, it is never very far from my mind. It’s a great exercise in mindfulness and a great way to look at things from a different perspective. Well, not long ago, I was in a session with a couple and saw a connection. I had a fleeting thought, “Huh. Photography and marriage counseling have some interesting things in common”. Now, I know that’s a loaded statement and you’re probably unsure as to what those connections are but I had the chance later that evening to think about this while on my drive home. Here’s the story:

I was in a session with a great couple and, in the session prior, we made some intense and productive discoveries; the type of light bulb moments that you think about for a while. When they sat down at the beginning of their next session I asked them, “Is there anything that we need to do post-processing on from last week’s session?”; that’s a question that I ask many of my clients; especially if there was new information that came up toward the end of the previous session. Normally, I would refer to this as “debriefing” but for some reason, “post-processing” came out in the sentence that night. After the session was over, I found myself intrigued by the potential connection.

In photography, post-processing is what you do to a photo after it’s been captured. In the digital age, that means importing them into some computer software. Once it’s in the software, you can tweak the pictures to see them in whatever way you’d like them to look; you adjust them to be as relevant as possible to the image & feel that you were trying to capture. For example, maybe we want to see this picture as black-and-white or maybe we need to see this picture in full, vivid color.

Any given counseling session can be defined as “taking a picture”; we are looking at events in history, events in present time, and interactions to see how couples engage with one another. We are looking for what their needs really are, why things aren’t working currently, and how we can do things better. Each session, though, is just a snapshot over a one hour period of time. Sometimes, however, that one session alone isn’t enough to really have the best picture of what’s going on.

Some days it takes couples going home from marriage counseling, letting their minds relax a little bit and then coming back with a different perspective on the things that we had discussed to really “get it”. Many times, clients will show up to their next marriage counseling session and will still have some feelings left over from the snapshot that we took the week prior.

It is then our job as a team to help refine the picture that we have, so as to make it  as functional as possible. Often times there were things that were said that didn’t come out right or struck a chord. Sometimes, out of context, the comments seem to mean something that they actually don’t. Again, at times, the sessions were too vivid and everything needs to be toned down without the heightened emotions that the week before may have presented; we may need to turn the volume up on the messages that were being sent so that both members can really hear what the other person was saying.

I find this last part often to be true when clients are telling each other how much they mean to one another, but in a very coded way. It frequently doesn’t come across correctly to their partner despite the fact that it might be coming across to me as the therapist. After all, marriage counseling is a tricky endeavor for everyone involved because of this level of nuance. There are some really often-heard concerns that couples have when entering marriage counseling that inform that nuance:

  • Will this work?
  • Will this only make things worse?
  • What happens if I find out things about my partner that I don’t like or that they find out things about me that they don’t like?
  • What happens if my partner doesn’t want to work with me to make things better?
  • Am I accepted as I really am?

These questions are very relevant to the post-processing in marriage counseling because many times it informs the interpretations each individual has. I implore you to spend some time with your partner and do some of your own post-processing on a more regular basis. You can start doing this by:

  • Asking your partner “This is what I heard you say but is that really what you meant or did I misinterpret?”
  • Saying to your partner “Your message seems pretty clear on one level but on another level, I think I’m missing the real point of what you’re trying to say. Will you help me understand?”

This level of conversation in your relationship will both help you avoid any unnecessary catastrophes, as well as make your connection and conversation levels deeper. With that,  we hope your marriage is as connected and as whole as you would like to be but if not, that’s what we are here for.

Thanks for reading my blog.

Until next time, stay healthy and happy,

-Alex