Peacemaking in Marriage and Family Therapy
“Go to the people. Live with them, learn from them, love them. Start with what they know, build with what they have. But of the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, the people will say, “We have done this ourselves.” -a Chinese Proverb, written by Lao-Tzu around 700 B.C
I am always looking for new metaphors to help me describe what I do. And sometimes very old can be new as in this quote from 2,800 years ago. As a Marriage and Family Therapist I am always looking more at what is happening between people than what I could believe is behind them or broken. I am concerned with language, interactions, rituals and traditions. I am a sociologist of sorts, but on a micro level.
There has been a revolution of mind and perception happening to me over the last few years; a spiritual journey of sorts. I have come to the Mennonites from outside. I believe I was led to this place; or wooed may be a better term. Peacemaking has captured my imagination. Mennonites do this as good or better than any other group. Google it and you will see what I mean.
It dawned on me recently this is what I do. No, I’m not holding peace talks between nations, or organizing non-violent resistance strategies. But, I am negotiating relationships, encouraging forgiveness and kindness between those who have hurt each other. I am helping people make peace with one another, themselves, and God.
Most couples that go to marriage counseling assume I want to hear about their problems. One couple began telling me about their arguments. As I often do, I asked about how their fights end. This surprised them a bit, but they were willing to indulge my curiosity. He said she gets a certain tone in her voice. I asked him to describe it, but he could not. He knew it when he heard it. She said he gets a certain look in his eye. She also could not describe this, but she knew it when she saw it. I asked them to watch for these fight ending, or making-up cues; and, if possible, to intentionally start them sooner in their arguments. Over the next few meetings their disagreements became shorter, fewer, and less intense. They, of course, kept doing more of the making up behaviors. However, we talked about what they were doing instead of arguing like, cooperating, talking, spending time together, sharing common interests, being more intimate, and becoming better friends.
When Jason Boone, the coordinating minister for the Peace and Justice Support Network spoke at our church recently he said something interesting. “With violence there is only one way. With love your options are limitless.” I hear these amazing, creative stories of how peacemakers have negotiated peace in the most tenuous of situations. Some of them make you laugh. Consider Leymah Gbowee, the Nobel Peace Prize winner. She and the women of Liberia ended a civil war and brought a warlord like Charles Taylor to justice with prayer vigils and a sex strike. Leymah threatened to take off all her clothes at the eventual peace talks when an impasse had been reached, unless they would continue to talk. Reminds me of some of Jesus’ suggestions in the Sermon on the Mount.
Sometimes people are so stuck in negative patterns that creativity is needed to help them find freedom from oppressive systems. Milton Erickson once said, “symptoms often outlive their causes and the people afflicted by them are looking for a graceful exit.” Whether it is helping a couple escape an escalating vicious cycle of accuse and defend by prescribing intentional fighting unbeknownst to the other, or deconstructing the nefarious, political effects of anorexia or bullying to reveal competent young people, or seeking restorative justice by extending invitations of responsibility to men who have abused; defying the common held dehumanizing beliefs, and instead believing that perpetrator as well as victim can know the full healing of God’s Kingdom. These are all examples of proactively, resisting injustice. This is peacemaking; peacemaking in marriage and family therapy.