Just as a physician attempts to save a life, Brian Nystrom's mission is to save every marriage at all costs before it can no longer be revived.
Nystrom, who lives in Andover and Nisswa, is a licensed social worker and marriage and family therapist who owns Nystrom & Associates Ltd., four mental health clinics located in Baxter, Duluth, Apple Valley and New Brighton.
He recently wrote a book titled, "Ordinary People, Extraordinary Marriages," a Christian-based guide intended to help couples overcome marital problems.
Nystrom, 42, has been in the mental health field 10 years and decided to write the book to help his clients move more quickly through the process of reconnecting with one another. It's a book that works well for couples in marital counseling or it can be used on its own, he said. The book is available locally at Bethany Bookstore in Brainerd.
Marriages, said Nystrom, will never be perfect. After all, none of us was created to be perfect. In many cases, the underlying reason why a marriage may be disintegrating is because one or both partners aren't putting enough energy into their marriage.
If you stop speaking to or spending time with a friend, your relationship isn't as strong as it once was. Simply put, the same applies in a marriage.
Nystrom asked one couple he recently counseled how much time they actually spend together. They thought about it for a while, but couldn't come up with one single moment the previous week where they had spent any time together. His assignment: They had to spend at least 15 hours together -- just the two of them-- that week and document what they did with their time.
Another couple was close to divorce. One of the problems, he discovered, was that the husband was spending at least 30 hours a week watching sports on television. That left little time for the couple to spend quality time together.
"People think they're going to be close friends and be best friends," said Nystrom. "And I think it's 99.9 percent how marriages start and want to start."
Nystrom and his wife, Mary Ann, have been married for 22 years and have four children: Molly, 20; Andy, 17; Peter, 14; and Joey, 12.
They met while both were attending Brainerd Community College. They married and attended Bethel College together; he was a pre-med major and she was majoring in social work.
One day he decided to sit in on one of Mary Ann's social work classes because it sounded interesting. He soon changed his field of study.
"I'm now her full-time caseload," said Nystrom with a laugh.
Nystrom's book deals with other issues that can harm a marriage, such as negative self-talk and how families influence marriages.
"We learn so much, whether we like it or not, from our childhood," he said.
One of his male clients, when he was 5 years old, was told by his father that it was his last hug. That it was no longer acceptable for his father to hug him. Naturally, the man had problems showing affection to his own sons and wife.
Nystrom said he wrote his book so couples would have 10 free sessions of counseling just by reading and applying the principles in the book.
Nystrom was appointed by former Gov. Arne Carlson to the Minnesota Board of Family Therapy in 1992. He is currently serving his third term on the board and was reappointed by Gov. Jesse Ventura. He also serves on the Disciplinary Panel and Internet Therapy Committee. He is serving his second term on the Board of the Minnesota Chapter of National Association of Social Workers.
He and his wife helped to found Alexandra House, a battered women's shelter, in Blaine in 1979 and worked to help form the women's shelter in Brainerd.
Nystrom said his next book likely will be a book to help men let go of power and control issues.
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