The hardest part of couples therapy is the couple accepting the need to improve their response to a problem (how you think about it, feel about it, or what to do about it). Very few people want to focus on improving their response. It’s more common to build a strong case for why the other should do the improving.
You can’t change your partner. Your partner can’t change you. You can influence each other, but that doesn’t mean you can change each other. Becoming a more effective partner is the most efficient way to change a relationship.
It’s easy to be considerate and loving to your partner when the vistas are magnificent, the sun is shining and breezes are gentle. But when it gets bone chilling cold, you’re hungry and tired, and your partner is whining and sniveling about how you got him into this mess, that’s when you get tested. Your leadership and your character get tested. You can join the finger pointing or become part of the solution to the problem.
The more you believe your partner should be different, the less initiative you will take to change the patterns between you.
Asking good questions–of yourself and your partner–helps you uncover flaws in the area of assumptions (dangerous area for couples) which left unchecked, become the basis for giving up and saying –” what’s the use?:
• In a strong disagreement, do you really believe your partner is entitled to their opinion?
• Under duress, do you have the courage and tenacity to seek your partner’s reality and the courage to express your reality when the stakes are high?
• Why is it important to let your partner know what you think, feel and are concerned about? (Because they really can’t appreciate what they don’t understand.)
• What is the price your partner will have to pay to improve their response to you? How much do you care about the price they will have to pay? (Everything has a price and we always pay it.)
• Can you legitimately expect your partner to treat you better than you treat him/her?
• If you want your partner to change, do you think about what you can do to make it easier?
• When a problem shows up, it’s natural to think “What should I do about it?”
A much more productive question is. “How do I aspire to be in this situation?”
The Importance of Communication
The three most important qualities for effective communication are respect, openness and persistence. Good communication is much more difficult than most people want to believe. Effective negotiation is even harder. A couple’s vision emerges from a process of reflection and inquiry. It requires both people to speak from the heart about what really matters to each. We are all responsible for how we express ourselves, no matter how others treat us.
Communication is the number one presenting problem in couples counseling. Effective communication means you need to pay attention to:
- Managing unruly emotions, such as anger that is too intense
- How you are communicating – whining, blaming, vague, etc.
- What you want from your partner during the discussion
- What the problem symbolizes to you
- The outcome you want from the discussion
- Your partner’s major concerns
- How you can help your partner become more responsive to you
- The beliefs and attitudes you have about the problem.
A more powerful approach to couple’s therapy sessions is for each member of the couple to do the following before each session:
- Remind yourself of your objectives for being in therapy.
- Think about your next step that supports or relates to your larger objectives for the kind of relationship you wish to create or the partner you aspire to become.
Remember the reasoning behind finding answers to change the endless fighting and negativity and conclude the following is for you:
“Marriage is the highest state of friendship. If happy, it lessens our cares by dividing them, at the same time that it doubles our pleasures by mutual participation.”
Couple in therapy photo available from Shutterstock