Starting (or Considering) Couples Therapy March 9, 2013
When couples are having trouble, it is natural for each person to feel that improvement depends on change in the other. On one level, this is no doubt true: many of your complaints are probably justified, and if your partner changed, chances are that you would feel happier in some way.
But on another level, there is something untrue, or at least limiting, about this view. For one thing, waiting for change in the other person, no matter how justified, can be a formula for feeling discouraged and powerless. And feeling powerless to do anything to help a painful situation can turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy. I have seen many times in my practice how even a small expectancy of change--the feeling that one can do something--can lead to unexpected changes in the other.
Second, when partners in a relationship feel powerless, they can not help but communicate their feelings of despair and anger to the other, usually in a manner that makes it very difficult for their partner even to listen, let alone to consider changing their behavior.
I have found the following to be extremely useful questions to ask yourself when considering couples therapy (or trying to improve your relationship without therapy):
When my partner is acting______ (fill in the blank), how could I respond in a way that best fits my values, or my ideal of how I want to be?
If everything gets better, but a year from now we are in danger of relapsing into old patterns, what would I like to be able to do to get things get back on track?
If I honestly conclude that 95% of the problem stems from my partner, what is the 5% I may be able to change?
What did I do the last time we were having a difficult conflict that contributed to it not getting out of control?
Given that most of what my partner is saying about me when we are arguing is accusatory, exaggerated and just plain wrong, is there even 5% of what I am hearing in some way accurate - that is, something I need to hear?
If, beginning tomorrow, I were to pretend for a day (or a week) that my partner had made the changes I’ve been requesting, what would I be doing differently?
If you and your partner make a regular habit of quietly asking yourselves these questions, you may find yourself discovering approaches or even solutions that seemed impossible before.