When Bob and Carol come into my office the first time, two things about them are immediately clear to me. Bob thinks Carol needs to change and he's just along for the ride; Carol is certain Bob needs to make all the changes. It's a recipe for disaster. Whether it's couples counseling, relationship coaching, or marital therapy, there are a few things that can help you get started on the right foot and stay true to your goal of improving your relationship.
- Be willing to change. There are some circumstances in which it is about one of you, for example: active addiction and active abuse. For most couples, it's about the relationship. Blaming your partner for everything, or expecting them to be the only one to make changes, is doomed to fail. You must both participate actively.
- Show up. Be on time and don't cancel sessions. Make it a priority. Ask yourself if work or other activities should interfere with scheduling your sessions. Ask yourself why you don't have the time to work on your relationship. Make time.
- Talk. The therapist/coach has expert skills to help you move forward, but there is no crystal ball or magic wand. You're the expert on yourself and your relationship. You must share what you know by talking about it. No one can do this for you. You'll receive the help you need, as long as you're willing to do everything you can to help yourself.
- Listen. I know I said talk, but there's nothing more frustrating to me than hearing one person pour out their heart while the other is staring off into space, oblivious. Saying you had a tough day at work, or you're distracted because you're hungry, is a poor excuse. Be determined to focus, listen and try to understand what your partner has to say.
- Be courageous. You're heading down the path of change together, without knowing exactly where it will lead, or what you will encounter along the way. That takes a lot of courage. There may be wild animals along the way. You have to be willing to face them down and take some risks.
- Work hard. It takes more than the time spent in your session to make lasting changes happen. Following suggestions or doing assignments at the last minute, or not doing them at all because they seem stupid or difficult, is not going to cut it. Do your homework or say you thought it was stupid. Say what you think, even if you believe it might be unwelcome.
- Be honest. You've got to fess up to the truth. No matter how painful, the truth always trumps your fear of it. It's going to come out eventually anyway. There’s no point going to therapy and not being honest. Face it, and see if you can both move on.
- Practice. There are many things you may be asked to do. You may not feel moved to do things like offer compliments on a daily basis. If it can help you connect with your partner, keep trying.
- Give it time. When it comes to any type of serious self-improvement, whether it's individual or couples focused, it can take a lot of persistence and suspension of disbelief before you start to see the change you're seeking. It's like unlearning a bad habit. It takes a lot of effort.
- Don't wait. Don't wait until you're about to divorce. If you believe there are serious problems in the marriage, take charge and get some help. Five years of conflict are a lot easier to address than 25 years.
Your coach or therapist plays an important role in creating the means for you to move forward down the path of change. Still, to adopt a recipe for success, Bob and Carol must commit to these ten things. Look at this list and see if you can agree to do all of these things. If you can, there's good reason to believe you can create a happier relationship.
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