Most people who come in for couples counseling want to change their partner. They usually have very little interest in self-growth. Their initial goal is to get the counselor to see their point of view and then to change their spouse or significant other.
Over the years, I have had to tell many clients that I do not have a magic wand, but I can help them if they are willing to be open-minded, take a good hard look at themselves, work hard, and have patience for the process. Change really is a process. It is not overnight. Problems that took years to create take some time to resolve.
When two people are really willing to look at themselves without pointing the finger at their partner, things often begin to change. Although each person may think that the other is to blame, relationship problems often resemble a dance. Each person is an active participant in the flow of the relationship.
When both people work on being the absolute best that they can be, regardless of the actions of others, things often turn around.
Take Kim and John for example.
Kim and John had let resentments build and were close to separation when they came to see me. Although the bitterness was deep, they made it very clear that they both still wanted the relationship to work.
John said Kim was always complaining and did not appreciate how hard he worked and all that he did for her and the family. He said she was never happy and showed him no respect.
Kim said John would get angry and throw her intimate disclosures back in her face. She said that if John really loved her he would never hit her verbally where it really hurt. She reported that he had a pattern of going for the jugular.
John felt unappreciated and disrespected and Kim felt unloved.
It wasn’t until John and Kim both stopped blaming each other and began to focus on their own self-growth that their relationship began to turn around. Over time Kim became more aware of the small positive things that John was doing and let him know how much she appreciated him. She noticed many great things that he had been doing all along- things that she had overlooked while focusing on John’s idiosyncracies.
The more appreciated and respected John felt, the more he watched the words he chose to use with Kim. He stayed away from her vulnerable areas, and she began to feel emotionally safe with John. This made her feel loved. The more loved she felt the more she appreciated and respected John. As each person worked on themselves, their relationship began to snowball in an extremely positive direction. Slow at first and then more rapidly.
Do you want to improve your relationship? Start by dropping some of your defenses and look at your part in the dance. If it takes two to tango, it takes two to change the dance. Focus on your part and your part alone. Just focus on being the best that you can be.