As the leaves change colors and fall to the ground, I think to myself how much certainty there is to the seasons and yet opportunities for change. There is certainty to our lives through our sense of security, the people we surround ourselves with and when our experiences meet our expectations. On the other hand, there are opportunities for change when we challenge our beliefs, make adaptations in order to meet new challenges, and when we make efforts to listen in order to understand.
What is your method for deciding what should remain the same and what should change in your relationship? I am noticing in my work with couples that when this question comes up, more often than not there is some sense of resistance to choosing between accepting or adjusting. Both partners enter the relationship with their own vision of what a relationship will look like, And let’s be honest, when there is vision, there are expectations and hopes. What happens when the vision hasn’t come to life? Do we have a willingness to accept a new vision? And do we have that same willingness to make the changes as necessary?
There is a common misconception that others have about my job as a couples therapist. I make it a point to let my clients know that my job is not to keep people together. My job is to hold up a mirror and ask each partner what aspects of the relationship they are willing to accept or adjust. Some couples can feel discouraged or uncomfortable with this question because then they begin to recall their baggage, hurt history, or are still consumed in feeling defensive before honestly answering.
When we get down to it, couples come into therapy with their own set of expectations. I remind couples that since therapy is a process, there are going to be plenty of times where the therapeutic process feels conflicting, disappointing, frustrating as well as sessions that make them feel heard/understood, are insightful and encouraging. Each session is informative to our grand question: “What should we begin to accept and what should we begin to adjust?”
I have the privileged position of trust where I can continue to ask my client’s their “why”. If they can continue to pour energy into their jobs, Netflix binge-watching habits, and other hobbies, why couldn’t they pour energy into bettering themselves and the relationship through accepting and adapting? This is not an easy ask and there are common “thought traps” that accompany this process. I have outlined these “thought traps” below along with some general reframes.
- What about me? Chances are if you are asking yourself “What about me?” your partner is asking themselves the same thing. Both of you should relieve yourself of this burden and make moves toward your own fulfilment. Your partner does not have a responsibility to keep you happy and fulfilled. They have a choice to be willing to be an active participant but they are only able to do this if ultimately they have a strong sense of self, have a way to fulfill their own needs and aren’t burned out. The same goes for you.
- They aren’t changing, why should I?- Usually when people say this statement, it is coming from a place of resentment and they are met with some options. They can either: continue to speak out of resentment (ultimately unproductive), leave the relationship (this could bring relief/and or regret) or they can begin to make individual changes that they plan to sustain no matter the outcome of the relationship status. If your partner is not making adjustments to meet their own needs let alone the relational needs, why do you allow them to have such a high influence over your own efforts for yourself?
- I’m tired of putting in the work and I’m still not happy in this relationship–You may need to ask yourself why you are still here. I am here to tell you that there are things about every relationship that have the potential to become deal breakers IF both partners are not willing to make a change. If over time you are making these changes and your partner seems to be consumed in resentment, what are they doing about it? Is this their new normal and therefore become a form of certainty? Or do they want to do something about it and find opportunities to heal from it, become closer to you and challenge their way of thinking? This may be that time to begin asking yourself if a more drastic change is needed. This shouldn’t exclude the possibility of walking away from the relationship (after much consideration first, of course).
When I am working with a couple who is unwilling to accept or make changes, it usually is related to a fear as well as misplaced expectations. Think of your relationship as a masterpiece and your current challenges are a canvas. You hold the paintbrush to pick and choose what colors you want your canvas to have and no matter what colors your partner chooses, you choose the ones you feel would ultimately make you proud of your contribution. Sure there are some colors you choose that you find are complimentary to your partner’s but not ALL colors should be chosen or kept based on your partner’s own painting process. Go out there and take advantage of the foliage but outdoors and in your relationship 🙂
Diana Nesko, MS, LCMFT provides couple, family, and individual therapy in our Bethesda, MD office and virtually to clients located in the State of Maryland. Call or email today to set up your first appointment or a complimentary consultation with Diana.