by Ken Long, Professional Counselor and Evangelist for Lawrence Kansas ICOC
Clients in general and couples in particular, by the time they reach the counselor’s office, often “have tried everything else”. Counseling is often a last ditch effort. They have gotten off track, spun their wheels and found themselves in a deep rut – they have embedded bad habits, hurt, anger and resentment. They are often near hopelessness. They need to be taken seriously and often seem to exert large amounts of energy to get the counselor to side with them against their spouse. Each partner drastically needs the other to change. Behaviors that follow are verbal attacks, complaints and scolding, overt or covert threats, defensiveness, resistance, or withdrawal.
Generally speaking, when a person places all the responsibility for change on the other person it increases a personal sense of helplessness, anger and efforts to control. I have never seen the attacked spouse calmly and enthusiastically say “great point. You’re right. I’ll start doing that right now”, (unless they are being sarcastic. More often than not, they respond with a counter-attack or withdraw.
Proverbs 18:19 “An offended man (woman) is more unyielding than a fortified city…” and Galatians 6:7 “…a man (woman) reaps what he sows…” Both scriptures capture the concept of Stimulus – Response.
To change a Response it just makes sense to change the Stimulus. If a couple can SHARE responsibility and work together, improvement comes quicker. To influence the response, it helps to change the stimulus. A “simple” technique I have found to be very helpful is this:
Examples: Partner A wants partner B to engage in more meaningful conversation. Partner B resists by being unavailable, unengaged or quiet.
(1)Partner A states, “I would like us to engage in more meaningful, self-disclosing conversations”, rather than, “you’re selfish and won’t talk”.
(2)Partner B tells partner A “When we talk, I need you to hear me out without jumping to conclusions or interrupting me,” rather than “You always interrupt why should I talk to you”. – OR- “I need you to discuss ideas with me BEFORE you draw conclusions. When you have already decided what we should do, but I haven’t been a part of the thinking process, I feel coerced. I feel that if I ask questions or disagree it’s the same as inviting an argument. I don’t want to argue.”
Relationship interactions are dynamic. If you change one part, it will affect other parts. If you scold your spouse to love you more, then you probably won’t get what you want. If you are kind and supportive of your spouse, you are more likely to get the same.
I have found this exercise to be very helpful, especially when there is gridlock. It even works with clients who have personality disorder symptoms, although it takes more work. Don’t expect it to work smoothly the first few times. Like most things, practice makes perfect or at least better.