"If my partner would just ____ we'd be fine." is a common complaint for couples just starting couple's coaching.
Partner A feels like the real problem is that Partner B won't stop doing this or start doing that.
Their frustration over their partner not doing it "their way" builds over time until resentments overtake appreciations in the relationship.
The majority of couples that start counseling are focused on the things their partner needs to do to make things right. It's rare that an individual will volunteer the things they need to do, to improve the couple's life.
The ability to accept your partner's influence, and do things "their way" is one of the primary tasks of conflict management according to the Gottman Institute of Seattle Washington. Drs John and Julie Gottman have studied thousands of couples and concluded that there are certain behaviors that really help couples thrive. While other habits are quite destructive to achieving peace and harmony at home.
Believing that your partner needs to change in order for things to be better is understandable. However, you can't control another person, and often attempts to control can produce resistant behaviors and partners that "stand their ground" against the desired requests.
This occurs frequently when individuals frame their requests as demands. Or they are asking their partner to do something that really goes against the inner values and needs of their partner.
For example, Partner A may need Partner B to be more neat and orderly around the house. But partner B may be ill-equipped to satisfy that request. Many times when I ask Partner B what's stopping them from being able to be more organized and tidy, I'll hear reports of past attempts that "never met the standard" of Partner A.
If someone is criticized for their efforts enough, they eventually shut down, and refuse to even try. They develop a degree of learned helplessness. "Why should I even try? My partner isn't going to notice the positive things I do, and it won't ever be good enough."
Partner A's of the world usually do not mean to sabotage their efforts to "improve" Partner B by doling out criticism instead of praise, and are often unaware of how critical they are coming across.
I worked with one couple where Partner B said they had repeatedly tried to yield to the desires of their mate, only for their spouse to say they were doing things incorrectly, or not in the right moment, etc..
Partners that are critical often aren't aware of how they are coming across. When asked they will say things like "Well, they didn't clean behind the fridge, and it's really yucky back there." or "I told them the dishwasher has to be loaded with the bowls on top, but they keep putting them on the bottom."
A mindset that your criticism is justified because you are "right" will not help your partner make improvements; it usually backfires.
So how do you resolve the issue of your partner not doing the "right things"?
The answer is actually simple:
In couple's coaching, focus on your behaviors, and how you can improve yourself. You have control over yourself. So if you work on being the absolute best partner you can be, and your partner does the same thing, progress happens.
Couple's that make the most progress are the ones that are competitive about being an awesome partner.
When two people are working to make positive changes in themselves, instead of waiting for their partner to change, magical progress happens.
Kathleen Anderson LMHC LLC
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Dr. John Gottman on accepting influence and expressing appreciation.