As an experienced couples therapist in Santa Rosa, CA, I work with a lot of really intelligent people. Mostly, they come to me because they say they want change and they hope I can get them there. Sometimes they want to change, and sometimes they want their partner to change (mostly the latter) but they usually say change is necessary and even desirable.
Then come the obstacles; “People can’t (don’t) really change.” ” Men can’t (don’t) change.” “Women don’t (can’t) change.”
What they really mean is that change is hard – really hard – and clients have varying degrees of motivation to do that hard work. Mostly, they are asking themselves, and me, some tough and appropriate questions.
The first is “If I change, what’s in it for me? What will I get from my partner if I change?” That is a very practical question.
There are stages to the process of change. In the first stage, a person isn’t aware there is a problem but becomes aware in some way. Sometimes awareness is sudden and traumatic, such as discovering an affair or having a partner move out. Sometimes it’s more gradual.
Once it become apparent that there is a problem, a person thinks about change. Should they? Must they? What kind of change? Usually, one partner will try to deny, or at least minimize, the problem. “It’s not that bad” or “You’re over-reacting”, or “That’s not the way it was (is)”. Once they find that doesn’t work, they often try to get the partner to change, so they don’t have to. These strategies merely postpone the inevitable – the dissatisfied partner continues to be dissatisfied, and then more and more unhappy, sad, angry, withdrawn – and the situation worsens.
That’s where I come in and that first question gets asked.
Sometimes all that is needed is a direct answer to the question. If you change, your relationship will be more loving, the two of you will fight less and communicate better, your relationship will have a better chance at continuing instead of ending, your depression/anxiety will lessen and even end, your children will seek you out instead of avoiding you, etc.
Sometimes the encouragement and support that is present in the environment of good counseling is the needed ingredient to facilitate change. And sometimes, one or both partners decide that even with change, the relationship is over.
Even then, there is change. Good counseling, therapy, or coaching, will result in change. Sometime the change is realized very slowly, and sometimes it is more easily apparent, but it should always be a part of the process.