I remember back to the day Nan and I entered counseling together. I felt tricked in the way it happened. I was at my job when I got a call from “Nan’s” counselor, David. He told me it would be very helpful if I could join one of their sessions to work on some stuff. I knew David from some counseling center activities where Nan was training. He was kind and persuasive. I accepted, reluctantly.
My reluctance was because my belief at the time was that I was being brought in so that they could “fix” me. The truth, I knew, was that there was a broken part of me (always will be something) that needed attention and I was scared. Probably prideful and arrogant, too. But actually the goal was to improve our marriage and save it from eroding any further. Maybe even prevent a divorce. (It worked)
My observance is that the most successful couples in counseling come with the right attitude and perspective.
There are three possible agendas people can hold when entering counseling.
- I am coming to counseling to change him/her.
- I am coming to counseling to change us.
- I am coming to counseling to change me which will improve us.
The last scenario is the most successful, especially when the couple does the homework. Yes, there is actual homework. It might be reading something or doing an exercise at home. Especially if you were raised in a church, you will know about “Sunday Christians”. They hold it together for an hour or two while attending a church service, but then leave it at the door for the rest of the week. Counseling is like that too. An hour session every week or two is not going to make a difference if it isn’t carried into the rest of the time in between.
Why? Change is hard. Really hard. It takes time, effort and humility. It means shifting our beliefs and patterns about how to do life and relationships. It means catching ourselves and forcing new thoughts and actions. I can have a pretty critical nature. Oh, you probably wouldn’t think so if you met me. I can hide it pretty effectively. But I haven’t hidden it from Nan. Unless I work on it intentionally, it will just leak out of me as naturally as – well, let’s leave it there.
It is the same with medications. They are very helpful, but they can’t do all the work. They may do some of the heavy lifting, but it takes counseling, willingness and surrender to change the behavioral habits associated with the problem.
If you are in couples’ counseling and it seems like it is going at a snail’s pace, you might want to ask yourself which of the above categories you fit best. Be honest. I really wanted Nan to change, but I was afraid of changing myself. It slowed down our progress until I embraced my own stuff. I even convinced myself that I was working on me, but I had my eyes solidly on her the whole time as well. Once I surrendered to God, things began to move along much better. My focus shifted and my heart softened. Unity became the goal.
Even if you aren’t in counseling, a change in your focus and attitude can yield some great results in your relationship.