In my profession as a psychotherapist specializing in couples work I have often encountered client complaints about positive gains they had achieved, but no traction around them in the past.
It reminds me of the old cynical joke the “regulars” at the gym would make about the Newbies who joined every January: that come March, these crowds would be gone, and we’d have the place to ourselves again. Sadly, it was always true – all the positive intentions and energy the January crowd brought didn’t last more than a month or two. They weren’t able to build traction in their exercise endeavors. And, whether you’re talking about sustained change in your exercise habits or sustained change in your marriage, the requirements are very similar.
If, as an example, you and your spouse would like to communicate more effectively, (the most common goal I encounter in my work with couples), you’ll need to use these five tools:
1. To make sure you’re moving steadily in the right direction it will require that you use a “map” of sorts. Where would you like to go? What is your destination? Be clear about what “getting there” looks like. Will there be more attentive listening? Will there be more clarity about wants and needs or more focus in your conversations? Establish clearly understood and definable goals.
2. Be clear about what you’ll each need to stay with the journey. Reassurance from each other? Some type of break or pleasurable time out from the work? Positive feedback about the emergence of better conversations? In other words, what will you each need in the way of “supplies” to maintain your efforts?
3. Establish markers of progress. What “sign posts” will you see on your “map” that will tell you you’re either moving in the right direction or going off course? Will you be spending more time together? Will you be sharing more confidences? Will more problems be solved? Will you feel calmer / happier together?
4. Reward yourselves with acknowledgment about the meaning of the gains you’ve made. What has made your efforts worth it? Do you feel closer? Do you feel more committed to your marriage? If you have kids, are they calmer or happier around the two of you? Establish clear motivations to maintain the gains made.
5. Celebrate your success as you reach your “destination.” If, as an example, your conversations are flowing more freely with less defensiveness, celebrate your positive gains with something meaningful to both of you – go away for a special weekend, get a new “toy”, like new skis, or an upgraded TV, or even a special book you’ve wanted to read together. Celebrate your success with some material or quality time indulgence that punctuates your efforts and achievements.
Use these five tools to achieve traction around any gains you’ve made individually and together, so you don’t become like another “March dropout” at the gym!