2 Key Tactics to Keep Couples Motivated 

Are you afraid of hard work?

Not your own hard work. Your clients’.

Did you know the only way partners can expect meaningful change in their relationship is if they commit to ongoing strenuous effort?

If not, you are not alone. As crazy as it sounds, so many therapists end up working harder than their clients do.

If you want tips for keeping couples motivated, read on…as what I’m about to share will create a lot of relief for you and help you get better results.

In my last blog to you, Get Couples Therapy on Track and Moving: What most Therapists Don’t Know”, I quoted Dr. Peter Pearson. With his wealth of experience working with couples over the last 30 years, he has fine-tuned his approach and is a true Master in the field of couples therapy. He is someone I continue to learn so much from.

I emphasized the two most important messages to hit home with couples is to: a) help them learn to calm their reptilian brain (which is triggered by their partner and reacts badly; and b) to stay ‘forward focused’ in their work with you.

Those two things are hard enough to accomplish. But here’s the kicker. If clients do not know their “why”, then as Dr. Pete says, “they will inevitably lose their way”.  So you have to start here.

First Things First

The fact is this: your attempts to get couples to follow through on your interventions will fall flat, if you haven’t first established their motivation to do the hard work of change.

We’ve all been there – wanting their lives to be better more than they seem to.  The therapy stalls, you have premature dropouts, you start to feel burned out and dread sessions with them or worst of all, angry escalations targeted at you for not changing them fast enough.

Like physicians presented with symptoms, they often want the magic pill,  putting the burden of responsibility for relief square on your shoulders. That’s a recipe for disaster, if partners are ever going to move from a place of dependency and despondency to one of authority and action.  

When you insist on pushing couples to connect to, articulate and commit to their personal process of change, your authority as an effective leader will be established. You will have created the structure necessary to keep them motivated and working.

Two Key Strategies to Shift the Workload

1. Ask each partner to think deeply about their purpose for coming to see you. You are not asking for a pat answer, but a deeply meaningful one. “I want to learn how to become a man my wife can trust and count on,” verses, “To get her off my back.”  Or, “I want to learn how to treat him with respect and be more loving,” rather than, “Find a way to get him to help more with the chores.”

2. Next, ask each partner to describe what it will require of them to bring that change about.  Again, you are not settling for a superficial response about some insignificant action they can take, like “I’ll come home on time for dinner each night”. That probably won’t cut it. It might sound more like, “I need to figure out why I lie to him and cause him so much pain. It will mean me healing the damage of my past.”

Once you have clearly established each partners purpose or deep desire and what exactly they are working on as their growth edge, then ask them to describe the benefits that will result – for themselves and their partner.

Spend time here.  Get them to list as many as they can and add a few yourself that they may have forgotten. This is where the Developmental Model incorporates neuroscience findings. This is the way you anchor it in memory and help them to create new neural pathways.

Have them imagine themselves already there. How do they see themselves reacting, how does it feel, what happens for their partner when they act from their highest self? Have them ascribe a word or phrase to this state and write this down on an index card. Ask that they can carry it with them as a reminder of how they aspire to be when they are triggered by their partner.

Forward Focused

Let them know you will support them to maintain this goal by stepping in each and every time they lose sight of or connection to their personal goal.

You will offer them developmental assists and teach them the necessary skills to stay committed to their ‘why’ – so they won’t lose their way. 

You are modelling the futility of rehashing the past and instead replacing it with the personal gift of showing up as their best self.

By following this formula, you will accomplish what many couples therapist fail to do – place the onus of hard work and perseverance squarely where it needs to be – on those that need to change.

 

All the best,

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