Category Archives: Self Improvement

When Your Partner Won’t Change

“Jane” came to therapy because she didn’t know how to deal with her partner.  She complained of feeling devalued, unappreciated, unloved.  She felt frustrated and angry about her partner’s lack of responsiveness to her unhappiness.  She described what sounds like a pretty unsatisfactory relationship with a partner who had no interest in participating in therapy, who made no attempt to change despite all of the arguments and pleading to do so.  She didn’t want to lose her relationship and hoped to figure out both what’s wrong with her partner and how she can make her partner change.

“Jane” is a fictitious person representing an all too uncommon scenario in my therapy practice.  The question is, what can be done here?

The answer, on a superficial level, is very simple.  Jane needs to make a decision about whether to stay in or leave the relationship.  If Jane chooses to stay, and her partner won’t change, then she has to change. 

On a deeper level, the issues of staying, leaving, and changing are more complex.  Staying or leaving a committed relationship depends on each individual’s values, emotional feelings towards the other person, practical matters such as children or finances, unmet needs from childhood which often play a part in what we think should be supplied to us in a relationship, fears of being alone.

Changing can seem horribly unfair when the person who comes to therapy is the person with the least amount of changing to do.  After all, they at least can see there’s a problem!  Change is also often difficult and frightening.  But while change can’t always be made externally in one’s environment, change can be made in one’s self.

A therapeutic environment can help you sort out your expectations and feelings, perhaps ultimately determining whether you want to stay in or leave the relationship.  It is a decision only you can make.  It can also help you make changes leading to your own personal growth, which will be helpful no matter what decision you ultimately make about your relationship.

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Attachment, Part II

Further consideration of our attachments in life bring to mind the Buddhist view of how attachments cause stress in our lives.  This speaks more to our attachment to worldly goods, our attachment to “how things should be”  our attachment to our perceptions of situations, other people, and even our view of ourselves.  Dr. Steven Hayes, developer of Acceptance & Commitment Therapy and author of Get Out Of Your Mind and Into Your Life, has said that suffering results from what we do to avoid emotional pain and our adherence to our own story.  The first attachment Dr. Hayes refers to is the thinking we attach to something or someone that causes us pain.  We work to avoid the pain that is aroused by those thoughts with denial, distraction, blame, even substance misuse.  The second attachment has to do with our “adherence to our own story”.  This is the story we have developed about ourselves or our position on a certain issue which we refuse to relinquish.  Consider the following questions:

  • When is the last time you knew you were right about an issue and wouldn’t budge?
  • How about the last time you were sure it was the other person who had a problem and not you?
  • What feelings did this kind of thinking bring up in you?
  • What kind of resistance was created by the rigidity of such thinking?
  • What if we let go of our attachment to how things should be or how people in our lives should behave, and simply acknowledge the loneliness, fear and disconnect we feel in our lives?
  • Wouldn’t that be the most honest place to start?

Awareness

Often the beginning of a new year stimulates our desire to create a fresh start.  We want to accomplish something, improve ourselves, create stronger relatonships, move up in our career, or find a new career.  We are apt to grow tired of our creeping dissatisfaction.  We want more.  Clients are most likely to enter therapy or hire a personal coach at this time than  any other time of the year.

Yet, how do we find the balance between wanting to be more and do more, but avoid the continual chase towards something perpetually beyond our grasp?  In other words, how do we know when we should be pushing ourselves to achieve more, or when we need to be still, opening our awareness up to what has been around us all along?

There are no easy answers.   I believe that when it comes to what we want in our lives, when we feel the need to choose between action and awareness, we must start with awareness.  We must take the time to be still, assess what and who is around us, noticing how we mesh with those in our environment.  Only then can we decide whether to move forward toward a goal, or create a broader goal to deepen the embrace of what, and who we already have.  When in doubt, action is more likely to grow from awareness.