Small Changes, Marriage Therapy and Patching the Boat

Do any of you have the same problem that I have around the first of the year? Each December, when the bells of Christmas haven’t even really quit vibrating yet, I decide that this will be the year that I will take better control of my health. Not just a more finely tuned management, mind you. Nay, this will be the year that I finally screech across the finish line of the holiday season devoid of gluten and dairy with a six pack that rivals Jada Pinkett Smith’s. I will, masterfully, change the whole kit and kaboodle into a testament to willpower and angles rather than continue on as the voluptuary I suspect I might actually be.

Now, mind you, I am a therapist last time I checked, so I have enough horse sense and academic sense to know that this kind of totalitarian overhaul is a fantasy anyway. We mentally run ahead to the final result and chide ourselves for not embodying that larger end goal in the here and now. And, in our shame and frustration that we’re not there yet, we bite off more than we can chew. That always, dear readers, ends in choking or spitting it out entirely. There, sketched out for you, is the disintegration of a sloppily-laid plan.

In reality, the only way that change ever works is by making small, boring changes one at a time until they add up to a larger picture of evolution. Yawn, right? This isn’t just true of health goals–it’s true of all goals including the ones that people come to me to achieve–relationship goals.

Generally, clients are ready to run me out of the room with a stick about minute 20 of their first session. I’m surprised they don’t set me on fire sometime during the third session. This is because I will make of myself the biggest speed bump possible until a few simple changes are achieved first. I mean it. We’re not moving on into deep waters until I know the boat you’re traveling in doesn’t have holes in it any longer. Otherwise I’ll be a party to a drowning rather than a collaborative rowing off into the sunset. I refuse to set you up for that. Clients don’t realize this at first, but it’s not necessary for your therapist to help you create radical insights. It is necessary for her to give you the tools to invite and care take for those big revelations when it’s time for them. You know, teach a man to fish and all.boat

Good change, change that will stick is small, people. It’s really, really frickin’ small.

This isn’t just a theory on my part. This is the result of many years of attempting to figure out how to be good at what I do. So, what have a discovered that you need to know?

1) Hear no evil: Your partner will tell you what she or he wants you to change. This is a radical idea, I know. Most of you believe that many of the heated conversations you have about big things (family, work, infidelity, sex, romance, etc.) are so large and all-consuming that any appropriate starting point will be tremendously complex. Nope. Inevitably, when I ask clients what the first behavioral thing they need to see happen differently is, it’s something small. It’s usually along the lines of, “tell me he appreciates me more” “give me a hug when she comes home rather than jumping immediately into dinner plans,” “text me more during the day.” My hard sell is getting troubled clients to believe that if they do this small thing consistently and with heart big changes will occur. If someone is handing you the map to the treasure chest, why must you assume that it doesn’t actually mark the spot?

2) Touch me: You can say almost any delicate, scary thing if you look your partner in the eye and make some sort of physical connection with him or her. Clients laugh at me about this until I get up, come over to the giant ottoman in front of my therapy couch and have a conversation with them that way. They recognize immediately the instant attention and sense of rapport they feel no matter what silly thing I may be saying. It works at home. Make strong eye contact, put your hand on your partner’s arm and ask the same old thing. See what’s different.

3) Speak their language:  Though I kinda hate pop psychology books on the whole, the “Love Language” books make a really lovely point. You will demonstrate your love for your partner in whatever way you experience love. This makes sense. Folks who value acts of service will make their partners’ lunches, clean the house and quietly get tires rotated. That will be a fantastic match if your loved one is also an acts of service kind of guy or gal. However, if what she or he needs is words of affirmation, you can rotate all the tires in the world with no reward. That isn’t your partner’s language. He or she needs to have a conversational reward instead. There is no right or wrong to that. But, it you will be so much happier when you know what language you need to speak in order to get a relational win.

Do you need some help breaking your larger concerns into actionable items? Would you like me to show you how those small changes can lead you to a happier place? Why don’t you come on in so that we can talk about it.

Your Partner in Healing,


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