Imagine you wanted to lose weight. You’ve tried everything on your own and you decide to try a weight-loss clinic. You go in for your appointment full of anticipation. You aren’t sure what to expect.
Now imagine that your time with the weight-loss counselor consists of simply talking about how you feel about being overweight. Week after week you just examine your feelings about being overweight - no goals, no weigh-in, no eating plan and no exercise plan. How would you judge the effectiveness of this weight-loss clinic?
You say, “Well I know that talking about my weight problem will not lead to weight loss. I need to change my behavior.” You know from experience that talking about being overweight does not lead you to make the changes necessary to actually lose weight.
Would marriage counseling be any different? Couples often meet with a counselor and simply level their complaints about the relationship toward their partner. The counselor justifies this by saying the couple are working on communication. Does talking lead to change?
Couples must come for counseling with the expectation that each must focus on their contribution to a new, improved relationship. This means taking personal responsibility for making changes in the home, not just talking about it in the counselor’s office.
Every change does not lead to greater satisfaction in the relationship. Just as every lifestyle change does not lead to weight loss. Just as you must monitor your weight, you must find a way to monitor your relationship satisfaction in order to measure whether your efforts are successful.
There are many ways of measuring marital satisfaction, but perhaps the easiest is to rank you general satisfaction from 0 to 100. Better yet, you can break down the relationship into components, for instance communication, conflict management, finances, parenting, sex, leisure time, etc. and rank your satisfaction with each.
Even if you are just discussing problems in your relationship, you should reach a point at which each of you commit to change and agree to measuring this change. When you are stuck in an argument, take a time-out and write down (1) what you could do to contribute to your partner’s satisfaction with the outcome and (2) how each of your satisfaction with the outcome could be measured. When you return to the argument, you will find it has changed…but there is still work to do!