December 10, 2013
The question of can people change is always an interesting one. The short answer is yes, we can all change absolutely anything about ourselves, if we have a strong enough desire to.
So the question many people have on their mind when considering whether to come to relationship or marriage counselling is: “If my partner hasn’t already changed the things about himself that I most have problems with, will he or she be able to do it with the help of relationship counselling, and just as importantly, will those changes stay, or just fade away with time?”
To answer this question more fully, it is important to understand that we come into this life pre-wired by way of our personality type. The personality system I find exceptionally helpful in understanding why we do the things we do, without being conscious of it, is the Enneagram. (more about the Enneagram in another blog)
So we each have tendencies towards doing things a certain way. Whether we continue to do things this way or change depends on whether the results of these actions are positive or negative for us. If we are experiencing either positive benefits, or the absence of negative impact on ourself personally, then we will continue to do what comes naturally.
If, however we start to suffer from the impact of these natural tendencies, either as internal difficulties, or as difficulties in interacting with others or the world, then we can do 1 of 2 things:
1. Blame others or the world in general
2. Look at what in us needs to change for us to start getting a more positive outcome or experience.
Now, plenty of people take the first option, but that just makes you feel like a victim or cynical complainer- no chance of happiness there.
The second option is the healthiest way to go. Usually the extent of our pain will determine the extent of our motivation to change. It is usually as simple as that.
That is why often we can get the most stunningly positive changes in relationship counselling when a couple has got to the stage of being so sick of their relationship the way it is that they decide it is either make or break: we either fix it or leave it.
In relationship counselling also, we explain that for a relationship to have deteriorated, there will be contribution from both sides. In counselling many thousands of couples, I have yet to find a couple where it is all one partner’s contribution.
Couples often find it amazing how when we work on both sides together, how improvements can be so radical, so that the whole process can gradually become a joint project, rather than an adversarial one.
When talking about the stickability of changes, it is important to manage these carefully, and to have a check-in process in place to ensure each member of the couple honours their commitment to the other,on an ongoing basis.
More next week on why empathy is difficult for men.