Feeling Better vs Getting Better

Let's think about feeling better vs getting  better. Do you focus on helping your clients feel better or get better?

A huge problem with highly distressed partners is that we can’t give them what they want right away.

What distressed partners really want when they come to therapy is to feel better. They understandably want immediate relief from pain.

Relief comes from the partner making characterological changes – easily and effortlessly. Relief comes from the partner complying with demands and expectations – the sooner the better.

Sadly, the more “thin-skinned” or sensitive to criticism a partner is, the more desperate they will be to involve the therapist in changing the partner.

Getting better means developing and strengthening their differentiation.
Getting better means self-soothing.
Getting better means accepting that their partners are flawed.
Getting better means slowing down and recognizing the impact they have on their partners.
Getting better means understanding that when their partners let them down, there are better solutions than attacking, demanding or withdrawing.
Getting better means refusing to let disappointments turn into global negative beliefs about their partner’s horrible motives.
Getting better actually means developing a deeper awareness of who their partner is and improving their response to a problem or troublesome situation.

Each of these takes sustained effort.

Who wouldn’t rather feel better than get better? But we know that in the long run, our therapy will be more successful and our couples will be stronger if we can help them embrace the greater goal of “getting better,” even if it is at the expense of “feeling better” immediately.

To me, this is a central concept in our work. I encourage you to think about it. Explain it to couples who demand desire for immediate relief. Remember it yourself, for comfort during difficult sessions when clients pull on you to create symbiotic solutions to their problems.

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Dr. Ellyn Bader

Dr. Ellyn Bader is Co-Founder & Director of The Couples Institute and creator of The Developmental Model of Couples Therapy. Ellyn is widely recognized as an expert in couples therapy, and since 2006 she has led innovative online training programs for therapists. Professionals from around the world connect with her through internet, conference calls and blog discussions to study couples therapy. Ellyn’s first book, "In Quest of the Mythical Mate," won the Clark Vincent Award by the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists for its outstanding contribution to the field of marital therapy and is now in its 18th printing. She has been featured on over 50 radio and television programs including "The Today Show" and "CBS Early Morning News," and she has been quoted in many publications including "The New York Times," "The Oprah Magazine" and "Cosmopolitan."

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