Some partners just stubbornly refuse to be accountable for their own role in a mutual mess and you find yourself going in circles in therapy sessions. Perhaps they are resistant to your best explanations, insights, interpretations and confrontations.
Asking about their goals or what they are willing to change yields trivial results.
We have all been there.
Here is one approach and what you might say to them.
“We seem to be going in circles here. Let’s take a moment to review where we are headed. What do you each think is the purpose or purposes of our meetings?” Then, have a discussion about the purpose of meeting.
In this situation, please don’t ask for goals. The idea of setting a goal will often trigger distracting, unproductive thoughts in one or both partners. I will need to change as soon as I identify a goal, so I will describe goals for my partner instead of for myself or state tiny goals for myself. They may rationalize or give reasons why they should not have a goal until their partner changes xyz.
Asking about purpose seems to circumvent the goal dilemma.
Often they will respond by saying, “We are here to xxx (for example learn to communicate better or stop fighting so much).”
When that happens ask, “Will you say ‘I am here to’ rather than ‘we are here to’? That way I can understand your separate, individual desires better.”
Then comes the “goal question” but it is important to phrase it using a different word. The new word is “required.”
Let’s see how that works:
Just ask, “What do you think will be required of you as an individual to fulfill your purpose for being here?”
Expect a lot of dancing around from clients answering this question. If you get evasive replies, you can say, “This is the reptilian brain in action. It is normal for this part of us to avoid emotional risk, effort and taking the initiative to improve reactions. It’s quite common for the reptilian brain to think it shouldn’t have to do much in the change dept. So if you were to come from your best self what do you think would be required of you to create a more satisfying relationship?”
I think of this as having a collaborative discussion to create more meaningful sessions.
There are different ways to break the inevitable spinning cycle with distressed couples, hopefully you find this to be a useful one.
Please comment below. How likely you are to try this? Better yet, try it and let me know how it works for you!