For this month’s blog, let’s look at tools and questions you can use to facilitate change in the middle stages of couples work. There is a tendency for therapy to stall in the middle stage of work and for couples to become lazy about doing homework or making changes outside of the room.
First, be honest with yourself. Do your sessions with a particular couple start feeling repetitive? Ask yourself:
- Have the partners lost their motivation?
- Has sufficient progress been made for now?
- Is the couple working productively and the pace is just slower than you would like?
- Is the couple stuck? Are there too many different agendas and is each partner working in opposite directions?
- Is it time to terminate?
When you get honest with yourself, it becomes easier to ask your clients:
- Do you feel like our sessions are productive?
- Are you getting the results you want?
- What do you wish you would do more of in our sessions?
- What do you wish I would do more of in our sessions?
- Are you staying focused on the changes you want between sessions?
- Are you experimenting with new behaviors?
- What do you wish you would do more of between sessions?
- Will you follow through on some homework for the next few weeks?
- Will you help design a homework assignment for yourself that will push you in ways that may create anxiety for you, but will also contain valuable risks?
Here is one example of a moderate risk homework for a couple stuck in repetitive arguments.
Use it when you would like to stir up some energy. This is one of my favorites designed by my husband, Peter Pearson. It goes like this:
Ask the couple to have 2 discussions this coming week. The statement they are going to discuss is “In marriage, most of the time, it's better to be kind than right.”
Repeat the statement: “In marriage, most of the time, it's better to be kind than right.”
At home this week, each person can take a turn discussing whether they agree or disagree with this statement and why they hold that opinion. The partner who is listening should ask penetrating questions without reacting or pushing their own opinion. Remind your couple that this is a discussion and it is not a time to fight, push a personal point of view, or lose focus.
Ask your couple, “If you agree with the statement that it is better to be kind than right, how would you apply that concept to common arguments you have?”
Or consider this question: “How would you apply that concept to a recent disagreement or argument and talk about this with each other? This homework will lead to rich material for your next couples session.”
If you are a therapist or coach who openly and non-defensively evaluates yourself and your couple, be proud of yourself. Give yourself an extra pat on the back when you are willing to acknowledge that you are at the edge of your own ability or knowledge. Ask yourself, “What is my next growth edge?” This is how you will grow as a person and as a strong therapeutic leader.
I love to see comments on my blog posts. In the commenting section below please share your thoughts. Are you able to be open and non-defensive in your self-evaluation? What is your next growth edge in improving your therapy skills? Or write about your reactions to this exercise.