How Low Motivation Undermines Couples Therapy

In the video I asked you to name some topics or issues clients bring to you with low motivation.

I look forward to reading your comments.

Ellyn Bader

146 responses to “The Impact of Motivation”

  1. Stacey says:

    Very nicely done video! Visually crisp and clean!
    I have trouble with women who are no longer interested in sex and it drives a thick wedge between partners. It appears these women would rather leave their marriage than attempt repair. Some empathy inspiring conversations and sensate touch exercises are initially helpful, even mindfulness and vulnerability exploration seem to help, but ultimately she ends up back in her “protective bubble”. Is this a biological issue for some women, or is it a protective mechanism that that results in low motivation?

    • Joann says:

      How old is this woman? And how many children does she have? I have talked with women who are afraid of getting pregnant again due to painful experiences.

    • Margaret Leviston Psychologist Melbourne Australia says:

      I am working with a couple at the moment who Ellyn describes exactly and just when I think things are changing everything goes back to the same way again the 'emotional bubble' so I am looking forward to hearing the next few videos.

  2. Orca says:

    I'm working with a woman who is desperately unhappy in her marriage and can't get her husband to come in. From her reporting, it seems his anger at life and everyone in it (he recently has cut off his best friend) has permeated his feelings toward his wife….their relationship is one of fear on her part, and fury on his.

    • CBPP says:

      When one who is fearful enters counseling and the spouse refuses to come and is full of fury, lack of motivation is not the real issue. This is a picture of an emotionally destructive relationship with narcissistic behavior patterns. Narcissists always have low motivation to change, as they hold onto the power position, therefore they will never be motivated to work in counseling. They do not have empathy to see how they are hurting others, therefore will not take any responsibility for their part. Couples therapy will only make home life worse for the weaker partner.

      The role of motivation takes on a more personal focus to help the one being victimized by fear and abuse to make changes to become internally strong enough to take action and engage consequences to find freedom from domination.

      I will be interested in hearing Elynn's take on harnessing fear to create motivation to do the hard work of setting boundaries.

      Also, how can motivation be created within the one who is “in control” since the one who cares the least for the relationship, controls the relationship.

      • BU says:

        Agree with CBPP. None of this niceness works with narcissistic or psychopath partners. The one who is controlled. Those partners lie and make things worse for the partner who is trying. The person who is in need of help and strength to rebuild their person, personality, their selfness and trust in that selfness again.
        And then they need the resources and support emotionally and financially to regain their life. I've been there and am still stuggling to be stable & happy with me.
        I believe others who have changed or outgrown each other have much hope of couples therapy. Couple therapy worsens those in the relationships with narcissists or worse.

      • BU says:

        Agree with CBPP. None of this niceness works with narcissistic or psychopathic partners. The one who is intent on controlling. Those partners lie and make things worse for the partner who is trying. The person who is in need of help and strength to rebuild their person, health, personality, their selfness and trust in that selfness again can be helped.
        And then they need the resources and support emotionally and financially to regain their life. I've been there and am still stuggling to be stable & happy with me.
        I believe others who have merely changed or outgrown each other have much hope of couples therapy either to strength the relationship or leave it with less pain and destruction. Couples therapy worsens the situation for those in the relationships with narcissists or worse.

  3. Tony says:

    Absolutely a necessary subject to learn more about.
    Looking forward to the next video

  4. Karin says:

    My experience is that many couples want the other to change. “It is not my fault.” The other has to change before any god things can happen. Even if one of the couples want to change something, they will not do it, if the other does not change first. To leave that position is like giving up your whole identity. Fear of loosing either oneself or the other.

  5. Regina says:

    The trouble I see in my work with couples is one of the members in the couple ship procrastinate coming for therapy due to ‘little hope' that “it” will do any good. I find the individual who ‘put off” coming for couples counseling, has ALREADY left the relationship emotionally and sexually. They physically remain. In others words they remain in the couple ship in body ONLY.

  6. Susan says:

    In my experience, the motivation issue is the core problem and has to be revealed and shared before any change can be experienced. The hardest thing in a couple is to really listen to the other person tell you they don't want to change, and to thank them for being honest rather than trying to convince them to change their feeling.

  7. Jim says:

    This topic is so timely. Thank you for your efforts. Getting your email breaks the isolation I sometimes feel as a therapist doing this work. Your video reminds that what I'm experiencing with my couples is not a result of my ‘failure' but a common problem for all therapists who do this work. I look forward to the rest of this series. Thank you.

  8. Elle says:

    Thank you. I look forward to seeing the next video.

  9. Paige says:

    Good topic. Comes at at good time. I can see where it's hard to condense this issue into highly focused discussion but glad you persisted!

  10. steve says:

    Terrific topic to address. Ellen, I really appreciate how you have described the lack of motivation problem and look forward to the next couple of videos. One way I have approached lack of motivation in general, is to view it not so much as lack of motivation, but that there is motivation, it is just pointed in another direction. You describe one direction as self protection, into the emotional bubble. Keeping this perspective, that the apparent lack of motivation is more about motivation in a different direction than working on improvement of the relationship helps me from being so discouraged and directs me to raise this issue with one or both couples. Nevertheless, to help change the direction of motivation is the challenge you raise. One of the ways I see this issue rear it's ugly head is when the chronic cycles of triggers and same old behavior repeat and there fore don't change fast enough…which demotivates very rapidly.

  11. Salomon says:

    In my time zone : 5:38 PM.
    Extremely interesting, important, I am impatient to learn from you on this.
    My attempts involve two double seats, one partner talks to his/her parents, switches chair, his/her parents respond, this partner comes back to initial chair, and the other spouse comments, responds. They often show sudden changes in their alliance, but I can't say that this triggers more motivation… So, please, tell us more, and thank you for pinpointing this topic.

  12. pat says:

    Well done! I look forward to your next video.

  13. Rylle says:

    I'm eager for the next video. I see couples get stuck in blaming the other, or stuck on parenting: I urge a unified voice, and they would rather hold fast in their opposite corners. I've seen one partner desperate for change and the other is happy with the status quo. For me, how to motivate one, without making them feel like the IP?

  14. Pamela says:

    I'm working with a couple in which the wife has anger outbursts and the husband is triggered by those. He's asked her to work on her anger “problem”. She has some coping strategies that really work for her (like exercising and meditating). However, fitting those activities into her schedule is difficult, given kids and work. So the issue for them is that she has the desire, and has difficulty making her coping strategies a priority over other things, and the husband gets frustrated and says things like, “Isn't our marriage a priority, too?”. She says, “Yes, it is a priority”. So, my question is about levels of motivation. She is motivated, but not to the degree her husband is motivated “for her”, and it seems she is more motivated to keeping the family running (as a short term reward), and misses the long term reward (or the larger issue, which her husband gladly points out, which is “there will be no family to keep running if we don't address the anger issue”. I'm only talking about the wife here; clearly the husband has issues with tolerance and his own anger. Love this video series. Thanks so much for doing this!!

    • Manika says:

      Interesting comment. I'd strongly suggest ,based on a deep intuitive hunch and my own experience -both professionally and personally- that if the husband were psychologically encouraged-(even through a process that made him feel / experience some of her discomfort-) to understand that he needs to step up and take a greater amount of responsibility e.g.for household tasks ,for doing things with the children….In this way his positive action would decrease her angry outbursts ,as I'm sure she'd feel less overwhelmed and consequently less angry less often.

  15. Elaine says:

    It seems to me that a partner is often unmotivated to change because they can't see how that change will get them what they want. That is, they see change as meeting their partner's needs, but not their own. In fact, they may see the requested change as moving them further away from getting their own needs met. When each partner thinks this way, the therapy may devolve into a tit-for-tat attempt at making agreements, which are doomed to fall apart, and will not create lasting change in the relationship.

  16. Michelle says:

    Brilliant- You got my wheels turning, Ellyn. I like what Steve said above about changing the direction of motivation. I want more and look forward to the next video!

  17. Jack says:

    You are spot on. This prevents movement and progress in so many couples.

  18. Martha says:

    The topic is helpful and one where I could use insight. Thanks for opening this for discussion.

  19. Russell says:

    Lack of motivation is THE problem for me as a couples therapist. You asked, “On what topics is motivation often the lowest?” I've seen it in almost every issue in my office and it is certainly complicated by fear, etc. Looking forward to your other three parts, in addition to 1. Desire

  20. Francine says:

    shame, showing vulnerability, mistrust due to infidelity, “the pink elephant” of not talking about something important. TX U for more insight..

  21. Marge says:

    I think this series of videos will help with getting to the root of couples who are stuck in blaming each other. I look forward to future videos.

  22. Toni says:

    One of the things I see is how afraid people are to risk being hurt or disappointed again. And the truth is, they likely will be hurt and disappointed again, because their partner is not very good at responding in the way they need. So, how to help couples tolerate the sometimes long, slow process of growth and change, take risks and tolerate when the wheels come off the bus, again!
    Thanks for this, Ellyn, it is great.

  23. Sabine says:

    – Fear of change,
    – feeling unloved the way they are,
    – “Why always me?”
    – power struggle
    and many more reasons

  24. Evelyne says:

    I appreciate your posting this video. Very clearly stated. I find that “good will” is a critical factor and sometimes when a couple waits a long time to come to therapy and resentment accumulate, very little good will remains. However, if there is some good will, I find that using a genogram can diffuse defensiveness so that some movement from “me” to “us” may have a chance to emerge. If so, then motivation may follow.

  25. Colene Sawyer Schlaepfer, CA says:

    Right on! Getting couples to a place where there is motivation for growth is the biggest part of the struggle. Sometimes it seems they are ready and it still takes longer. I give homework and sometimes it happens. Without motivation it doesn't go anywhere. I look forward to the next video.

  26. Ellen says:

    Thank you Ellyn, I am looking forward to the upcoming videos.

  27. Vij Richards says:

    I am so impressed and grateful with your persistence to keeping growing in couples therapy so we can share your wisdom and challenge ourselves as therapists. I wonder if stress and motivation go hand in hand. When all is going well a couple's goals can seem attainable, but when challenges come along it can affect the intentions and desires of the couple. Awareness of that cycle of change is helpful. Be kind and compassionate towards ourselves as we support others in their growth.

  28. Robert says:

    Great topic and great video! I find it especially hard when it seems like one partner is working significantly harder and then complaining that the other isn't. And then it's sometimes difficult to know if the other really isn't working, or if their work is just less visible, or that it's harder for them to make a visible effort because of their limitations, etc. A thorny topic & looking forward to further illumination!

  29. Myrna says:

    Great video. It is hard to work with a married couple when one expects the other one to change entirely or be what they want them to be. They are both unmotivated to meet each other in the middle or see what one is doing that is really affecting the trust and affection of the other. Looking forward for the next video.

  30. Pauline says:

    Thank you for addressing this subject. I don't think I had given it enough consideration and yet have often wondered why so many couples do some work and then fade away. I think I attributed it to a lack of ‘readiness' for change or to their unwillingness to honestly expose their own private agendas in the relationship. I am grateful that you have provided a different frame for this important consideration. I look forward to the next video

  31. Marian says:

    I believe that couples unconsciously agree to get along the way they do to maintain some kind of balance within each of them personally .I try to motivate change by having them explore what the payoff is for each of them to keep things the same. What will they have to give up if things change? Safety and trust support motivation so exploring how it feels safer to stay the same seems to support and respect how they got to where they are and knowing this they are in a more mindful position to choose healthy change. I think motivation springs from a sense of potential.What are these two people capable of together that also supports individual growth?
    Can you be an individual and a couple at the same time?

  32. Debbie says:

    If couples come in and see the other as the problem, they often are trying to get the therapist to see things through their viewpoint. I think the question about motivation, may actually be a question about how to engage the couple together to become more curious about thier dynamic. If they can move past hopelessness into curious engagement, I think they may find a way to begin. Thank you Ellen for a thought provoking beginning.

  33. Linda says:

    Great video & I am looking forward to the rest! My toughest couple, currently, is a young military couple (w is the service member) in which he was unfaithful. He tries to make repairs, but can't take full responsibility. She can't let go of resentment and fear, so they go round and round.

  34. Jeanette says:

    Thank you so much for this –
    I am not currently seeing couples but I'm seeing the female partners and the description of each one being in a protective bubble, unaware of how each is pushing the other further and further away, is spot on. What is not clear to me is whether or not these relationships are truly worth salvaging or not, as they seem to be fraught with so much passive-aggression and dependency. I look forward to your future videos!

  35. Kirsten says:

    I repeatedly encounter the problem of motivation when one partner (usually the man) believes that he has made a lot of effort to meet his partner's desires around house chores, parenting practices, getting in better physical shape and then the wife according to him makes no efforts to be more active in their sex life. I'm definitely interested in exploring how motivation and desire intersect around initiating and engaging in sex.
    Thanks for exploring the topic.

  36. Karen Nolen says:

    My most difficult challenge right now is working with a couple who came together after a brief infatuation, due to the subsequent pregnancy and birth of a their child. They're looking for buy in from each other – under duress.

  37. Bea Schild, Psychotherapist and Counsellor, Berne Switzerland says:

    My most difficult challenge with a couple right now is, that she doens't want to open up (not even to me alone) and demands immediate change in their marriage at the same time

  38. Paulette says:

    In the couples work I do I always find differing levels of motivation which is problematic. As always your comments have been welcomed and provide spot on information I can use.

    Currently I am seeing a couple in which the husband is unable/unwilling to continue therapy because he hits an emotional wall that is very painful for him but he will not share with anyone. He has dropped hints about a traumatic childhood. The wife is highly motivated and has grown in vulnerability and self awareness. He has an avoidant attachment style. The wife an ambivalent attachment style.

  39. vee says:

    Thanks for your commitment to helping us figure out this important topic, Ellyn. I think you hit the nail on the head speaking about the safety of the bubbles partners can live in. To emerge from the bubble means taking a step of self-change, and that may trigger fear. I think what we're trying to do is motivate people to risk being vulnerable (exposed) and possibly hurt. That can be unknown and scary territory. No wonder people get resistant. I'm looking forward to your next videos.

  40. Peter Pearson says:

    Thank you all for your comments and insights into this exceptionally complex topic of motivation.

    Ellyn and I often discuss the role and responsibility of the therapist and the legitimate responsibility of each partner in the process of growth. Motivation is often at the heart of the change process.

    It's hard enough to get people to follow through with new year's resolutions let alone the interdependency of couplehood.

    Even though there are three very useful videos on this topic we have we really have only begun to dig deeper and deeper into this fascinating topic.
    your comments

  41. Peter Pearson says:

    just reinforce how important this topic is

    Thank you all for the time and effort you put into developing a dialogue about one of the foundational components of individual and relationship growth

    with gratitude

  42. patrice wolters phd says:

    I have observed a lack of motivation with one partner who does not want to come to therapy. In these cases I work to empower the available partner to stand up strong and confront the games and excuses of their partner. sometimes this is effecticve. I have also been working with a couple that have been unmotivated to really change. One part of each one has a rebellious stubborn streak. In helping each partner Own this part, journal about it–really embrace it-we are able to use that rebellious side to help promote change rather than get in the way. I think this is an exciting topic and thanks Ellyn for motivating us!!

  43. Karen says:

    I agree that motivation can be the greatest challenge in my client's ability to change. I have my thoughts on it from personal and observed experiences. First, I see that there can set patterns created by the shame, blame and claim cycle of self worth. There seems to be what I call, a “default” setting in which change begins as motivated by the desire to change and inertia sparked by something internally or externally. Within the action or maintenance stage of change, the inertia is no longer a driving force, and there comes a stage of relaxed comfort in the process. This seems to be where vulnerability to relapse or return to the default setting of the brain. If this stage is not received with compassion and encouragement and added inside, shame and self blame is claimed and helplessness and hopelessness can take over. I see this becomes a cycle in itself. I try a Solution focused approach to encourage one small step that the client can identify as possible to change. Inertia to take a step tends to promote contemplation, thereby breaking the stuck place of prep contemplation and creating a sense of empowerment out of the helplessness and to further encourage motivation to move forward through the cycle of change. Because compassion and support can sustain motivation, I believe couples can benefit from understanding the cycle of change and identifying where each is within it. This gives them a language and visual to communicate understanding to each ither. When they understand that it's common to shift through cycles, the blame and shame can move out of the equation so there is less moments within the relapse into default before motivation again kicks in.

    For what it's worth, this is what I've found helpful. I really enjoyed the video and this forum and look forward to the next.
    what I've learned.

    • Jo says:

      Karen, what you said is really interesting. Loved the ‘blame, shame and claim' concept. As well, I dont even think I know what the ‘cycle of change' is.
      Would appreciate the opportunity to consult further, if thats possible. Dont know where you are. My email is: [email protected] Hope its ok to do this, and not sure is this message can be passed on?

  44. Jean says:

    Sometimes I wonder if I miss what you're calling the emotional bubble as itight manifest in a client who's a therapist. We therapist-types can be so complex; appearing so thoughtful in our ability to reflect on our dynamics and our partner's dynamics… I'm sure I sometimes miss that that can also be a manifestation of an emotional bubble as big as any other.

  45. Pat Fishburne says:

    Thanks Ellyn for helping develop motivation in couples. Lack of motivation in one partner which we see frequently is something which has to be addressed before any kind of change takes place. I look forward to your next video. Only wish I had one fraction of your insight as a therapist in working with couples

  46. Fred says:

    Thanks for the discussion on motivation, Ellyn. Very helpful!
    I guess we can think of a couple as addicted to their destructive pattern. Just like opioids, there's a sense of relief and tension, and a love-hate relationship to the substance and themselves. The “unmotivated” partner or couple causes pain for themselves and their partner. Their thoughts, emotions, and actions go away from well being and toward distress: the opposite of health. In a sense they are driving in reverse gear, and a shift to forward drive is needed. Helping them to tune into this pattern and discuss it mindfully may help some to make the needed shift. Certainly visualization and somatic stimulation techniques can be added to the mix to support a shift. Just a few ideas for your comments.

  47. Lori says:

    Thank you Ellyn for your research and efforts on how to help couples deal with low motivation. I look forward to your future videos to discover the other important elements to motivation in addition to desire, and that people aren't just resistant, but actually in their self-protective bubble for survival. I'm looking forward to understanding your Motivation Equation to help guide me towards better interventions for couples. Thanks!

  48. Ellyn says:

    I am really loving reading your comments. I especially appreciated Jean's comment about the emotional bubble that we as therapist's can get into. I remember so vividly one morning at a 5 day workshop that Pete and I did for therapists and their partners. All the non-therapist spouses came somewhat reluctantly thinking they would be delineated as the identified patient. They were so relieved to learn that intellectualizing and hiding behind labels is a form of defensive self-protection. Indeed the non-therapist partners were not solely to blame.
    Please keep writing during this series.

  49. Ephraim Frankel, MFT, Milwaukee, WI, USA says:

    Ellyn — What a superb video! I love it for its clarity, its poignance, and its importance. So much of making progress with these couples is the properties inherent in developing rapport and utilizing what I discover. Because of my affinity for paradox, and my sense of the probable trauma embedded in low motivation, I can find myself saying something like: You know, I see how good you are, at the moment, at resisting change. It's like an acquired skill purchased at some cost; but, before we explore that, I'm curious at how you can get even better at resisting change, how you might get even stronger in this area.
    If I feel I have a connection here, and I'm getting into their humor, and we can have a laugh, I'll go for it. Without that, the risk of injury via not respecting their struggle is too great, and, I'm back to the drawing board.

  50. Ephraim Frankel, MFT, Milwaukee, WI, USA says:

    PS: when this works, and the guy ( and it's usually guys, let's face it ), says: well, I can do this, and I can do that, to add to the resistance. Then, depending on the guy, situation, get a little coarse, saying something, like: You know, you're pretty f'kg smart, I see a lot smarter than you pretend to be! You just showed me how your thought process is oriented to change, I think we can work with that. Surprise, awareness, and a laugh/smile usually follows.
    And then we're in reset mode.
    Works 4/5 times.
    Any Thoughts?

  51. Jack Papazian says:

    This presentation on motivation in couple relationship was very well done. In my limited experience with couple I have come to realize that lack of motivation is often a major reason or failure in restoring a relationship and bringing the couple to a loving and caring relationship. I am eager to hear your next presentation.

  52. Ken, LMFTS says:

    A timely topic. I find it a challenge to try to figure out what motivates the couple (or better yet, get the couple to identify what motivates each of them) and then try to figure out how I can use each of their unique methods of motivation to come together to produce change. Definitely looking forward to the next video. Thank you for sharing your work.

  53. david says:

    a really important area of concern in couples work…great to hear the experiences off others who are working with couples.

  54. Kristy says:

    Great video. I am currently having trouble motivating a highly anxious wife to move away (compassionately detach) from a very toxic relationship with her sister. She is so consumed that it impacts negatively on the marriage. The couple has made a lot of progress in multiple areas and the husband (who used to be pretty judgmental about the sister issue) is now accepting and listens. He does verbalize that it hurts him to see his wife continually hurt and distressed by her sister (the sister appears to have a narcissistic personality disorder). Thanks for your efforts with this video series. And it's free!

  55. Laurie says:

    My experience shows me that fear, defensiveness, and pain are at the root of low or no motivation. I see the paradigm shift-identifying, working with these inherent feelings states must be a continual work in progress for motivation to be considered, fostered or affirmed.

  56. Karen says:

    Fear of self revealing seems to be difficult for couples. Looking forward to your suggestions.

  57. Robin says:

    Great video. Right on the mark. I see couples in who don't connect in their grief. Grievers are highly sensitive and easily feel misunderstood if the grief styles differ. A griever is often in his/her own bubble and has difficulty seeing the expressions of grief in the partner. Depression could also be a factor in lack of motivation to connect.

  58. Katharine says:

    Thank you for sharing the video on motivation. I am looking forward to part two.
    I have recently attended a workshop and we were told that the #1 predictor of a good outcome in psychotherapy is motivation instead of establishing of rapport.

    • oh dear says:

      The workshop presenter is incorrect. If you want to verify, look at the literature. “Experts” rarely are, esp. without confirming their claims.

  59. Counselor Bill says:

    “On what level is motivation the lowest?” After an affair, addiction issues causing separation or divorce, during grip lock issues, when DV is involved or getting back together with a resistant partner.

  60. Ann says:

    Very clear and succinct video-thank you.
    this topic is a common one:
    one partner wishing to see change in another or both individuals coming in with a different goal of the change they desire in the relationship. Motivation for their individual agenda and not for the partnership is often what I see.

  61. Eva-Lena says:

    Thanks, nice imaginative video the bubbles giving a great example.
    If these strategies of selfprotection are autonomous how do you get out of them?

  62. Joanne says:

    Thanks, I like the term low motivation as opposed to stuck or entrenched. In my couples the most problematic area of low motivation is their sexual relationship.
    What my clients might say
    “Don't feel desire anymore”
    “I have some performance anxiety”
    “He/she asks too much of me”
    Some of this seems to relate to
    -Body image/dysmorphia
    -Lack of trust ( fear of exposing vulnerabilities)
    -Reluctance to initiate intimacy
    -Socially constructed negative ideas around sex

  63. Tony Peter says:

    Grateful for your honesty, Ellyn. Motivation does seem to decline in many struggles where any progress is slow or negative. The problem may be external rather than in the relationship but projected into it and so making everything worse.
    I have a couple in which one is suffering from recurrent low mood and the other is unhappy when their spouse is unhappy.
    I hope to help them to find motivation from within their relationship to help each other and to avoid a downward spiral.
    I hope that they will discover empathy for each other and be willing to welcome each other stepping into each others emotional bubble.
    I know that I need to maintain my motivation when they find these couple dynamics difficult. Your video has some helpful pointers to why this is. I hope you can find some helpful ways forward for couples work in this complex area of motivation.
    Thank you.

  64. Elizabeth says:

    I am not a therapist, but I find the video and also all the comments eye opening and interesting. It gives me a new perspective on my two long term relationships which ended, as well as insights into many people I know. I am learning a lot. Thank you so much for opening this whole topic…so fascinating!

  65. Sharon says:

    As I listen to your video, I think of couples that are so entrenched in their patterns that I have not been able to reach them. In listening, I also realize that a vision of what they can have could be really important to the process, but I don't know concretely how to help them create that vision. I am looking forward to what you have to say.

  66. Tammy says:

    Looking forward to the next video. I seem to get couples in which only 1 partner is wanting to move forward in the relationship…. In which 1 partner is angry after infidelity of the other and cannot seem to get past that…even when they state they want to.

  67. Rebeca Rodal de Swerdlin says:

    Thank you for sharing this information. I am working with a couple that each of them thinks that the only way out to their problems is for the other to change and meet their specific expectations. But each of them believes the other is uncapable of changing before they have even tried.

    • Rebeca Rodal de Swerdlin says:

      I am working with a couple in which each partner wants the other to change according to his or hers expectations. On the other hand each of them also believe tha the other is uncapable of changing.
      Looking forward for the next video.

  68. Phyllis says:

    Ellen, I adored your presentation, the deep compassion and caring that came through so clearly. This topic goes so deeply into issues of safety in the relational field and often the most resistant partners are the ones who are the most sensitive to any threat. With normal couples who have had good enough family backgrounds, the helpful therapist can be a coach in their relationship and help them get back on track. However, it is the couples with severe early relational trauma that need to most attuned help. I think this includes the therapist having done enough of their own relational healing so that they can provide the real safety and attunement necessary rather than judgment and projection of any of their own stuff on the couple. We are meant to bond and love but the unsafe, shut down partner will NEVER come out if the point of the therapy is to show them how WRONG they are, because indeed they are right about their own lack of safety and completely right in their physiology. And that might include not being safe to speak their truth. I love Stan Tatkin's approach, because his premise is that the issue is that each of them is working from the wrong instruction manual with respect to the other, but the work is in the level of the relational field, of seeing the unconscious ways that triggers are happening and being ignored rather than teaching the right way to be. Even then though, if one member of the couple has severe relational trauma, that might need to addressed separately and be beyond the work of the marriage counselor at that point.

  69. Toos Graaff says:

    what I notice is that a common phrase is: we are so different, as if that is a truth, why things will never work out. Also the notion that one partner is traumatized and the other is not: I just don't like listening to her anymore, which looks like an excuse for avoidant attachment behaviour, which increases the despair of the other partner never to be able to reach the other patner, which lead again to feelings of loneliness, etc. The hardest is to get couples motivated to do a 4 day training, which I give with a collegue ( once a year) so that they have time, no work ,no kids no household, just them. Like to hear more, thanks for sharing your expertise.

  70. Cheryl says:

    Really enjoyed the first video and looking forward to the others. As a therapist it is so frustrating and sad to see a couple where one of them is so stuck in their fear/need to control/refusal to own their own stuff that the other partner eventually becomes hopeless and is tempted to turn away from healing the marriage. Creating safety between the partners to be flawed is the best way I know to help them start moving toward each other, but motivation is part of that and that is a choice they each have to make. Thanks for delving into this complex topic!

  71. Catherine says:

    Thanks for addressing this topic. Lack of motivation and avoidance are such a huge issue when working with couples. I look forward to the next video.

  72. Victoria says:

    Thanks, Ellen. I don't work with ‘couples' in relationships – I work with ‘couples' who are employees and not getting along – and your insight is invaluable. Lack of motivation to change is a huge issue in my work. I look forward to the next video!

  73. JS in Idaho says:

    This was hard to watch, because my wife and I have been to couples therapy off and on over the past few years and I am the spouse hiding in the emotional bubble.

    I am simultaneously hopeful and terrified to see the videos to follow. I would love to find the key to overcoming my fear to venture out of my safety bubble to make meaningful change and a much stronger emotional connection with my wife. But a part of me is terrified, because it feels like this short video about the emotional bubble has “outed” me, or revealed me like the frightened old man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz.

    • Peter Pearson says:

      JS – Hooray for you. Man o man – you just took the first huge step into liberation – you did the equivalent of saying “I'm an alcoholic” Way to go!
      Here's the definition of courage that I like the best:
      courage is deciding something is more important than our fear.

      from my perspective – you got guts.
      Keep moving forward. you took a big step.
      Pete Pearson (Ellyn's co-conspirator on this series)

  74. Sharon says:

    Thank you for the video! I see many couples that are very motivated to blame and very unmotivated to really forgive, take responsibility and acknowledge each others emotions.

  75. Ellyn says:

    Thank you everyone. I read every comment! I appreciate your thoughts and JS I love that you took a step outside your emotional bubble by risking writing this. Hurray for you

  76. Lorelei says:

    Thanks so much for this topic! Well done! Well done! Most challenging for me is the paradoxical behavior when, for instance, the wife is sarcastically and bitterly accusing her husband of “abandoning” her emotionally – she will not let herself be vulnerable by staying with the hurt she feels. Or, conversely, (same couple) he tells her with his words how open he is to her while leaning back and folding his arms across his chest – he will not admit his need to control. Or shall I call it fear of losing control? Whatever it is, simply pointing out the paradox is not enough.

  77. Emily says:

    You hit the nail on the head on identifying lack of motivation as the key to why the therapy is not effective. The most important thing to motivate people is stop feeling/thinking they are “the right one” on issues and be open to a different understanding. I look forward to the next videos!

  78. Martha says:

    The more motivated partner is generally the one instigating couples therapy. The partner causing the most pain may not be aware or may be unable to put themselves in the shoes of another. The work seems to rest on the shoulders of the more functional of the two. One must not interpret resistance as an unwillingness to learn , but rather see it for the woundedness of the seemingly unmotivated partner. If the motivated partner can have patience and listen to the partner less capable of articulating his deep feelings, it can eventually lead to the unmotived partner feeling heard and a more positive experience which hopefully would lead to more participation in therapy.

  79. Eva says:

    Thanks, Ellyn. the couples I work with really want to avoid being the one to blame. And the biggest challenge is low self-esteem.

  80. M says:

    thanks so much for a valuable perspective. I look forward to your next one.

  81. Elizabeth says:

    Thank you so much for taking the time to create this video to help us in the field. It is timely that you are addressing this as I have a few clients who are unmotivated to want to change. I really appreciate you sharing your knowledge and experience.

  82. Joe says:

    I don't work with couples – just individual adults and adults in group therapy settings. However, part of the reason for not working with couples is that despite a 22 year relationship with my partner we're stuck in an intimacy avoidant relationship — I have ambivalent attachment due to my family history and my partner is generally avoidant and is a strong introvert (like my Father). The end result has been a “can't live with you and can't live without you” impasse that neither of us seem to want to break out of. Previous couple's work with Imago Therapy was only short lived in it's efficacy, and if I attempt to approach the impasse with my clinical skills, I'm immediately shut down with “Don't treat me like one of your clients !” So, I look forward to this series to see if there is a strategy that might be helpful for us in breaking through this “less-than-satisfying” dynamic.

  83. Carolyn says:

    Thanks for sharing this video. Motivation is needed to complete any task, training or intervention and it is certainly no different when working with couples. Thank you so much for sharing what is happening while in the emotional bubble. I see how effective and useful this information is to the therapist and the couple in treatment. I look forward to the other series. Carolyn

  84. Kristen Ann says:

    I have been a therapist for three decades. My primary original motivation in my training was to understand how to relate to my family as the only female with a father and brother convinced of their male supremacy. Two Narcissists… at the same time! After my father's death, my brother took over my father's persona and judgemental stance. When I told him about the family secret I had to keep until after our father's death, my brother's response was silence while he looked at the ceiling. He then cleared his throat and asked what I was fixing for lunch! My brother is nearly 65 years old and has never spoken with me, only at me. He is so terrified to lose his cool, detached stance, he presents only the “act” he can control. I know no one can choose their blood relatives, so surviving them is sometimes the only humble goal to aim for… I am making progress. He did not bolt up the stairs! I have cared for my family for almost 70 years. I have developed a remarkable level of resilience and tenacity… I just miss my baby brother who was born with so much potential for happiness…

    • Jo says:

      Hi Kristen, Yeah, those fam of origin issues can be huge, particularly where theres a DOS (disorder of self) involved, such as Nism. Loved the description, one way to look at it is he went straight into defence (eg. denial) by not responding to what you had told him. So, its not that he wasnt rattled, its just he chose defence, turning the focus on – ‘what will you give me' ie what's for lunch.

  85. Dodie Moquin says:

    Very useful – thanks! Looking forward to more…..

  86. Julia says:

    In my experience it doesn't matter so much what the topic of low motivation is, it tends to be more about not wanting to make the first move, not being the only one to change, thinking they are already doing their part, and not getting credit for efforts already made. It is very challenging for most people to take the high road independent of your partner's behavior and (perceived) motivation!

  87. Cynthy says:

    Family/ home responsibilities being perceived as unevenly shared and inflexible. Builds resentment to the point of emotional disconnection. Communication style that assumes shared understanding and meaning contributes to partners feeling unheard so “why bother, you never do what I ask anyway” = low motivation.

  88. Nicole says:

    Hi Ellyn,
    That was a great program yesterday on Good Therapy. Thank you.
    This series looks very helpful, too.
    I would like to suggest that your include photos of couples in middle age, as these are the demographic group with a very high divorce rate, and often stuck in the longest ruts.
    BTW, I have a website you might find interesting: Despite the name, it offers 100% free support and resources for all issues and transitions, not just the cosmic hazing of divorce.

  89. Jozeffa says:

    I'm looking forward to this new series. I especially am looking forward to low motivation towards sex by a woman who talks about how the emotional issues have to be fixed before she will be ready to move towards sex. I suspect there are other reasons that she is reluctant, but her motivation to make it happen seems low. I'm looking forward to ideas that you will be sharing.

  90. Rosalie says:

    I agree that low motivation in partners is a problem I've had in couples therapy. In one of my hardest cases it took almost three years for the wife to admit to herself and me that the empathy she had received in a short emotional affair resulted in her not wanting to live without it anymore.

  91. Cheryl says:

    How about addressing where the man has no interest in sex and won't do his part of the chores, tasks, shopping, household money management. Always some excuse, my head hurts, my back hurts, I don't feel good, I'm tired. The excuses are many.

  92. Sara says:

    what an important issue. I look forward to the next video. I often see couples where they want the other to change, and feel unwilling or unable to put down their walls until some arbitrary tasks have been met.

  93. karen says:

    Low motivation seems to be exceedingly apparent in couples where there has been continual hurt or resentment built over time. As if a switch has been turned off.

  94. Caroline, Psychotherapist, Dublin, Ireland says:

    good stuff. thanks. brings back memories… looking forward to the following instalments.

  95. Johanne says:

    I work with clients who have substance use and gambling problems. Their partners want them to stop and frequently the client does not want abstinence but choose to work on controlled drinking. The demands of their partners creates resentment at being told what they must do. In their efforts to address their substance use problems, relationship problems tend to interfere with motivation to change. The dilemma is getting the message across that demands are counter productive and quite damaging to the relationship.

  96. Pamela says:

    I am counselling a couple to try to repair their relationship after the husband had an affair. This couple have been together 35 years and the husband had an affair with his 35 year old colleague. He takes away all the energy for the relationship when he goes into his emotional bubble. His 3 adult daughters are finding it hard to forgive him and worry about their mother who works tirelessly to try to repair the relationship by telling her husband what she needs from him but he does not spontaneously give to her.

  97. Jo says:

    Dear Ellen,
    This is great, and much needed, for me. Only 1 THING, I wish you would generalize this to relationships in general.
    Many of us – who have sustained various sorts of damage along the way have not even made it as far as having a steady relationship, never mind marriage. And so it is with one of my clients. And instead these relational issues play themselves out with family of origin members. And I'm sure that in general much of the same principles hold true. That so often one person holds the capacity for concern and sensitivity. So, altho I can make that connection myself, (from couples to relationships in general), it would be great to have that acknowledged in your language too.
    I look forward to hear more.

  98. Daniel says:

    This is very helpful. I find your description is right on target of the situation many couples find themselves in. Often these couples get to a point of powerlessness to make change, causing distress in both. It is as if both are trapped in their needs without a bridge available.Ilook forward to your insights.

  99. chrys says:

    Thank you for your generosity and time to improve our practice. I am working with Male:who was attracted to his wife's sensitive, creative vitality – who now cannot cope with wife's sensitive, imaginative personality (that is forever ‘scanning' because of extreme childhood trauma). And Wife left feeling insecure and unresponsive to husband. Both getting angry and playing ‘getting back at ‘ games.

  100. max says:

    I meet all kinds of couplings who say they want to change, who know things can't continue the same way, but who also are not motivated. These people are sometimes couples and sometimes friends, or a dyad within a a family. But I want to know more that just thinking wanting equals motivation . . .

  101. Jane says:

    So many pearls of wisdom here…I work with adolescents and their parents…”motivational interviewing” is one of the models that we use, especially with teens involved with drugs and alcohol…your work is a great addition to our work…Many thanks!

  102. Sandra says:

    I work mainly in a voluntary capacity so I particularly value this kind of professional development, which counteracts the loneliness and expense of working alone.
    Currently the woman in a client couple has can see no hope because she has lost the “innocence” they had of being first and only sexual partners to one another. The man says he but found solace in sex with a work colleague when he was bullied at work & could not disclose his sense of inadequacy & shame to his wife, whereas the colleague shared the same feelings. He wants to overcome the blocks to change but she is stuck. I carry all the hope, she has the hopelessness and resentment and victimhood; he carries guilt, defensiveness and fear. Help!

  103. mary says:

    Our goal as a human race is to evolve. It feels good to grow. vulnerablity. Fear of rejection to our real feelings can stop that openness to share the real us, if we know what it is. I had to learn what I needed and that what i needed was not wrong. because i was taught that i was wrong. I was so shot down that I couldn't get my sexy going and i didn't even know why. l was afraid. But i didn't like being in the bubble for long by myself and i came out and talked about it all. I'd see that my man would feel angry and feel blamed when I'd ask for what I needed. even though when he asked for what he wanted I gave him all his requests. All I needed was gentle healing. so I would love to know more about this to help me as well as my girls and friends.

  104. Sheila says:

    My motivational issue is health related. How to motivate eating healthier and getting more exercise not only for couples benefit but benefit of young children in the home.

  105. Alyson says:

    This is a great video and really got me thinking! Do the same principles apply when it comes to other relationships. I am thinking of a parent and his 20 yr old child.

  106. Sara says:

    I have studied EFT for couples as well as IFS. I like what Ellyn said about protection and how that shows up in the room with defensiveness etc. I also appreciate her saying that there is a failure rate at times where you can't get couples to drop their armor. I love working with couples and feel like I see good results alot of the time but there are those few that I just can't reach. I appreciate having that realistic view point in a trainer. Looking forward to the next video!

  107. Mary says:

    Great Video! Thank you. I can see where this concept could apply to all close relationships where one is less motivated than the other to equally share in the relationship. I'm looking forward to the other videos.

  108. john says:

    very good presentation, clear, precise, easy to follow. Couples who fit this pattern are indeed difficult to treat, and often leave therapy before getting the help they came in for. looking forward to hearing more from you about how to work more effectively with such couples.

  109. Jan says:

    I've been in a conflicted relationship with someone who is equally willing and motivated to learn and grow as I am, and while we are not together, we are so much the better for where we've arrived. I'm interested in learning more about what you have to say regarding passivity and defensiveness.

  110. Jennifer says:

    I find lack of motivation a challenge in clients with chronic mental health concerns, so I am very interested in any theories and strategies that will assist my clients to become more motivated. Thanks.

  111. Hassan says:

    I don't work in the area of couple therapy. Any client who come to me and struggle with their relationship difficulties , I'd refer them to a relationship service.
    However, I'm interested in learning more about this couple motivation.

  112. Manny says:

    How do you deal with a spouse with a well & very long established delusional disorder who doesn't believe any thing is wrong with the afflicted person and that the entire world is also conspiring against the afflicted person most of the time!

  113. Janet says:

    Great video! Looking forward to the next one.

  114. Paul says:

    Nice video on an important and common problem. I often seen couples who were motivated to come to the first session, but sometimes lose their continued motivation when various fears arise or may be motivated to get their own needs met, but not necessarily to attend to the needs of their partner.

  115. linda says:

    Thanks Ellyn for your generosity.So many couples play the blame game and inviting couples to take responsibility for their own attitudes and behaviours which activate the defensive bubble takes patience and persistence.To motivate them to explore new ways of being in the relationship takes creativity and I look forward to your tips.

  116. Alice says:

    In my experience couples arrive with the desire and intention that the solution to their problem is that the other person needs to change not themselves. Working to get each person to own and work with their own baggage is difficult because they are so entrenched in this and have normalised things that they are both blind to their own issues and highly defended against facing them. Having their issues exposed in front of their partner can leave them feeling even more vulnerable initially. Often these are total blind spots for them and I find I need to be gentle, very respectful and tread carefully not dismantling their defences just checking out how their responses are working for them and if they would be willing to explore if a different response might work. Meanwhile, the other partner will appear intent on sabotaging any attempt for change. On some occasions, My sense is also that one partner has come to end the relationship while the other wants to make it work. So either way they have different agendas though getting them to be open and honest about that can also be an obstacle.

  117. stella, Psychotherapist, Maharashtra,India says:

    I face two typical scenarios where motivation is low:

    When offended partner is unable to forgive/let go of past offenses

    when either or both are unable to see they have a proactive role to play in the healing process

  118. Karl says:

    Thank you for offering these videos. I need to look at my own issues.

  119. Phyllis says:

    My husband has mild Asberger's, which keeps us from being involved with other couples. We are in a socially active community. My husband feels he is more intelligent, has all the answers, and does not need to follow the rules of being social; such as playing cards, games, going to plays or concerts with friends…
    I feel lonely and want honest communication. Instead, he consoles himself by sitting at the computer most of the day or watching old sitcoms on television that bring him comfort. I was in counseling and it was suggested he come, too. That worked one time and he felt he was being picked on so he would not return. I have resigned myself to living the rest of my retired life going to functions on my own without him. I did not want this for the remainder of my life, but I have reluctantly agreed to it.
    Is there anything I can do to change my reaction to him or to help him change? Can he change????

  120. Anna says:

    From my experience working with couples motivation is lowest when guilt, selfpity and resentment peaks.

  121. Merriel says:

    I work with individuals, but the issues around low motivation are the same. Thank you for this interesting approach to increasing motivation.

  122. Fiona says:

    I often see couples who seem to latch onto their “guilt, shame, blame” interactional patterns with one another because it is “safer” than taking the leap of self-accountability and growth. Low motivation seems to connected to the risk these clients are asked to take to do something differently; to be vulnerable, and to assess their own individual expectations rather than focusing on their partner's actions. I look forward to the next video.

  123. Bee says:

    I'm looking forward to the next video(s)!! Low motivation and entrenched patterns are so difficult to break through.

  124. Sally says:

    Motivation is lowest from partners who are highly criticized. In fact, their lack of motivation and resistance is their only power in the relationship.

  125. Velvet says:

    Motivation is the lowest with couples that had a past of infidelity or DV.

  126. Tania Australia says:

    Love your relaxed style and approchability. Great vid.

  127. JS says:

    Lovely to hear you speak having previously read your books. Seeing low motivation from the partner who feels all verbal communication is too risky, anticipating criticism alongside frustration (and criticism) from the partner who wants to change.

  128. Sally says:

    Thank you Ellyn. For the husband to find some motivation to spend less time at work and more time with the family. He says that is what he wants but he is not doing it. The wife has expressed her concerns in session about his health and the impact of his very long hours at work (5am to 8pm!!).

  129. gro says:

    Thanks! very relevant for me and my work.

  130. Evelyn says:

    Example: When the husband was in a residential drug recovery program and had sought couples therapy, but was controlling, menacing, and dismissive of the wife's ideas and requests for behavior change. He wanted her to see, accept, and carry out his point of view. He stated that he felt disrespected and would not soften. She stated that he was not honest abound actually doing what was best for the relationship. There were also cultural and prior domestic violence issues which contributed to their sense of distress, futility and decreased motivation to work together for change.

  131. Audrey says:

    Household chores, Talking about the relationship issues/transparency, Health, Personal accountability (identifying and meeting one's own needs), Negotiating the reality of day to day life, Addictions, Lack of awareness of family or origin issues, trauma, attachment issues and ongoing projections. Mismatches in motivation generally as well as around specific issues of compatibility.

  132. Sakenia Washington says:

    Great information. Very insightful! Interested in learning about the other factors necessary to increase motivation.

  133. Carole says:

    This has been very interesting and informative. Looking forward to listening to the others.

  134. Myrna says:

    Hi, Ellyn. I saw a couple on their first session. The husband honestly told me that after coming from quarantine he is sure that he has fallen out of love with his wife. He dropped out of counseling and did not anymore come for the second session. He told his wife that he does not like to work on the marriage anymore. A classic example of an unmotivated client.

  135. Monica says:

    I have three clients right now that fit this description. All three are men in heterosexual couples. Something I find so challenging about these clients is the work of helping them realize their role in the problem. The general attitude is that they are in therapy to support their wife. Getting them to see their role feels difficult to do without alienating them.

Please Comment ↴