The Couples Motivation Equation™

Pete and I enjoy thinking about old problems in new ways, and our “motivation equation” is an example of the collaborative results. I hope you are thinking about motivation in new ways, too. I encourage you to comment on how you might use the motivation equation.

Thanks for joining the discussion,

Ellyn

44 responses to “Motivation Made Simple”

  1. Alex says:

    I didn't follow when you said 1 couple needed couple's work and for the other 1, just the woman needed help.

    How did you arrive at that conclusion?

    Is it due to a large mismatch in the couple's numbers, or just a certain configuration in one person's numbers?

    It seemed like there was a big jump in the reasoning–something's missing in how you're arriving at that conclusion. I hope the 4th section will clarify.

    • Ellyn says:

      Alex-I can hear that you experienced some confusion. Let me simplify it and take one part of the equation. One common scenario is
      Partner A wants Partner B to change a particular behavior or habit.
      Partner A has a high desire for the irritating behavior to change. However, when you ask Partner B about their level of desire to make the change, it is very low (perhaps a 1 or a 2). In this example the partners will definitely have to collaborate. If partner B is left alone to make the change, any attempts will be quickly dropped because there is no reinforcement in the couples system.
      An opposite scenario is Partner A wants a change and Partner B is highly motivated to change the same behavior. However, partner B is fearful of the risk involved. In this case some individual focus with partner B will be very helpful. The therapist and Partner B can focus on what feels risky and on de-sensitizing some of the fear before you do interactional work.
      Does this help to make it clearer?

      • Alex says:

        Thanks for chiming in!

        Please let me check my understanding… It's not just the overall number, or even the 4 component numbers. It's also about the discrepancy or congruency between both partners relative ratings, and the interplay between those. Yes?

      • Tony Peter says:

        I often find it difficult to know when to keep the couple together and when to have a separate session with one to strengthen them for the couple's work ahead. However, as a general principle I like to keep the couple together as empathetic understanding of what is going on for the other is often a stronger building block than individual counselling and skills development so I think I would try the de-sensitisation within the couples session and encourage the other partner to be involved through observation and even collaboration from their own experience of their partner's fear.

  2. Salomon says:

    Wow ! Looks fantastically promising !

    Thank you, Ellyn, for having shared with us su much !

    Thank you for helping us in this great way !

  3. carol says:

    That was very helpful.

  4. Fred says:

    I really like this Ellyn. In addition to the equation, I like the possibility of working with the different elements. For example, elevating the desire to improve, the emotional risk, etc. Many possibilities here to change the equation and thus the motivation.

  5. Joan says:

    Often been stuck in situations of motivation even over very simple tasks. Encouraging to see such a simple strategy which brings clarity and hope for entrenched couples. Thank you so much for sharing.

  6. Susan says:

    Thank you, Ellyn, for your insightful videos. I believe your dissection of the elements of motivation can be a powerful tool for some of the couples I work with. I am especially thinking about couples where one partner is not even aware of his/her lack of motivation. This tool also helps “de-mystify” motivation for clients so they can feel an ability to grasp onto their issues as something concrete, and as a result, concrete strategies can be implemented.

  7. patrice wolters phd says:

    well I must say this equation has really got me thinking and I think it could have the same effect for couples. I am motivated to experiment with the model in therapy. I think your equation provides a potentially ground breaking tool. I think one's score will vary over time and the central challenge is how do we really improve motivation over the long term. Certainly it is important to believe you are a motivated person and grow into the belief. I think one way I will use it is to help patients to discover their belief systems and help them with some re-framing. I reflect on what are some ways to increase desire and this will take some exploring!! I would–get people to try the change for a week and journal how they feel with the change. I have lots of ideas and thanks for such an innovative tool. We all need to experiment so it is evidence based. Of course we can use ourselves as clients!! patrice

  8. Ellyn says:

    Alex-I can hear that you experienced some confusion. Let me simplify it and take one part of the equation. One common scenario is
    Partner A wants Partner B to change a particular behavior or habit.
    Partner A has a high desire for the irritating behavior to change. However, when you ask Partner B about their level of desire to make the change, it is very low (perhaps a 1 or a 2). In this example the partners will definitely have to collaborate. If partner B is left alone to make the change, any attempts will be quickly dropped because there is no reinforcement in the couples system.
    An opposite scenario is Partner A wants a change and Partner B is highly motivated to change the same behavior. However, partner B is fearful of the risk involved. In this case some individual focus with partner B will be very helpful. The therapist and Partner B can focus on what feels risky and on de-sensitizing some of the fear before you do interactional work.
    Does this help to make it clearer?

  9. Ron says:

    Ellen, Thank you for this video. I have couples who fit both the examples you shared. I think this motivation equation could also be used with individual clients. What do you think?

  10. Ellyn says:

    Ron-I definitely agree and I have had some interesting results turn up when I did.

  11. Jacqui says:

    Thanks for clarifying that for Alex,I now have a clearer understanding ,( maths was never my strong point ha ha ha)
    Certainly a useful tool to consider.

  12. Nelly says:

    Hi, Ellen
    Thank you so much for this excellent series…very helpful. I have used something similar over the years to assess level of motivation/investment in couples therapy, but your formula takes what I have done to a new level. Your formula makes things more clear and concise. I believe that as I start to use this with my couples it will reveal to them and to me where the work needs to go. It will also help partners to realize their level of responsibility in the process, as many couples tend to put that on the therapist.

  13. Reed says:

    Sometimes couples are downright hostile or contemptuous, and not in a benign bubble. Yet they want to resolve it somehow. I'll be interested to hear your comments later about such couples. Your approach struck me as perhaps a little cognitive/behavioral at first, but then on the other hand a phenomenological take on motivation could be very productive. Thanks for opening this perspective.

  14. Pat says:

    Very interesting! Looking forward to the 4th segment.

    (Would like to see some non-Caucasian couples as well as same-sex ones, though…)

  15. Ine says:

    Thank you so much!

  16. peter says:

    a good way to identifly motivation issue with couples.

  17. peter says:

    a good way to identifly motivation issue with couples

  18. Lisa Smith says:

    I do think this can be helpful as another tool in working with couples or even on individual issues. My concern is in the various definitions of self identified vulnerability. Also, I would like to ask about a diversity of words for the different components i.e.. want for desire or fear for vulnerability.

  19. Paula says:

    Thanks so much for sharing Ellyn! Some great tools & tips.

  20. carla says:

    I find this video quite interesting specially in the framework of your Developmental Approach to Diagnosis and Treatment in Couples Therapy and AT field. do you know Pio Scilligo's framework? it will be interesting to me to find convergences. thank you very much.

  21. Ellyn Bader says:

    Yes Carla-We dearly loved Pio and taught for him in Rome for many years. I miss him so.

  22. Dina says:

    Dear Ellyn,

    Thank you for this valuable approach. I'll keep it in mind when seeing my couples.

  23. Ajay says:

    An excellent video! Thank you so much for sharing the formula. I'm so looking forward to the start of your new batch for the one year program 🙂

  24. Sam says:

    Ellen,
    Thank you for sharing your keen insights about the issue of motivation in such a dynamic way when working with couples.
    I'm curious about you came upon this equation or the four components. It definitely adds depth to understanding what I could focus on when motivation for change is lacking or declining.

    Sam

  25. Julia says:

    Thanks for sharing! What I find most useful is to be able to identify where the the individual is actually stuck, so interventions can be much more targeted. The equation also provides a -sort of- visual tool when educating couples that can be referred back to throughout treatment.

  26. Teresa says:

    I find this very interesting and potentially extremely useful in breaking down motivation into components on which to focus. Thank you.

  27. Dee says:

    These are great tools you are providing for couple's therapy. Thank you. Yes motivation is a critical factor and being able to quantify and categorize it is very for couple to understand what is going on in their relationship. I look forward to your next video too!

  28. Kathy says:

    Hi Ellyn……..very helpful! Am I to understand that the couple where one's motivation level is high and the other's is low, they need to collaborate, which would mean to work systemically? And, with the couple where she perceives there is a high risk, the therapist would work individually with her?

    Take care,

    Kathy

  29. Justus says:

    Thanks for these useful videos, Ellyn. Your equation could also help with issues relating to goal setting and procrastination when working one on one by helping to pinpoint areas where more work is needed.

  30. Doug says:

    Hello Ellyn,

    Thanks for the reminder of this training on motivation. It has been very helpful to review the vidoes and teaching points you address in how to look at where couple's motivation to engage in treatment is at. I look forwrd to watching the next video and listen to the training call.

  31. Mark says:

    A phenomenological/cognitive look at low motivation in couples might be better understood within an attachment perspective. The four components are all decreased or increased by attachment security or the lack thereof and the resultant low motivation we see in couples is an artifact of the pursuit-withdraw cycle that takes over, or what you call the “emotional bubble”. I feel this needs to be framed as a co-creation and a common enemy that needs to be and can be defeated together by the couple. This is as opposed to seeing it lodged in one partner or the other. But then, this is the EFT perspective, one I admit I espouse. Thanks for putting this thoughtful other perspective together.

  32. Cynthia says:

    I am working with a couple where the wife is very motivated to have a much happier marriage. Her husband has very low motivation and says he will not “have her back, if he doesn't agree with her.” He often doesn't agree with her and does not seem to want to work with her. The husband is extremely close to his mother and his family. It feels like his wife is always at odds against her husband. I have only met with them as a couple once. He said the session was helpful but I can't get them to see me in couple counseling again. He never makes time for it. I see her every other week in one on one counseling.

  33. Rebecca says:

    Very useful way to get someone to say where they stand on things. Can be applied to many things! Thank you, Rebecca

  34. Susanne says:

    Loved the 4 components of motivation. And I loved the equation. It's a great boil down and assessment tool.
    Thank you!

  35. William says:

    I have a somewhat difficult time trying to understand the concept of unwanted effort? Can you please explain.

  36. Alice says:

    Thank you for these encouraging and informative insights. I feel like I would need some deeper education and understanding to be able to use the equations properly. Can you recommend any reading material that might assist with this. It may be a confidence issue as I've not heard of or used this before but I'd value more clarity. Even around assessing the honesty or personal insightfullness of the answers people give i.e. are the individuals in a place to be real and honest about their own material in the answers they are giving? Do their own blind spots make it difficult for them to see the true measure of their own levels of desire, success,unwanted effort, emotional risk? Does that influence the accuracy of the equation and therefore the response needed?

  37. Janet says:

    That is a really nice tool to use in couple therapy. I can see where it would be useful to use to assess motivation of each partner and how to proceed once their scores are determined.
    Thank you.

  38. GunMarie says:

    I can see that this tool can be helpful for individuals that are a lot ‘in their heads', to help them wrap their minds around the different components of motivation and success. To have a frame for the emotional work needed. Also to sort of make an assessment of the likelihood of success. So if I increase my willingness to take risks by one point I can se the change in the equation and thereby also nudge my expectancy of success which in turn will raise the….etc and create a positive circle. So thank you very much?.

  39. Fiona says:

    I like the idea of having an equation as an assessment tool for knowing where my couple's are at in their motivation for change. I like the four components and they make a lot of sense for me. However, I can't help but wonder what function of the existing pattern serves and how that plays into motivation.

  40. Miriam says:

    I liked the reference to emotional contagion. I am very aware of that happening in close relationships. Learning detachment is something I find helpful.

  41. Daniel says:

    Do you have any counselors in the Cincinnati area who you could refer me to for therapy? I am having difficulties in my marriage and I like your approach. Thanks!

    Dan S

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