Many of the couples I see for therapy come to the first session with a huge list of complaints about their partner and think that if only their partner changed, then everything would be ok. Of course, things are never just one sided and both partners need to make changes to make the relationship work.
Do any of these sound familiar?
If only he would realise how important this is to me…. I’ve told him so many times and he doesn’t listen…… If she would only stop nagging…. She never does what I ask……
When asking our partners to change, we often expect that just by telling then to do something different, they will understand why this is important and follow our request immediately because they love us. We get frustrated as we repeat the request numerous times and nothing happens. The reason may be that requests for changes are made in a negative way that can make people feel angry and resentful or that they are not good enough as a husband/wife/parent etc. The partner being asked to change may not even be clear what they should do instead and may have no incentive or motivation to make the change. As the resentments build up, neither party is willing to make the first move to change which results in both people being frustrated, dissatisfied and stuck.
So how do we ask for the changes we want to see in a way that makes them more likely to happen? Here are some factors that make it more likely that your partner will consider your request.
This is a process I teach couples that I got from The Couples Institute (www.couplesinstitute.com) called ‘7 steps to influence your partner to change’.
- Make a list
Firstly it is important to pick some small changes that you think your partner is most likely to be willing to change and then after you have made a list, focus on one thing to discuss.
- Describe the problem
What exactly is the problem? Describe it as clearly as you can.
- Describe your reaction to the problem
Let them know the impact that it has on you – i.e. how it affects your thoughts about your partner, how it makes you feel and what you then do as a result.
- Be empathic
Let them know that you understand it will be hard for them to change.
- Describe how you will help
As this is so important to you, let them know what you will do to help them, i.e. offer them an incentive or motivation to change.
- Ask if they are willing to make the change
They may or may not agree to change or may if you offer a different incentive.
- Find out why
Ask for more information about why they are or are not willing to change. This helps you understand and encourage them better when requesting other changes in the future. If they don’t want to change then you can repeat the impact this has on you then leave it for now – and perhaps choose another problem to focus on instead.
Another step not in the original process but to me is one of the most important – is to notice when your partner has done as you requested and remember to let them know how much you appreciate the fact they listened and did what you asked. We all need to be appreciated and encouraged!
For a fuller example of the process, click here to download the 7-Step_Approach_to_Influence_Your_Partner_to_Change. You can print this out and use together with your partner.