Many couples may describe their relationship difficulties in very general terms. For example, they may say they don’t get on, they continually argue or they can never seem to agree about things. If you recognise this in your partnership then the framework below may be of help in making a start to make your own changes or in preparation for seeing a counsellor.
General issues are a result, usually, of specific problems. The aim is to reach a detailed assessment of your particular problems by communicating them to each other in a specific way. This results in greater clarity and a greater possibility of change. The aim then is to move from general criticisms to specific requirements.
I would suggest that you first agree that this is something you are both going to do. Perhaps set aside a time-scale for its completion. It’s important that you are equally committed to making some changes.
The next step then would be to consider the following points independently of each other and take your agreed time allowance to write them down.

  • What would be your vision for your relationship? Write about your relationship as you would ideally like it to be. Try to see it in your mind’s eye. As with most vision writing it is important to write it in the present tense as if it is actually happening right now. Use bright and colourful images and positive language. Don’t concern yourself at this stage by any limitations either in your relationship or in your circumstances

Then move on to consider in specific terms:

  • What is it about your partner’s behaviour that you like?
  • What is it about your partner’s behaviour that you don’t like?
  • What are the positive desired changes - (eg. ‘taking me out more often’) rather than negative ones (eg. ‘not nagging so much’) - that you would like to see in your partner’s behaviour?
  • What aspects of your partner’s behaviour are you especially pleased about?

In this way you will be identifying target behaviours and goals, which will then be used for a basis from which to make any desired changes in your relationship.

One of the aims is for each of you to take responsibility for your part in making any agreed changes. To this end I would encourage you both to communicate by using statement beginning with ‘I’. For example, a statement such as ‘you make me feel so angry’ could be replaced with ‘I feel so angry when you …’. Communicating in this way allows each person to take responsibility for their own feelings, places the problem with the behaviour rather than in the person and avoids blame and guilt, both of which are unhelpful in relationships.

From this starting point you may wish to consult a counsellor/coach who would help you to agree a contract. In this contract each person’s requirements would be reflected in a very specific way, and goals agreed and set for any desired changes.

Susan Spencer
Westmorland Counselling