Is “Doing Your Best” Good Enough In Your Relationship?
In the humanistic school of psychotherapy, we often take the perspective that our clients are “doing the best they can with the resources they have available to them.” These resources include their childhood upbringing, their genetics, their support system and all of the experiences that have gotten them to this point in time. We’re talking about both nature AND nurture.
While I subscribe to the humanistic school and believe that using it is important to good psychotherapy, at the same time, I don’t believe that it is enough. In the beginning of individual treatment, it is important to “meet the client where they are” and accept them “unconditionally”.
However, as treatment progresses, I believe that there is a big distinction between “doing the best that I can” and “doing whatever it takes” to move forward and have the life that we desire. Often “the best that I can” becomes a cop-out and a defense to expanding, growing and trying out new, more beneficial behaviors and ways of viewing and coping with challenges.
At some point, a good psychotherapist will challenge their client and encourage them gently and sometimes push them not so gently into confronting their complacency and their psychological defenses. From my perspective, this point comes much sooner than later when working with couples.
Unlike individual psychotherapy, which can often be less structured and more relaxed about agendas and time frames, couples usually enter counseling because they are bleeding (metaphorically speaking) and in a make-or-break crisis. They are in great pain and generally will not continue as a couple unless something shifts during the treatment and it relatively quickly.
The research indicates that long-term couples enter couples counseling after struggling with key issues for over six years! They’ve often reached a breaking point or critical mass and my job as a couples counselor is to help them when one or both partners may believe that it’s too little too late. No pressure there!
And so, I will generally explore the couple’s commitment to the process very early on in treatment. I will ask couples, “What are you willing to commit to, in order to have a better relationship, to actually have the relationship of your dreams?”
As you may imagine, one or both of the partners may be somewhat ambivalent in their commitment. One or both may answer, “I’ll give it my best” or “I do the best that I can.” Though this is socially acceptable in many situations, in a counseling situation, this is not a very high state of intention.
Sometimes, the couple will express a greater willingness and respond to my question of commitment with the answer “I’ll do whatever it takes!” I usually take this with a grain of salt, as if the couple were really willing to do “whatever it takes” they would have done what they needed to do a lot sooner and probably before they even got to my office.
Again, there are exceptions to this and I really do come in with an open mind and give my couples the benefit of the doubt. In my twenty years of experience though (and I don’t mean to be cynical), “whatever it takes” usually means, “whatever it takes, as long as I don’t have to be uncomfortable or take any actions that I don’t want to take.”
So what do I think it “takes” to have a better relationship for the couples that come into my office (and all couples actually)? First, let me say that relationships ARE challenging. They bring up all of our unresolved issues, all of our triggers, and all of our childhood wounds. And that is a GOOD thing, as all of this surfaces so that we can resolve our issues and heal our wounds!
I totally admire and support EVERY couple that comes to me for help. Yes, they all come in with their defenses and challenges, but that’s what makes them human. It’s what makes all of us human. And I do love a challenge and I do love to help people, that’s why I’m in this field.
Relationships offer us an incredible opportunity for healing of ourselves and for our partner. And yet, the adolescent fantasy that it “should” always feel good and always be “warm and fuzzy” is not realistic. And when it becomes challenging and we’re not sure what to do, we are often quick to label the relationship as “bad” or “wrong” and we leave it. And then we find another person to love and start a new relationship and repeat the pattern.
In MY opinion, “what it takes” is a willingness to examine our own issues and how they intertwine with our partner’s issues. I’ve written about this before (read Why We Choose Our Partner to find out more). “What it takes” is the ability to delay gratification in the short term to have deeper connection and happiness in the long term.
“What it takes is” the willingness to communicate when it’s not comfortable and when you know that neither of you will enjoy the process in the moment, yet it still needs to be done. “What it takes” is a commitment to working through whatever needs to be worked through and the willingness to discover/find/create the tools needed to make this happen.
People committed to “what it takes” are the ones that I choose to work with in my relationship coaching practice. If they are single, I help them to heal their past heartbreak and relationship “failures” and understand their relationship patterns. In this way, they can literally have a “fresh start” and create a better relationship with themselves and attract a similarly committed partner to create a better relationship with as well.
The same holds for the couples that I work with. They are committed and motivated to create a better relationship. They take the tools I teach them and run with them. They carry out the assignments I give them and want more! These are the couples that create more romance, more intimacy and more passion in their relationships. It is a pleasure to work with them and share in their growth.
What I definitely have learned over the years is that 100% of the couples and singles that I work with that AREN’T committed to the process and DON’T use the tools I teach them, DON’T get the results they want and DON’T create a better relationship. I have learned to ask them this question before we even begin our work together, so that I can save them and myself time and energy better spent on other endeavors.
The question then, is WHO do you want to be in your life and in your relationship? And, what are you TRULY willing to commit to, in order to have it? If you believe that you have that motivation and that commitment, CONGRATULATIONS!
And if you believe that I can help support you in your journey towards a better relationship, I want to extend a special offer to you, to have a complimentary Relationship Coaching Strategy Session with me via Skype or telephone. Please click here to schedule the session, if what I’ve written makes sense to you and you are ready for RESULTS!
Thank you so much,
I’ve been a recipient of your advice for several years with thanks. A year or two after my wife of 58 years had passed away ( in 2009) I decided to try to build a new partner relationship. Now at 85 I have found a delightful woman who’s personality and cultural interests so blend with mine it almost sounds too good to be true. Even our sensual relationship is enjoyable. My decision to get back in circulation has ,in part, been powered initially by your advice and subsequent advice offered by several other relationship websites. It is amazing what one can accomplish when you can listen, digest and utilize after you learn how the other half thinks. I think I’m becoming a sort of a guru in recognizing where other couples have problems and try to give them some incite in how I overcame most of my insecurities. Often recommending some of the web sites I’ve gotten good advice from. I had two other female relationships before my present find. I’m sure they also contributed to my understanding plus we have also remained friends, just not buddies. Thanks for your help. I will continue to be a fan of yours. The answer always lies in the differences between the male & female minds. Maybe I’m being too simplistic but it has helped me control every impending argument with an amicable outcome. Thanks again! ED BRYAN
I truly admire your tenacity in moving forward and your commitment to continue to grow. I wish you the best!