What If You’re The Only One Working On It?

I was working with a client this week that said “my wife and I are so disconnected and we have so many problems. I don’t know if the marriage can be fixed and I really don’t think it can be fixed if we’re both not actively working on it together. Is there anything that I can do or is it even worth it for me to try when she isn’t?”

This is a pretty common question that comes up in my coaching practice because we have been taught and told that both people have to work hard. We have come to believe that if  the relationship is broken that you both need to be working on it, but I am going to I argue that it is not true and here is why. Just like one person can destroy a relationship, one person can create positive change in a relationship too.

Think of it like a dance.  If the relationship is  a dance, then when you take one step your spouse is going to take a step. When you change direction ,they’re going to change direction. So, when you change the approach you take with your communication style you’re going to get a different response from them. When you don’t react as quickly or you react differently the reaction you get in return is going to be different. Anytime you change the rules about how you want to be treated, you will get a different response. When you change the way you interact with and treat your spouse, you’re going to get a different response.

When we go back to wanting to work on it and get help in the relationship, both people are not necessarily going to be ready for counseling or coaching at the same time.  You aren’t always going to be ready for help and support and accountability at the exact same time. So what happens? Usually, one spouse might say to their partner “I want to go to marriage counseling. I’m not happy and we need to work on it.” More often than not the other partner says something like  “I think things are fine. I don’t need help, or if you want to go to a counselor go ahead.”

Here is the problem. If you wait until you’re both ready at the exact same time you’re probably not going. You are likely to never end up getting that help and support you need or learn the tools that could help you. So nothing gets done. No one grows and moves forward. Nothing changes and same patterns, the same dance steps continue. They repeat again and again and again and the disconnect grows wider and wider. The relationship continues to deteriorate more and more until it is unrecoverable.

Now, can you control your wife? No. Can you control her actions? No.  Can you heal her wounds for her? No. Can you change her? No.  You cannot, but don’t think that you cannot make a difference in your marriage. Just as we know what buttons to push in our spouses that would get them angry, we also know what the best traits and characteristics are within them. So, when we focus on those things we’re going to get more of that, more of those traits and characteristics.

I believe you can make a difference on your own. I think that you just need some tools that you haven’t learned yet to change some patterns, or learn some new dance steps so that you can actually make a difference. What you can do is take that step forward for yourself. You can learn the tools that you need. You can have someone hold you accountable for putting those into practice in your life and in your relationship. You can learn some new dance steps.

In the end, your relationship may heal and it may not, but either way you’re going to be at peace with your decisions.  You are going to know that you did everything you could and you’re going to have some new tools. Don’t refuse to take a step forward in a struggling relationship just because your partner isn’t doing the exact same thing. Take that step forward because you can make a difference. Go ahead and be the one working on it.