After years of unhappiness, can couples change?

Before I answer the question above, let me pose another. How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?

The answer? One–but the lightbulb has to want to change.

While we chuckle at the joke, there is some truth in the statement. As a couples therapist I find this to be true. After years of unhappiness couples can change.

I see it often. It is a beautiful thing to behold. In fact, some who subscribe to my blog are “proof in the pudding”.

The difference in these couples is what I call the “mutuality factor”. They make a mutual agreement to try together. It is not one doing the work of two. Both partners have two feet in.

So what does it take for unhappy couples to change? Here are five things it takes that I see couples do.

#1 It takes some shared humility and forgiveness

Unhappy couples get tired of fighting and being isolated while living in the same house. Some split up. The couples who do not want to divorce have a choice. They can co-exist in their unhappiness or they can choose to be happy again together.

The couples who choose to change, symbolically wave a white flag and surrender to each other. This is an act of shared humility. They stop pointing fingers and start owning up to their end of the problem. The act of forgiveness permeates interactions. “I am really sorry” is not a bandaid, but a balm over a wound once previously ignored.

#2: It takes some dismantling of walls

In unhappy marriages, walls are carefully constructed to protect a wounded heart from future pain. When couples agree to change together, walls are dismantled brick by brick. You see, when humility and forgiveness sets the tone of interaction, healing can take place. Safety and trust resurface. The relationship feels less threatening. Walls lose their purpose.

One of the most difficult walls to dismantle is resentment. This one takes years to construct and is effective in maintaining a safe distance. Be that as it may, if you plan to be happy together again, you will have to bring down this wall. If your spouse has a wall of resentment be mindful of how you interact. You have some repairing work before you.

#3: It takes some showing of respect

A pattern of mutual respect in a relationship opens the door of endless possibilities. Respect of equal power is of utmost importance. Any form of control is disrespectful to a spouse. If you have a controlling nature, you will have to work hard on changing it.

Respect is shown by affirming your spouse’s right to think, feel, speak, and act for herself/himself. Judging, correcting, dismissing, or shaming a spouse is harmful and in some cases abusive.  If you want respect in your marriage be open and willing to listen to each other. When you speak, convey your words with respect for your mate.

#4: It takes some persistence in effort

Fear and pride stand in the way of a better life. They make change seem so hard, when in fact it’s not that difficult. Couples who make the change after years of unhappiness muster the courage. They agree to keep doing things like showing respect, keeping attitudes in check, and being patient with each other. They don’t give up too quickly. Instead, they get back on the rails and stay the course.

#5: It takes some investment in “good times” together

Couples who are tired of fighting get rejuvenated by good times together. Rediscovery is a big part of the change that is happening. I hear this a lot from the couples I work with. Getting away for a trip, weekender, or fun activity can kickstart the motor.

It is fascinating to me how many couples get reconnected by travel. It seems that getting away from the familiar environment and pressures allows couples to relax and focus on good times together. Often I hear couples say that they feel young again. So, if you want to change together, be sure you incorporate opportunities for good times together in your calendar.

Now it’s your turn

After years together, are you an unhappy couple? Do you think you are both willing to work on changing things so you can be happy? I have shared 5 ways you can do it. Where will you start? If you’d like help getting on track, feel free to reach out to me on my contact page. I offer couples counseling and coaching depending on your needs.

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