Attitude is Everything - What Doesn't Work
There is a common denominator that any therapist would tell you has a significant impact on therapeutic success – a client’s attitude towards treatment. If a client has a negative attitude towards treatment we call this ‘therapy interference’.
Granted, you do need a skilled practitioner, who you can develop good rapport with and who is using evidenced based psychological interventions, but that attitude… that’s on you!
Often the hardest part of our job is assisting clients to let their self-protective guards down so that the therapy actually has a chance to work. It is a very gratifying day when a client you’ve been working with relinquishes rigidity in favour of curiosity, shows patience and resists the emotional urge to be impatient, and chooses vulnerable humility over safe and secure pridefulness. It is in this space where a client sees the light – where their desires for themselves become a tangible reality.
To see a couples achieve this shift in their attitude together is why we are so excited to do what we do. We know what attitudes don’t work, and we want to share this information with you so that you can be prepared for the fundamental shift in attitude that will need to occur if marital success is what you really long for.
Rigidity vs Curiosity
You can’t walk through a closed door. You can walk into it, bang your head on it and even knock yourself out on it, but no matter how many times you try, you still can’t walk through a closed door. A mind that is closed is rigid, it is black and white, and it is stuck. For many couples this rigidity sounds like: “I’ve tried everything. Nothing makes him/her happy. There is no point even trying”. Now this attitude is the right one to maintain if you intend to keep doing what you’ve always done. When couples attend our workshops, the ones who succeed have made an agreement with each other, somewhere along the process, to open their minds, to be curious and to try and implement everything new that they are taught. It was Rita Mae Brown, a mystery novelist, in her 1983 book Sudden Death, that wrote “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
Impatience vs Patience
We have all heard the saying the ‘patience is a virtue’. Patience is the ability to wait for what you desire without letting frustration, anger or intolerance overwhelm you. Having an attitude of patience enables a person to achieve an end goal even whilst making mistakes and experiencing setbacks – slow and steady wins the race! On the other hand, an attitude of impatience with ourselves and with our partner will likely lead to us throwing in the towel, and us never achieving what we had set out to. If you think about anything in your life that is a significant achievement, it no doubt took time. University degrees, trade training, learning a musical instrument, become skilled at a sport, renovating a home, planning a wedding, even carrying a child for nine months, (say nothing for the 18 years you spend trying to raise them). Couples who are patient with each other as they learn new ways of relating have a much greater chance of achieving their end goal – a happy marriage!
Pridefulness vs Humility
Invariably when couples are experiencing relationship distress, an attitude of pridefulness is at the heart of their suffering. It is important to note that this pridefulness often exists because two people are longing to have their perspective and their opinion understood by each other – and this hasn’t been happening. Maintaining pridefulness, as a pervasive attitude, is so detrimental to our relationships that it can signify the beginning of the end. Humility, on the other hand is accepting that in every situation there is more than one ‘subjective’ reality, and there is more than one way of doing things. Couples, where pridefulness has become pervasive, approach their learning with an attitude of “there is nothing you can teach me that I haven’t already thought of that is going to make a difference here”. Couples who humbly recognize that they are under-resourced, under-skilled and can humbly accept correction – these are the couples who experience enormous change.
If you see yourself or your partner demonstrating any of the above attitudes that don’t work – rigidity, impatience or pridefulness – you definitely aren’t the only couple. As therapists we know that these attitudes often serve to protect us when we’ve been experiencing long periods of feeling unheard, hurt, neglected or betrayed. We fear on some level, that this will keep happening again and again and so we put up our walls of rigidity, of pride and of impatience.
We invite you to begin to relinquish these attitudes. If you’ve been hurt, you may very well be feeling that these attitudes are necessary to maintain, in order to protect you emotionally. However, they are much like any other protective behaviours – they only serve to exacerbate your fear and keep you further from the emotional connection and safety that you long for.
Fear Avoided = Fear Increased.
A fear patiently, humbly and curiously explored leads to fear being conquered. If we fear our partner will not understand us, will not listen to us, will not be able to meet or emotional or physical needs then this fear causes us to avoid any opportunities for emotional connection that may exist.
In order for you to learn what it is to really love you need to relinquish rigidity in favour of curiosity, impatience in favour of patience, and humility in favour of pride.
JOIN US THIS SEPTEMBER AT OUR SYDNEY WORKSHOP FOR COUPLES BASED ON THE FORTY YEARS OF GROUNDBREAKING RESEARCH FROM THE GOTTMAN INSTITUTE AND OUR 30 YEARS OF COMBINED CLINICAL EXPERIENCE WITH COUPLES.
KERRIE AND ADRIAN LUMBEWE
Principal psychologists and directors of Motivating Marriages
Gottman Method Couples Therapy
Gottman Leader of Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work and Bringing the Baby Home