Let’s say you had a miserable day at work and before you leave, your boss gave you some papers to edit that need to be done by 9am tomorrow. Then you get home and find that the dishwasher is broken. You find out that your partner forgot to help with the kids’ homework. But it gets more stressful. Your partner has been calling urgently back to work and now you’re stuck to fix all of these problems.
The default reaction, and no one would blame you for it, is to hide under the covers and pretend like this is not happening. Or maybe your reaction is to grab a container full of ice cream and eat it while you watch re-runs of Game of Thrones. Now let’s assume that you take action instead.
You get the kids off to bed. You have dinner and then get straight down to doing your work. You mumble, maybe curse, and sigh; but then you just push through and get it done. And just before your head hits the pillow and you close your eyes, you blurt out a silent cry of victory. “Yes, I did it. I’m done”. There’s a slight smile and a sense of accomplishment as you try to get some sleep.
Here, there’s no contemplation. There’s maybe a little cursing, but there’s just action. You feel better at the end of it. Feeling better requires that activity. That is how we, as humans, are wired to solve problems. Action proceeds contemplation. A good therapist will get you into action in a therapy session, and if you really pay attention and reflect on the situation, the action is the trigger to solving most of your problems.
When your marriage is stuck or seems to be hitting rock bottom, the best way to get out of that spiral is to take action. This isn’t just for your partner or for your marriage, but for yourself. But it’s not comforting for most of us to take this kind of action. You have to do something in order to overcome problems in your relationship. Solutions to challenges require you to be creative, but creativity requires action.
I understand why you might be hesitant about this. Most couples are not ready to take action. In a book called “Motivational Interviewing”, Millner and Rollick walks us through the steps of getting someone from thinking about their relationship with drugs or alcohol to actually taking action and giving it up. When couples cannot act because they’re in so much pain; then guilt, shame, and resentment build up. “Motivational Interviewing” calls this the pre-contemplation state. We, as humans, pre-contemplate the odds of taking action. We procrastinate. We’re addicted to anxiety rather than action. This state is normal and is expected in a relationship.
But the key is to take action, even if it’s just a small step. Don’t think about the future or how you would like to solve your problem right now and live happily ever after. When you do that, you place pressure on yourself to solve a very big problem and make it almost impossible to take the first step. Your goal is just to take the first step. That is the key to actually achieving your goals for your relationship and helping the feelings that are involved.
In therapy, most therapists use a tool called enactment to get couples to overcome a small mistake, to talk to each other, and to just get started. If you can enact, or talk, to your partner and tell them how you feel about something in a way that helps them understand your side of the argument, you’re on your way to bringing new levels of creativity to solve a problem in your relationship.