When Change Isn’t Noticed

Posted on May 12th, 2014

“I’ve been working on changing my behavior.”

“That’s not how it looks to me.”

This exchange happens frequently in couples counseling. A husband or wife will agree to try some new behavior their partner has been asking for. It doesn’t matter what the new behavior is—showing up on time, saying positive things, putting dishes in the dishwasher, not fading out of conversations. When the couple returns for their next session, the one doing the action will say the week was very different, but the recipient has not noticed any change.

When this occurs in everyday life, the result is often frustration, arguments, and the end of trying any new behavior. One advantage of couples counseling is having the emotional space to ask what is actually going on in this situation.

The answer is almost always one of two possibilities. First, the new behavior may not have crossed the threshold of awareness. You can do something new dozens, even hundreds of times, but when what you do is not noticed by your partner, for them it is as though it never happened. We are all often oblivious to noticing new behaviors. We see what we are used to seeing, and new behavior has to be done often enough and largely enough to get our partner’s attention.

The second possibility is resistance to change. We all experience some resistance to new behaviors, even ones we have been wanting. New behaviors requires new responses, and it’s easier to do what we have always done—even if what we have done is to complain—than it is to notice change and to have to deal with the impact of the change on us.

No one is at fault in these situations. What is required is a larger and much more sustained level of activity around the new behavior, more attention on the part of both partners. It also helps to think of this as a collaborative process, rather than an oppositional one. Two people are working together to do something new, something which you both want. As soon as the new behavior is noticed and responded to, you will both be pleased and have new energy for your relationship.

Posted in Marriage and Couples

Please remember, this is a blog. It is not psychotherapy or treatment of any kind and is not a substitute for the individual treatment you can get from going to see a good therapist.