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Shaping Your Mate




By Bob Grant, L.P.C.

Some years ago, while building my counseling practice, I was constantly looking for the most effective strategies for my clients. The theories in Graduate School were very interesting, but I also yearned for the practical applications. Something they could take home with them. Particularly with couples. By the time they came into my office they were usually at their wits end. Before we could explore the depth of their conflict and pain I needed something which would give them hope.

After the first couple of years, I began noticing a pattern in most of my marital clients. Rarely did I find someone who simply didn't try hard enough. Ironically, that was the main thing they had in common. They were exhausted by the time they made it into my office. They had often read books, prayed and tried to be as patient with their partner as they could (as they had often been advised to do). Yet what this approach was producing was more despair in each partner. So they would stuff their pain until one day they would become overwhelmed and lash out on the person they had promised to love unconditionally.

How could they shape their spouse without being controlling? One day one of the therapists I was working with happened to come into my office. She related her story to me as follows, "About 2 months ago my husband and I went to see Chuck (a fellow therapist) give a marriage seminar. I was interested in observing his method of speaking so I took my husband along with me. He made one statement that really struck me and Steve (her husband). Chuck said, 'What you call Your Spouse, they will become.' Well, I leaned over to Steve and jokingly said, O.K. Slim, and he replied, alright then sexy. Later that night I decided to try it for the next 5 weeks. I made a point of referring to him as Slim every so often. Bob, do you know that he has lost 10 pounds these past 5 weeks and nothing else has ever worked! At this point I had to ask her, Did he ever call you sexy? For just a moment she hesitated then quickly regained her smile, "No, he hasn't." I remember to this day seeing the look on her face. It wasn't that she needed a makeover or drastic improvement at all. I sincerely believe she wished her husband had shown enough interest in her to take the same risk she had. To believe in her enough to help her become all she could be. Even if she had hadn't liked being called "sexy", it would have been nice for him to try.

Many couples I see have tried to "politely" help their spouse see their faults only to have their advice slammed back into their face. "I'll never make that mistake again", they say to themselves. Sadly they withdraw from their mate. A much better approach would be to concentrate on consistency rather than force. Encourage what you like about them. Rather than keep it inside, make it a point to emphasis what they are doing well or what you like. The beauty of consistently reinforcing a theme to our spouse is that people become what you consistently draw attention to. Whether it is good or bad. Every week in my counseling practice I observe this. Week after week I tell my clients something that they think sounds great but can't possibly be true. It is easy for me to believe that they will get better. I have seen couples and individuals improve for nearly 13 years. In time they begin to believe their potential. It doesn't really matter whether they believe me or not.

The feedback you consistently give you spouse will have a profound affect on their outcome. Whenever your spouse does something you like, say something! Often we withhold praise and accumulate criticism until we are full. Rather than simply not be negative, take a proactive step and also point out the moment they do something wonderful, or nice. If you make this a habit, it has the potential of changing our spouse more quickly than you realize.



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