Successfully working with a hostile-angry dynamic in couples therapy hinges on the degree to which partners are motivated to do the work necessary for transformational change.
A motivated partner comes to therapy for growth and change. They will set goals for themselves and the relationship and do homework.
An unmotivated partner doesn’t want to take an active role in therapy. They don’t identify their role in problems. They don’t set goals, or if they do, they will not follow through on working towards achieving them. They may not want to be there at all. They often expect to be blamed or do a lot of blaming. They may have already decided to leave the relationship.
The motivated/unmotivated partner is especially common in fighting couples. These partners may present as if they are motivated for change. They may say “All we do is fight. We can’t communicate.” They ask for help but often the primary source of their motivation is a desire to change the other person rather than focus on their own personal growth. They often believe the other person owes it to them to change and to do it now. There is a sense of victimization, righteousness and entitlement with this dynamic.
Without partners investing in their own personal growth, couples therapy is at high risk of being thwarted. One of the quickest ways to understand the degree to which one is motivated is by asking:
- What kind of relationship do you want to create? What does that relationship look like?
- What will be required of you to help bring that about?
The answers will reveal some important things. For example, if neither partner has an image of sharing, collaborating, supporting the other, or of offering any positive acknowledgement or appreciation of the other, then they are in for some very hard work ahead of them. Or maybe one partner has already emotionally exited the relationship with no interest or intent in re-investing emotionally. Or maybe (hopefully) both are motivated; each partner is actually interested in personal growth, which has a much greater shot at evolving the relationship.
Until next time, peace.