Updated: Apr 12, 2022
By Kaleigh Simental
Any time I think of change, Charles Bradley’s cover of “Changes” comes to mind. His soulful rendition of the Black Sabbath classic reflects the depth of pain and hopelessness that is heard in the lyrics. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the song, it is a reflection on a relationship that has ended because the people grew apart. The song is the man’s wish that he could go back and change the choices he made while he was in the relationship.
Many people come to couples’ therapy looking to prevent being in this position. They want to make proactive changes to ensure that they won’t have regrets in relationships. Maybe you have come to this blog by your search for a couples therapist. If so, welcome! Congratulations on embracing the journey towards change! Changing unhealthy relationship patterns to healthier one by gaining new tools and skills is a big part of the work of couples therapy. But before you begin, let’s look at what it means to change.
Two researchers in the 1970’s named Prochaska and DiClemente identified 5 stages that individuals go through when making a change in their lives: Precontemplation, when a person doesn’t yet see a need for change; Contemplation, when they start to see that there could be a change; Preparation, when they begin to make changes; Action, while they practice the new behavior; and Maintenance, when they commit to the new behavior.
These stages may last any amount of time depending on the person or subject, which begs the question: what happens in a relationship when one partner is ready for a change and the other isn’t? A commonly discussed dynamic in couples’ therapy is when one partner is in the Preparation stage while the other is still in Precontemplation.
The partner in the Preparation stage has already identified a problem and made a clear decision that they want to make a change, even going so far as to try making the change already. They may begin to reach out to others for advice, reading on their own about how to enact the change, or starting discussions with their unaware partner about the changes that they want to see in the relationship.
Meanwhile, the partner in the Precontemplation stage doesn’t see an issue or a need for change. This can be a frustrating dynamic for both individuals. The partner in Precontemplation may defend the current pattern or habit in the relationship and not understand why their partner is being so harsh or keeps bringing up the problem.
In the Preparation stage, the other partner may be looking for what they can do to issue the change that they want to see in the relationship. They may begin to look around them for tools and resources that can help encourage change -which might lead them to couples' therapy. However, until the partner in the Precomtemplation stage is willing to see that there might be a need to change, they may come to couple’s therapy, but they will not be ready to accept change or help.
If you and your partner are caught in this dilemma and you realize you are at two different stages of change, it’s important to remember that change takes time for everyone. Avoid blaming each other and instead work to openly communicate. Opening communication with a couples' therapist will allow both partners to establish a safe space to share how they are affected by the problem or why they are resistant to change. Discussing other changes that you have experienced together and encouraging pride in the strengths of the relationship can help you both be more open to change and see the changes that have been happening all along.
This is part one of a series on Change in a Relationship by ASRBC interns Kaleigh Simental and Gabriella Gutierrez. Learn more about our team here or book a session with Kaleigh, by visiting www.austinstrongrbc.com/meet-kaleigh