Q. My wife and I went to a few counseling sessions to work on some of our issues but it doesn’t seem like it helped. We do better for a couple of weeks and then fall back into our old patterns. What do we need to do to stay focused?

A. Changing long time patterns of dysfunctional behavior does take time. When you think about how long you have been engaging in behavior that isn’t healthy; it makes sense that repetition of new behavior and patience will be needed. I have seen different numbers about how long it takes to make new behavior your new norm but 30 days is often used. If you practice a new behavior or response consistently for 30 days you may notice it comes to you more naturally.
I think changing dysfunctional behavior is like any negative, damaging interaction that we inflict on another person or ourselves. It falls into an addiction category. If we have become dependent on negative interactions with our partner or children, it will take time and treatment to change.
You can’t just show up for counseling. A treatment plan should be developed to design the course of therapy, something that is measurable. Everyone must agree to work the plan if it is going to be successful.
It might be determined during the intake process that both people need to add individual therapy to reach the desired goals. It is probably fair and accurate to say that most people have not resolved issues from childhood that can create extremely dysfunctional adult dynamics.
For example: When Bob and Renee came to counseling, one of the first things Bob shared was how different his life would be if his parents had not divorced when he was 13. (He is now 34.) His wife said she was so tired of hearing Bob’s tirades on how their divorce had affected him, 21 years later. Bob also shared that he had never gone to counseling to talk about how the divorce affected him and would not be in counseling today if his wife had not insisted.
Until Bob works on the affect his parent’s divorce had on him, his marriage will continue to suffer. Big giant band-aids don’t stay on forever. Denial can cost us our health and our marriages.
Marriage counseling will not make a relationship healthier if the players have untreated wounds.
I saw this recently on Facebook: “so many broken children living in grown bodies mimicking adult lives.”

Vicki L Mayfield, M.Ed., R.N., LMFT Marriage and Family Therapy Oklahoma City

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