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The future depends onwhat you do in the present
Couple Riding Bikes

Accelerate Your Progress


Margo Steinfeld, LCSW, MA, CGP

Accelerate Your Progress


Set Goals- Learn new skills- Stay Focused- Practice- Get Results.

Basically when you feel pain, you want relief as fast as possible. You’re

wired to relieve non-chosen pain.

When you feel relationship pain, you want relief and usually that means

your partner doing something different.

When in relationship pain, the most common phrase is “I need …” and that

generally means my partner needs to be different.

Of course, if your partner changes you could feel better. However, that is

only one half the picture.

The other half? You guessed it: how you can improve yourself.

The following goal setting information will liberate you from repeating

painful patterns by giving you the greatest leverage.

Goals come in different categories

Results goals – for example, you want to lose 10 pounds. There is no

statement about how to make it happen. The goal is getting the result.

Process goals – the focus is on changing the way you do something vs

seeking a specific result. For example, “I want to be more respectful and

listen better when you are upset.”

Two ways to improve your relationship:

1. You change

2. Your partner changes

Ways you can change

This is the category of self-improvement. For example, you may want to be

more assertive, more organized, more transparent with your emotions, take

risks to get closer, be curious instead of furious, etc. We usually take on

self-improvement goals after trying everything else.

Probably the most common dynamic in couple’s therapy is each partner

putting most of the focus on how the partner needs to change. So let’s

tackle this first.

Partner changes

The first step is identifying (in a measurable way) one thing you want your

partner to improve. Saying you want them to be more respectful, nicer,

neater, supportive, adoring or be a better listener is too vague. It is not

specific and is not measurable.

If you are not clear about specific and measurable ways for your partner to

change, we can create that clarity in the office.

The next step is speculating how difficult (and why) it will be for your

partner to respond to what you want in a timely and effective manner.

Basically this is a question of how well you really know and understand

your partner. On a 1-10 scale, how difficult do you think it will be for your

partner to give you what you want?

But you are not yet done. Now you need to describe how you will make it

easier for your partner to respond to you. Although a lot of people think it is

sufficient to describe what they want and then sit back and wait for the

miracle, it is mostly wishful thinking. If your partner doesn’t want

encouragement, consider yourself lucky. Very lucky.

Changing yourself

Now comes the emotionally hard part. Setting a goal for yourself that will be

meaningful (and measurable) for your partner. If you set an improvement

goal for yourself and you feel no resistance it is not a stretch for you. And it

is probably not very meaningful for your partner.

Next, you may desire some form of encouragement from your partner to

change. If so what would it be?

The next two questions deal with motivation. What are the benefits for you

and your partner for following through with your self-improvement goal?

Why would this goal for you be difficult to carry out? Good news. One of my

jobs will be to help make it easier for you to follow through on meaningful

goals you set for yourself.

Experience has taught me that the first meaningful change in a relationship

comes from each person identifying his or her own self-improvement goals.

This increases your partner’s motivation to continue their own self change.

So in that spirit complete the following questions.

The first meaningful change I will make for the sake of an improved

relationship is





However this won’t be easy for me because






But the benefits will be





The encouragement I would like from my partner is





If I knew (skill set, or tools, or more information about my partner or myself,

etc.) _______________________________________ it could make my

change easier

After your self-change has been implemented and practiced, it becomes

infinitely easier to request your partner to make a change. Unfortunately

most couples focus on partner change first and self-change second. But we

will focus on self-improvement first. Our future efforts will become easier

and set the foundation for better teamwork. 

©2012 The Couples Institute with permission to copy.