Are you Willing to Change?
When couples come to therapy they often say they hope to interact with their partner differently. They believe change will improve their relationship. I anticipate couples will make changes in the way they think and behave in order to meet their goals. But how do we change when our habits seem so powerful?
James Prochaska and Carlo Di Clemente developed the Transtheoretical Model of Change, more commonly known as “the process of change”, in 1973. They break the change process into six stages. They outlined these steps in an old but popular book called Changing to Thrive (1994).
The first stage is Pre-contemplation. In this stage we may not feel or think we need to alter ourselves in any way. It is common for one member of the marriage to believe their partners’ changes could improve the marriage. Yet until both parties recognize a change is needed it is unlikely to happen.
The second stage is Contemplation. Contemplation is the stage where people recognize the need for a change of some sort or another. In the marital therapy office couples often examine their interactions with one another and many come to acknowledge a change is important for the benefit of themselves or their partner.
The next stage is Preparation. In this stage people are looking at resources and information to help them make the change. For the benefit of their spouse a client may make an inquiry about a change in role at work to see if more time and energy could be made available. Locating the nearest A.A. meeting is another example of what happens at the preparation stage. The change has not happened but is being anticipated.
The fourth stage is Action. The action stage is when a person implements the plan made in the preparation stage. They make more time for their partner, turn off the computer, put the children to sleep in their own beds. These actions can communicate commitment to doing things differently. Often a spouse will complain that their partner is “all talk”. In the action stage the “talk” happens.
The fifth stage is Maintenance. In this stage people maintain or continue to put into place what has occurred in the action stage. This is where a degree of trust increases between partners.
The sixth and final stage is the Termination stage. In this stage people find the previous temptations are no longer so compelling. Their new habits are established and the change is often not at the front of their minds.
As with all theories there are criticisms and questions about their efficacy. What I like about this model is that it brings focus to the difference between awareness, acknowledgment, commitment to action and commitment to more permanent change. These are essential components of moving forward. In session I am aware that as thinking changes so can behaviour and in the reverse order. I can assist by prompting clients to anticipate and plan for barriers that might get in the way of their change. I can also scale shifts and changes to track progress for the couple.
Marital Therapy requires changes be made by both parties. The Transtheoretical Model helps us understand where we are in the process.
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