You Can get Your Partner to Change

You can get your partner to change. Really, you can!

Of course there is a catch; to change them, you have to adopt new approaches. Unless, of course, you happen to be one of those extremely unusual people who already acknowledge positive occurrences, ignores most negative actions and strategies without getting emotionally reactive. But if so, your partner probably no longer has many habits that annoy you.

Even when a person has no intention of changing to please you, or is unable to control their own actions or emotions, they are susceptible to your power to hand out effective forms of positive acknowledgements. They may fight your accusations and ignore your pleas but they will tend to follow the rainbow to the pot of good feedback. They may dismiss the silliness of you saying thank you, but changes will sneak into their routines and respond to your attention.

You can start the process without being particularly good at it, and as you get better the results will show up more quickly. You can tell them what you’re doing or hide it from them, and unless you’re just fishing for their acknowledgements, they’re likely to change over time.

This technique is particularly effective when both partners are working at it from their own end; no need to agree on what changes to work toward, although it may help, just acknowledge away when something that you like happens. That’s really the key – if you want it to happen again, show a little appreciation.

A coach who practices strength based or appreciative coaching will model how to do it. The odds are it will go down really nicely and you’ll find yourself hoping for more. Then you can ask how to get started and with a couple of simple strategies you’re on your way to learning a skill that is transferable to children and bosses

Telling Stories

“We were at the store and she began telling me that I couldn’t buy the lawn mower. But I wasn’t going to buy it; I was just asking to see if I could get a discount. She got moody and…”

I surprise many of my new coaching clients when I tell them we’re going to skip the rest of the story. Many of them have been encouraged in therapy to review these stories. And while it might be helpful there, I don’t need to hear them.

My coaching takes a moving forward approach – “Where do you want to go from here?” not so much “Where have you been?”

When I begin to hear a story that is full of the kind of passion and even blame that underpins most disagreements with partners, I just barge right in and call a stop. I encourage my clients to be interested in only one aspect of the story. What could they have done differently to have a more effective conversation, to reach their goal, to create an alliance with their partner, to change their behavior?

I know life is hard and conversations with partners can be very difficult, but the chances of changing your partner are slight if you haven’t changed yourself. So, I start with the most interesting part, how to change your behavior – the one area of life we all have some control over.

Stories can surreptitiously encourage us to rehearse our past mistakes and support our old way of seeing things. Discussing new ways to redo the same old situations lets us practice new behaviors and ways of seeing things. You can start a new behavior by imagining how to redo old patterns.

But what do you do with your feelings about how you’ve been treated or spoken to? Telling emotionally laden stories can fan the flames of your feelings, and there is evidence that that isn’t helpful either. If your feelings are so intense or complex that they are blocking you from moving forward, it would be appropriate to see a therapist. If you can move a bit despite your feelings, try moving toward what you want.

How to grow and change? That’s the important question. When I see my clients changing, I know we’ve hit the right balance.

Helping Couples Begin Changing Now

More and more often Ken and Mary found their relationship deteriorating into angry blaming sessions. Neither felt they were being listened to or understood, and neither experienced the other as trying to make it better. They had seen a therapist a few years back but they found themselves in the same spot again and asked their family physician for another referral.

He appropriately asked them why they weren’t going back to the original therapist. Mary answered most simply, “We talked a lot about how our parents’ marriages affect us, and shared our feelings, but we never really understood what we should do when we were in the middle of a blow-up.”

Their physician hesitated, and then asked, “I can refer you to a couples coach. You should each expect to be challenged to change your own behavior and learn new ways to communicate. It’s all very practical and focused on your present situations and behaviors. But consider it carefully because it can be too direct if what you really want is someone to sympathize with you.”

Both said they wanted to try it and he gave them my name. Boy were they surprised at the first meeting when I told them, “We’re not going to spend time going over your story. I just want you to start with one of the conversations that you find it hard to have. We’ll use the conversation to take a look at your individual conversational strengths and weaknesses, and come up with new strategies.”

They decided to start talking with each other about how they wanted to parent their children and almost immediately Mary started blaming Ken for not being consistent. I stopped the conversation and asked her what she was trying to accomplish.

This simple question opened up an explanation of her feelings, but once we had briefly reviewed them I suggested we start the conversation again and this time we got a bit further before Ken calmly accused Mary of not respecting him or his parenting style.

Once again I stopped the conversation and told Ken that I heard that was how he felt, but it was presented as an assumption about Mary that might just be his creative story and have little to do with what Mary really felt. I encouraged him to check it out.

This conversation went on for the hour and a half we had scheduled and in their summary both Ken and Mary were more accepting of their role in conversational failures and motivated to clear things up. I gave them things to try at home and we wrapped up.

Couples Coaching is about changing current behaviors so that an individual can get what they want out of a relationship. It focuses more on effective and lasting change, and learning

Couples Communication

Communicating is one of the most complex things we do. Place that challenging undertaking into the context of an emotionally interwoven relationship and there are exponential increases in the difficulty.

Saying that you talk is not the same as communicating well. Research has shown that, for instance, men and women who talk rarely understand the full meaning of the other and often not even the basic message. Our language is nuanced enough that each partner is unduly pressed to make assumptions about what the other person means.

To that puzzle add needing to understand the emotional shading, which changes the meanings of words and phrases (e.g., “No” as in “No thank you.” and “No” as in “Are you out of your mind?”). Then imagine the person trying to listen being deafened by their own emotional static and pile on unconscious influences springing from the emotional baggage of both communicators and it becomes a wonder that we understand even the simple announcement from our partner that dinner is ready.

It is said that couples conversations just go in circles, never learning, never changing. While this would be completely understandable, the truth is much more encouraging than that. And the good news is that the path through all of the complexity is actually very straightforward.

Here are six behaviors can turn tangled messes, which threaten emotional war (hot or cold), into possibilities for increased closeness:

  • Slow everything down so that you can think carefully about what you say and do
  • Don’t start a war (hot or cold) by being “truthful”
  • Try to never give voice to your blame of the other, especially if their wrong
  • Check out all your assumptions, but assume the best about your partner’s motives
  • Take full, personal responsibility for getting what you want
  • Be clear and transparent about what’s happening for you

Once you’ve laid the foundation by defusing things, there will be lots of room to seek more respect, reject blame, request “do overs”, walk through the puzzle of how it all happened. You can implement strategies to “train” your partner, you can agree on ways to grow together and you can be sure each of you feels heard and understood.

My experience is that it takes a very active, experienced coach to establish the routines for this process, but that once established, it becomes self-correcting. Now there’s a balm for the heart and soul of any relationship – self-correcting instead of endless repeating negative spirals.

Emotional Control is Key to Winning

At the top level of sports there is very little difference between competitors’ physical skills; the winning edge is the ability to adapt and control personal emotions to support a top performance. An athlete who can regulate the intensity of his or her anxiety, disappointment and even passion is the one most likely to manage the competitive process and finish in the top tier.

Professionals and business leaders compete in a less obvious arena, but one that also pays dividends to the person who can adjust their emotional pitch and reactions to get the best from themselves and their team. Unregulated and uncontrolled emotions, particularly negative emotions, are poisonous to job satisfaction and consequently productivity.

The primary edge any professional office or business has is in the quality of our people. We cannot compete at the highest levels, let alone “win”, without our pit crew, our sail trimmers, our blockers and tacklers. Teams that have the most experienced, most client-sensitive, most capable people are bound to do better, while also reducing stress for the team leaders.

Unregulated emotions – outbursts or day-long “attitudes” – ruin productivity, demoralize your best people and will destroy your team and business. Take it from somebody with a low frustration threshold, there is nothing effective, nothing justifiable, nothing professional about polluting your team with your emotional garbage.

A possible starting place to help you control your frustration and refocus on how crucial employee fulfillment is to productivity and client satisfaction, might be to strive to be the “Best Place in Your Area to Work”. If you’re not aiming at a goal that ambitious, you’re likely handing some of the best employees as well as clients and their revenue to competitors who are.

Two clear next actions:

  • Either recognize that your people really are your most important asset, or set your best people free to work for a winning team that does realize that. And just maybe think about joining them, you’ll also probably be happier working for someone other than you.
  • Know, learn or remember that most people leave jobs because of the attitudes and style of their direct managers. Make a commitment to become a manager or leader who attracts and keeps the best people you can afford.

To make your office perform at a higher level (be a better place to work) get help learning to regulate your emotional pitch. Don’t allow setbacks or mistakes to turn into excuses to dump your frustrations on team members. Emotional regulation is a behavior you can learn. Every day we teach owners, leaders and key employees simple steps to improve their ability to control their reactions. This isn’t therapy, this is performance coaching, designed to help you achieve your goals.


One Approach to Procrastination

If one of your struggles is that you tend to procrastinate until a deadline is on top of you and forcing you to get things done, and you know this is hurting the quality of your work, causing stress to you and probably to your clients, boss or family, then how do you stop procrastinating about dealing with your procrastination?

This might be a fun puzzle if it weren’t so crucial that you find a way to initiate a change in your approach tasks. One of the common side effects of procrastination is that people in your life lose trust in you and get angry. As you well know, this is usually matched by your own anger at yourself. But even this pressure often doesn’t translate into motivation to get started.

If life were a sport and you were critiquing yourself for missing critical shots because you didn’t keep your eye on the ball, I’d be pointing out that your focus on past mistakes is taking your attention away from the current situation, taking your “eye” off the ball again. Drop the self-critique, get a bit of help with your technique and try again.

The best hitters in baseball look for, and can see, the stitching on the ball as it comes at them at up to a hundred miles an hour. Looking for this detail pulls their attention to the ball; just looking in the direction of the ball doesn’t allow them to see the tiny changes in directions that they need to see in order to connect with the pitch. Golfers watch the dimples on the ball as it sits on the tee.

To get started on a project, focus on the details of getting started. What project will you start? Schedule in your calendar when you’re going to start it. What small, discreet aspect of the project will you do? Define it and plan on doing just that much. What exactly will your next action on the project be? Write it out very simply as a task.

Think about teeing up the project – choose which one you’re going to work on.  Keep your head down, your eye on the ball and hit it just well enough to move it down the course and keep it in the fairway – do a small piece of it.  Now you’re ready for the next shot – concentrate on the new swing no matter whether you’re in the rough or on the course.

For you baseball fans, what you’re looking for is a single, not a home run; don’t over reach. Just connect with the pitch. Basketball aficionados, take one step and move the ball down the court. Every foot closer to the basket increases the odds of a score. Tennis players, make a solid smooth hit and get the ball across the net and into the court. Now set up for the next shot.

What do you need to get done? Right now schedule a time to work on it, and resolve to treat it like an important meeting. What is the first little step to getting the project started or moving it ahead? Write it down on your task list.

Procrastination can be head faked that easily.

Rehearsing Our Stories

“We were at the store and she began telling me that I couldn’t buy the lawn mower. But I wasn’t going to buy it; I was just asking the clerk to see if I could get a discount. She got moody and…”
Many of my new coaching clients are surprised when I tell them at this point we’re going to skip the rest of the story. If they’ve been in therapy, they may have been encouraged to tell these “war” stories. And while I can imagine times it might be helpful, most of the time I don’t want or need to hear them; and my clients don’t need to rehearse the sloppy thinking they represent or the burning resentment they inflame.

Coaching faces forward; we’re steering along a path that asks, “Where do you want to go from here?” with very little emphasis on “Where have you been?” Most of the importance of the stories of being wronged or slighted by their partner (whether the person is sitting in the coaching session or not, a life partner or a business colleague or boss) can be captured by addressing questions about what is the goal in this coaching session or in their life.

When I begin to hear a story that is full of the kind of righteousness and blame that underpins most disagreements with fight-partners (those we regularly tangle with), I cheerfully barge right in and call a stop. I’m interested in what could the speaker could have done differently to change a fight into an effective conversation about solutions, to reach a goal of theirs, to simply create a moment of alliance with their partner or to change their own behavior?

I’m personally and acutely aware that life can feel hard and conversations with partners are often very difficult and even unfair for one or both conversants. And even more importantly, I know that the chances of changing the outcome of these entanglements are slight, if you haven’t first changed yourself. So, I start reprising stories about failed encounters with an approach that promises the most leverage to change future stories; how can you change your behavior? This is the one area of life we all have some control over.

Stories just encourage us to rehearse our past mistakes and find evidence to support our old, tired way of viewing things. If we instead look for new ways to reshape our interactions, we get to practice new behaviors and new ways of seeing things.

All this effort to find new solutions may feel like it is ignoring the fact that you may have a suitcase full of feelings about how you’ve been treated or spoken to in the past and you may feel it’s important that someone agrees that you’ve been wronged. The problem with this approach is that in some way both sides feel wronged, and while the grievances are rarely exactly even, each person is likely to have legitimate issues. Those issues will need to be addresses at some point.

The emphasis on changing yourself first is an attempt at creating safety in the relationship so that the process of negotiating your travels together is quicker, more productive and builds empathy. Stories rehash past mistakes, focusing on the future builds new skills, collaboration and pleasure.

Testimonials From Our Clients

We like to let our client’s speak for themselves about their coaching experience:

Individual Couching

“Finally, concrete ideas that help me get things done on time.” – A Sales Professional

“I like the simple, but sophisticated ways I now manage my ADHD.” – A Physician

“My team pays attention and does what I ask, often before I ask, what a relief.” – Exec. Dir. of Small Non-profit


Workplace Couching

“Everyone on the team is more relaxed now that we handle tough issues the way you suggested.” – Owner of a Professional Health Practice

“I still find it hard to believe that we fired my two worst employees and neither one created a stink. This stuff works!”  – A Service Business Owner

“I didn’t want consultant talk; I wanted a more productive team. You did it. Complaints are
down, sales are up and I’m spending less time babysitting people.” – Business Owner


Couples Couching

“We talk about what to try next; we don’t just keep going over everything that’s wrong.” – A Wife of six years

“When we slow down, checkout our assumptions and discuss solutions, I really like talking with her.” – A Husband of 12 years

“You were right about D… (my husband), he does try to listen if I handle it right.” – A Wife of 12 years