I was asked this question recently by several different people: “Is there hope for us?”
Such a good question. I wish I had a crystal ball in those moments.
Fortunately or unfortunately, I wasn’t trained to predict relational failure or success. I was trained to help couples who want certain improvements in their relationships achieve those improvements.
Despite my years of experience, I can’t predict the outcome of a relationship. There have been times when I thought, This is going to be tough, and felt uncertain of a couple’s future. And then, holy cow, they fought for their relationship with such effort and vigor that the changes they were able to create were beyond my expectations. (If you are wondering what this kind of “fight” looks like, you can read our previous blog post here.)
On the contrary, there have been relationships where I thought, They will be fine! They just need a little relational support and then they will be on their merry way. Some of those relationships have ended.
I learned early on in this profession that I cannot accurately predict which couple will make it and which will not. Why?
Because there are certain variables I can’t control that make a significant impact on the outcome. These variables can make all the difference in determining whether or not there is hope for relational change.
If you are feeling stuck in your relationship right now, wondering if there is hope, read through this checklist. These questions can help you make an assessment for yourself. I hope they can help you find hope.
Is There Hope? Checklist
1- What is your bandwidth for slow change?
Everyone has a different level of tolerance for the time it can take for relational change to happen. If your relationship problems have been going on for years, you may have little bandwidth for them to continue. Long-term problems aren’t usually solved with short-term solutions. Real change can take time. I can’t predict how much bandwidth each of you has for the time it may take. When couples come to therapy at their wits’ end, their bandwidth may be low. Only you can know how much bandwidth you have for continuing to live with some of the same faulty patterns before they are replaced by healthier ones. Another way to think about this is: How much longer can I live like this?
2- Are you ready to see your part?
In my experience, the biggest predictor of positive change is how open each partner is to seeing their part in the relational problems. When two people are open to learning their part of the problem, are open to the therapist’s and each other’s feedback, and willing to work on the parts that are identified as problematic to the relationship, then significant change is both possible and likely. If only one partner is ready and willing to understand their part in the problem, and committed to working on those parts, change is still possible and likely. One person in the relationship making positive changes can (not always) create positive change in the relationship. The most hopeless position is two partners blaming each other, each convinced they did nothing wrong and the other is to blame for the relational demise.
3- How much effort are you willing to put into creating change?
Some people (not you, I’m sure) are much more committed to complaining about what they don’t like than actually being deliberate in doing what it takes to create the change. Real change requires intention, commitment, effort, practice, and repetition. Being in a healthy relationship requires the ability to use healthy relational tools. Learning those tools is like learning any new skill. If you were learning how to play golf or the piano, would you expect to make significant progress by practicing once or twice month for an hour? You can’t learn new skills without intentional, deliberate practice and effort. How much effort are you willing to put into learning new relational tools?
In short, good predictors of hope are:
- Do you have the bandwidth for slow change? Does your partner?
- Are you ready to see your part of the problem? Is your partner?
- Are you willing to put in intentional weekly and daily effort? Is your partner?
If the answer to all or some of these is yes, then YES! There is hope for you and your partner to have a more loving, more fulfilling, more connected relationship.