3 Ways to Tackle Ambivalence

Tackling Ambivalence – Part 2

In my last post, I talked about four reasons for uncertainty about committing to working on a marriage. Briefly, here are those reasons:

  1. Anger over a betrayal
  2. Lack of awareness
  3. Discouragement
  4. Someone Doesn’t Want to Change

Now, I want to give you 3 things that you can do to address the ambivalence.

Offer Hope

I second guess myself a lot.

When I first started to meet with couples, I would second guess myself that we could actually make any difference at all. Their pain seemed so big and I felt like I was in over my head. I doubted what we were doing.

It took some experience for me to actually see that we could have an impact. Now, I’ve seen couples that have turned their relationships around. I know that what we do can make a difference.

My wife and I try to instill this hope in couples. We say something like this early in a meeting:

“Michelle and I are happy to be meeting with you. We once struggled and we were able to restore our relationship. I know that are some real practical things that work for marriages. I don’t know if this will work for you or not. We’d like to understand both of you a little better.”

During our meeting we work to understand their relationship. Then, we’ll ask about what they want to achieve by meeting with us. We work to set some goals. Towards the end of the meeting we’ll say:

“It sounds like you have some great goals set. We may need to revisit them as we go along to set something more specific. Our process is that we combine marriage education with mentoring. I think that some of the concepts that you’ll learn will help you to achieve your goals. We see our role as helping you to apply these key concepts to your relationship. We’ve seen this help many other couples and I think it will help you too. How do you feel about it?”

Get a Short-Term Commitment

We always ask, “What do you want to achieve?”

There are only three options that people have:

  1. Work on the relationship
  2. Leave the relationship
  3. Maintain the status quo

When both partners want to work on their relationship, you can develop more specific goals. This article, however, is about ambivalence. So, I’m assuming one partner isn’t sure what they want to do.

If one partner is considering leaving the relationship, we ask about short term goals.

“I realize that you may not be ready to commit to the relationship. We have a very specific process that we go through with couples. I suspect some of this may be helpful for you. Would you be willing to commit to working on your relationship for the next six sessions? It would require some work. If you give it a try, you might find it very helpful. If, after giving it an honest effort, you find it’s not working, then, we can review.”

Sometimes, one person has become so discouraged they don’t think anything can help. When we don’t know what to do, it’s easy to do nothing and remain discouraged. This is when we assure them that we do have specific steps that will give them some ideas.

For more on the process, you can download 6 Steps to Help a Couple Improve Marriage Satisfaction. 

Ask Consequence Questions

Consequence questions are great when someone hasn’t decided if they want to change.

When someone wants to maintain the status quo, this is a great way to get them to think about what will happen if they don’t change.

  • “What happens if you don’t do anything? Will your conflict improve or get worse?”
  • “If your conflict gets worse, what will that do to your connection?”
  • “Do you think resentment and anger could build up?”
  • “What will be the impact on your kids?”
  • “What will happen if you do work at it?”

When one person is resistant to change, we’ll ask their partner the same question. Their partner will usually say that something needs to change. Then, we circle back to the resistant spouse and ask what they have heard.

Tips for Marriage Mentors:

  • Offer Hope – Tell stories about couples that were able to improve their relationship. Sometimes couples just need to know that there are practical concepts that will help.
  • Get a Short-Term Commitment – When someone is uncertain they want to commit to the marriage, ask for a short-term commitment.
  • Ask Consequence Questions – Ask questions about what happens if they don’t change. What’s the consequence of staying in the same place? What’s the consequence of working at it?

Another post you might like:

4 Reasons Someone Won’t Commit to Help