Relationship Therapy: 3 Fundamental Principles of Building a Great Marriage

Therapy for relationship problems

Many couples are afraid of marriage counseling. They perceive it as admitting defeat and confessing that something is wrong with their relationship. This is not always easy to face. They imagine that when they begin marriage counseling, the therapist is going to highlight all the flaws in the relationship and cast blame on one or both partners. This does not seem like an appealing process.

A good therapist would never let that happen

One of the first things I ask couples in their initial session is “Can you tell me the story of how you met?” I ask the question because I want them to begin to recall and talk about what attracted them to each other in order to highlight what is often hidden from view during times of intense conflict. They can now begin to draw strength from the more positive, though perhaps forgotten, aspects of their relationship.

I also ask: “If the marriage were exactly the way you wanted it to be and this were your last session, what would the relationship look like? What would you be doing differently?” My reason for this is twofold. First, I want them to begin to focus more attention on what they want rather than what they don’t want. And secondly, I want to empower them by showing them that their actions can make a difference in the relationship.

Getting a relationship back on track

Several years ago I developed my Marriage Repair Workshop and present it several times a year. In this workshop I teach couples some really effective tools and techniques to help them get their relationship back on track. These include effective listening and communication skills, goal setting and time management techniques, and other practical relationship guidance. But, before I begin to introduce these skills, the first order of business is to motivate these couples to change their behavior patterns. This is not an easy task and requires a significant paradigm shift.

In other words a profound attitude adjustment is essential for a successful outcome.

I explain to my couples that the foundation for this transformational process they are embarking on is their mindset. It is crucial for them to have the right frame of mind in order for positive change to happen.

There are 3 fundamental principles that are the building blocks for this all important mindset.

I call them the Power of the 3 P’s.

1. Perspective

Isn’t life all about perspective? I tell my couples that I believe that life is 99% perspective. What you focus on expands. If you focus on the flaws in your partner and your relationship, that is what you will experience. On the other hand, if you choose to focus on the positives that’s what you’ll see. Now, I understand that when relationships are brimming with intense conflict, the discord tends to cover over and obscure all the good stuff . That’s why I encourage my couples to put on their Sherlock Holmes caps and become “strength detectives” in their relationship. They need to relentlessly search and amplify this good stuff. This becomes a win-win because in the process they experience the satisfaction of making their spouse feel good, and they get to fully participate in the positive change that’s taking place.

2. Personal responsibility

I have a quote by Gandhi framed on the wall in my waiting room which says: “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” I like to tweak this for my workshop into: “Be the change you wish to see in your relationship.” I explain to my couples that It makes so much more sense to focus your precious energy on what you can do to make positive change rather than wishing and wondering when your partner is going to change. I remind them that their power lies in their willingness to be this change they want to see in their relationship.

3. Practice

I teach many effective tools and techniques in my workshop, but I tell my couples that these skills will do them no good if they don’t take them home and put them into practice. Couples don’t come to see me for help with an isolated incident. They come in to address long standing, dysfunctional habits. Because we know that a behavior practiced long enough becomes a pattern. Then if you practice it consistently it finally become a habit. So they need to start with a positive behavior and practice it long enough for it to become a habit. Now they’re in the “no brainer zone.” They have successfully incorporated a new healthy habit into their relationship, and it has become automatic. This, of course, involves consistent repetition of this positive behavior. Couples need to practice what they want, not what they don’t want, until what they want becomes their new reality.

Only after they fully embrace this radical shift in perspective can real and lasting change occur.




You can find more information about my Marriage Repair Workshop on my

Christine Wilke
Counselor, EdS, LMFT
Christine Wilke is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and received her Ed.S degree from Seton Hall University. She offers a respectful, strength based approach to therapy to help clients cultivate their innate capacity for creative problem solving. She believes the seed of the solution is within and works with her clients to help them discover and build on the strengths and gifts they already possess.

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