If you do this assignment correctly, it will probably take you about 60 or 90 minutes to do Steps 1-4, plus another 30-40 minutes to talk about it (if you're doing Step 4 with a spouse/partner). If you give time and thought to this, it will help you.
Step 1: Read this.
[Time: a few minutes]
Most of the people who come in for relationship counseling believe the source of their satisfaction (or dissatisfaction) is in their partner. If they are problems in the relationship, each partner's list of discontents is long and they are hoping it will provide enough evidence for me to join them in the work of changing the other person. In individual counseling, the focus is often on "How do I find the right person?" instead of "How can I be the right person?"
If I ask the question, "What changes would be necessary for you to have the kind of relationship you want?" most clients will focus on what changes the other person needs to make.
Believe me, I get it. Whenever I'm disappointed in my marriage, my immediate instinct is usually to blame my spouse. If I let that pattern continue unchecked, my list of complaints will eventually settle into a kind of resentment that makes me wonder how I could have ever loved them in the first place.
Maybe that's happened to you. Maybe you are blaming your spouse/partner for most of the problems your relationship is facing. You know what? You might be right. But you know what else? You don't have the power to change them. You've probably tried already, and failed. (And maybe you're hoping I have the "magic" to do what you could not do. I don't.) That's because the only change you have control over is your own change.
Or maybe your working on your own as you try to figure out how to discover or experience a satisfying relationship and you notice the tendency to focus on your frustration over being disappointed over and over again.
If this counseling process is going to work, it's going to work because you are willing to stop trying to change the other (even if you think they're 90% of the problem) and focus on yourself (even if you're only 10% of the problem). Of course, your partner will need to do the same, but don't worry about that right now. Unless you think you've somehow managed to attain perfection, you still need some work. Concentrate on that.
You know why this is hard? Because none of us likes to admit we're wrong. We spend a lot of time and effort in our lives trying to defend our "normal" and cover up any failure or inadequacy. We don't want to acknowledge those parts of us that are missing or damaged. But if you really want to experience true togetherness and intimacy, you're going to have to risk being a bit more vulnerable than that.
Here's what I'm asking you to do: stop focusing on what needs to happen in order for you to have a happier relationship. Instead, give more attention to what is required for you to be a man/woman who learns to love better than you do right now. What gets in your way of doing that? ("My partner" is the wrong answer. Fighting the things that get in your way of loving well is what I meant by "the battle that is within you" in the first section of this page.)
Step 2: Watch this.
[Time: 21 minutes]
We risk hurts and disappointments every time we choose to love. In fact, that the less you are willing to be vulnerable in those risks, the less you are able to experience genuine intimacy. You'll learn to substitute something else for it, but you'll miss out on the kind of connection that is most fulfilling. In this video, Brene Brown talks about the necessity of vulnerability. You can watch it together, or individually.
Let me explain the meaning of 2 words as they're used in this video...
1. Vulnerability. Don't think of this in terms of "weakness" but in terms of "willing to risk." Brene is discussing vulnerability from a perspective of something that is a preferred trait.
2. Shame. Don't think in terms of guilt. Shame is not referring to something that you did that was wrong, but as a perspective that believes there is something about us that is wrong. It is the message that tells us "you are not _____ enough."
Step 3: Complete the Study Guide.
[Time: 30-40 minutes]
After you've watched the video in Part 2, download or print out the study guide and take time to answer the questions on your own. If you're doing this with your partner, continue to Part 4.
Agree on a time that you and your spouse/partner can spend at least 40 minutes of uninterrupted time. Turn off your phone, the TV, and anything else that might distract you. Talk to each other about your thoughts and answers to the video & study guide.
I'm not asking you to believe everything that Brene Brown said (or that I have written). Just be honest. And risk being vulnerable in your honesty. When you come back for your next session, we'll talk about all this together.
Note: If you prefer to discuss this in session, you're welcome to do so.
Recommended Books: If you want more insight and help with relationship vulnerability, I highly recommend these two books: