The other day, my client’s husband was taken aback when she said she was no longer sure that she wanted to give their marriage a second chance, as she doubted that he was really interested in rebuilding their marriage.
He had agreed to counselling after being found out for infidelity. He dutifully came for each counselling session but took little initiative. He made more effort to get home earlier after than he had in the past, but was often far away in his own world and busy with his mobile phone. He made some attempts to listen to her but was often impatient and defensive instead of trying to be understanding.
However, he felt that he was making efforts to show more concern and to be more present for the family. But while his relationship with their children had improved, it remained distant and tense. Attempts to communicate with his wife were few and far between, and too many opportunities were missed to show he prioritised her needs and interests over his.
While his wife conceded he had made changes, they did not hit the “right notes”, akin to a singer’s attempt to reach the high notes but falling flat.
This got me thinking that improvement in relationships happens when there is change—not just in form but in substance. Behaviours must not only improve but be for the right reasons, such as a husband telling his wife about his meetings after office hours not for “reporting” purposes but to share his life with her.
The intent is more important than the mere outward change.
Separately, another client shared an insight about change. She had been reading James Clear’s Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits.
One idea that made sense to her was to be unafraid to start small. Like a tiny atomic nucleus, you may begin with small steps to change but perseverance is one of the keys for progress. You need to gain others’ trust that you have indeed changed by doing the right thing each and every time.
This client was upset that her father, who had recently divorced her mother, had found a new partner. His insistence on his daughter’s acceptance of the new love-of-his-life irked her so much that she could not focus on her job or even her fiancée.
I suggested that she focus on living each day “Daddy-free”—that she mark each day she succeeded in not obsessing about her father on a calendar, aiming for one day at a time until she had achieved 30 “Daddy-free” days.
As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”. But the building must be constructed brick by brick and with the right intention.
Benny Bong has been a family and marital therapist for more than 30 years, and is a certified work-life consultant. He was the first recipient of the AWARE Hero Award, received in 2011, and is a member of Kampong Kapor Methodist Church.
Picture by siam.pukkato/Bigstock.com