From time to time people say they think they’ll stop coming to counseling because they’re not seeing any improvement. Specifically, they usually say their spouse isn’t changing. Interestingly enough, when I have these conversations it’s often shortly after a very good session where both husband and wife are beginning to come together and connect. However, they say that while things went well during the session, it wasn’t lasting - when they got home they went back to their old habits. (However, they don’t usually include themselves in that observation of “going back to their old habits” – just their spouse. Interesting how that works.)
I sometimes wonder what expectations we have of the change process, of growth, of improvement, of development in general. If we look at nature, we see how it works. We plant a seed, for example, and don’t go to bed expecting that in the morning we will have delicious fruit ready to pick and eat. We know it will take some time as well as some sunshine, moisture and good soil and cultivation to facilitate the growth of the fruit. We don’t expect to see anything for a while. We just have faith that the roots are growing under the ground even though we can’t see them. We may have to wait quite a while for the stem and leaves to appear, let alone the actual fruit, but we tend to be more patient and kind with our plants. We recognize and have faith in their often uneven and sometimes lengthy process of growth.
We can also look at children. When they first learn to walk, for example, we don’t lose all hope when they stumble or fall or even go back to crawling as they’re getting steadier on their feet. In fact, we expect that. We understand the process of growth and development in children. We’re not only patient and encouraging, we’re thrilled and excited that they took that first step, even knowing they will fall and stumble as they’re developing this new skill.
So why do we have such a different standard for growth, development, improvement in marriage? Maybe, it’s because we don’t realize that marriage is a living, growing thing. But how can it be anything else? It’s a relationship between two living, growing human beings and a living, growing creation itself.