Appreciative Inquiry for Couples

“Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Appreciative Inquiry is a theory of change that is used in parenting, marriage as well as lots of businesses and organizations. Unlike theories of strategic planning that focus on correcting faults, Appreciative Inquiry looks towards what is best about what already exists.

It is important in marriage counselling where couples have forgotten how to give attention, affection and approval. And it is important in simple neighbourliness and parenting as well as in teaching.

Couples have found that they grow in their relationships more truthfully in a way that problem-correcting counselling does not permit. Venting hurts is most often a rehearsal for the next conflict or problem. Appreciative Inquiry is a positive rehearsal for positive change.

Here are some questions I typically ask my couple clients to help them focus on what is true, noble and right in their partnership.

1. How are you contributing to ingenious solutions in your marriage by being yourself? And what about your spouse?
2. How are you excellent for your spouse? (How is your spouse “good value” for you?)
3. What one valuable thing are you doing to protect and care for your family while still doing your life and work?
4. Can you describe together a positive practice that you consider important to add excellence in your marriage? (Note, you might not be doing this right now though you could in the future.)
5. What do you currently regard to be the most enduring and secure thing about your marriage?
6. Describe the skills you use to solve problems and resolve conflict within your partnership?
7. How is being “carnal” or “in flesh” important to you and your partner?
8. What are some key factors that keep you in sexually and emotionally faithful?
9. How is conflict essential to making a good marriage for you and your partner?
10. What do you imagine that you will say has been the best of your marriage 5 years from this month?
11. How does your spouse most love to be loved? How do you most love to be loved?
12. Assuming time and money are not current obstacles, what one great thing would you love to do again with your partner?

Note: this is not positive thinking as in ignoring life’s problems; it is upward focusing about the problems. It is solution focused rather than blame / responsibility focused.

Planful and Mediated Separation

First off, I know that “planful” is not a word, but it should be, so I have invented it.

This blog is about mediated separation when one’s partnership goes all wrong, when person one is a distancer (emotional cutoff) and person two is a pursuer (“do this, do this”) or when nothing changes and nothing gets done.

It is about how to separate the relationship in a way that allows the couple to talk some sense rather than rant, and to make some changes rather than just quit.

Some couples get back together through this process and some don’t — but it has to do with a person’s choice, rather than just guilt and coercion or storing up and blowing up.

You can read about it on my web site under “Tools — Planful and Mediated Separation.”

A Memoir of a Marriage (Remix)

I have been reading a book by Wendy Plump entitled “Vow: A Memoir of a Marriage.” Because I mention the book does not mean that I recommend it for your reading; in fact I do not recommend it particularly. There is a chapter entitled “The Efficacy Of Therapy” where the author designs a kind of therapy instruction card for couples in crisis. I would like to give some comment to the several things that she says. (The author’s words are in italics.)

One, everything doesn’t have to be solved in one session. And, in fact, it will not! Short-term marital therapy is usually 8 to 12, one or two hour sessions over several months, and, of course,  we want the “problem” solved immediately. It really does take time to re-create what has been lost through ignorance or carelessness.

Two, be clear about your need. I often sit with people who think I am reading their minds. I find this humorous – or at least I used to – that people submit their intelligence to someone who is looking at them with care and concentration. Please do not forget that your purpose is for concrete advice and direction and not just consolation. So get what it is you want and need.

Three, remember that it is the two of you who matter most. It is very easy to allow the therapist to intrude herself or himself into the marriage. A therapeutic triangle is when the therapist stands outside of the marital dyad and observes, wonders and considers. As Wendy Plump says, “it is you and your spouse against the world, not you and your therapist.”

Four, each person in the marital dyad needs to take some responsibility for the efficacy of your therapy. The therapist may be marvelous in every way but the therapist cannot make the changes that the couple needs to make. The couple is really the expert on how their marriage can work as well as how their marriage is unworkable.

Five, be willing to hear that you screwed up royally and need to make amends… and then make amends. It is so common to use excuses, or explanations, or “context” to avoid personal responsibility. In my experience, no one moves ahead without consistent and thoroughly thoughtful apology.

Six, there are many ways to get out of the woods. If you are not going forward in your marital therapy with one counsellor, you can switch. There are times when you need consolation and support and there are other times when you need confrontation and challenge. Also, therapy is not necessarily better or more efficient then good friends, a supportive community, and the consolation and direction from healthy parents.

Seven, and most important, understand that you can bear it. Of course, most of us do not want to bear the responsibility or challenge of change. A competent therapist will help a couple defuse their emotion and increase their thinking. At least, that is the goal.

This is pretty good advice, whatever you might think of the book. Wendy Plump summarizes that “therapy has its value, but it remains a stubbornly limited one. I’m not sure that therapy can rescue any marriage…. A therapist will listen and listen and listen, which is one of the things you need most. Rescuing the marriage seems a tall order. But there is a chance that therapy can rescue you. Perhaps the expectation should end there. It does seem like enough.

Vow: A Memoir of a Marriage” by Wendy Plump, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2013.

Is Your Spouse Your “Best Friend”? (Carole Ducklow)

Good friendships are built on trust and trust takes time to mature and develop. What better context for this kind of friendship to grow than in the covenant of your marriage? Friendship involves intimate sharing, a shared place where you can talk about your feelings and hopes with honesty, transparency and ease.

How do you work with your partner to be each other’s best friend? Paddy and I have been married for 43 years. There have been great times of intimacy and some character-building tragedy. And through it all we have remained the best of friends. Here is what we have learned.

Assign top priority to your friendship. Nothing gets in the way of our doing what is most important to us. If you really want to be friends with your spouse, make time for it. It will be time well spent. One of the hindrances to spending time with your spouse may be the demand of raising your kids. They require lots of creative time, but it is important to remember that you were lovers and friends before you were parents,

Cultivate openness in your relationship. Honesty with your self and each other makes you a better friend. Discover the freedom that comes with being who you are. Find times to talk about your ambitions and dreams. Make sure that you know each other’s hopes and needs, especially sexual needs.

Dare to risk talking about your affection. Make, and use, a batch of little cards that say, “I love you because….” Fill in the blank and put them in lunch boxes for your kids, in jacket pockets for your spouse, in letters to your best friends. Use text messages in the same way. Your spouse, especially, wants to know he or she is loved.

Learn your particular languages of love. Each person needs to learn how to say, “I love you,” not only in those three little words but also through actions of respect. Do you show your spouse that you love him or her with their favorite meal, a bouquet of flowers, a small gift, remembering to do an errand, doing a chore without being asked? Keep your eyes open for common, everyday events that give you the chance to express your love.

Give your spouse freedom. Don’t let your unforgiveness or possessiveness control your spouse. Give him or her room to explore their potential, learn from their mistakes, and have some personal private time that is totally their own. Accept your partner – unconditionally – and encourage him or her to be the person they were created to be. And, as the seasons of your lives change, notice and make adjustment for the variations in your friendship.

A friendship that is tended and nurtured will do much more than endure; it will thrive. And being your spouse’s best friend will also enable your marriage to thrive as well.

Carole Ducklow, M.A., Registered Clinical Counsellor