As much good work that can be accomplished while undergoing the marriage counseling process, one bigger question is:
“How can couples sustain the changes they make in counseling?”
If they haven’t integrated deeper level change or have the the tools to sustain it, what they learned in therapy become a fleeting memory.
According to Steven Stosny, Ph.D, the “most powerful of neurological principles: habituation,” should not be ignored. Through the study of neuroscience we have learned that, “Neurons that fire together wire together” and what this means for well meaning couples wanting for the changes made in counseling to stick, one way to facilitate this is by establishing new patterns through repetition.
In the article by Dr. Stosny, Old Habits Die Hard: Making Couples Therapy Stick, in a prior issue of Psychotherapy Networker, he lists some ways that couples can make their changes last, by encouraging “new patterns that may become stronger than old ones.”
Here are some of the ways Dr. Stosny described to facilitate this process – and make couples therapy changes stick.
- Daily Rituals: Incorporate nonverbal acknowledgements (gestures) at major transitional times (getting out of bed, leaving for work, coming home or going to bed) that demonstrate your partner’s importance to you. Give your partner full-body hugs six times a day, for at least 6 seconds (the frequency and duration increases chance of the release of the bonding hormone, oxytocin). Think positive thoughts about your partner at least five times a day.
- The Fire Extinguisher Effect: Find something that can symbolize what was learned in therapy. For example, create a mini booklet with a few pages of skills, insights and tools acquired – with a picture of a big fire extinguisher on the cover. If things get difficult, you can refer to your “in case of emergency” reminder handbook.
Couples spend their hard earned money and time attempting to heal their marriages and relationships. The above mentioned action steps are great ways to continue the work of re-training your brain to develop a new more loving and connected pattern together.