There’s No Going Forward Looking at Life Through A Rear View Mirror

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Samantha left Jeff because she couldn’t take her husband’s one-sided demands anymore. But Jeff is pressuring her to return home, and he’s cycling through a number of strategies to try to get Samantha to come back. Some days he begs and pleads, other days he’s critical, and occasionally he tries to make Samantha jealous by talking about other women.

Jeff’s most persistent tactic is to insist that he’s changed his ways. He constantly tells Samantha that he’s come to realize how much he loves her, and that he’ll treat her well if she moves back home. He wines and dines her, and then pressures her to relent and return home.

Samantha continues to be ambivalent, awash in a mix of emotions. She remembers how good the marriage was in the beginning, but also recalls how painful it was to be told she was a terrible wife when Jeff didn’t get his way. When Samantha thinks about going back, she becomes fearful that he’ll verbally beat her down again.

Jeff seems to be saying the right things lately, and recently there have been times that he’s treated her nicely. But sometimes his actions don’t match his words. He tells her he won’t be selfish, but still insists on wanting things his way.

Samantha wants to believe that Jeff’s become much more appreciative of her, but worries about how he’ll behave if she doesn’t always give into his demands. She finally summoned enough courage to leave Jeff after having been passive for so long. Now she’s confused about what will be the best choices for moving forward with her life.

People can change their behavior, but it takes a minimum of 3 to 6 months of persistent effort to do so. Dr. David Peterson is a psychologist whose studies show that people must pass through five stages of a “Development Pipeline” in order to successfully complete a change: insight, motivation, capabilities, real-world practice, and accountability.

Jeff has insight into the fact that his criticism drove his wife away, and right now he’s motivated to behave differently in order to get her back. But he has not yet acquired all of the capabilities that are necessary and sufficient to have a mutually satisfying marriage. For example, listening to your partner’s opinion in order to arrive at win-win outcomes is essential for a happy marriage. But because Jeff has an underdeveloped capability for respecting Samantha’s needs, he’s limited in his capacity for working out mutually agreeable solutions.

Moreover, Jeff doesn’t have much practice in the real world of using the fledgling skills he’s in the process of developing. By pushing for what he wants now, he’s putting his marriage on the line months before he’ll have mastered new patterns of relating.

An even bigger problem is that in the past Jeff has become very angry if Samantha tried to hold him accountable for honoring his promises to treat her better. Disregarding her requests to understand her feelings eventually destroyed Samantha’s trust in Jeff. Now he’s setting himself up for failure by telling his dissatisfied wife that he’ll instantly change his behavior if she moves back home immediately.

Samantha senses that moving back in with Jeff now is premature, but she’s afraid that he’ll carry out his threats to move on to another woman if she doesn’t surrender to his pressure. That dilemma reflects her own struggle to learn new behaviors. She’s still afraid to assert what she believes and stand by it. But if she doesn’t develop the ability to express clear expectations about how she wants her marriage to work, Jeff will never understand her needs – much less be able to meet them.

Samantha has insight into what she needs to do to improve her marriage, but her fear is undermining her motivation. “I know I should stand up for myself,” she says, “but I don’t want to create conflicts.”

By avoiding an external conflict, Samantha is simply keeping the conflict within herself about whether to move back or move on. But she’s finding it difficult to know which direction to go because she’s driving through life looking in the rearview mirror.

If Samantha tells Jeff what she wants, it will temporarily increase the tension between them. However, it will also create the opportunity to see if they can learn a win-win style of communicating. If she avoids identifying the real issues she’ll remain a part of the problem because she’ll also be avoiding any dialogue that will allow change to occur.