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Can a Person or a Marriage Ever Really Change?

Therapy rests on the premise that we can change our lives and relationships. However, in marriage and especially in family life, I find clients report repeating the same patterns day after day and feeling like change is impossible. Couples often enter therapy convinced that their current way of relating is cemented in a never-ending downward spiral. This feeling can cause frustration to grow and thus conflict can escalate, or icy distances can seem to only grow deeper and wider.

When a couple takes the leap to try marriage counseling there is hope that change is possible. And I have personally witnessed couples change and improve. Current research reinforces the idea of the plastic brain or that of a brain that is capable of changing. If the brain itself can change, then so too our marriages!

Think of the neural networks in your brain like you would the branches and tributaries of a river. In a marriage those pathways are reinforced over and over again as we repeat the same patterns, making the same efforts for connection and saying the same thing in different ways to our spouse, over and over again. Our patterns can be ruts and sometimes we’ve reinforced old patterns to create a Grand Canyon like pathway in our minds.

When this happens, we act and speak to our partner in ways so automatic we aren’t even conscious of what we are doing.

Often times, if we can change the way that just one pathway is working, other changes will follow. So perhaps in therapy we can uncover one pattern that is damaging the communication and connection in a marriage. If one partner alters the way that they approach those particular situations the entire system of relating has potential for change. Think of the wheels, levers, and pulleys in a machine. If just one mechanism changes the entire system of machines will also change. Our brains and our marriages follow the same principal.

Can a marriage every really change? Yes, because experience and research show us that our brains can change and thus our relationships can evolve into healthier ways of relating. And the good news is, most of the time, small changes have big pay offs.

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