It's All In The Follow Through
Many sports involve throwing or hitting an object. You might get excited watching a basketball player knock down a three-pointer, a quarterback throwing a touchdown pass, a golfer making a hole in one, a tennis player’s winning shot, a pitcher striking out a batter or a baseball player hitting a home run. But did you ever notice the player’s follow through? The follow through is what the player did after hitting or throwing the ball.
With all of these sports, the player’s arm doesn’t stop moving once contact is made with the ball. The basketball player or quarterback’s arm continues moving forward in the direction of the intended target. The player continues swinging the bat, golf club or racquet. Hitting or releasing the ball is only the first step. The forward motion not only increases the power but also the accuracy of the player’s effort. The follow through is what determines if the player is successful or not.
So what does this have to do with your relationship? How many times have you and your partner agreed to take a specific action, and then became disappointed and frustrated when there was no follow through? Maybe you took a few steps, but then stopped after a short while and went back to the way it used to be.
The solution is all in the follow through.
Carol and Joe came to see me because they were having communication problems. One of Carol’s frustrations was that Joe would constantly interrupt her, so she never felt heard by him. Each time Carol pointed this out to Joe, he would promise to stop interrupting but his promises were always short lived, and he would go right back into his habit of interrupting her.
Here are a couple of exercises I had Joe and Carol do during their couple sessions.
- Both validate each other. Joe let Carol know that he understood why she didn’t like when he interrupted her. He knew from their conversations that the interruptions made her think he hadn’t heard a word she said. Carol told Joe it made sense that he interrupts her because he gets distracted easily, so it’s hard for him to follow her when she talks for long periods of time without giving him an opening to respond.
- Both express empathy for each other. Joe imagined Carol must feel unimportant, sad and disrespected when he interrupts her. Carol guessed Joe might feel frustrated, lost and lonely when she talks too long. Then I had each partner imagine how the other would feel if both of them made another choice. If Joe didn’t interrupt her, Carol said she’d feel cared for and valued. If Carol was more concise, Joe stated he would feel more connected and interested.
- Create a short sentence (a mantra) that described their intention in doing the new behavior. Then recite it, write it and invite it into their hearts throughout the day. Joe came up with, “Every word that Carol says is important for me to hear.” Carol decided to use, “I will leave space for Joe to respond when I talk”
Because both Joe and Carol were open to learning how their behavior impacted each other, and each was willing to take personal responsibility for changing individual behavior, Joe’s interrupting stopped being a significant problem in their relationship.
Besides doing similar exercises, here are some additional actions you and your partner can take:
- Get a glass jar and label it, the ‘Follow Through Jar’. Every time you don’t follow through, put one dollar in the ‘Follow Through Jar. At the end of the week, use the money for date night or donate the money to your favorite charity.
- When you wake up and before you go to sleep, visualize following through.
- Set daily reminders to follow through with your new behavior. Reminders can include setting the alarm on your phone or using specific daily routines like breakfast, lunch and dinner as a time when you’ll remind yourself what you’re going to do.
- Break down the new behavior into manageable steps. Take the steps one at a time.
- Write down the benefits you, your partner, and your relationship will gain when these follow through changes are made.
- Identify what you’re telling yourself when you don’t follow through and when you do follow through. Then make sure what you’re telling yourself is true. Take a loving action to reinforce the truth.
- Notice if you are trying to avoid any difficult feelings by not following through, and then learn how to manage those feelings better.
- If you still find it hard to follow through, consider talking with an individual therapist to identify the underlying reasons that keep you stuck.
Yes, the path to success starts with making the change. I’d like to add, having success is a result of sustaining the change.
By incorporating some of these recommendations into your relationship life, you’ll give yourself a better chance of sustaining the positive changes you want to make.
Remember, it’s all in the follow through!