Changing Thinking and Changing Minds

We can’t solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Albert Einstein

Many people come to therapy convinced that their problems are unsolvable but wanting, nonetheless, (and understandably) to solve them. One of the things we do in therapy is to challenge old ways of thinking and evenman-reaches-to-woman ways of describing a problem so that new and surprising solutions can be created. This is the magic of the Einstein quote, above. You might say, “but, I didn’t create this problem! It wasn’t my mind or thinking that created it.” That may be true, but I still believe that there are avenues to be traveled with regard to the problem that you may not yet have considered; in other words, even if the problem wasn’t self created, don’t despair! Changing one’s mind and thinking can still help to solve/change the problem, perhaps making it more workable or solvable.

Let’s look at a typical problem a couple might bring to therapy: From his perspective, she’s always nagging him to spend more time with her. From her perspective, he’s always too busy for her. Two sides of the same problem, right?

So let’s look at each side:

From his side: What if he were able to consider the compliment in her wanting to spend time with him? She enjoys him, misses him, misses his sense of humor, the way she feels when she’s with him? Chances are he’s not hearing her complaining as a compliment! On the other hand, what if he doesn’t believe she wants to spend time with him and believes she’s only complaining to complain? This too, is worthy of exploration. After all, no one would want to spend time with another person if that time is unpleasant. Is there anything she can do about this? Perhaps. Can he understand that her feelings get hurt when she doesn’t feel important to him? How can he help her to feel differently? Sometimes small gestures can make a big difference even if the situation itself changes only slightly.

From her side: Does she really want him to spend time with her out of obligation? Chances are the answer is a resounding “no.” In that case, is there anything she can do to make time with her more pleasant? Is the reason he’s not spending time that really isn’t related to her at all? Is there anything she can do to help with this? Or is the problem related to something else? It would be important to understand this for both members of the couple.

man-couple-people-womanNote that the “he” and “she” in these scenarios can easily be reversed with him wanting more time with her, etc. Either way, this can be a painful and downward spiral in a relationship. Both partners would want to look at how they might be contributing to the problem and what might be driving the request or the resistance to the request. Often times, this exploration brings out longstanding feelings that neither is aware of and, in some cases, pre-date the relationship itself (this is where history actually does matter). Other times, each partner can make subtle shifts that will cause goodwill and loving feelings to re-emerge and then the upward spiral can be a building block for relational healing.

In any event, Einstein’s words can be used to solve longstanding relational problems and resentments. Thinking about things in the same way again and again only leads to more heartache and more feelings of loneliness, isolation, hurt and anger, none of which helps relationships and those in them!