You Gotta Do the Work


I woke up on a recent Saturday morning feeling tired and lethargic.  I thought of my list of things-to-do and decided that the best course of action was to enjoy my coffee in my easy chair. This plan didn’t require as much energy or focus.

I waited to feel the motivation necessary to get on with the day.  It didn’t come. However, I knew that if I didn’t force myself to get “up and at ‘em”, the hours would whittle away and the tasks would still be waiting for me to complete. (Plus I would probably feel guilty for my inaction!) I knew with certainty that the only way to feel like doing the work was to get on with doing the work!

I arose from my chair and before long I experienced the energy I had been missing, and it had nothing to do with caffeine.  That morning my willpower won out over my mood and my mood was transformed in the process.

When you think about it, anything worthwhile takes some effort.  It is the same with relationships and marriage in particular.

In the early stages of a relationship, finding time to be together is a top priority for a couple, even if life is chaotic and demanding.  At this stage of a friendship, the connection is exciting and energizing.  Part of the buzz can be the newness of the bond but mainly it is the realization that you are important to someone else and that spending time with you is more important for that person than any other commitment. You each make the effort to sustain and improve that special something that is being generated.

When couples marry, life can become very hectic with raising children and stabilizing careers.  Time is already limited and becomes stretched; as a result, we become distracted and fatigued and the marital bond is “taken for granted.”

Marriage doesn’t operate on “automatic pilot.”  Like any other friendship it takes time and effort to keep it strong and healthy.

We know that couples can stay connected by making time to talk and listen to each other a few minutes every day.  I call the strategy “T-Time” or “Talk Time.”  During this crucial one-on-one time, explore the feelings of the moment, the feelings of the day and then discuss necessary family business.  It can take as little as fifteen minutes to do this effectively.

When couples don’t make the time and effort to stay connected, they drift apart and over time begin to resent many of the qualities they used to admire in each other.  Bob Dylan once wrote “we’re either busy being born, or busy dying.”  Marriages and friendships are like that.  There is no middle ground.

A past client shared a conversation that unfolded between two of her friends. One friend mentioned that she was struggling with marital issues. The other friend responded with a suggestion that she go to our practice for marriage counselling, but said that there was something she needed to know first. “You gotta do the work!”

Some may bristle at the thought of working on their marriage or working on resolving their grief over a loss.  Peace and happiness should just unfold naturally or magically. Right?

Unfortunately not. Nothing just happens in relationships, whether it be with a friend, a spouse or a child.

Let me share an experience from long ago. My son was sixteen and becoming very independent.  He would be watching a TV show and I would sit down to join him; he would then leave the room!  One Sunday afternoon I was doing some chores and it occurred to me to invite my son to shoot some hoops with me.  I was busy and didn’t really have time to play but I invited him just the same in order to spend time with him. We had an enjoyable hour together.  Lots of laughs.

Later that day, I asked this same son to help me with some heavy lifting and instead of responding with a grunt or a promise to do it later, he said yes and got it done right away.

It occurred to me that I was receiving an unintentional return on the investment I made that Sunday afternoon when I found the time to do something my son wanted to do.

During counselling sessions, couples receive tools to assist them in making changes in their interactions with each other.  However, the real key to success is heeding the advice of a sage friend: “You gotta do the work.”


You Gotta Do the Work
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Denis works with couples and individuals. His areas of interest include marriage, grief and stress. He also counsels people who suffer from depression and anxiety symptoms, as well as those struggling with personal growth issues.

Denis is eclectic in his use of psychological approaches, which include Adlerian, cognitive/behavioural, systems, psychodynamic, brief solution focused, existential and emotionally focused therapies.

Denis is a popular speaker who presents talks and workshops on a variety of topics including marriage, grief, retirement, emotional maturity and family relationships. He has published a book titled, “Marriage Can Be Great!…no really.”

Denis was a Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of British Columbia. He helped to start the first hospice program in B.C. in 1975.

Denis received his Master of Arts degree from the University of British Columbia in 1977 and works as a Registered Psychologist. He is a member of the B.C. College of Psychologists and the B.C. Psychological Association.

Most importantly Denis has been married to Maureen for over thirty years and they have four children.

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