I saw Jessica and Dave about five years ago for a few sessions, and they recently returned. I was curious about their current situation, and Jessica talked about her issues with Dave’s ongoing drinking. When she finished, he talked about how he was last on her list. When it was her turn, she would go back to his drinking, and then he would complain about not being a priority.
I sat back and watched this process, not because it was effective, but because I was learning a lot about their current struggles. I imagined this was how their fights unfolded at home, delivering blows of “you drink too much” and “you don’t pay attention to me”.
Once the issues became clear, I talked with them about how we were going to work differently in future sessions. One spouse would share their complaints, but I would coach the other spouse to be responsive to those issues. Responsiveness to a partner’s complaints is what creates change in a relationship; otherwise, it’s like a boxing match.