Step 1 to Transforming Your Relationship: Build an Alliance

Young couple hiking on the mountain

What if you had information you could trust to help you transform the most important relationship in your life? Would you invest time and resources if you were sure it would pay off? In this and subsequent posts, we’ll share with you 10 steps to becoming happier, healthier, and stronger together.

Step 1 to transforming your relationship is to Build an Alliance. This step is critically important, yet it’s one many people skip. Many of us attempt to improve our relationship by working to be a better husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend. We put forth effort to be more conscientious, attentive, or caring as a partner. We might read books to learn more about relationships, communication, or “love languages.” Sometimes we even go to therapy or embark on a spiritual journey to become a better human being, with the hopes of becoming better together. While these are fine and noble pursuits, unfortunately they generally do little for our relationship. In fact, when our efforts don’t have the positive results we long for, we may feel less satisfied with our selves or our partners.

To achieve deep and lasting change, start by building an alliance in which you’ll work side by side. In your working alliance, neither one of you is more responsible or more in charge of your relationship. To begin building your alliance, see if there is a relationship goal you both agree is worth working for.

Here are some different types of relationship goals couples often agree on:

  • Resolve a big problem (e.g., sex, finances, parenting, work, in-laws).
  • Remove frustrating and painful negative patterns that get in the way of closeness and communication.
  • Unravel built up apathy or distance to find renewed closeness.
  • Heal wounds of betrayal.  
  • Work through old baggage that gets in the way. 
  • Save us from divorce!
  • Understand what went wrong. Heal before we move on. 
  • Become a “super-couple.”  
  • Develop a strong foundation to keep us close despite life’s challenges.

Next, see if you can agree on an approach you will take together to achieve your goal. We recommend the approach we believe to be the most powerful and supportive that’s been developed so far. It’s available to you whether you want to work on your relationship yourselves, go to a workshop for a facilitated experience, or engage in private couple counseling. Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy (EFT) is a type of couple therapy growing rapidly in popularity due to its powerful process, results, and scientific support. Check it out by googling “Emotionally Focused Couple Therapy.” Watch short, informative videos by Dr. Sue Johnson, the founder of EFT, on YouTube. If you’re into greater detail, you can check out the original research studies listed on the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy’s website, iceeft.com.

Don’t go further until you’ve both agreed on a relationship goal and an approach you’ll take together.

For many couples, building an alliance means finding a trusted guide for your journey. Finding a guide you both like and trust can be invaluable, saving you precious time and money. A trusted guide can often help you get further and faster than you can get on your own. A guide can support each of you to feel valid and normal in your experiences, and can hold a space for you to work together as a team of equals. A guide can walk you through intense or numbed out emotions that might otherwise block you.

It can be challenging to find a guide you both feel comfortable with. We recommend you obtain a list of EFT therapists in your area from iceeft.com, then call to see who has an opening. Meet with a potential counselor with the objective of finding someone you both like. Even if initial impressions are positive, trust in your counselor builds over time. Give the relationship with your counselor time to develop, and bring up any way in which you feel uncomfortable or unsafe with your counselor to see if he or she can address your concerns. If you don’t both develop a sense of trust, and your counselor doesn’t respond to concerns you bring up, keep looking for the right guide for you. As you develop trust in your counselor, you will be able to relax and appreciate the process of transformation as it unfolds during your work together.

As workshop providers and private therapists, our first and foremost responsibility is to earn our clients’ trust. It’s the primary focus of the first morning of our workshop, our first few hours with you in private therapy, and our goal in writing. In the next post, we’ll cover Step 2, Mapping Your Negative Cycle.

Would you like more information or support? We recommend Dr. Sue Johnson’s books Hold Me Tight: Seven Conversations for a Lifetime of Love (2010) and Love Sense (2014). We offer low-cost, money-guaranteed Hold Me Tight® couple workshops, as well as regular, weekly couple counseling and intensive couple counseling services. Here is a longer listing of recommended couple therapists in Montanacouple therapists around the US and internationally, and Hold Me Tight® workshops.