If At First You Don't Succeed, Try Something Different

Olga Roberts

Sep 30, 2021

Time and time again individuals come to see me and report that they have a serious problem that is causing them a great amount of stress and worry. As creatures of this Earth we are not immune from problems and therefore it is not the problem that is the culprit but rather our attempted solutions in taking care of the problem. A statement we often hear is “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again”.

Many times we try and try and try and to no avail. Therefore, wouldn’t it make sense to change the statement to “if at first you don’t succeed try something different”. Many times we will choose to solve our problem the way we had chosen to solve our problem in the past, but to our surprise, we find our solution is not working for us this time. Little do we know that we are constantly changing even if we are not aware of it. Therefore a solution that once worked may not work now. An example that illustrates this rationale is seen many times in marital therapy. Each of the two spouses is engaging in behavior that they individually feel is the most appropriate in reaction to the others “wrongdoing”. The corrective behavior of the wife is seen by the husband as the behavior that needs correction. He therefore acts on it to correct it, at which time this behavior by the husband is seen by the wife as the behavior that needs correction. And so the cycle continues. 

For instance many times a wife may feel that her husband does not share or is not open enough to know where she stands with him. She would like to know what is going on in his head and what he is doing away from home. Quite naturally, she will therefore attempt to get the needed information by asking him questions, watching his behavior and checking on him in a variety of other ways. If he considers her behavior as too intrusive, he is likely to withhold from her information which in and by itself would be quite harmless and irrelevant to disclose. “Just to teach her that she need not know everything.” Far from making her back down, this

attempted solution not only does not bring about the desired change in her behavior but provides further fuel for her worries and her distrust. “If he doesn’t even talk to me about these little things, there must be something the matter”. The less information he gives her the more persistently she will seek it and the more she seeks it the less he will give her. By the time they come in to see me, it would be tempting to diagnose her behavior as pathological jealousy, provided that I didn’t pay attention to their pattern of interaction and their attempted solution, which are the problem. 

Many time problems arise from the meaning individuals choose to put on a particular act or behavior, not the behavior itself. As the philosopher Epictetus expressed it as early as the first century A.D. “It is not the things themselves which troubles us, but the opinion we have about these things.” Our opinion or view comes from a so-called “reality”. There is a widespread assumption that there is an objective reality somewhere out there and that sane people are more aware of it than crazy ones. “Reality” is not what we discover but what we create. We create this reality together…

Written by:

Olga Roberts

LMFT

Sep 30, 2021

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