The metal detector floated silently back and forth, the treasure seeker seemingly discouraged at the apparent lack of treasure on this stretch of ground. Head down, the seeker released a sigh, “I guess my friends were right, there is no hope here.” All of a sudden the detector went bonkers, the needle waving wildly as the beeper screamed, “It’s here! It’s here under the surface! Dig here, let me show you!”

This is one of my favorite parts of being a marriage counselor and coach.

The treasure seekers are couples trying to recover the secrets to restore their marriages. The secrets are hidden beneath the surface, invisible to the untrained eye. They are within reach, but it will take a little bit of digging. So often I have the joy of uncovering evidence that these couples are on the right path, they’re actually doing better than they know!

I often start a session by asking couples to tell me about progress made in their relationship since we last met. Sometimes they report no tangible progress. Then during the session they’ll share positive changes and interactions. He took her to a surprise lunch. She apologized for something that hurt him. He cleaned the bathroom without being asked. She came home early from a party.

“Are these normal behaviors?” I ask. “Well, no, actually that almost never happens!” comes the response. The detector starts beeping as the needle dances wildly!

How did that happen? People change course and do things out of the ordinary for all kinds of reasons. What motivates a person to make such a decision? Human behavior is complex, and rarely does an action spring from a single stimulus. However, when your spouse does something clearly positive it is wise to reflect on how you may have influenced the switch in behavior. Perhaps you resisted the temptation to point out a mistake, or expressed appreciation for a dinner made one evening. Maybe you’ve just been smiling more.

Whatever you suspect had a positive impact becomes your working hypothesis. Do more of what’s been working!

Are you detecting signs of progress in your relationship? Don’t let them go unnoticed. Dig a little deeper. Watch the needle. It may be that you are doing better than you know!

You can do this!