7. Facilitating Investment - RonaldMah

Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist,
Go to content

Main menu:

7. Facilitating Investment

Therapist Resources > Therapy Books > DownRelRabbitHole- Assessment

Down the Relationship Rabbit Hole, Assessment and Strategy for Therapy

When a person is invested in something- be it property, an event or performance, or a person (ones child for example), he or she tends to work harder at sustaining or caring for it.  There is more at stake to gain or to lose, and a person becomes more willing to put in extra energy, attention, care, and resources.  Investment can involve financial, material, spiritual, intellectual, and emotional risks.  Intimate and other relationships often require deep investment.  There are great investments accrued in close relationships.  "Johnson (1991) proposed that individuals stay in relationships for three reasons: because they want to (personal commitment), because they feel that they ought to (moral commitment), or because they perceive that they have to (structural commitment)" (Weigel, 2008, page 18).  Weigel said that partners who depend on their relationships and become committed when they are satisfied with the relationship, see few appealing alternatives, and are heavily invested in the relationship.  Investment theory principles are evident in various types of couples.  "Rusbult and her colleagues (2001) maintained that couples in every relationship experience difficulties, constraints, and threats—what they called interdependence dilemmas.  Interdependence dilemmas are situations in which the immediate well being of one person is incompatible with the immediate well-being of the partner and relationship.  For instance, partners may encounter dilemmas involving conflicted interaction, incompatible preferences, or extra relationship temptations (Wieselquist, Rusbult, Foster, & Agnew, 1999).  In such instances, people have to decide between their immediate self interests and the long-term interests of the relationship.  Rusbult and her colleagues (2001) identified six prorelationship behaviors that people use when confronted with such interdependence dilemmas.  These strategies include (a) tendencies to accommodate to the partner, (b) willingness to sacrifice one's self-interest for the good of the relationship, (c) ability to forgive betrayal, (d) shifting from an individual to collective orientation, (e) creating positive illusions about one's relationship in comparison with the relationships of others, and (f) devaluing potential alternative partners and situations.  The more committed individuals are, the more likely they are to use these prorelationship behaviors to deal with such relationship dilemmas" (page 18-19).

Each of the six prorelationship behaviors can be used for assessment of relationship skills and/or of the relationship and for initial therapeutic goals, as well as evaluation of the individual, couple, or family's progress.  For example, a person or partner who is aggressively egotistically emotionally competitive is unlikely to accommodate to another person, partner, or family member.  He or she is unlikely to sacrifice self-interest for the good of the relationship.  Weigel also names eight categories of characteristics indicative of commitment:

1. supportiveness,

2. trust and acceptance,

3. fidelity,

4. consideration and devotion,

5. relational duration,

6. routine activities,

7. verbal and traditional expressions of commitment,

8. and verbal and nonverbal expressions of affection…  

It is arguable that all these eight categories of commitment are relevant in non-intimate or non-familial relationships as well.  Expressions of affection may remain appropriate in the work or sports team context, with or without nuanced adjustments to emphasize respect for example.  Weigel also identifies ten broad categories of behaviors:

1. providing affection,

2. providing support,

3. maintaining integrity,

4. sharing companionship,

5. making an effort to communicate,

6. showing respect,

7. creating a relationship future,

8. creating a positive relationship atmosphere,

9. working on relationship problems together,

10. and expressing commitment.

The higher perceived commitment, the greater the perceived use of these indicators.  Committed individuals need to invest in behaviors so partners, family members, school or work colleagues, or teammates are aware of their commitment.   The more invested the individual the greater the loss if the relation were to end.  Committed individuals will be more active with prorelationship behaviors to maintain the relationship (page 19-20).  Invested members have an expectation of similar use of commitment indicators from similar attitudes and values, and also similar communication skills and behaviors.  They would also be likely to be similar in the ways they express their commitment to each other, including how they affirm and reward each other for positive behaviors.  Within each couple, family, group, workplace, or team, particular (and even peculiar!) behaviors develop as indicators of commitment.  Ritualized behaviors including anniversary celebrations, dates, communications, and so forth reinforce the commitment between members.  When a members- clearly a couple jointly infuses simple behaviors with meaning, the relationship tends to be more harmonious.  Berger (2006) discussed how partners compare the costs and relationship satisfaction.  Investment in the relationship is balanced against how he or she is appreciated.  Appreciation is associated with relationship satisfaction.  Partners who did not feel as appreciated for their actions tended to have lower relationship satisfaction.  They tend to feel a net loss in their investment in the relationship (page 58).  "In general, the greater the costs, the greater the participants' satisfaction when their efforts and expenditures were appreciated.  When they were not appreciated, costs were associated with relationship satisfaction and thereby seemed to reflect losses rather than gains" (page 65).

Simple daily chores can become positive investments.  When behaviors are required, onerous, or boring, then appreciation is the greatest.  Over an extended period in relationships, the lack of appreciation for such behaviors affects how they are interpreted.  Without appreciation, otherwise frequent and otherwise supportive behaviors frustrate the doer of the behaviors, leading to increased relationship dissatisfaction.  Conversely, appreciation lead to improved relationship satisfaction with increased activities.  "…a partner's appreciation of these relatively unpleasant, obligatory tasks provided a basis for regarding these behaviors not as onerous tasks but as investments or inputs into a close relationship worth preserving.  The greater the appreciation perceived by respondents, the more they wanted to engage in the chores, and the less the tasks felt obligatory" (page 65).  Berger concludes that relationships are bidirectional.  "…relationships in which there is more felt appreciation are apt to be more satisfying and more satisfying relationships are also apt to produce more felt appreciation" (page 65-66).  However, if the ritual behaviors come from one individual, partner, or family member (by action, or by family modeling or culture) but not another or others, then the lack of similarity can be problematic.  Both partners or all (or most) members have to be engaged in communal rituals and daily chores, and hold the same meaning in them to confirm the sense of investment.  When one individual continues to invest, while uncertain of the investment of the other, he or she puts him or herself at risk spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally, if not also financially and materially.

The couple's relationship can involve all of these risks.  In presenting for therapy, each member of the couple is showing some investment.  Often one partner is encouraged or even ecstatic that the other partner has finally agreed to invest time, energy, and money in couple therapy.  This implies investing in the relationship.  Despite committing to "try" couple therapy, the other partner's investment may remain very tenuous.  Symonds and Horvath (2004) discuss how expectations may vary significantly.  "It is not unusual for partners to differ in their level of motivation for coming to therapy or to express divergent views of the presenting problems.  Routinely, partners have dissimilar ideas about the desirable goals for therapy, and the therapist cannot assume that the partners have equivalent relationship skills and abilities.  These differences create unequal conditions for each partner and introduce tensions that challenge the therapist to develop an alliance that is strong, yet flexible enough to engage both clients in the process of therapy" (page 443).  One or both members of the couple may be holding a secret that his/her investment is scant.  Or, hold a secret fear that his or her partner's investment is minimal.  These issues are also common in families and other groups or communities.  Held unarticulated secrets are characteristic of dysfunctional systems and feudal-totalitarian societies, and invariably causes pain in relationships.  The therapist can overtly search for and reveal the secrets.  He or she can acknowledge the importance of investment and simultaneously, acknowledge it's possible tenuous nature.  

The therapist can ask each person what his or her level of investment may be.  In the telephone contact, the therapist can ask, "Whose idea is it to come for therapy?"  Whether or not another person, the other partner, or another family member (the one not calling) initiated the idea of therapy, the therapist should ask, "What does he or she feel about therapy?"  The caller's response not infrequently is that the other person (or one of the members) has been reluctant to come to therapy.  In some cases, it may be the threat of imminent breakup or divorce that has finally motivated the reluctant partner to come to couple therapy. One partner may think therapy won't work or minimizes the problems between the partners.  Or, a major crisis has arisen in the family, group, or organization.  A teenager has been arrested or caught with drugs.  Someone is required to go to therapy or else be expelled, incarcerated, or fired.  The therapist should do two things.  The first is to convey to the caller that the therapist is familiar with such a situation and give some indication of how it will be handled.  This serves to give confidence to the caller that the therapist is competent to meet this challenge.  The second thing is to invest energy with the reluctant person, partner, or member in the first session to develop connection and to foster his or her investment in the therapy process.  When already aware of one person's reluctance in the first session, often the therapist can immediately say directly to him or her, "So, what'd it take for you to come here?  A bribe or a threat?!"  The humorous challenge reveals the secret while normalizing the situation.  Therapy in general, but couple or family therapy in particular usually starts with tension anticipating potential difficult communication and vulnerability in the process.  With more than one person in the therapy, each partner may be anxious about yet hopeful for potential outcomes.  The playful "bribe" or "threat" question can shift the emotional arousal while releasing everyone from holding secret anxiety about the situation.  Whether the reluctant person, partner, or member versus or the initiating person, partner, or member responds first, or whether either responds playfully with humor or seriously, investment as an issue has been introduced. The therapist may directly introduce the question, "What is each of your investments in therapy?  What is your investment in making the relationship work?  In solving problems?"  

The therapist may find out that an individual, both partners, or all members are heavily invested in making therapy and the relationship(s) work.  In couple or family therapy, one person may be significantly more invested than the other or others, or perhaps, that despite reassurances, one person doubts the investment of the other or others.  These realities or suspicions should be addressed immediately in therapy.  When one person, partner, or family member is less invested in therapy or the relationship, the other participants are caught in a less powerful position.  The more invested person is continually working harder at the relationship with more at risk.  He or she experiences him or herself in a subordinate position vulnerable to being dismissed or discarded by the less invested person.  Helplessness can readily become resentment.  With resentment, vengeance or self-righteous justification for hurtful, especially passive-aggressive behaviors against the less invested person may result.  Virtually the same dynamic can occur between the therapist and an individual client who is marginally invested in therapy.  The therapist finds him or herself working harder than the client, feeling resentful, and so forth.  The suspicion of lesser investment must be explored.  Some individuals appear as less invested may be acting or presenting according some familial or cultural model, despite actually being heavily invested.  "I'm here!" may represent a family of origin or cultural behavioral response of investment not recognized by the other person or members (or therapist!).  The implicit counter-point is that if he or she was not invested and cared about the partner and relationship, then he or she would not be present for therapy.  "I'm home every night," "The bills get paid," "I never screw around," "I feed you," "I wash your clothes," "I don't run off," are often behavioral communications of investment otherwise not previously verbalized or appreciated.  On the other side, coming home late, non-response, forgetting anniversaries, scheduling miscommunications, inattention, forgotten experiences, and so on may be experienced as lack of investment by the other person or family members.  The therapist should help the individual, partners, or family members clarify what and how investment has been communicated and how it has been experienced between or among members.  The individual or each person may be prompted to complete the statement, "I try to show I care and am invested, when I ________."  This process may help individuals recognize there may have been positive intentions despite miscommunication.  Examining how these behaviors were interpreted can improve the communication.  Expressive communication with positive intent may have been compromised by mismatched receptive communication.  The therapist can ask what it would take for investment to grow.  New and repeated experiences of investment that resonate for the each partner, member, or participant are necessary.  A person completing the statement, "I feel you care (he or she cares) and are trying when you (he or she) ________," give guidance for expressive communication matching with receptive communication around investment.

Therapy can validate prior and current attempts at investment.  It should also validate hesitation or caution about investing in another and a relationship given prior disappointments and injuries.  The therapist should clarify that investment along with trust and vulnerability are essential to growth in the relationship while acknowledging their difficulty.  During the process of couple or family therapy, the therapist should make a point to elicit observations of investment by either partner or all members.  In individual therapy, the therapist prompts the individual about his or her actions and the behaviors of those important to him or her.  The therapist can reframe behaviors or communications to emphasize investment attempts.  "You seem to be investing in your partner," or "She is counting on you to get it," or "Taking a chance, he'll do it."  Remember that practice at investing is necessary before successful interactions or even poor interactions can occur.  "Trying" is a first key to individual, couple, or family growth.  When one or the other partner or one member of a family or group stops trying- that is, investing, growth is curtailed or impossible.  Check for the level of investment for each person that is family-of-origin or culturally defined.  In some cultures, there is no option for divorce or separation. Or, divorce is a common or even readily exercised option such as it is in mainstream America. However, some individuals grow up with a clear prohibition against divorce or "quitting" despite clearly dysfunctional and even abusive relationships.  This includes non-intimate relationships such as social groups, church, teams, and of course, the workplace.  Hence, individual investment in making the relationship work can range from very high or to very low.  High investment may lead people to stay together (remain with a group or organization, stay in a job, etc.) despite fundamental and irreconcilable differences.  The therapist should check for the types of investment that are held.  Investment for love or fulfillment versus investment for financial stability versus investment for the children and so forth may vary significantly among couples.  It may be possible only to follow through on what the couple is invested in together, but not in the areas they are not invested in.  For example, the parent coalition investment may be substantial and thus, working on staying together to develop an effective co-parenting relationship makes sense.  A couple may not, however, be willing to invest in romantic intimacy.  As a result, couple therapy may need to orient towards developing a relationship suitable for a child raising collaboration rather than for being romantic soul mates.  Investment in family unity or family functionality can vary significantly among family members, including significantly as a consequence of developmental stages and influences.  For example, since many youth begin to differentiate or "launch" from the family during adolescence, there is often much less time and energy offered by teens.  This dynamic is often played out with blended families where younger stepchildren bond more readily to the new stepparent while pre-teen and teen stepchildren are less interested in investing in making a new family unit.  They are busy getting out of the "old" family unit already.  They are already detaching somewhat from their biological parents, so bonding with a stepparent may seem nonsensical.  In organizations or work situations, some individuals from being hired see the job as a transitional stepping-stone to get to other goals, or others who may be intractably disillusioned have their exit strategies already in place or activated.  Neither of these types of people will be as invested as someone committed or stuck (practically or emotionally) in the organization or job.  For such teens or workers, some truncated goal of getting by or getting along akin to the co-parenting goals of the emotionally disconnected couple may suffice or the best that can be hoped for.

3056 Castro Valley Blvd., #82
Castro Valley, CA 94546
Ronald Mah, M.A., Ph.D.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, MFT32136
office: (510) 582-5788
fax: (510) 889-6553
Back to content | Back to main menu