I used to see clients every day who wanted out of their failing relationships. For most, if not all of those individuals, one theme was always recurring. “If only my spouse had never changed from the man/woman I had married, things would have worked out.” I usually asked a follow-up question: what was the change?
The answers all varied in degree, but I was frequently surprised by the trivial nature of spousal discord. “The garage was never cleaned, all the years I was married to him.” “She lets the kids run around in the front yard in only their underwear.” One of my personal favorites was a fight over a new toilet paper holder.
Obviously, some changes within a marriage warrant drastic action. But much of the time, emotional separation from a spouse over a period of time is a natural and normal occurrence. Accepting this, and then working to minimize the distance you might feel between you and your spouse, is an important part of ensuring a healthy relationship.
Change Yourself to Change Your Spouse.
Continuing to build your marriage in spite of the changes you might see or feel in your spouse is difficult. Sometimes, in fact, it may seem almost impossible. Paradoxically, it’s having to work at coming together again that ultimately will strengthen your marriage.
So, how do you do it? How do you get along with a spouse who isn’t anything like the man or the woman you married? Often, it’s as simple as becoming the husband or wife to whom you wish you were married.
You read that right! Become the person you wish your spouse to be. Instead of insisting that your spouse change, work on changing yourself. Why? Well, for 2 reasons.
You Are the Only Person You Can Force to Change.
First, you are the only person you can force to change. You cannot ensure change in your spouse. And sometimes, your attempts to effectuate change in him or her will only backfire. But you can change.
Changing yourself to draw closer to your spouse is counterintuitive. In fact, many others will tell you to make a list of your partner’s bothersome behaviors. Then, share the list with her and offer to help her change. Any change in your house is going to start with you, however.
Don’t create a list of things that annoy you about your husband or wife. Instead, try making a list of ways you might be able to improve yourself. You might ponder whether you fall prey to repeating any of the same actions that irritate you. If so, start immediately to make the small changes required to rectify your negative behavior.
For example, if it’s bothering you that the dishes are always dirty, do the dishes! Make sure to leave the kitchen spotless every time after you use it. You can even involve the kids in helping you out with your goal. Ask them to put their dishes in the dishwasher or wipe up after themselves when they spill.
Changing yourself requires introspection, and it can be humbling to know that you may not be the perfect partner either. It also will require that you perform a lot of unreturned service for your spouse. Service, when done with a good attitude, will increase the love you feel for your spouse. It will also change your attitude toward those behaviors that were previously driving you crazy.
Let Your Spouse Follow Your Example.
Which brings me to my second point. Most people want to feel loved and accepted. And because of this, humans mimic each other’s behavior. It will take time, but your spouse is going to notice your attempts to change. And when he notices, he’s going to start implementing his own changes as a compliment to yours.
Nothing will make him perfect (or you, for that matter). But the changes that you each have freely begun to implement will naturally help to diminish to major annoyances that are found in every marriage.
Simple Changes Can Have Great Effect.
This has occurred in our home over and over again. I recently decided I didn’t like how dirty the bathroom counter and sinks were getting. I at first wanted to approach Lizzy about cleaning the bathroom more often, since she’s traditionally taken on that job. Fortunately, however, before approaching her, I realized it was my side of the counter that often looked especially dirty.
After realizing that I could solve the problem myself, I placed a package of baby wipes under the counter. Every morning after brushing my teeth, I pulled out a baby wipe and scrubbed the counter down. I also organized the counter while I worked. I still do this every morning, and it costs me only 40 extra seconds.
For her part, Lizzy has started doing the same thing. She also makes sure each night before bed that the counter is cleaned off. Problem solved! And we never had to point any fingers or make any demands to get it done. It’s the closest thing to a Jedi mind trick we’ve come across during our marriage.
Lizzy has also used this same tactic against me. As an attorney, my schedule is often up in the air. I can be home as early as 5:30 on a slow day or as late as 10:00 at night on a hectic one. It is extremely frustrating for Lizzy not to know at what time I will be home. In discussing the issue, however, we never arrived at any kind of realistic resolution. Instead, the discussion usually turned south as I insisted I would never be able to change and she would just have to deal with it.
Rather than continue to push the issue, Lizzy indicated she would have dinner ready each night by 6:00. This would happen whether I was home or not. She also began to consistently let me know exactly what time I could expect her home whenever she went out. Suddenly, I began making a conscientious effort to be home by 6:00, planning my day to make that happen. I have also started texting Lizzy about half an hour before I leave to come home. That text lets her know my plans and updates her on where I’m at. Although my schedule is still often sporadic, Lizzy is satisfied knowing what my plans are.
Change Yourself and Your Spouse Will Follow.
You will never be able to change someone else’s behavior. Don’t let this fact undermine your relationship with your spouse. You can always change yourself! When you make the effort to change, you’ll start to notice all the ways in which you can continue to improve. And as you improve, so will your spouse.
If you want to revitalize your marriage, become the kind of person you wish you had married. You might just start to notice over time that your spouse becomes that person as well.
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