Remember when when you were so in love with your spouse you couldn’t think of anything you wanted to change about them? Does that seem like a long time ago?
WHY CAN’T WE SEE OUR DIFFERENCES EARLY ON?
In premarital counseling, I try to get couples to see their differences and the problems those differences will cause. But most couples either brush those things aside or get frustrated with me for “nit picking.” Why is it so difficult to clearly see our differences in the beginning?
We’re blinded by the excitement of love and hormones.
Being in love is intoxicating. Love effects the brain much like alcohol or drugs, and just like alcohol and drugs, it can impair our ability to see and judge things. Consequently, we can’t imagine any major differences, let alone the problems they could cause.
But the chemical intoxication of love eventually subsides and our differences become more glaring.
We minimize any possible problems.
When I’m pointing out differences in premarital counseling, the couple often thinks I’m making a big of a deal over small things. “So what if they’re not as much of a neat freak as I am, or if they are more of a saver than I am. So what if they’re an extrovert and I’m an introvert. These are small thing that we’ll handle when they come up.”
Even when we believe there are some differences between us, we don’t think they’re that big of a deal. We believe our love is enough to conquer these “small” things. But that’s like saying, “I love these shoes so much, it really won’t matter that there’s a rock in my shoe. It will be fine.”
We see the differences, but we believe that once we’re married our spouse will change.
I can’t tell you how many time this happens: A couple comes into my counseling office, at odds over their differences. And when I ask whether these differences were present before they got married, they tell me, “Yes, but I thought they would change.” And the really honest spouses will say, “Yes, but I thought I could change them.”
But after you’ve been married a while, the list of things you wish you could change about your spouse doesn’t get shorter. It gets longer. Which brings us to a second question…
HOW CAN I GET MY SPOUSE TO CHANGE?
We all have been guilty of trying to change our spouse. We tend to believe our problems would go away and our marriage would be better if our spouse would just change! And we’re so convinced of this, we try to “help them” change.
What not to do.
Our attempts to change our spouse look something like this…
- We point out the thing we think they need to change. (Maybe they just don’t see it.)
- We try to convince them why our way of doing things is better. (Surely they will see the reasoning.)
- We nag them into doing what we want them to do. (But we would never call it nagging. We’re just trying to help.)
- We elevate the volume and the intensity of our communication. (They just need to know how serious we are about this.)
- We withdraw and withhold the things that are important to them. (After all, if I can’t get what I want, they shouldn’t get what they want.)
If you’ve tried any or all of these tactics, you know that they’re not very effective. Even if they get you what you want, it will be a short-lived effort and a long-lived resentment.
What to do?
So what do you do if you want your spouse to change? Here it is…
If you want your spouse to change…you change!
I know this is not what you want to hear. (It’s not what I want to hear either!) But follow me on this…
Opposites attract when you’re dating, but after the honeymoon, opposites tend to aggravate. That’s when we start trying to change our spouse, so they will fit better with us.
But marriage is like a dance between two dance partners. If you don’t like the way your partner is dancing, you have three option:
- You can try to pressure your partner into dancing the way you want. But this is not really dancing. It’s wrestling.
- You can ditch your partner for another who will dance the way you want. But this is not really dancing. It’s running.
- Or you can change the way you’re dancing! This presents the greatest possibility of change. Your spouse doesn’t want to be forced into doing something different, any more than you do. But if you change the way you’re dancing, your partner will then have the freedom to choose their options.
Difference that frustrate you about your spouse may be due to something as simple as differences in personality or up-bringing. And you can’t do anything about those. But so often, your spouse is acting the way they are, because they are reacting to something you’re doing…or not doing.
- They’re nagging you, because you’re not listening to them or doing what needs to be done.
- They are ignoring you, because you’ve been ignoring them in some way.
- They’re not asking what you think, because you’re too harsh and critical.
- They complain about not spending time together, because you’re not spending time with them…at least not in a way that connects with them.
- They are upset about overspending or underspending, because you’re not valuing what they value.
In other words, they’re dancing the way they are, because you’re dancing the way you are. So one of the most effective ways to effect change in a marriage is to change yourself.
One last thought…Don’t be so quick to try to change the differences that drive you crazy. These differences that attracted you in the beginning are now there to grow you in the present. Sometimes we need to accept our spouse the way they are, rather than try to change them. After all…isn’t that what we want them to do for us?