Have you ever tried to change your spouse? How’s that working for you?
We get asked this a lot. Couples want to see that the other person in the relationship change in a way they prefer. Something about the way they drive, how long they take to get ready, how affectionate they should be, or how much football needs to be on. They don’t do it like we do it, and it frustrates the heck out of us. We’ll try anything to get them to change.
The most common tactic used here is to nag.
Every time the issue happens, we bombard our spouse with criticism or sarcasm. We will go to great lengths to explain the proper way to fold the towels or pack the lunches for the kids. Our hope is that with enough detailed, step-by-step instruction, our spouse will be reprogramed correctly. The result– one of us exhausted by passionately campaigning our cause and the other putting in the emotional ear plugs of defensiveness.
The other go-to strategy is manipulation.
The one spouse will not talk about the issue or concern directly for fear of causing disruption in the relationship, and yet will be behind the scenes putting incredible effort to create change in the other spouse. It’s amazing how much gamesmanship goes on in this tactic that could have been avoided with a direct dialogue about what the other person needs.
A perfect example was when we were first married and Casey wanted Meygan to enjoy cooking because he loves to eat. He bought her new kitchen gadgets, fancy cookbooks, made subtle comments, and even brought friends over who loved to cook, with the hopes of getting Meygan to fall in love with cooking. Guess who does all the cooking now? Let me answer that with this. On our wedding, my dad passed on to me one of the greatest pieces of advice I’ve used in my marriage.
He said, “Son, if you want to make a better marriage, you have to make a better you.”
It was about an attitude adjustment. If I focused on making a better wife of Meygan, I would miss out on all the growth I needed in my own life. I needed to see her strengths and NOT her flaws. I needed to see what I was contributing, NOT becoming an emotional accountant. I needed to find ways that I could serve my wife, NOT find ways my wife could serve me.
We are all born with a set of glasses that help us see the world around us. Based on our personal experience, family of origin, values, and needs, we pick up these preferences. Those that are different receive our judgement and criticism and often the worst of us comes out. It’s time to get a different perspective.
It was an aha moment for me.
About 18 months back, doctor after doctor would evaluate our son, looking for what was wrong with him. They called it Autism. They put a label on him and prescribed a therapy schedule to manage it. What was so hard for me is that I would look at my son and I only saw what was right about him. He’s full of happiness and innocence. He loves to laugh and get chased by daddy. He has these piercing blue eyes and an incredible amount of strength. He is my son and I choose not to focus on the symptoms, but rather what I loved about him.
An interesting statistic from the Gottman Institute, “69% of all conflict in a relationship is unresolvable, due to lasting personality differences.”
Based off their extensive research, it’s not about resolving conflict, but rather managing those differences.
Meygan and I are two very different people, who are madly in love. Maybe that’s the paradox of intimacy. We love this person, would take a bullet for them, but God forbid that they would leave their clothes on the floor one more time. We’ve changed each other over the years, but our change has come from a place of serving each other, serving something larger than ourselves- our family, a solid legacy, Marriage365, and you.
Want to change your spouse… it’s time to change your perspective.
Oh, and by the way, it’s my apron that gets washed more than Meygan’s.
What is something you could start focusing on in your marriage that is positive? For the next 5 days write 5 qualities daily that you are grateful for about your spouse. At the end of that time, you’ll have 25 things that you can celebrate and affirm.
Comment below and let us know how it goes!
Written by Casey Caston
Casey Caston is the co-founder of Marriage365 and loves his wife, kids, and surfing – in that order. He’s passionate about teaching couples how to connect on a deeper level and works often with couples in crisis. He’s also officiated more than 600 weddings. His life long dream is to walk the Camino, surf in Indonesia, and publish a New York Times best seller.