Everyone has habits that they wished they had not taken up. Some wish that they didn’t smoke. Others may wish that they didn’t drink. Some wish they could cut down on eating and lose some weight. While others wish they could exercise more and get a little fitter.
I am even sure that their spouses, family, or friends have even given them gentle and not so gentle hints that they need to change their ways. The problem is that change is hard. Change requires moving from the comfortable to the uncomfortable. Also, change usually involves altering their way of life and not so much the people trying to get one to change. Sometimes, being reminded of our bad habits only pushes us further away from trying to help our problem.
So, when do people decide to work on a bad habit? People only change when they commit themselves to make the change. If they are not “all in” on taking steps to handle their situation then any attempt by anyone else for them to change is hopeless.
So, what about in your marriage? When you got married I am sure the thought was that you would live happily ever after. Shortly after that, I am sure you figured out that marriage was not as much riding in a nice carriage as dealing with the pumpkin and rats. Yes, you discover that your spouse has bad habits that you would love to change. The problem is that just like the other habits I talked about above; your spouse is really the only one who can decide to change those irritating habits.
You can try to change your spouse. You can tell them that there are things in your relationship that upset you or disappoint you. You may even try “saying pretty please”, but you are probably not going to see any change unless your spouse decides they need to change.
So, what do you do? Douglas A Abbott, Ph.D, published an article in Marriage and Families Magazine titled “Change Yourself and Change Your Marriage” in which he describes four things that happen when you try to change your spouse.
“You blame your partner for your unhappiness. You judge your partner’s behavior as wrong, unfair, or unjust”
“You fail to see your contribution to the problem. In many, but not all cases, your attitudes or behaviors have played some role in the occurrence and persistence of the problem.”
“You attempt to get your partner to change his or her behavior.”
“Your partner becomes defensive and resists change.”
In all four of these there is one common theme: You trying to change your spouse. Unless your spouse wants to change, this will almost never work. If “You trying to change your spouse” isn’t the right answer, then what may work? Let’s try a different approach. What if the answer was “You changing You.”
So, how could that possibly work? The marriage relationship has so many dimensions that if you are having problems with your spouse there is probably some aspect of the issue where you have made a bad decision in communicating with them. You have to forgo trying to change your spouse’s actions and work on your own behavior. If you are able to change your behavior and clean up your part of the issue at hand, there is a possibility that your spouse will see your efforts and try to correct their side to come to some resolution of the issue. Your change must be permanent and not based on if your spouse changes after some amount of effort on your part.
Your tendency is to say that this doesn’t sound fair. In looking back through 1 Corinthians 13, I see no mention of the “fair” clause within my 13 verses. Love seems to be a pretty strong command for us. I am particularly drawn to 1 Corinthians 13:7 which says, “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” I think “endures all things” would pretty much cover our spouse’s faults.
Dr. Abbott explains in his article, “Love is an action undertaken to benefit another person. Thus one of the keys to improving an intimate relationship is to give more and demand less from the partner. If you want to improve your marriage, you must be willing to improve yourself.”
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