Why should I be the one to change when it’s my spouse who’s causing the problems in our marriage? Have you heard that said by someone in your life? Or perhaps you’ve said it yourself! Quite honestly, we have! We’ve each said that to ourselves many times in our marriage. And the “funny” thing is that we both thought it was true. We each thought we were right, and the other was wrong. It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it?
But the question is: will that stance help you and your spouse resolve the conflicting issue at hand?
Certainly, sometimes it’s important to think through that question. And certainly, sometimes it could be good to strategize what you’re to do if that question is true. But if it’s keeping you in a negatively stuck place in your relationship, then what do you do next?
That’s the issue we’d like to discuss this week. The edited points we’re sharing here comes from the book Divorce Busting by Michelle Weiner-Davis. It’s not a Christian book, but we believe the principles are helpful and biblically sound. It’s sure worth the read as you glean through the information given. See if you agree as you read what she has written on this subject. Michelle writes:
Why Should I Be the One to Change?
“Have you and your spouse been so angry at each other that you’ve gone your separate ways and stopped interacting with each other? Have you convinced yourself that, until s/he initiates making up, there will be no peace in your house?
“If so, I have few things I want to tell you. You’re wasting precious energy holding on to your anger. It’s exhausting to feel resentment day in and day out. It’s bad for your health and hard on your spirit. And it’s awful for your relationship.
“Anger imprisons you. It casts a gray cloud over your days. It prevents you from feeling real joy in any part of your life. Each day you drown yourself in resentment is another day lost out of your life. What a waste!
“I’ve worked with so many people who live in quiet desperation because they’re utterly convinced that their way of seeing things is right and their partner’s wrong. They spend a lifetime trying to get their partners to share their views. I hear, ‘I’ll change if s/he changes,’ a philosophy that ultimately leads to a stalemate.
The Chain Reaction Accompanying Change
“There are many variations of this position. For example, ‘I’d be nicer to her, if she were nicer to me,” or ‘I’d be more considerate and tell her about my plans if she wouldn’t hound me all the time about what I do.’ You get the picture! ‘I’ll be different if you start being different first.’ Trust me when I tell you that this can be a very, very long wait.
“I’ve been working with couples for years and I’ve learned a lot about how change occurs in relationships. It’s like a chain reaction. If one person changes, the other one does too. It’s simply a matter of tipping over the first domino. Change is reciprocal. Let me give you an example.
“I worked with a woman who was distressed about her husband’s long hours at work. She felt they spent little time together as a couple and that he was of little help at home. This infuriated her. Every evening when he returned for work, her anger got the best of her and she criticized him for bailing out on her. Inevitably, the evening would be ruined. The last thing he wanted to do after a long day at work was to deal with problems the moment he walked in the door.
“Although she understood this, she was so hurt and angry about his long absence that she felt her anger was justified. She wanted a suggestion from me about how to get her husband to be more attentive and loving. She was at her wit’s end.
“I told her I could completely understand why she was frustrated and that, if I were in her shoes, I would feel exactly the same way. However, I wondered if she could imagine how her husband might feel about her nightly barrage of complaints. ‘He probably wishes he didn’t have to come home,’ she said. ‘Precisely,’ I thought to myself. I suggested she try an experiment.
“‘Tonight, when he comes home, surprise him with an affectionate greeting. Don’t complain. Just tell him you’re happy to see him. Do something thoughtful that you haven’t done in a long time, even if you don’t feel like it.’ ‘You mean like fixing him his favorite meal or giving him a warm hug? I used to do that a lot.’ ‘That’s exactly what I mean,’ I told her. She agreed to give it a try.
The ‘Change’ Experiment
“Two weeks later she returned to my office and told me about the results of her ‘experiment.’ ‘That first night I met him at the door and without a word, gave him a huge hug. He looked astounded, but curious. I made his favorite pasta dish, which was heavy on the garlic, so he smelled the aroma when he walked in. Immediately, he commented on it and looked pleased.
“‘We had a great evening together. It was the first in months. I was so pleased by his positive reaction that I felt motivated to keep being ‘the new me.’ Since then, things between us have been so much better, it’s amazing. He’s come home earlier and he’s even calling me from work just to say hello. I can’t believe the change in him.’
“The moral of this story is obvious. It’s a law of relationships. If you aren’t getting what you need from your loved one, instead of trying to convince him or her to change, why not change your approach to the situation? If what you’re doing (talking to your partner about the error of his/her ways) hasn’t been working, no matter how sterling your logic, you’re not going to get very far. Be more flexible and creative. Spend more time trying to figure out what might work as opposed to being bent on driving your point home. You might be pleasantly surprised.
“Remember, insanity has been defined as doing the same old thing over and over expecting different results.”
The One Motivated to Change
Here’s another point Michelle makes on this subject:
“I generally assume that one spouse is more motivated than the other to work on the marriage —read self-help books, take marriage education classes, and so on— and believe that it’s truly possible for one person to trigger positive relationship change single-handedly. My experience has taught me that I don’t need both spouses in order to help couples improve their marriages.
“I just need one motivated spouse. Relationships are such that if one person changes, the relationship changes. So I show people how to approach their partners in more productive ways. Often this triggers a solution avalanche. However, when both spouses are willing to read the books or attend a marriage education class, it will mean that you’ll have a shared perspective and similar ideas about what real change in marriage requires. But the operative word here is willing.
“If your spouse has pulled away and lets you know, ‘I love you but I’m not in love with you,’ or if you’re already doing the ‘Last Resort Technique’, your asking him/her to read a book will probably be viewed as chasing. Chasing a reluctant spouse can be like opening the door to let him or her out of the marriage. If your spouse has told you to back off, don’t ask him or her to read a book.
Asking Instead of Insisting
“If on the other hand, things aren’t quite as rocky, you can consider asking your spouse to read it. Don’t insist —just ask. Some people have made more progress by leaving the book around the house in a conspicuous place rather than asking directly. You might just pique your spouse’s curiosity. But you shouldn’t make reading the book an issue. That could be detrimental.
“And one more thing —don’t assume that if you’re the only one reading the book that it’s a less-than-desirable situation or that your chances of reconciliation are worse. They aren’t. Ultimately, you have to be the catalyst for change whether your spouse reads the book or not. You have to change you. So, get started. Read all you can and put to use what you learn.”
(You can read more articles by Michele Weiner-Davis by visiting her web site at Divorcebusting.com.)
Try Something New
Too often we try our method of communicating; but we eventually give up thinking it’s hopeless. However, with God, nothing is hopeless… nothing is impossible. (See: Luke 1:37 and Luke 18:27.) As someone once said:
“God is able to create and re-create —and when we think everything is dead —that’s when He can do something exciting!”
That goes along with an article that Gary Thomas wrote. If you’re wrestling with the issue of being the one to change his article is an excellent one to read. Here’s a link:
We’re told in the Bible: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.“ (Galatians 6:9)
We pray you will not “become weary in doing good.”
“May the Lord direct your heart into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” (2 Thessalonians 3:5)
Cindy and Steve Wright
Please Note: We featured most of this info as a Marriage Message a number of years ago. We’re featuring it again as an Insight because we believe it needs to be repeated. But we also encourage you to read the comments posted below this Insight because they are quite compelling to read, as well.
— ADDITIONALLY —
To help you further, we give a lot of personal stories, humor, and more practical tips in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else. It gives you the opportunity to help them grow their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the picture below:
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