Q. How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?
A. One–but the light bulb has to really want to change.
One of the questions that comes up quite a bit is, how do I get my spouse to read this book/go to this conference/stop doing this activity/pay more attention to me? What it boils down to is, how do I get my spouse to change [their behavior to a behavior that I would prefer]? As the joke above suggests, it all depends on whether your spouse is willing to change.
Handing your spouse a book on marriage is a lot like handing your spouse a diet book, it doesn’t go over very well. Basically what it says to your spouse is this, I have a problem with our marriage and that problem is you. Now that may not be exactly how it is meant, but too often that is what is understood by the spouse that receives the book. During the first Family Life Weekend to Remember Conference my wife and I attended we both left with sore ribs. Each of us was so focused on what we wanted the other to hear that we missed the parts that we each needed to hear. And there’s the rub. For a marriage to change it takes two adults to take responsibility for themselves, their behavior and their marriage. Well, that’s the easiest way for it to change and that way isn’t exactly easy in itself.
One of the things I’ve said to people in the past is that if you don’t like the way that someone relates to you then you should change the way in which you relate to them. Boundaries in Marriage can give you some strategies for doing this. It’s important to remember when changing the way that you relate to your spouse is that the purpose is a better, more mature marriage and not a vindictive opportunity to pay them back. There is nothing mature about vindictive behavior.
We’ve all had it pounded into our head that communication in marriage is important, but it is difficult to set down with your spouse and bring up issues that you have within your marriage without it turning into an argument. How does one communicate when one of the partners in the marriage feels attacked? How do you communicate about your issue when your spouse suddenly wants to discuss the issues they have with you instead? To some degree this comes down to the individuals involved and just how mature they choose to behave. If we expect our spouse to respond to our issues then we have to be willing to do the same. It’s the mature thing to do.
In kindergarten we learned that it’s important to take turns and to share. Some learned those lessons better than others. If we’re mature enough to take turns dealing with each spouse’s issues and to share the floor without allowing the discussion devolving into an argument progress can be made. The key to remember in these heated moments is that the goal is not to win or get our way but to have a better, more mature marriage. If, in the end, that’s what happens the struggle to get there was worth the effort.
Is it time for you to change?