How Do I Get My Spouse to Change?

by Laura M. Brotherson, CFLE
a marriage and family life educator
certified by the
National Council on Family Relations,
Meridian Magazine

Jesus taught us to consider the beam in our own eye instead of the mote in our spouse's eye. The Lord tells us to work first on ourselves. (See Matthew 7:4-8.)

We might be tempted to list some fairly reprehensible behavior as proof that our spouse needs to change, but even that can reveal to us the self-righteousness and pride that are the beams in our own eyes.

Trying to get your spouse to change causes resentment in your spouse and weakens the marriage relationship. No one likes to be told what's wrong with them.

All Our Thoughts and Feelings Get Communicated

We know there are times when we intuitively sense another's thoughts or feelings. We even pick up vibes from others when they're interested in us, or we sense how our spouse is feeling at the end of a long day even before words are spoken.

What if communication is actually occurring between you and your spouse all the time, spirit-to-spirit? You don't even need to be consciously aware of it for the communication to occur. Consider this possibility the next time you are tempted to think or say ill of your spouse.

What if our negative thoughts and complaints about our spouses somehow act as a chain binding them down to the very behaviors we wish they would change? What if by changing our thoughts about them to more positive ones we remove the chains and free them to actually become what we want them to be?

Unconditional Love is the Greatest Agent for Change

We can increase the likelihood that our spouses will want to change by loving them unconditionally. We can best help someone (our self or our spouse) to behave better by helping him or her to feel better. When people feel loved, they behave more lovingly.

Think about what is most likely to get you to change. What happens when your spouse constantly nags you about something? It makes you want to not do it!

Loving Our Self Unconditionally
Allows Us to Love Our Spouse Unconditionally

Being able to love our spouse without conditions is built upon our ability to love and accept our self. If we are unhappy with our self, we are more likely to be unhappy with others. Those who learn to love themselves are more generous in giving love and acceptance to others. How we act is a good indicator of how we feel about ourselves. Likewise, how our spouse acts is a good indicator of how he or she feels about themselves.

One of the first useful steps in loving our spouse unconditionally is to love our self unconditionally. Where we personally have self-doubts or weaknesses, we are more apt to find those faults in others.

Once we can accept our good qualities, as well as our not-so-good qualities, it will be easier for us to extend the same tender mercy to our spouse and others.

Keeping both our self and our spouse in a state of love and acceptance, even with our imperfections, allows us to attract more of the good into our lives. "It's okay" is one of the sweetest things we can express to ourselves and to others. These words, given meaningfully, allow for mistakes and free us and others to willingly do better next time.

To Change Our Spouse We Must First Change Our Self

We often hear that to change another we must first change our self. But how is it possible that a change in our self can bring about a change in someone else? And how do we go about changing our self in hopes of affecting a change in our spouse?

The only power we have is in the realm of changing our self. We have the power to change our thoughts, conversations, beliefs, and behaviors, but we do not possess the power to directly change these things in anyone else, including our spouse.

We can change our reactions to our spouse by looking for the good instead of the faults, and by being quick to express appreciation for the good things they do. If we focus on the good, we'll get more of it. If we focus on the bad, we can get more of that too!

How do we know that by changing something in our self it will have any affect on our spouse? Any change we make, positive or negative, automatically changes the dynamics of the relationship. Science tells us that for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I believe this applies to human interaction. If we push, they will resist. If we allow, they will be more likely to draw nearer to us.

Whether our behavior is positive or negative, we can see that it usually brings about some kind of similar reaction in our spouse. Yet, amazingly we often treat our spouse badly, thinking it will somehow entice our spouse to behave better.

The Real Crux of the Matter

Even our expectations of others, though they be positive, can have the unintended effect of blocking the desired behavior.

Have you ever noticed that your want or need of something was so intense that it induced fear and anxiety that you'd never get it? When there is an emotional attachment to a desired outcome, the energy associated with it is negative.

For the best outcomes, our desires must be associated not with "causing" or "forcing," but with "allowing." Though it may seem counter-intuitive, we need to have a focused positive detachment (or neutral attachment) rather than be charged with negative emotion or urgency.

It's no easy task to maintain a positive belief about our spouse (especially when we have no evidence of it being forthcoming), but yet not let our emotions and hopeful expectations be felt as a psychological chain or unspoken demand on our spouse.

Any perception of pressure from you toward your spouse will inhibit their ability to freely respond as you desire.

"And how in the world can we do that?"

If we want our desires to ever come true, we must find the balance between focusing our positive desires on our spouse, while emotionally detaching ourselves from the outcome. And how in the world can we do that? Only the companionship of the Holy Ghost can teach us how. Not through any kind of studying or "Natural Man" reasoning, but through personal revelation.

If you love your spouse deeply enough, you can be taught, from that spirit of revelation, to relax your anxieties and answer the call to love unconditionally, without regard to considerations that are, in truth, more short-sighted and worldly. In fact, you are not merely taught; you are changed, reborn.

Believe the best about your spouse. Yet you must also let go of your righteous but inappropriate expectations and your innocent illusions about the nature of marital bliss.

How can righteous expectations be inappropriate? They can be based, understandably enough, on your own timetable and not the Lord's.

Can Our Progress Be Impeded
by Our Spouse's Shortcomings?

Rather than imagining our own eternal progress to be impeded by our spouse's shortcomings, our own eternal progress, especially in this light, depends on learning to love as the Savior loves. It's called "blooming where we are planted." This becomes an opportunity for the most exalted kind of growth, and it exceeds what our own natural desires and plans would have allowed us.

We are not required to mete out justice. In fact, quite the opposite: of us it is required to forgive. Our only righteous influence over others is through example, forebearance, mercy and love.

Focusing on our spouse's faults may seem easier, and might even appear fruitful for now. But any gains will be ill-wrought, more through Lucifer's empty plan of coersion than in harmony with the Eternal Plan of freely chosen progress and authentic joy.

While finding fault with our spouse is the path of least resistance, and the road of personal progress is more like climbing a mountain, remember that an increased capacity for Christ-like love means an increased capacity for enjoyment of Eternal Life.

The only growth that means anything comes from our (and their) own inward desires. Any changes imposed from outside are only a sham, a concession to convenience. Who would really want that from a spouse?

(edited by David Van Alstyne)
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