When you married, your spouse seemed perfect. Since then, you’ve discovered an upsetting habit. Or she’s given up vegan for keto. Or he’s stopped exercising and put on 60 pounds. Maybe Mr. Chill loses his cool when job stress goes up. Or perimenopause has messed with her libido.
Or perhaps (really?) you married thinking, “That’s OK. I can change him.” Or her. Or them.
And now you’re trying to find that magic method for getting another human being to live their life the way you would choose to live it.
If you have tried “change or I’ll divorce you” or another ultimatum, it’s likely nothing’s changed. Or you’re single, looking for someone who lives life exactly the way you like it: burp-free, kind to their mother but not at the expense of your time together or your spare bedroom, happy, healthy, ready for sex when you want it.
Let me offer a better approach. Definitely not guaranteed, as we humans really do disagree about the best way to live. For example, no matter how much I love the outdoors, I’m not voluntarily living in a tent for any length of time now that I’m 71.
Start with the big goal. Most of the changes we want are little compared to the big goal of sharing life with someone we can trust, admire, and feel close to.
If your spouse refuses to see a doctor, what you’re worried about is losing that shared life. How silly is it to skip enjoy each day of that life to worry? And how inviting is it, really, to prolong a life married to someone busy worrying and nagging instead of enjoying life and staying closely connected?
The best way to invite your spouse to make a change turns out to be making a change in your own life. I recommend a change that makes whatever you seek more inviting. For example, instead of “why don’t you turn off that movie and get off your butt to exercise, so you’ll stay in as good shape as I do?” you could try switching up the ways and hours that you exercise until one looks inviting to your spouse. Instead of criticizing the change in your mate’s diet, try sounding interested in it and in the reasons for trying it. If job stress has turned Mr. Chill into a “get off my lawn!” grump, try changing up your after work and weekend routines until you find one that works.
If you just asked me, “Why am I the one who has to change?” my answer is simple. You don’t have to change. You have the option to change. If you change (and time has already shown you that your spouse, for whatever reason, cannot or will not change), you may feel closer, more trusting, and more admiring when your spouse responds to your change. And that’s the goal.
Consider this: your spouse changed. Or what you know of your spouse changed. And how did you change in response? Did you find yourself more admiring, more trusting, closer? No? Then how about another change now? One more likely to take your relationship in those directions?
Want help coming up with which way to change your own behavior? Start with Assume Love to see if you can find the reason for your partner’s change. Try to Expect Love and let go of any unrealistic or narrow ideas of how people should love each other. And Find Third Alternatives for your behavior that will make it easier or more likely that your spouse will try changing theirs.