“For better or worse” or some version, are the words most couples promise when they say “I do”. However, this doesn't mean that we never ask for change in marriage. If iron sharpens iron, and we stretch to become a better version of ourselves through marriage, then something will be changing. Happily married couples often acknowledge that they are a BETTER version of themselves as a result of encouragement from their partner.
On the flip side, it is not our job to change our spouse drastically, making them into a version that conforms to expectations far different than who they really are. Demanding that your spouse change jobs/take up a hobby/dress a certain way usually has a selfish motivation.
Get the conversation started
So how do we know what's ok to change and what isn't? Here are some thoughts to get the conversation started.
- Asking for some change in your partner should be infrequent. If you have a laundry list of things that bother you, something else is likely going on. Or maybe you are a perfectionist and need to learn to let go of some things. (Ouch, sorry, did I step on your toes?)
- Core family values can guide these discussions. What is the best thing for US? (see Love Is Not Enough). For example, if you've decided as a couple that regular family dinners are important, and one of you is consistently late, or dinner isn't ready on time, then the issue can be addressed from the perspective of the joint decision you made. Did they really agree? Is there some reason they say they agree, but their behavior says something else? There may need to be other adjustments made to accomplish the goal. I realize I bring up dinner a lot, because anyone with young children or babies knows that dinner time is code for “all hell is breaking loose”. Babies are fussy, kids are bored or fighting, and whoever is home at that time may be at their wit's end. So problem-solve together to accomplish what you want/need to make the intention a reality.
- Three magic words, when a change has been requested and continues to be ignored: HELP ME UNDERSTAND…why you aren't able to honor this request/keep this priority, etc.
- Individual change requests should be FEW and far between. On a scale of 1-10, 10 being “I'm going to lose my mind if you don't stop _____!!”, where does this behavior fall? Are you willing to live with it if it never changes (a 10 is probably something to pay attention to)? Is this a non-negotiable in the relationship? Again, there aren't many non-negotiables, so choose carefully what hill you're willing to die on, or risk ending your marriage over.
- Phrase the requested change in a positive way. “If you could make the effort to be home by 6, it would make the evening run so much smoother with 4 hands to help get dishes, baths, and stories done. And I wouldn't be so tired.” The saying, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar” rings true here. Present your request in a way that has some shared benefit, when possible.
- Some changes may feel selfish. The change request may be asking your spouse to serve, and have no immediate benefit for them. Maybe one of you decides to run a marathon–a pretty big commitment of time and focus. So you ask your partner to take over some task/responsibility for a time so this goal can be realized. Your partner doesn't gain anything, specifically (unless they agree to run with you!) But there is a sense of shared accomplishment that both can celebrate at the finish line.
What are some ways you have changed for the benefit of your relationship/marriage? Have you ever resented something your partner has requested? How did you handle that? Are there ways you are a better version of yourself as a result of the give & take in marriage?