Is it possible to change your mate? When we got engaged, I thought my spouse could do no wrong. Now that we're married, I've become aware that the person of my dreams actually has some very annoying habits. How do I deal with this situation?
It's normal to be annoyed with your spouse's habits. It's also fairly common to discover that the two of you have conflicting personalities. What you need to remember is that you willingly chose to marry them, not just because you shared some similarities, but also for the differences. You felt the need to be completed by another person who is unlike you in some significant ways. The key is to work together to change the habits that can be changed and learn to accept those that can't.
In an effort to coax constructive change in their mate, some spouses resort to manipulative measures. They leave pamphlets or books around hoping their partner will get the hint. Don't take that route. Instead, if you have a concern, take ownership of your feelings. Voice them honestly and respectfully. Sometimes expressing them in a note can reduce defensiveness and cut through communication difficulties.
You need to also ask yourself why you want your spouse to change. Is it simply to please yourself or make them more like you? Would this change make things easier for you while causing your spouse to feel imprisoned? Or is your desire to eliminate behaviors that are actually preventing your partner from growing emotionally and spiritually? In other words, is your goal to liberate your spouse or to restrict their freedom?
Ultimately, nobody can change another person. The only person you can change is yourself. This doesn't mean, of course, that there are no limits to what's appropriate in a marriage: you don't need to accept abusive behavior, and physical aggression is not to be tolerated for a moment. Still, in the case of smaller, less harmful habits, it may be worth addressing the issue if you think the change would truly benefit both of you and put your relationship on a stronger footing. If you choose to move forward, be sure to keep the following guidelines in mind:
- Tackle the problem honestly. Don't beat around the bush. Instead, say something like, "Honey, it bothers me when you burp at the table. It teaches the kids a bad habit, and it's rude and offensive to guests."
- Explain the benefit of the change. For example, "Meals will be more pleasant for all of us, and you'll be a good example to our guests."
- Don't demand change. Instead, request it. Your spouse will respond more favorably.
- Don't attack your mate. When you attack your spouse, you crush their spirit. Confront the problem; don't belittle the person.
- Discuss ways to bring about the desired change. Change is hard for all of us. Let your spouse know that you're on his or her side. Help them find ways to alter bad habits.
- Encourage your spouse's growth. Acknowledge positive progress, and offer praise and expressions of appreciation for your mate's efforts.
- Recognize that change takes time. Be patient, and let your spouse know that you're in this together for the long haul.
- Focus on your spouse's good habits, not just the irritating ones. Look for the good in your mate. Remember Paul's exhortation in Philippians 4:8: "Whatever is honorable, pure, just, lovely … think on these things."
- Pray for your spouse. God is ultimately the one who makes change possible. So pray for your mate's efforts. And since some behaviors may never change, ask God to give you grace to accept the differences between you.
- Seek to change the habit, not the person. If you're trying to alter your spouse's personality or temperament, you'll be fighting a losing battle that will end in frustration for both of you.
If you'd like further help, call our Counseling department. Our staff would be happy to provide you with referrals to qualified counselors in your area who specialize in these types of marriage and family issues. They'd also consider it a privilege to discuss your situation with you over the phone.
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