Focus on the Family

How Can I Change My Spouse?

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Before you married, you saw shadows of irritating behaviors, but figured you'd get used to them over time. Well, you haven't.

A psychologist named Dr. Negri once decided his fiancée needed to change. Figuring he’d get an early start, he set out to remake the woman before they married. In therapy sessions he attempted to mold his patient, 30 years younger, into the perfect spouse.

After treatment was completed, they married. But the therapy seemed to fail as soon as he got the wedding ring on her finger.

She didn’t want to wash the dishes or vacuum. Dr. Negri often had to watch their baby because his wife refused. The couple ended up in divorce court.

The psychologist said that he made one mistake when he took on the transformation. He forgot to do therapy on himself.

By now you may have noticed certain “flaws” in your spouse. Before you married, you saw shadows of irritating behaviors, but figured you’d get used to them over time—or you’d get your spouse to change.

Well, you haven’t.

There are primarily two reasons why you might want to change your spouse.

  1. You want to see your spouse replicate your actions. If you squeeze the toothpaste from the bottom of the tube, or put the toilet seat cover down, you probably want your spouse to do so, too. It’s easy to approach differences with the attitude that your way is the right way.
  2. You want your spouse to meet your needs. The more needy you are, the more likely you have a detailed agenda of what you want those changes to look like.

Which of these reasons applies to you?

Maybe you want your spouse to be like you. But consider the truth that many factors account for the differences between mates—family background, gender, cultural variations, temperament. God could have created clones if He wanted spouses to be carbon copies of each other. Instead, He wants you and your unique qualities to work with your spouse’s unique characteristics.

It’s a bit like vision. Close one eye; what happens? You lose depth perception cues. That’s because you’re viewing things from only one angle. When you look with two eyes, the slightly different vantage points of each eye turn your vision into a 3-D experience.

Instead of trying to make your mate “see things your way,” you can benefit from having different perspectives. If you and your spouse view a situation from slightly different vantage points, you can blend those views and see things more accurately than either of you could individually.

Do you want your spouse to change in order to meet your needs? It’s not unreasonable to want your needs met. But it is unreasonable to see your spouse as your private genie.

In Philippians 2:4 Paul says, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Are you as concerned about responding to your spouse’s interests as you are with how your interests can be served?

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to see your spouse change and grow. People are like trees; if we’re not growing, we’re probably dead. But you can only change you!

That doesn’t mean there are no limits to what’s appropriate in a marriage. You don’t need to accept abusive behavior. Physical aggression toward a spouse is never right. Name-calling and belittling words also violate the God-given value to be reflected toward a mate.

What if you want change for reasons that aren’t selfish?

In an effort to coax constructive change in a spouse, many resort to manipulation. They leave pamphlets or books around in the hope that the spouse will get the hint. Don’t take that route.

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.

Consider the case of Bill and Sue. For the first few years of their marriage, Bill saw their differences as a threat to his “headship.” He tried unsuccessfully to “get her in line.”

Finally Bill realized that his job was not to change Sue. He tried voicing his concerns constructively to her: “I know that there’s been a lot going on for you lately, but I feel frustrated when clothes are left lying around the apartment. Is it something I can help you with?”

When Bill gave Sue the freedom to see issues from her viewpoint, he found that in the areas that mattered most she was willing to make adjustments. He also realized that many changes he’d thought necessary were not.

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