What You Can Change about Your Spouse (and What You Can't)
- You can’t change the essence of a person
- What couples fight about
- Tips for handling marital conflict
In the late 90s, an off-Broadway musical ran with the title I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. While the title is humorous, it could be the theme of many relationships.
The trajectory of a marriage often goes like this:
- You meet
- You fall helplessly in love
- You get married
- You wonder what you were thinking when you embarked on #3
How could you have thought that spending the rest of your life with this person was a good idea considering how very different the two of you are? How did you not realize this during #2? And how, given the promise you made to be married for life, can you get your spouse to change?
Answer: You probably can’t.
You can’t change the essence of a person
A person’s essence is the set of characteristics and qualities that make them uniquely who they are. This typically remains pretty constant throughout life. Your essence is what gives you substance and permanence in a continually changing environment.
And if you do change your essence, it’s usually because you wanted to do it, not because you had it foisted upon you by someone else.
Demanding that someone else change for you is 1) not fair, 2) not respectful to who they are, 3) not really your choice, and 4) (usually) an exercise in futility.
If the core of your spouse is something you don’t like, divorce may be an inevitable consequence. Unfortunately, many of us stumble after the starry-eyed part of the relationship when we’re finally confronted with the reality of who we’re in a relationship with.
What couples fight about
Division of labor
People grow up in different kinds of households. Whereas you may have grown up in a home where parents shared the housework, your spouse may have grown up in a home where the wife was in charge of hearth and home. Maybe your spouse’s father worked 9 to 5 at the office while their mother assumed the title of homemaker.
Today, couples both tend to work outside the home. Given that, most couples want the division of at-home labor to be fair. But it doesn’t always work out that way. One spouse may end up doing a lot more home chores than the other.
If this happens to you, consider blaming the situation rather than your spouse. Perhaps both of you have slipped into the habits of your upbringing instead of dividing household tasks in a fair way.
At the beginning of a relationship, couples often have no idea about each other’s spending habits or income. They’re too busy courting, enjoying surprise gifts and weekend getaways. Given this, imagine one spouse’s surprise when the person who once took them to fancy restaurants now gets angry if they buy something without a coupon!
If you’re upset by your spouse’s spending habits, consider sitting down with your finances together. When you’re both on the same page about money and savings goals, it’s easier to adapt your behaviors and make joint goals.
What is thoughtful behavior? Well, it means different things to different people. In his book, The 5 Love Languages, author and therapist Gary Chapman makes a case for how different people show their love in different ways – their “love language.” One partner may attempt to show love in a way that does not register on the other person’s radar, leading to feelings of disappointment and frustration.
For example, while you may need quality alone time together to feel loved, your partner might show their love by consistently arriving home each night by 6:00, taking out the trash twice a week, and mowing the lawn without fail.
Instead of labeling the other person as “thoughtless,” consider that you and your spouse may simply not be speaking the same love language. If you take time to communicate and understand each other’s needs, it’s easier to adjust behaviors in the ways that matter to them.
Tips for handling conflict in marriage
Marriage is two personalities trying to live in harmony with each other. With those separate personalities come different backgrounds, ways of communicating, and opinions about what is important. There will always be some level of conflict. It’s how you handle that conflict that can make or break your relationship.
Instead of trying to change your spouse, try to understand both sides. Give up the notion that you must bring your spouse to your side to feel like you’ve “won.”
- Investigate the source of the conflict without placing blame.
- Deal with one issue at a time without throwing everything “wrong” into the arena at once.
- Brainstorm viable solutions that work for both partners
- Agree on the best possible solution, even if neither person “wins.”
- Carry out the solution instead of leaving the problem out there to hang over your heads and continue to resurface.
- Follow up as a couple to see if the solution worked or what you could change to make it better for both partners.
The tips above will help some couples but not others. But it’s important to recognize that both people came together and tried to make it work as a partnership, not as adversaries.
It’s not always possible to maintain a successful marriage with someone who is very different from yourself. And, it’s possible that your spouse simply doesn’t value your opinion or care if your needs are met. It is in these moments that you may realize you probably won’t change your partner despite any potential you may have seen in the past.
If you and your spouse have reached an impasse, divorce may be the solution. But even divorce doesn’t have to be full of conflict. Let us help. At Hello Divorce, we are dedicated to bringing conflict-free online divorce options to people who just want to end their marriage peacefully and go their separate ways.
If you’re interested in divorce without all the traditional drama and expense, be sure to check out our online divorce plans, services, and resources. You can also schedule a free 15-minute call to talk about and understand your options.
Ready to re-discover yourself with coaching or therapy?
Our FREE checklist can help you find the right fit.
Download our checklist of questions to ask a potential therapist or coach today.