The Challenge of Change

One of the most damaging, yet common mistakes of getting married is thinking the other person will change after you get married. Most people don’t. What was once a cute little annoyance becomes a nerve-ripping fire starter when you have to live with it every day, day after day.

It’s one of the questions I ask couples during pre-marital counseling. “What is it that you hate about the other person?” Normally, people know instantly what it is about their fiancé that drives them up the wall. Then, I’ll ask another question: “Can you live with it?” Why do I ask that? Because most people don’t change, and if they do change, they don’t change much. Most of the time, what you see is what you get.

Having said that, there are those things that your spouse could do better. There are little changes, that if made, could make life a lot easier.

But here are two things we know about change. First, no one can change another person. We simply don’t have that power. Second, no one changes unless they really want to.

Ah, there’s the rub. How can we get our spouses to WANT to change?

First, we communicate what we need by taking ownership of what we’re asking.

For instance, we say, “It would help me if you did…” That works a lot better than, “You need to stop doing that!” There’s no nagging. No anger. Just a polite request for help.

Second, (and this is the fun part) we reward approximate behavior.

(I’ve stolen this insight from my professor and friend, Wade Rowatt.) Here’s what I mean. Any time your spouse gets CLOSE to the requested behavior, you celebrate. For instance, if your spouse is a slob and during the day they pick up one article of clothing, THAT’s what you celebrate! Yes, the rest of house is still a mess, but you don’t mention that. You simply tell your spouse that life is better because of that action.

Now, you’re thinking, “Mike, that won’t work. It’s silly and obvious.” Sure it is, but that’s half the point. When your husband picks up a pair of socks and you kiss him for his help, he’ll know what you’re doing, but it’ll feel so good he won’t care.

Yes, it’s a slow way to change, but it beats arguing and yelling at each other and nothing changing at all in the end.

So, give it try.

Ask for what you need, and then look for the smallest reason to celebrate.

Give it try. I’d love to hear your stories.