Start a “change reaction” in your relationship by changing yourself first.

It’s easy to see how couples get stuck when ‘being right’ has become a habit. Clinging to our ‘right to be right’ is like gangrene in a relationship — it eats away at our intimacy by destroying our willingness to be vulnerable and open with each other.

Insanity has been described as doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result. If you’re stuck in your relationship, stop the insanity and start doing something effective to make it better: start a ‘change reaction’ by changing yourself first.

All relationships are dynamic. When one person changes, the relationship changes and that leads to change in the other person too. Let’s look at three common scenarios.

Scenario 1: He/she doesn’t spend enough time with you

When you constantly criticise your spouse because they don’t spend enough time with you, can you really blame them for not being in a hurry to get home? If you’re in the habit of criticism, you are unpleasant company, and your spouse will likely avoid you out of self-protection. Working late, community activities, doing things with the kids, hobbies, even sitting in traffic will be more attractive than being at home with a cranky spouse.

So do something different. Stop criticising your spouse for being absent, and start working on making the little time you do have together more enjoyable. It will feed your spirit and will more than likely attract your spouse into being more available.

Scenario 2: He/she won’t change an ANNOYING habit!!!

What do you do about your spouse’s annoying habit of ____ (fill in the blank)? You nag, you berate, you make jokes about it to embarrass him or her into changing, but they obstinately refuse to budge. It’s driving you wild.

How about a change in tactic? Instead of using humiliation and manipulation, demonstrate some goodwill by kicking one of your annoying habits (you know you’ve got them!). Prove you care and want to be more loving, by developing yourself into a better, more likable spouse.

And if they don’t respond? Surprise them by kicking another annoying habit! Keep going, improving yourself — you’ll feel better about the person you are becoming, and your good nature will be a better motivator of change than your surliness.

Scenario 3: The unwanted argument that seems to ambush you when you least expect it.

What about those argument/conflict patterns? It starts with a careless comment or a sharp word. The other reacts by volleying the hurt right back. Before you know it, you’re going down the well-worn path of wounded isolation. You don’t want to go, and neither of you planned it, but soon you’re saying things and thinking things you regret.

Time to change the script. When your spouse serves you a sharp comment, instead of hitting back, do something different. Pull the ball out of play for a time out. Try a gently toned — ‘Hey Hon, what’s going on for you?’ or ‘Ouch, that hurt my feelings. Did you intend to do that?’ For a radical disruption to the argument, try bringing some humour into the dynamic — tickle your spouse, blow a raspberry, tell them how sexy they are when they’re angry, sing your response.

Making a Change

Do this thought experiment: is there something you could do personally that would make your relationship worse? We can think of many things, like being rude, leaving our mess in the lounge room, teasing the other, refusing to help the other with a chore or breaking a promise to one of the kids. And that’s just the mundane things — try flirting with someone else at a party, going on a violent rampage, or cleaning out the bank account on a spending spree for an even bigger impact.

The point is, if we can singlehandedly change our relationship for the worse, without the collaboration of our spouse, we can singlehandedly change it for the better too. We don’t need their cooperation to make it worse and we don’t need it to make it better either. So stop using your spouse’s unwillingness to join you in a marriage-improvement plan as an excuse. Just get started.

It really doesn’t matter who makes the first move in a positive ‘change reaction’. It’s simply a matter of getting underway. Change is contagious — once one person initiates a different way of being in relationship, the other is invited to adapt.

All change, of course, should be a move towards your spouse and in the direction of deeper intimacy. When the change is made with love and with the intention of service, the adaptation in our spouse is also positive.

When our relationship gets stuck, instead of trying to convince our spouse to change, it’s better to change our approach to the situation. When ‘our right to be right’ is getting us nowhere, it’s time to do something different.

We can choose to be more pragmatic, flexible, creative and generous. When we quit trying to drive our point home, we can focus our energy on being the spouse in which our loved one will delight.

Questions for Reflection:

  1. What could you do to be more fun for your spouse to be around you?
  2. What habit of yours that your spouse finds annoying are you prepared to kick this week?
  3. How do you usually react when your spouse says or does something hurtful or annoying? How can you respond differently next time?


Originally published at SmartLoving. Photo by Mikhail Nilov.

About the Author: Byron and Francine Pirola

Married for 25 years, with 5 children, Byron & Francine Pirola are the founders and co-authors of the SmartLoving Series – marriage enrichment and marriage preparation courses designed to help build successful and resilient marriages. International speakers and authors of numerous articles on marriage, more than 3000 couples have attended their programs, workshops and conferences in Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain Byron & Francine are Executive Directors of the Marriage Resource Centre from which they run SmartLoving programs and produce digital resources. Francine graduated from Fordham University with a Masters in Religion and Religious Education. Byron is a founding partner of the strategic consulting firm, Port Jackson Partners Limited, and a Director of both listed and unlisted companies. He holds a PhD from the Commonwealth Centre for Gene Technology, Adelaide University.

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