When we feel understood, honored and loved, we are more likely to listen to other’s concerns about changing an aspect of our personalities. How does this work?
Step One: Ask yourself: does my spouse feel that I love, nurture, appreciate and celebrate who s/he is?
Step Two: Ask yourself: do I want my spouse to change because what s/he is doing is objectively wrong or because I just don’t like it? Many of the things people argue about are not objectively wrong, rather, something that reflects the idiosyncrasies of the spouse, i.e., the infamous socks, empty gas tank, or being late because it takes longer to get dressed. This covers about 90% of issues, no exaggeration. So, what about the other 10% that you objectively believe still requires change?
Step Three: Speak to your spouse with love and without expectation that change is necessary for your marriage to thrive. You can say, “I have a mini heart attack at the end of each month when the bills come. Perhaps we could figure out where and how we spend our money.” Then you might be able to bring up expenses to cut back on, and areas where your spouse might think about being more cost-conscious.
Begin to model health. If you are upset at your spouse because s/he yells at the children, spends money on frivolous things, leave a mess, etc., make sure that you aren’t guilty of the same. This doesn’t mean you cannot raise the subject, but introspect first, as we often find faults in others that we have, too. We are much more forgiving and accepting of our own faults than others.
The simple rule is, if you have developed a loving relationship because you have learned to nurture each other, then the natural reaction is to try to please each other – which includes changing oneself. It is almost as reliable as a mathematical formula.
I knew an old couple in Israel whose wife would buy excessive amounts of food that would inevitably go bad and be thrown away. Both Holocaust survivors, it was probably her way of coping with her past. He tried to get her to change, but eventually realized that she could not change… and simply loved her because he loved her. Not because she did or didn’t change.
To identify someone’s shortcomings is easy, but choosing to love your spouse means to love him or her because you choose to love, identify, celebrate, support and nurture his or her uniqueness.
When we choose love in the present, we are also choosing love for our children in the future. If they see us living a life filled with choices and attitudes that creates love, then our children will absorb this and choose love for themselves and for their children.