Saving a marriage is a two-pronged process.
At this point, you are saying one of two things to yourself.
You may be saying “absolutely, I need to make some changes!”
But more likely, you are thinking “why should I have to change? What about my spouse? Why doesn’t my spouse have to change?”
That is a fair question. Just not helpful. Would it be great if BOTH you and your spouse changes yourself? Absolutely.
But you are the one that is here. You are the one looking for help on how to save your relationship.
At a deeper level, though, a response that is about “why do I have to change?” also notes why we don’t change. We are keeping score, looking at what the other needs to do.
For myself, I am quick to acknowledge that there are always some areas I could improve. There are always areas of growth and development.
In fact, some days, I am constantly tripping over the multitude of things I need to change about myself!
Part of what I see as the task of life is to always be growing and developing. We ALL have places where we fall short.
So, just for a moment, if you are objecting to you having to change, let’s just set that aside. Instead, see this as an opportunity to grow, to be a better person.
Which raises the question of why I think this is so important.
First, I have already stated my bias that life is about growth and development. As Ray Kroc said, “you are either green and growing or ripe and rotting.” I love that quote!
But second, in terms of the relationship, being a growing, changing, developing person is attractive. Being stale and stagnant is, well, repulsive.
And in the process of moving from wherever your relationship is to having a deep and satisfying relationship, my guess is that one element that needs to shift is that attraction. We all want our spouse to have that “in love” feeling toward us. That is based, in part, on being attractive (not necessarily physically).
Time to head for the mirror! Time to take a deep and long look into that mirror and ask “who do I need to become?”
One wrong answer: “whatever my spouse wants me to be.”
Right answer: “wow! I know I need to address these areas in order to be a better person!”
In my System, I discuss boundaries.
Boundaries are ways you protect yourself. A boundary is what you will not let someone else do to you, your marriage, or your family.
But there is a closely related term: Standards. Personal standards.
A standard is what you expect of yourself — the standard you hold.
For example, a standard may be “I am honest with everyone in all of my dealings.”
The space between where you are now and what your standard is, well that is your area of growth.
So, let’s start there. What do you expect of yourself, but don’t currently measure up:
How you treat other people.
How you treat your own body.
How you interact with the world.
The attitude that you take toward life.
etc., etc., etc.
Then ask this: “what do I hear from my spouse/kids/friends on how I act that upsets them?”
Years ago, my sister-in-law (who was my brother’s girlfriend at that time) made an off-handed comment about my sarcastic sense of humor. It was pointed and edgy.
I realized I did not want that to be my image. I set out to change that.
My family will tell you, I can still be sarcastic/ironic/cynical for humor. But it is nothing like it used to be! And when I notice I am moving in that direction again (usually because I notice I hurt someone’s feelings), I know it is time for a mid-stream readjustment.
What areas do you hear from others where you need to change?
By now, if you are honest with yourself, you have the targets. That is the starting point.
Time to work on those issues.
Don’t bite off more than you can chew, but start working on being the person you want to be.
Resist seeing it as all-or-nothing. It is about growth. Accept you will make mistakes and fall back into old patterns.
But over time, you will see that you are growing. You are becoming who you need to be. And guess what? Those around you will see it, too.
Which brings us to a final point: Do not TELL people how you have changed. Don’t try to get them to see it. Simply BE the change. Let them experience you differently. Let them discover you are different. Then, they will know it is legitimate.
Lee Baucom, Ph.D. is a best-selling author, therapist, coach and speaker, and has over a quarter of a century of experience helping couples and individuals learn to thrive in their relationships and their lives. He is the creator of the internet marriage program, Save The Marriage.