By Shawn Boggs Counseling, LMFT
How and Why Change (Doesn't) Takes Place in Marriage
I once had a therapy supervisor who said, “No one wants change except a baby with a soiled diaper”. It’s true! In over 21 years of helping couples change, I rarely see anyone volunteer to “go first”. We all want the benefits of change as long as our spouses do the work. Unfair. Unrealistic. 15 yard penalty. It is the resistance to change that keeps couples from resolving their differences and additionally causes problems to fester. This is when they enter the office of a therapist. Aggravated. Stuck. Often unyielding.
Early in therapy, there is often “proof” offered as to who is the better spouse. It’s a well-worn and rehearsed speech, a ledger sheet formed over time. They literally can’t hear an alternative opinion because it doesn’t match their perfectly thought out argument. It takes the objective and caring viewpoint of a therapist to help each person out of that tunnel vision toward helpful change.
When people are more primed for helpful change, someone may still demand, “we both have to change” or “I’ll change if he/she changes first”. Let me share a freeing secret with you…both of you don’t need to change at the same time, though this is optimal. In fact, most of the time someone does go first- know who? The person with the greatest desire for change- the one who confronts one’s self (Schnarch, D. 1997). The spouse who can say, “Maybe my spouse is right about me on some things”, or “I need to understand more of what I do that blocks helpful change”. For example, the spouse who wants more sex and must decide if he or she is willing to initiate sex more often to meet that desire. Conversely, the spouse least interested in sex or being an initiator has little or no motivation to change. That person is settled and in control. If the partner who wants more sex is willing to confront himself/herself about being an initiator, that person’s sexual needs are more likely to be met. This helps resolve the problem without pressuring one’s spouse for accommodation. And pressuring your spouse for accommodation fails, too. Remarkably. So much of marriage is really personal development.
“What if I change but my spouse doesn’t?” I get that question a lot. I often answer with these three statements: 1) You changing made your marriage that much better by disrupting or ending the troubling cycle between you both. 2) You feel that much better as you release resentments and useless arguing. 3) You also increase the chance your spouse will make helpful changes as well, though no one can control what his/her spouse will do. I am convinced that much of marriage is about personal development. Many people to not understand this and so they pressure their spouses to change. But when you do understand this and take responsibility, you will find great freedom in your marital dilemmas.
So there it is. If you want change in your marriage, you change first.
For more blogs such as this one, visit me at www.shawnboggs.com
Shawn is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Grapevine, Texas with over 20 years’ experience.
Schnarch, David. 1997. Passionate Marriage: Love, Sex, and Intimacy in Emotionally Committed Relationships. Henry Holt and Company. New York.