SOURCE: Taken from an article by Joshua Straub
. . .I decided to pull together the five action steps I immediately give couples in distress after listening to their story. One of the most common themes, when a person first asks for help, is an explanation of what the other person is or isn’t doing in the relationship.
Now remember, these five steps are always given to the one spouse who desires change, but doesn’t know what to do because the other person isn’t willing.
If this you, I’m sorry you’re in such a predicament. But let me encourage you—you can change your spouse!
1. It begins by understanding one principle—the only person you can change is you.
You cannot directly change or fix your spouse. But you can change how you interact with your spouse, which in turn, will indirectly require him to make a decision about how he responds to you. That said, when it’s the wife coming for help, I always start by sharing with her this verse:
Wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. 1 Peter 3:1-4.
In other words, don’t preach to him. It will only push him further away. Don’t make him feel any more like a failure than he probably already does. Shame won’t change him.
2. Begin praying each day for your spouse, specifically that the Lord would show you how He sees your spouse. Don’t allow your situation or your spouse’s action (or inaction) make you grow bitter and resentful.
The most effective way of regaining empathy and genuine concern for your spouse is praying that God shows you a glimpse of who your spouse is in His eyes—the hurt, the loneliness, and the pain she must feel.
Pray this prayer multiple times daily, especially when you’re frustrated.
3. Give up blame. The single biggest obstacle to couples connecting is blame. This is a hard one, especially if your spouse wrongly blames you. But resist the temptation to become defensive and cast blame in return.[i] Otherwise, the defensive walls will grow stronger, and your spouse won’t change.
4. Seek to understand the motivation behind your spouse’s heart and actions. Rarely, unless your spouse is abusive, will she say something to intentionally hurt you.
Instead, hurtful words and actions are usually emotionally charged, yet bad attempts at getting our spouse to connect with us (because we’re still protecting the walls around our own hearts).
But it just pushes her further away—and she doesn’t change.
I recently wrote a blog called How 15 Minutes is Changing My Marriage to describe how to connect at this level each day. Practice this—even if it’s just you for a while.
5. Finally, take the Golden Rule and replace the word “treat” with the word “understand.”
That is: “Understand others the way you want to be understood.”
In order for your spouse to begin opening up with you about his own hurts and fears, he needs to feel safe and not like he’s blowing it as a husband and dad (or for her, as a wife and mom). The more your spouse feels understood by you, the more he’ll begin to open up over time.
That said, all five of these actions foster one thing: emotional safety. And it’s emotional safety that predicts marital satisfaction.
The safer you are for your spouse, the more likely your spouse will change.
Note: [i] To go deeper than these five steps, I would highly recommend David Burns’ book Feeling Good Together: The Secret to Making Troubled Relationships Work.