Whenever I finish speaking to a group about marriage, a few people always say to me, "I wish my spouse could hear this. He/she is the one who really needs to hear it." These are the same people who constantly shake their heads while I'm speaking. They're thinking, "My spouse, my spouse, my spouse." Instead, they need to be thinking, "Granted, my spouse may play a huge role in this issue, but what can / do to change?"
It's normal to shy away from responsibility, especially when it looms large. Your spouse is an easy target to blame. It does take two to tango, and it your spouse isn't "into it," you may shrug and determine it's no use. But the beauty of marriage is that even one person can make enormous changes. This does not mean you are the main problem. Rather, because marriage is predicated on loving energy, either spouse can cause change by refocusing that energy in another direction. If you change the way you relate to your spouse, then you are concretely changing the relationship. Your spouse will respond.
If your spouse is stuck in negative behaviors, you can turn that around by making changes in yourself. If you want your spouse to be willing to change, change yourself first. For example, your mate may be unconsciously too scared to make him- or herself vulnerable to you and this relationship. You will directly soften that fear by showing how much energy you are committed to putting forth. You're saying, "Come on in, the water's fine. You don't have to worry about opening yourself up emotionally to me only to find that I won't meet you halfway. I'm going first. I want this to work for both of us."
Of course, you do make yourself vulnerable by making changes without an equal commitment from your spouse. But it's a decision you must make for the sake of love and family. And it's a safe risk because the odds are in your favor. When you show your spouse you are willing to place loving energy into this relationship, it becomes contagious. Your behavior can create a safe haven for love, one that helps your spouse feel touched by, and more connected to, you. Most of the time, all someone needs is a little push. You are going to give your spouse a huge push-but not one that says, "Get up off your butt and start loving me." You are going to offer the best motivation for love the world has ever known by saying, "I love you," plain and simple, through your new behavior.
Don't underestimate how you can free up your spouses loving energy just by making the adjustments asked of you in this book. Sooner than later, your spouse will wonder, "What's going on? I'm starring to like this. I could get used to this loving focus." Your spouse will want to know more about your changes and how to become a part of it all. Then you can include your mate in the loop and begin to read and discuss the issues in this book together. You rook a relatively small chance and the returns were dramatic.
You Know More Than You Think
Marriages falter for many reasons. Often spouses end up holding back their love. They never learned what giving really means, or perhaps they have been hurt too much to be able to offer their full selves. By the time couples end up in my office, they're usually in a holding pattern, waiting to see the other one change. They've tried and tried to make things work but feel as though they've been hitting their head against a wall. Their dreams of an idyllic marriage have faded. They're tired and don't believe there's much else to do. I make the following two obviously simple but important points.
1. If you keep trying the same thing, you're not trying. Trying the same thing over and over hundreds of times doesn't constitute trying hundreds of times. It something isn't working, by all means try something else. If you've been trying to send the same message to your spouse over and over again, stop it. Be hopeful now, because you can make new attempts in new ways. I'll show you how.
2. You know exactly what to do-you're just not doing it. The first time I meet with a couple for marital counseling together, each spouse never hears anything new. They've each heard it again and again and can almost always repeat it verbatim. These people come to me to tell them what to do. What do you say to your teenage children when they're fighting? "Just work it out," right? "It your sister is complaining about your put-downs, stop making them. If your brother doesn't like you broadcasting his personal affairs, stop doing it. If you each need help from one another, just bury the hatchet already and give it." Wise words for your children-far wiser for yourself. Often spouses have drawn an emotional line in the sand that holds them back from doing exactly what they know they need to do. Now it's time to do it. Show your spouse that love is the priority by making changes in the way the two of you relate.
Making your marriage work ain't rocker science. It's focused energy that can't help but make the two of you trust, love, and care more for each other.
Most everyone wonders about everyone else. We wonder if there are other people out there more sensitive, more giving, more financially secure, kinder, less angry than our spouse. We create an image of the neighbors spouse who has it all together, who requires so much less maintenance than our own spouse. Don't be fooled. There is no perfect person or marriage. Did you ever notice how surprised you are when you find out one of your friends is having marital problems? Or your friend tells you he or she was abused as a child, is using drugs, or is about to claim bankruptcy? You're shocked because you allowed yourself to imagine that a public image is always consistent with a private life. People always put their best foot forward in public. You have no idea what's really going on behind closed doors, nor should you. But never mistake privacy for perfection.
If you're considering divorce, expecting to trade in for a better model, beware. Every model has problems. You have private problems and weaknesses you don't announce to others. Let me let you in on a secret. So does your spouse and every other person. But you can work it out within your marriage.
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