I’ve been coaching couples for a quarter of a century. Relationships that began as exciting, loving, and compatible can transform over time into something unrecognizable. Excitement gives way to monotony, love turns to disappointment, thoughtfulness is exchanged for arrogance, and compatibility concedes to conflict.
In an attempt to regain their initial joy, spouses may resort to pointing out the flaws in the other, hoping their partners will acknowledge and fix what is wrong with them to resolve the marital discord. Some brazenly demand that the other person change. Each arrogantly believes that the root of their problems lies within the other, thus failing to take ownership for personal imperfections. Demanding that others change rarely produces positive results. More often than not, it leads to resentment, increased conflict, and discontent.
Fortunately, there is a better way to renovate and revitalize your relationship. Simply ask your partner two thought-provoking questions … and be willing to listen attentively to the response.
- “What is it like (for you) being with me?” This question provides valuable insight as to how your partner is experiencing the relationship. Does he feel comfortable and at ease or is he walking on eggshells, afraid of upsetting you? Does she feel important or consider herself a burden? Is he viewed as your equal or subordinate? Is she free to be honest without fear of criticism; comfortable enough to be authentic without condemnation; supported by you in all of her endeavors? Your spouse’s response reveals how he or she perceives the relationship. While not a criticism of you per se, this process enables you to understand more fully how you are impacting the other person’s life.
Intent: This question provides valuable insights into the nature of the relationship and your role in both the uplifting and distressing components.
- “What can I change about myself or do differently to make our relationship better for you?” (“For you” is the preeminent phrase.) We all know that it is both offensive and futile to ask other people to change, which suggests that there is something inherently wrong with them. However, when people intentionally ask what they can change about themselves (with regard to what they are doing or how they are doing it, not who they are), it illustrates their strong desire to improve the marriage. Additionally, it reveals their sensitivity, commitment, and love for their spouse.
Intent: This question seeks specific suggestions as to how to make tangible changes for the betterment of both parties. It removes all conjecture on the part of the inquirer and provides a definitive road map for an improved relationship.
Couples mistakenly believe that they should not have to change for their spouse – that each should be loved and accepted exactly as they are. Yet change inspires growth, and any relationship that is not growing is in danger of dying. While this exercise may seem intimidating, the alternative is an unhealthy marriage lacking permanence. And that is a far more distressing option.