The Key to Lasting Marital Change
This is the key to real, lasting love in your marriage: change yourself first and accept your mate unconditionally just the way he or she is. Then as you work with God to become more like Him, watch how your mate will eventually try to emulate you. But don’t do this just to change your mate; do it for yourself and for your own personal relationship with God. By taking responsibility for your actions and changing even small behaviors, you demonstrate unconditional love and thus create an emotionally secure atmosphere in which your marriage can thrive. Pushing your spouse to change in order to make you feel safer is hardly the way of unconditional love. When you want to change your mate, 99.99% of the time there’s a selfish motive behind it. Expecting him or her to change to meet your expectations is putting self first, and if your mate does the same thing, then you have two selves in conflict, each fighting to fulfill his or her own needs. The only way to improve the relationship is to shine the spotlight on yourself and expose your own faults and weaknesses. Your mate may not want to deal with his or her problems, but you will be surprised at how great an impact your own example can have when you choose to deal with your own. You must not give in to hopelessness and helplessness even if you are convinced that your partner is the real problem. Even if that is true, by changing yourself, you can affect things dramatically and positively. I can hardly wait for you to reach chapter 6, because there I’ll show you the easiest and fastest way possible to change anything about yourself.
Here’s why you will influence change in your mate when you change yourself. As one person makes changes, those changes have a ripple effect on the other simply because your lives are connected and interact at many levels. Over time, you and your mate have shaped each other’s behavior by consciously and unconsciously rewarding some behaviors and punishing others. Habits of behavior have been established. Patterns of relating ingrained. In every marriage these patterns cause the relationship to achieve a certain kind of complementary balance. I don’t mean it’s necessarily a formal balance with equality of happiness and responsibility on both sides. One partner may be very aggressive and even overbearing, while the other responds by becoming very passive and compliant. By balance I mean that the two partner’s attributes and responses adjust to accommodate each other. And they maintain some kind of equilibrium that way. Therefore, if one partner changes, the relationship changes, because the other automatically moves to adjust and maintain the balance.
So, when you take it upon yourself to change, you automatically change the balance of the marriage, and your mate must also change in order to maintain equilibrium. Even the slightest change is like adding a weight to one side of the balance. Your partner will sense the imbalance, feel uncomfortable, and adjust. I’ll admit that now and then the partner’s adjustment is for the worse. But not usually. When you make a truly positive change, it’s highly likely that the corresponding change your partner makes will also be positive.
There are two kinds of changes you can make to improve a relationship: you can either increase pleasure or decrease pain. To put it in behaviorist’s terms, you can eliminate undesirable behaviors or increase desirable ones. The latter approach is not only more effective, it’s also easier. It’s much easier to do more of something a partner likes than to stop doing something he hates. And research indicates that this approach works better. Adding loving behaviors will reduce annoying ones.
Sometimes your mate may resist your new behavior. He or she might find even positive changes threatening simply because the balance has been upset. But if you persevere and remain consistent with your change, chances are excellent that your mate will eventually come around and change his or her behavior too, and most often in a positive direction. This is what I call the “principle of reciprocity.” When you do even simple random acts of kindness, such as back rubs, washing the dishes, giving flowers, or making a favorite dessert, your partner is likely to respond in a positive way. Your behavior influences your mate’s behavior, and your mate’s behavior rewards your behavior, making you want to reciprocate. It’s not a vicious circle; it’s a delicious circle.