We cannot know what could have been, either good or bad; we can only know what is and work towards what can be.
Timing, Tone, and Tact
When you need to approach someone about a difficult subject or correct problem behavior, consider your timing, tone, and tact.
Timing: The moment your spouse walks through the door is generally not a good time to issue a complaint. Setting aside a time each week to reflect on what worked and what didn't can set everyone up to be heard and for problems to be addressed. Asking, "Is this a good time to talk?" can open the door to a conversation, but be prepared to accept, "NO!" as the answer. If now isn't good, ask when. Allowing problems to sit unresolved can lead to resentment and other blocks to emotional connection.
Tone: Ever had someone say, "It's not what you said, but how you said it."? We are sometimes not aware of our own tone as well as volume and facial expressions that may say one thing while your words say something else. Keep your voice calm.
Tact: Be polite and respectful. Even if this is the 100th time you've made the same request. Avoid name calling. Use "we" language instead of "I" statements. Talk about the problem aside from the person. Something like, "I get frustrated when I come home and find dirty clothes on the floor" may be a better opening than accusing the other person of being a slob.
Problem solving is a shared experience. Once a solution has been identified, revisit the solution a week later to see if it's working out for everyone. Sometimes other problems have come about and need to be addressed.
Adapt, Accept, Appreciate
Positive emotionally intimate relationships require the ability for people to adapt, accept, and appreciate differences. Each person grows up in a unique environment. They bring that early experience with its expectations and values to their emotionally intimate adult relationships. Each person in the relationship has a unique view that may be overlooked during the initial phase of the relationship. It is only after a period of time that the differences which seemed insignificant or were undetected can become problematic.
Species survive in nature, and people thrive in relationships, by adapting to their surroundings. No one person is going to have the exact same expectations or desires as another. In order to survive together, people in relationships must adapt to some of the needs of the other. Sometimes the adaptation is a simple behavior change regarding household chores. Sometimes the adaptation is a major lifestyle change to accomodate the other person's needs.
Acceptance is about changing the way a person thinks about a situation or experience that does not match their own values or expectation. Although a person can influence another, they cannot force change in anyone but themselves. Acceptance may be about recognizing that there is more than one way to achieve a result. Not everyone washes dishes in the same manner. As long as the end result is that the dishes are clean, does it matter how the goal was accomplished?
Appreciation is key for many relationships. Expressing appreciation for our partner's strengths, positive behaviors, achievements, and contributions to the relationship make a difference in how the relationship is viewed. A person is more likely to repeat a positive behavior when it is noticed and appreciated by another. A simple "thank you" shows others that they are appreciated.
A strong relationship built by adapting, accepting and appreciating has a better chance of surviving the inevitable difficulties that face every relationship from time to time.
Choose a better relationship
“Is what I am about to do good for my relationship?” is the question to ask yourself before you say or do anything. Granted, no one would ever get anything done if they paused to ask an internal question before every action; however, if your relationship is in trouble, the pause may make all the difference.
People frequently act out of habit without thought to how other people are going to react. There is an expectation that others will understand what is being said or done and appreciate it. When a relationship is in a positive place, minor faux pas are overlooked and partners tend “to get each other.” When a relationship is having difficulty it seems that minor infractions of the rules of the relationship result in major blow-ups and misunderstandings.
Moving the problem from the individual to the relationship can help reduce blaming and fault finding. If the relationship is the problem, then what can each person do to promote a better relationship?
If you want a better relationship consider adding intentionality to your interactions with your partner.
- Promote positive feelings in your partner by doing things you know will bring a smile to his or her face
- Take a moment to look around your shared surroundings and take action to make your home a place of comfort and relaxation
- Eliminate sarcasm, name calling, and blaming
- Listen to your partner and engage in meaningful conversation at least once a day
- Offer an unsolicited genuine positive statement to your partner
- Avoid offering advice, unless advice is requested
If what you are about to say or do is not good for the relationship, consider saying or doing nothing. Sometimes it’s better to do nothing. Time has a way of resolving some issues without any help from anyone.
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Accept Responsibility for Change in your Marriage
Happy marriages are ones in which both people accept responsibility for their own behavior. People who wait for their spouse to change first may find themselves eventually out of a bad marriage and in no marriage at all! If you want to improve the quality of your marriage, take ownership of the problem. Create your own changes and the relationship can’t help but change.
Marriage is a system, a community of two so to speak. What one person does impacts what the other person feels, says, and does. If one of the problems in your relationship is that there is a lot of arguing, you can choose to not argue. Your choice to not engage in an argument immediately impacts your spouse’s ability to argue back. Just by your own change of behavior you have created a change in the relationship.
But then, one undesirable behavior can be replaced with another undesirable behavior unless you decide to replace the original undesirable behavior with a positive behavior. For instance, if you choose to not argue but don’t deal with the issue that prompted the argument, you might be replacing arguing (an undesirable behavior) with resentment and distance (other undesirable behaviors). Learning a more appropriate and effective way to communicate differences of opinion may be a good replacement positive behavior.
A person can only control their own behavior. When your spouse does something that you don’t like try doing the following:
- First: attempt to influence your spouse to change.
- Second: change your own response to your spouse’s behavior
- Third: change the environment
Attempt to influence your partner to change. This may be as easy as asking them to change a behavior. Most people want their spouse to be happy. Sometimes a person is not aware that what they do is irritating to their spouse. If your spouse’s behavior is irritating you, tell them, kindly, what you would like them to do instead. It is very possible that with a simple heartfelt request, your spouse may be very willing to make a change.
Change your response. Some behaviors won't change, either because your spouse cannot or will not make a change. You have the ability to change your response to your spouse’s problematic behavior. You can choose to use self-soothing skills to remain calm and avoid becoming agitated when presented with the behavior. With some effort it is possible to not allow yourself to become anxious or irritable.
Change the environment. If your attempt to influence failed, and you just can’t bring yourself to change your response, you can change the environment. Leave the room, hang up the phone, or find some other way to disconnect. Changing the environment is a last resort. It may help you avoid initial conflict, but it doesn’t solve the underlying problem. If the first two options don’t work, seek the advice of a marriage counselor or other trusted relationship professional to assist you and your spouse find a solution or compromise.
Waiting for your spouse to change, especially when they don’t know that a change is needed, is a waste of time. Take responsibility for change in your marriage.