Why It’s So Hard to Change Your Spouse’s Behavior


Why It's So Hard to Get Our Partners to Change

Trying to change your spouse or partner’s behavior is probably one of the hardest parts of being in a relationship. It certainly is the number one issue people talk about when they come to see me for counseling.

Why You Struggle When Trying to Changing Your Spouse

I think I can boil this down to two reasons:

  1. How and when the request for change is delivered.
  2. Is the receiver hearing you at the time you are making the request?

When I put the reasons into small phrases each actually seems like something even a child can accomplish. But add dozens of years and our feeling of being misunderstood, these tasks can begin to seem insurmountable.

What Happens When You Try to Get Your Husband / Wife to Change

Husband pleading for his wife to change her ways.

Let’s look at what happens in a relationship when we get frustrated with the person we love because they won’t change. It’s probably safe to say that if this is your situation, you have been working to get the changes for a long, long time. It may seem uncanny to you that your partner can’t hear you because you have been saying the same thing for maybe years.

And yet you are not able to see your beloved make the changes you have been telling them about. This is one of the most difficult elements of being in relationship with another person. It’s likely that if this is your situation, you are probably successful in other areas of your life. NO WHERE ELSE do you have to work this hard to make your points or get things done. It is unimaginable to you that you can’t “fix” this part of your relationship.

Why Your Pleas for Change Fall Upon Your Spouse’s Deaf Ears

Before we get to ideas on how to improve, I want to talk about your mate. It’s likely he or she is not hearing you. It’s not because you are not speaking clearly, it’s probably because they are flooded with feelings and literally can’t hear you. Their feelings are swarming inside them and they might even feel so bruised or hurt that they stopped listening a long time ago and all they feel is their pain.

When someone goes deep into their pain, they are unreachable. They may be saying things but the things they are saying are not going to get them understood or what they want. It is pain talking because sometimes pain is unbearable and must be uttered in any language available. Sometimes this sounds like a yell or a cry. If you are hearing these from the one you love, let me help you understand something about them.

When to Ask Your Spouse to Change Their Behavior

Husband waiting for the right time to ask his wife to change.

The number one thing you can do when your partner is in their feelings and speaking loudly or crying is to stop trying to get them to hear you. I know that sounds counterintuitive. I know when humans encounter the person they love in distress, the natural reaction is to try and understand and then help. These are noble, wonderful efforts. Unfortunately, when the emotions are filling the body, listening from our tender space goes out the window. Your partner who loves you literally CAN’T HEAR YOU!

There’s no way someone who is filled with feelings can even hear a simple request. They are just unavailable. There is nothing wrong with the way people are wired. We really can’t help that or change that in the moment. We can over time understand ourselves more and heal some of the wounds and curtail some of our reactions, but this work belongs to the one who experiences the emotions. This is NOT couple’s work. The one who gets filled with feelings must find a way to understand him or herself and figure out how to calm down without blaming or resenting the partner.

How to Change Your Spouse’s Behavior by Nicely Asking for a Favor

Now partner, you, the one who has been waiting for your partner to change, I have an idea for you. When you feel a need to “fix” your partner, try and not tell him or her how to do something different. If you can, I have an idea that may help the situation.

Be the one who holds the calm. Be the model for calm. Find the love and compassion in this very moment and offer it to your beloved because I promise you they are hurting. Now this takes practice. In the mean time, allow yourself to, with kindness, walk away when your partner’s feelings get too big. What I mean about kindness is this. You don’t want to say, “I can’t talk to you when you are like this so I am leaving.” That statement contains blame for your partner that she is like something and frustration from you because it’s clear you are done, at least in that moment.

Be Patient & Supportive

Husband and wife being patient and supportive when talking about behavioral changes.

You must move into kindness. Kindness attracts kindness from others. “[Say His Or Her Pet Name Here]…I love you. I am not leaving. I will talk with you in a few minutes.” Then leave your partner let them calm down on their own and when their feelings have subsided, then have a compassion-filled conversation about the disagreement. If you are still arguing over who is more right, this is the wrong time to speak honestly about what happens to you when there is an upset.

Couples learn these skills all the time. It’s not like learning math or something concrete, it’s a mixture of thoughts and feelings and awareness and it is pretty fluid. It’s worth learning though, it helps you believe you are in the right place, home, with the one you love.

More Ideas for Helping Your Spouse Change

Read a Book with Communication Tips to Help You and Your Partner Get Your Needs Met

Safe. Happy. Loved. Simple Skills for Your Relationship. Book by Linda Nusbaum.

Can’t make it on Monday? You can learn more about how to communicate clearly with your partner by reading Linda’s book, Safe. Happy. Loved. Simple Skills for Your Relationship. It’s full of relationship advice, including tips on how and when to voice your needs to your partner. It may help you accommodate one another better. Give it a look.

Get Couples Counseling

Come in for couples counseling. Couples counseling can help you and your loved one get the most out of your relationship. It'll equip you with coping strategies and tools for communication that can help you argue less and love more.

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