The secret to changing your spouse
We have all heard that you can’t change anyone but yourself. That doesn’t stop most of us from trying however. The ways in which we do try to change our spouses always seem to backfire because the underlying message is “you are not good enough”, which is what they already feel anyway so the natural response is defensiveness.
I have come to believe that while we can’t force, seduce, or manipulate anyone to change; we can create conditions that provide the support and freedom for people to change, if they decide to. Changing is a process of healing and becoming whole. Consider this quote from Marianne Williamson: “We heal when we feel forgiven. We heal in the presence of compassion. If you really want someone to change, the miracle lies in your ability to see how perfect they already are. We miraculously heal in the presence of someone who believes in our light even when we are lost in our darkness. And when we learn to see others in the light of their true being, whether they are showing us that light or not, then we have the power to work that miracle for them.”
Understanding what Marianne is saying and putting it into practice requires that you first realize that you too are perfect in your true self. You need to reconnect with your own light and see yourself with compassion. This requires conscious and deliberate spiritual practice. In the words of Marianne again, “Spiritual practice is key to our power as light-bearers, for we cannot extend peace if we do not cultivate it. Our thoughts and attitudes need persistent training in a world so intent on convincing us that we are who we are not and that we are not who, in fact, we are. The thinking of love is completely opposite the thinking that dominates this world; that is why we must be constantly reminded of the light”. Do a simple daily practice of intentionally reminding yourself of the light within you and within your spouse and then act as if you really believe it. Keep practicing if you don’t see changes because most of the time healing takes loving consistency and honesty over time. In any event, love is its own reward.
Why won’t you meet my needs? A client recalled this lament from his wife, which in essence was the accusation: “you have the ability to meet my needs, you’re not doing it, and furthermore you’re not doing it on purpose”. Upon further exploration it became clear that in spite of this man’s efforts to meet his wife’s needs he could not satisfy her demands. She had taken on the role of victim and projected blame onto him. He, in turn, felt helpless and stuck and projected blame back onto her for being impossible to please.
This situation illustrates a common struggle in marriage relationships. The real problem is a misguided assumption that one’s spouse is responsible for and capable of meeting our core needs and fulfilling us. That is not possible any more than any other external source can validate us, fulfill us, and make us whole. Wholeness is a journey that happens from the inside out and is both an emotional and spiritual process. We must own that responsibility for ourselves and open ourselves to love from within, from our spiritual source. Then we can effectively give and receive love in our external relationships.
This client came to see that once he got clear about the issue of responsibility there were several commitments he was able to make to his wife. These are commitments to support her in her journey towards finding wholeness at her own pace, to be engaged and present in the relationship, to create a loving space for her to learn, and to not blame his wife for what she needs. Paradoxically letting go of the expectation of meeting another’s needs allows us to be instrumental in helping our partner get those needs satisfied. This may not result in what you hope for from your partner but it is worth doing anyway because in the process of keeping these commitments you will be stretched and increase your capacity to be a loving human being.