Why you should change yourself instead of your spouse

Your words can change the tone of the conversation and improve your marriage. Here's how.

Steffan Surdek
October 6, 2020
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Change is hard for a lot of people. When you look at your relationship, I am sure you can see a lot of things your spouse needs to change, but what about you? What do you need to change to have a healthier and more conscious relationship with your spouse?

One thing you may not realize is the only thing you have control over in a conversation is your 50 percent of it. What are you bringing to the discussion? How are you behaving or reacting to things? How are these things impacting the relationship with your spouse?

When you work on changing your 50 percent of the conversation it will have an impact on your spouse's half. Here are four ways you can change your side of the conversation.

1. Take responsibility for your impact

The way you act and the way you speak has an impact on your spouse and you need to take responsibility for it.

To do this, you can start by noticing how your spouse reacts when you say or do certain things. What are you triggering for them? Is there a different way to say or do the same thing that would have a different impact on them?

I am not saying to wear white gloves or to do things to "manage" your spouse. There is an important distinction between speaking your truth and vomiting your truth. When you notice you are saying or doing something specific that is having an impact, stop and acknowledge it. You can also apologize for what you did and start over.

2. Take responsibility for your emotions

We can often come from a place of blame when talking about our emotions. Saying things such as "you made me feel x..." gives a lot of power to someone else over you.

I often tease my children around the distinction between saying: "I am angry" versus "you made me angry". I tell them that it's not as if I am standing there asking them: "are you angry yet... are you angry yet?"

You can take responsibility for your emotions by noticing and changing how you speak. When you start doing this you will find conversations will start to have a lot less blaming and shaming.

3. Be more intentional

Before you start a conversation try to be clear on your intention. What are you trying to do in this conversation? Are you trying to have a conversation about a particular topic? Are you trying to start an argument? You can act in different ways when you are aware of your intention.

Once you are clear on your intention, make sure your actions and words align with it when you are with your spouse. By knowing your intention, you can also share it with your spouse or use it to do a reset if things go bad.

For example, if you are trying to create a conversation about a sensitive topic, you can frame it that way. An opening such as "I would like to talk about topic X and this is not easy for me... please bear with me" can help set the stage.

4. Listen for unmet needs

Look beyond the words of your spouse. What are the unmet needs they are trying to talk to you about? Try to listen for these instead of reacting to the words your spouse is using to express them. Repeat them back to see if you are picking up on the right cues. This will help your spouse feel heard.

For example, "you never do anything around the house" could mean your spouse needs support. Nonviolent communication tools are a great help for this. To get started, download this list of needs and this feeling inventory.

In your mind, go back to one of the recent arguments with your spouse and try to identify at least one unmet need. What did they say that leads you to believe this is the right one? Practice doing this and check if you are hearing the right need by naming it in the next discussion. You can do this by asking, "do you need more x?"

For a more in-depth look into this topic, check out our article on how you can create a designed relationship.

You can't change your spouse, but how will you begin to change your 50 percent of the conversation?

This article was originally published on hitchedmag.com in March 2018.