How do I change my spouse ?
At the beginning of every Healing from Affairs Intensive Weekend for couples in affair recovery, where couples receive a roadmap and all the tools to navigate their own journey, and make good decisions, whether that means staying or going ... we know that almost every wife enters that seminar room (whether she is the betrayed spouse or the one who had the affair), thinking, "I sure hope Brian and Anne can change my husband!" At the very same time, almost every husband enters the same room, thinking "I sure hope Brian and Anne can change my wife?" They both think, how do I change my spouse?
Oh, husbands and wives, don’t usually ask directly, “How do I change my spouse?” They have much more sophisticated ways of asking, such as….
- How do I get my husband/wife to tell the truth?
- How do I get my husband/wife to talk to me?
- How do I get my husband/wife to calm down and stop being so angry?
- Why can’t my husband/wife, just get over it? I said I was sorry already!
- I don’t see the point in rehashing the affair story over and over, it’s just making things worse!
- How do I get my husband/wife to listen to me? Understand me? Comfort me? Send me flowers? Stop sending me flowers?
- How do I get my husband/wife to come to a seminar? Go for counseling? Read a book?
It is so easy to see what our spouse is clearly doing wrong! It's so very difficult to see our own blind spots! We so desperately want our spouse to listen to us, to understand and to give us what we need, and to change! At the same, it is so difficult to them, to have patience, compassion and maturity - to slow down when emotions are heightened. It's hard to be the very change we long to see in our spouse!
We want our spouse to listen. But are we listening?
We want our spouse to understand us. But do we understand them?
Getting Past an Extramarital Affair
In the case of affairs, we often look back and wish the past could be undone, but it can’t be undone. It happened, and nothing will ever change that.
Then a sense of justice overcomes us, and we want those who’ve wronged us to “pay the price” for what they’ve done. If we’re the ones who’ve committed the wrong and are overwhelmed with a sense of remorse and regret, we even seek ways to punish ourselves as if that will somehow make us feel better – and we long for reconciliation with those we’ve wronged.
But the more one thinks about major wrongs like this, one realizes, there is no price, we or those in our lives can pay, that would be big enough to right the wrong.
The encouraging thing is today is a new day. There is a time to recognize we cannot change what is past, but the past does not need to define our future.
If you’re unhappy with the way things turned out in your past, be encouraged, because you can learn from your mistakes and build a positive future, by changing your behavior now. Who you were yesterday, does not have to be who you are today, nor who you will be tomorrow. Who your spouse was yesterday does not need to be who they are in the future. People do have the ability to change, if they choose to. It’s all about choices.
How Do I Change My Spouse?
Daily, I receive emails containing this exact question in various forms, so I’ve decided to share the secret with you … The answer of course is that you cannot change your spouse, but you can change the way you are responding to them.
You Change Your Spouse by Changing Yourself!
“If we want to change a situation, we first have to change ourselves. And to change ourselves effectively, we first have to change our perceptions. We simply assume that the way we see things is the way they should be. And our attitudes and behaviors grow out of those assumptions." – Stephen Covey, “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”
Are you tired of being stuck where you are? Then you will need to be willing to challenge your own perceptions. Sometimes “your truth” is your enemy.
We teach people how to treat us!
When things are going wrong in relationships, what we often don’t see is how we are contributing to the situation. Every relationship establishes set patterns: he does this, she responds like that, which causes him to respond with …, which causes her to respond by …. etc. etc. etc.
The way to change the people around you is to change the way you’re responding to them. Do something radically different. The solution is not the same for every couple. But for every couple, you can rest assured, that if you do the same thing you’ve always done, you will get the exact same result you’ve always gotten.
More often then not, when things aren’t going well for us, we simply apply more power and energy to the thing that isn’t working. To bring about change, we have to be willing to step out of our own comfort zone and do something different.
“Until the pain of remaining the same, becomes greater than the pain of change, we don’t change.”
So what does it mean to change? What should you change? What could you change?
You ask yourself the question, “What have you been doing?” and “What results, if any, has that brought?”
Some wives have nagged their husbands over and over, telling them the things they need to do … and it isn’t working. If that’s you, your solution is not to nag more and louder. That’s more power to the thing that doesn’t work. Instead stop nagging altogether.
Some husbands have been ignoring their wives, and come home every night, hoping their wife won’t bring up the affair. Instead of ignoring your wife, lean into it, and initiate a conversation. Say, “I imagine you are probably really hurting about the affair, and you probably want to talk about it. So let’s go ahead and talk about it. What would you like to discuss?”
Some wives have been punishing their unfaithful spouse with unceasing anger, calling their husband names, saying, “how could you?” “You’re a liar!” “You’re a cheater!” While this totally makes sense, because you are hurting, and they did lie and cheat. But is this getting you the result you want? Do you even know what that result is? Rarely does outward expressions of mean and aggressive anger get anyone positive results. (People might be afraid of you, but that doesn’t help them to be more loving or more truthful!)
So if calling your unfaithful spouse names and raising your voice, and swearing and punishing hasn’t been getting you what you want, maybe try speaking calmly and directly asking directly for what you want (and you might want to consider apologizing for your mean and hurtful behavior while you were angry!) That would be radically different!
When I was on my own affair recovery journey, initially I did what most spouses do (which is exactly opposite to what they were sure they would do before it happened to them). I worked really hard to save my marriage, to get my husband to change, to get him to read books, and go for counseling. Somewhere along the way, I finally realized that I did not have the power to save our marriage. I did not have the power to change my husband, or to get him to do anything.
So I did something brilliant. I changed me!I stopped talking to him about the affair. (Imagine that!) I stopped telling him what to do. I enrolled myself in University and started working on the degree that I had always wanted. Guess what happened! My husband suddenly took initiative to read books, and to start doing what these books said. Then he discussed them with me. He began to think about his own behaviors. He began to change. He began working on himself. He became more loving. He started pursuing me (when I stopped pursuing him!)
He said, “You are growing tremendously as a woman, and it scares me to death!”Why did it scare him? Because he realized, that if he didn’t get with the program, he was going to lose me. Enrolling in University may not be your answer specifically, but I can assure you, that your answer is to stop doing what you are doing that isn’t working and do something totally different instead.
One unfaithful wife, who had ended her affair and all contact with the affair partner, and told the truth, coming completely clean with everything, found herself stuck for months walking on eggshells, while her betrayed husband stayed stuck in his anger. No matter how much she talked about the affair, no matter how much shame she bore, no matter how many times she apologized, no matter how many books she read, her betrayed husband stayed angry and often hurtful. She was being nice and loving and doing all she could, but he was not getting the help he needed. She was powerless to heal him. He was stuck in his anger, verbally abusing her, and sometimes frightening her, yet he couldn’t see it himself, because he was focused on how wrong she was for her affair, which she could not take back. He had loving moments, but she never knew when Jekyll was going to show up. She was living in fear, with her own needs as a woman for love, connection, gentleness and understanding unmet.
Then one night, things got completely out of hand. Not only was he yelling and screaming and calling her names, but he began throwing things. Her favorite vase, a cherished gift from her mother, slammed against the wall and shattered to pieces. And her husband left slamming the door and screeching the tires. That’s when the lights went on for her! This was not okay.
So, she did something radically different, something that ended up saving her husband from himself and saving their marriage. She left, got herself a good counselor, and wrote her husband a letter. Her husband did everything to try and get her back, but she told him that she would only be willing to speak with him again in the counselor’s office. He was not happy about this! (Your spouse will not be overjoyed either when you get smart enough and strong enough to change the dysfunctional normal in your relationship!) This woman loved her husband, desired to save her marriage, and wanted to do the right things, but she realized that what she had been doing wasn’t working (even though those had been the right things the experts told her to do). Did her husband need to change? Yes. Did she need to change too? Yes. Instead of focusing on what she had no control over, him, she focused on what she did have control over, herself. The pain of remaining the same had become greater than the pain of change!
Her husband wasn’t happy about it, but he met with her in the counselor’s office. There she read him her letter, which demanded a controlled separation. They worked out the details. In their case they only needed to be separated for one month, and her husband got help for his anger. Today, they have a loving, healed relationship, where they both feel safe. Trust has been restored. She changed herself. He changed in response.
While this is just one story, every affair recovery story, where a couple reconciles shares this theme, that while your spouse may be wrong, you can’t fix them. But if you will be willing to stop focusing on them, and figure out what you can change about you instead, you will find yourself empowered, and if there is hope for your marriage, if you desire to “change your spouse,” you’ll find they will change in response to the changes you make in yourself.
You want your spouse to take responsibility for what they have done? But are you willing to take responsibility for what you’ve done (or haven’t done)?
By Anne Bercht
PS - Don't hesitate to contact us for help. We've personally helped more than 2,500 couples heal their marriages after infidelity. We can help you too! It’s not easy, but it’s not that hard either, and the rewards are so worth it!
PSS – For some reconciliation may not be the right route. We’ll help you figure that out too. Either way, reconciled or divorced, you still need to heal, so you can find happiness for your future, instead of dragging the baggage from this painful past into your next relationship! And for the sake of your children, get closure, healing and understanding, so you can move on responsibly, be happy and co-parent well!
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