Are you trying to fix your spouse?
Several year ago, I remember sitting at the kitchen table helping my then third-grade daughter with her Everyday Math homework. While this isn’t a blog to discuss my opinions about the Everyday Math curriculum, I remember wanting to pull my hair out in frustration as I sat and stared at the lattice grid that reminded me of a Punnett Square of tenth-grade biology class. Once we worked through a few problems, I still sat scratching my head in bewilderment. I was trying to find some positive message and lessons to be learned from this new abstract concept to solve a simple math problem, as this new approach seemed foreign from what I knew and the way I learned. What I found appealing was the bigger picture, that there are many ways to solve a problem and there isn’t just one “right” way to a solution, and many approaches to solving a problem can produce the same outcome. I liked that, though I may debate that changing my daughter’s math curriculum might not be the most practical way to explore this life lesson.
You may be asking …. “What does this have to do with my relationship with my spouse?”
I frequently work with couples who struggle with the desire to "fix" one another.
We are all hard-wired to want to find solutions and answers when life throws a problem our way.
In marriages, this can become an issue when we develop a need to want to “fix” our spouse. When emotions are involved, this becomes complex and goes far beyond finding a solution to a math problem or fixing a leaky sink.
When we love someone, we generally want to take away our partner’s pain or fix problems in our relationship, but often we are viewing the problem or issue from our lens and perspective. When we are focused on our views and expectations, we often try to control the outcomes and the way to achieve those outcomes. This causes us to lose focus on the real issues, and our frustration gets misdirected to our spouse. We often feel let down when our spouse doesn’t meet our expectations. This can cause resentment to build, and criticism is sure to follow. When our efforts are met with criticism, or even worse, contempt (Dr. John Gottman’s number one predictor of divorce), we often lose the desire to continue trying. Your spouse may be projecting the way they view an issue and expect it to be resolved with their solutions. It may be something as simple as folding the laundry. You may have a way that you were taught and you may prefer that way… but your spouse may prefer a different approach. The bottom line isn’t about how the towel is folded, but more importantly about your spouse willingly making an effort to help with the household chores. Asking yourself key questions when these issues come to the surface can be helpful, such as,
“Why am I reacting to how my spouse folds the laundry?”
“What is this saying about me?”
It may be helpful to put some thought to what you may need to let go of or change so you can respond with appreciation vs. contempt. It may also be helpful to ask yourself “What are you really trying to fix?”
Is it really about the way the laundry gets folded or is it more about wanting to feel valued and wanting help with the responsibilities around the house? We often get fixated on the small annoyances and lose sight of what is really behind them. This can take time, self-reflection and hard work. It isn’t always easy to pause and try and see life through the lens of your spouse. It takes sacrifice and practice. One of the first things to practice is letting go of the idea that you have the power and control to change someone else. We can waste a lot of negative energy on this and usually are disappointed with the results. You can’t change your spouse, however, you can control the way you share how your spouse's actions, behaviors, and words make you feel. It is helpful to use what Dr. John Gottman calls, soft startups and remembering to use “I” statements vs. “you” statements when we communicate with our spouse. When we begin a conversation with “you”, this can make our spouse feel attacked and get defensive. Try and remember that different approaches are just that, different, not right or wrong. Many approaches can lead to the same outcome.
If you and your spouse or partner are struggling with trying to “fix” one another or any other areas of struggle, we are here to help. We are passionate about helping couples in conflict restore their marriages and relationships.
At Sanctuary Christian Counseling, we help grieving individuals, distressed teens and couples in conflict find peace, solutions and connection. Give us a call!
Sanctuary Christian Counseling
9974 Molly Pitcher Highway, Suite 4
Shippensburg, PA 17257