“I am tired of always being the one who talks about the relationship, cares about it, and willing to try. Why is it always up to me? Doesn’t he have to do any work?” This comment by a frustrated client seems to be a theme in my practice lately. Women keep asking, “Why is it up to me to fix our relationship?” Several have said they are “done” and have just shut down.
In my practice, it’s often the wife who comes into counseling wanting to change her man, her marriage. His lack of desire for any counseling further angers her and builds her guarded heart even more.
"If a wife is unhappy with her marriage, she's going to do something about it," said Deborah Carr, professor of sociology at Rutgers University . "She might complain; she might be less forthcoming with love and support. Men are not the ones to say, 'We need to talk about the relationship.' If they're unhappy, they're going to sit in their chair and stew over it."
Ladies, I get it! How many times do you have to remind him it’s garbage night, or the kids need picked up, or having him actually hit the clothes hamper, or help more at dinner time, or stop playing his darn video games? How many times have you asked him for a date night or wanted him to notice your new hair color or outfit? The list can be endless.
But here’s the question, how is getting angry, resentful, and shutting down working for you… for him…for your marriage? Is there a way to break this pattern/cycle?
Four major mistakes women make in their relationship with their spouse when trying to get what we want are: Controlling, Criticizing, Complaining, and Competing. Criticizing is the evil twin of complaining, because by criticizing you have sneakily lifted yourself above him. This is not an environment of love…for either of you.
Our thinking is if I complain enough, he’ll change. But it’s not change he resists, says Mort Fertel, it’s the change imposed on him. He’ll change as long as the change is his decision, but if he feels forced or pressured, he’ll resist. Your spouse will change when he decides. The more you push, complain, try to control, criticize, or compete, the less likely they’ll change.
“You can lead me a mile, but you can’t push me an inch.” Mort Fertel
One of male clients recently said to his wife, after she spent most of the session complaining about what he NEVER does, “I will never be you.” She’s been trying to change him for nearly 30 years.
“Since women are much more likely to come in to therapy solo, teaching action-oriented techniques should be tops on therapists' lists of things to do. Change is like a chain reaction. She tips over the first domino, then he changes. When a woman who is dissatisfied in her relationship decides to change her method of getting through to her partner, she isn't doing "all the work." Assuming responsibility for creating positive change in life isn't working harder, it's working smarter.” Michelle Weiner-Davis
We can be the example of change by simply watching those four “C’s.” How we talk to them is also key. Are we showing positivity and appreciation? Are we loving and grateful? Can they make us happy? Because, ladies, the number one thing your husband wants above all else is to make YOU happy.
"A wife's happiness in the marriage has the power to overtake a husband's marital unhappiness to make his overall life quite pleasant," said Carr,. "That was the finding that makes people say, 'Happy wife, happy life.'
Bottom line - as Mahatma Gandhi said, "You must be the change you wish to see." It's YOU changing that will have the greatest impact on YOUR EXPERIENCE of your marriage AND it's YOU changing that will be the single most important thing you can do to motivate your spouse to change.