How To Change Your Spouse

If you clicked on this because you thought you would really get an answer of how to get your spouse to change, then you are in for a surprise.  We are glad we at least captured your attention.  Keep reading to find out how someone needs to change…but it just might not be the person you thought!

Couples come to therapy with valid complaints all day long.  “My spouse doesn’t hear me, my wife always nags me, my husband won’t do his fair share, my partner spends too much money, my wife doesn’t give me enough sex, my husband only wants sex, my partner puts work before me, my spouse refuses to let go of the past,” and the list goes on and on.

If I had a dollar for every couple who came into my office for an intake with the mentality of “Our relationship would be great if only my spouse would ________,” I would be on my yacht somewhere instead of writing this blog!!  (Slight exaggeration.)  Most of these individuals are so stuck on wanting and needing to change their spouse and pointing the finger they forget to do what REALLY would make a change……to look in the mirror!

All couples that I see in my office are tasked within the first few sessions to make a list of their “yucks”.  My extremely clinical word translates into: what is yucky about you?  What are things you think would be yucky if you were married to you?  The 12-step community calls it character defects, it’s also known as baggage, issues, wounds, dysfunction, bad habits, flaws, vices, and weaknesses. Whatever you call it, my hope is that you take a deep insightful look into yourself and see what you come up with.

It is extremely hard to change these things about ourselves unless we get really honest about what we bring to the table.  And I have NEVER (nope, not even one time) met a couple that both people didn’t contribute to the YUCK in their relationship. I have met a lot of people that emphatically try to convince me otherwise, but never have I bought it.

I have had couples who I thought were fairly insightful come back with only one or two yucks on their list.  WHAT?  In about three minutes I could come up with about 25 of my husband’s yucks and about 18 of mine!!!  Okay, for the sake of this blog I will switch that number around!  The purpose of this exercise is to explore things in yourself you really are not proud of.  The purpose is not to judge, but to bring it to awareness and then…here comes the REALLY hard part…to say it out loud to your partner.  If done correctly, guess what happens next?

First, I want to explain what DOESN’T happen…shock, stupor, surprise, astonishment, disbelief, stupefaction (I love that word), bewilderment.  Why?  Because…are you ready for this?  Your partner already knows all of this!!!! Remember they came into my office with just about the same list about YOU two sessions ago!!!

But there is good news.  What can happen and very often does, your partner (if they feel safe enough), opens up and then becomes vulnerable enough with you to share the fact that they don’t have it all together.  And here is the real kicker…it’s not all about YOU and your deficits.  The next steps for myself as a marriage and family therapist are pretty awesome to watch.  After both people share their yuck list, they both seem to soften a little.  Hope enters the room where resentment and blame used to occupy. 

What is a yuck?  A few of mine are: I procrastinate (I have a diagnosis of ADHD but as I tell my clients to have that as their understanding but not as their “excuse” so I try to live by the same rule). I also get defensive when my spouse points out a mistake I have made. I take too much on and then neglect making time for more important things like my marriage or family. I hang on to unnecessary things that “I just know I will absolutely need at a later date”!  I could go on but I have already lost those readers who have ADHD so I will stop there.  Notice something here, because it’s key…I didn’t give excuses, I didn’t say my husband can be critical and point out mistakes I make, or that my mom did the ‘can’t throw things away’ thing so it’s genetic, I just owned my stuff. If you use this as a backhanded way to continue to blame your spouse for your dysfunction, this exercise will not work for you! Believe me, I have had years of experience doing it personally, that is why I am a pro at pointing it out!!

When we take our own inventory, stay on our own side of the street, and look in the mirror rather than point the finger, change has an opportunity to envelop the marriage.

A couple that I recently worked with were both very on guard when I asked them to complete the task of yuck list.  Neither one of them really felt safe in their marriage so I held off on assigning the task until the fifth session. Finally, when I thought they were ready, in session I asked them both to share their lists without comment, judgment, righteousness, blame, indignation, or smugness.  They were asked only to listen.  The man in the session was immediately brought to tears, something his wife later shared hadn’t been witnessed in 12 years. The woman had a huge sigh of relief with tear-filled eyes. They both left with a sense of hope that they can now begin their journey to healing and connection rather than the blame and defensiveness their past marriage was built on.

I get it, it’s hard to admit your faults. As you will see through this journey in our blog we both are not even close to perfect.  Of course we SHOULD be because we are marriage and family therapists.  But if you know US, have read our first blog, or believe in humankind and being perfectly imperfect, you know we took the SHOULD out of our lives, and are just us.

It’s your turn to make a list of your yucks.  If your relationship is in true turmoil you may want to rely on the help of an experienced professional (therapist, clergy person, spiritual leader, etc.), to help you through this journey.  If not, try sharing this vulnerable list with your partner and commit to work on your yuck.  Don’t blame, shame or beat yourself up for having it, just commit to work on doing better with what you have.  Stay tuned and we will help you with the Why’s of your yuck.

ADD version

  • Stop pointing the finger and look in the mirror.
  • Make a deep, insightful list of the things you really don’t like about yourself and share it with your partner.
  • Commit to do differently if you really want to change the state of your relationship.

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