It is natural in a marriage relationship to think about what you need from your spouse, about what you expected and wanted from your wife or husband. And with those thoughts come all kinds of feelings about the ways you wish he or she would change.
• Why can’t he see what I need?
• Why can’t she be more like me (or like my mom)?
• Why doesn’t he try harder to make me happy?
• Why doesn’t she like more of the things I like, or at least support me on things I like that she doesn’t?
• Why isn’t he the soul mate I thought he would be?
Many people go into marriage thinking that they will be able to change their spouse into the person they want him or her to be — into the person who will fulfill their needs and give the spouse all the things he or she wants.
When it doesn’t happen quite like that, there are feelings of disappointment and sometimes even resentment. Some do this silently, letting the things he does or the things she doesn’t do build up inside, gradually deepening that resentment and pulling them further and further apart. Others get aggressive in telling their spouse the ways he is letting us down or the things she ought to be doing. The suffering in silence can turn a person into a sadsack; the criticizing and complaining can turn a person into a nag.
The hard lesson of marriage is that a partner gradually starts to live up to the bad reputation a spouse gives them. The pattern tends to be that the more a spouse feels they can’t live up to their partner's expectations, the less they try and the more they feel like failures. The more they are told they are not meeting needs, the less confident they feel and the more likely they are to keep disappointing their spouse. When a spouse is told that he or she is not meeting the needs of their partner, it can be seen as proof of failure and he or she will usually either push back and fight or withdraw and give up.
Constant dissatisfaction and criticism, expressed or even held in, can emasculate a man and emotionally abuse a woman. The fact is that people actually have more influence and power over a spouse’s happiness and well-being than he or she does over their own, and when a couple is down on each other, they can spiral down in very dark and difficult ways.
But there is another way.
How about instead of thinking so much about what he or she isn’t doing, a spouse starts focusing on what he or she can do for their partner? Instead of trying to make a spouse into what you thought you wanted him or her to be, you start focusing on helping a spouse become all they can be of what he or she actually is?
There is a wonderful truth that, when learned and implemented, can inject a wonderful and simple kind of happiness into marriage. It goes like this: “Strive to understand and focus on his (or her) needs, and gradually, magically, your needs will also be met.”
Again, it is so natural to want a spouse to be more like you, to want the same things you want, to like the same things you like, to think the same way you think, to have the same love language that you do. But in actual fact, few people would like to be married to a clone of ourselves. It would end up being a little boring and there would be little opportunity for synergy or for learning from each other. Instead, couples should learn to celebrate their differences and to love the things about his or her spouse that are different from them, and to support and encourage and build on the interests and talents and gifts and strengths he or she has, instead of wishing they were different or more like our own.
The simplest but hardest lesson of marriage: Your spouse is not you. Your spouse is not your mom or your dad. Your spouse is not the dreamed-up, idealized vision you may have had in your mind. Your spouse is a unique, talented, quirky, potentially wonderful person who is better at a whole host of things than you will ever be, and your job is to love that uniqueness, recognize and support those talents, appreciate and love those quirks, and magnify that potential, shifting your focus from yourself to him or her.
Nothing is harder, but nothing is better.