Most people who go to marriage counseling are secretly hoping the therapist will change their spouse, says Harriet Lerner, PhD. Of course they do. We all think we are right, don’t we? There may be a few who have acted egregiously and know they are in the wrong, but usually we are certain we are upholding more than our end of the bargain.
Instead of being focused on our spouse’s behavior or attitude, we should focus on ourselves, says Lerner, who writes for Psychology Today and has appeared on CNN and Oprah.
“Change will not happen until at least one person takes his or her blaming or worried focus off their spouse and puts it back on himself or herself,” she says, adding, “Self-focus is not the same as self-blame.” It’s an important point to not blame ourselves as much as to look at how we are a contributor to the good and bad parts of the relationship. Lerner says our energy is best spent observing, clarifying, and changing our own part in relationship patterns.
Our partner may choose to also change his or her patterns, but won’t do that through our criticizing and diagnosing their issues. He or she might consider it after seeing us take responsibility for our part.
As an example, if you feel slighted by something your spouse did, and you begin to withdraw, withhold affection and concentrate solely on the children, you both become part of the problem. It would be better to address your feelings directly rather than compound the problem with “punishments.”
I’ll close this post with a link to a story, a parable really, that I think is deceptively simple and holds a great deal of truth. It has to do with understanding that love is a decision. (Interestingly, Is Love a Decision or a Feeling? is the most searched topic on my blog. ) Anyway, the tale is included in a post called How to Fall Back in Love by Gina Parris. If you read the story, you’ll understand why I included it here.
Some of you may say you are in the midst of a dispute in which you are truly in the right, and your spouse is the biggest jerk ever. Yes, there are times when we can do everything right and be the most loving spouse, work to improve ourselves, and find we are married to someone who won’t budge. In those rare cases (and I do think these would be quite rare), at least we won’t have any regrets. Read the story. Follow the advice, and see how things work out.
All that being said, the next time I have a marital dispute, I’m sure I will still think I’m right! So, it will take some effort for me to evaluate my own actions before blaming my spouse. How are you at this? Any tips you have learned over the years?
Source: Quotes taken from Creating a Marriage You’ll Love, a collection of marriage essays.