Over 20% of the posts on this blog have the BeBetter tag – clearly, this is big deal to me. For most of my life, I have been looking for ways to improve. It is not that I am never satisfied, rather I realise there will always be places where I can grow, and things I can do better. I think we have an obligation to grow and become better. Why would you not want to learn to do more, and to be better?
One of the great things about trying to make yourself better is you have the power to make it happen. You do not need anyone’s permission or help; it is all on you. You decide what you want to change, you set the goals, and you “grade” your progress. Trying to change your spouse is a very different thing because you have no real control. Really wanting them to change does not necessarily motivate them to try, and no amount of effort on your part matters. This is why when I want change I look at myself first – because I have the power and the control. Saying I need my spouse to change is saying I am at her mercy, she controls my future and she determines how I feel. Being at her mercy is not a good place to be, but honestly, it is rare to be in that place. Even in rather bad situations, the person who has been “wronged” usually has a number of things they could change – places where they could be better.
On a practical note, change often (I would say usually) begets change; at least when the original change is sincere and not done just to get something in return. Seeing your spouse grow and improve makes you feel bad about where you need to grow and improve, which can be a strong motivator. It may not motivate the change you want, but any growth is a good thing, and once a person starts to change and grow they are likely to keep going. (This is especially true if their changes are met with praise.)
Are there people who are so selfish or so broken they will watch their spouse grow and change and never make any effort to do the same? Yes, but it is actually rare. I have only seen a few men and women who I think were beyond responding to real, on-going changes in their spouse. Usually when I hear a person’s spouse is like this, the truth is something else. Often there is a lot of manipulation on the part of the one saying their spouse will not change. Other times the complaining spouse has failed to mention something horrible they did recently, or some on-going destructive behaviour they refuse to change.
So no, I cannot promise you making changes in yourself will result in your spouse doing the same. However, I can assure you doing it for the right reasons will make you feel better about yourself and about your life. Even if your spouse is horrible and seems impossible, you can do things to be a better person, and you can do things to make your life a little bit better. If your spouse is horrible, then I would suggest you grow by learning how to lovingly set boundaries. Boundaries in Marriage by Henry Cloud is excellent for this. If you are sure your spouse will not ever change, I highly recommend you read and apply this book as a starting place for making yourself better.