It's Okay to Ask Your Spouse to Change! In Fact, Love Requires It, Part 1

by: Gary Stokes

Most of the married people I’ve interviewed over the past year subscribe to the marital rule that we should not try to change our spouse.

This myth dams up the potential of our marriage, so let’s adopt a new rule that allows us to emerge beyond even the best of conventional marriages:

We must help each other change with love, encouragement, and challenges !


The profile of talk in good, conventional marriages: I ask husbands and wives I interview to rate their marriages:

v Way above average

v Above average

v Average

v Below average

v Way below average

Here’s a partial profile of the happy couples that rate their marriage either above average or way above average:

1. They spend a lot of time talking—60 to 240 minutes per day (retired people are on the high end)

2. They quite often have sustained talks—talks lasting more than 30 minutes

3. Their favorite conversational topics center on things they are learning, family, work, plans for the future, books they’re reading, movies, politics, and their relationship.

But these successful couples also have their guards up with each other: I’ve highlighted below their most frequent answers to my questions about approaching each other with marital issues:

· It’s (easy, fairly easy, fairly difficult, difficult) to bring up marital issues with my spouse · Rate your spouse’s openness to learning about himself or herself: not open, somewhat open, open · Rate your own openness to learning about yourself: not open, somewhat open, open ·

The best word to describe our marriage relationship is (stormy, pretty calm but not always, serene and peaceful) My biggest surprise from these happiest of husbands and wives was their willingness to live with their spouse’s shortcomings:

One wife laughed as she said, “His parents created the monster I live with.” She liked her marriage, even though he never changed, she said. Her husband’s refusal to address his own growth and development didn’t seem to trouble her—or she had simply given up on his having any potential. Most of the happy couples I interviewed were not focusing on their spouse’s potential.

They had trouble identifying their spouse’s potential and reported that they don’t talk about it as an intentional part of their marital dialogue. They did not find it easy to identify their own individual potential. They were happy with their marriages and, I believe, think that they’re doing about as well as couples can do.

There’s more potential in marriage: Marriages that rise to the highest level of partnership go beyond this happy plateau in the conventional marriage. In the most dynamic marriage, men and women are partners in becoming more conscious. The very issues that other married people avoid--because of their fears or lack of clarity about what is possible--are the issues that get pursued in the most dynamic marriages.

Going after my spouse’s potential is what love requires of me. In this exciting level of conscious marriage, we know what wants to emerge in our spouse and in ourselves. Our potential is what wants to emerge. In a marriage built around our emergence, it is easy to bring up marital issues because our potential calls out to us from those issues. We are both open to learning about ourselves.

More than open: we are eager to learn about ourselves. Love requires that we be fearless in our marriage dialogue: In my next post, I will bring us in closer to the marital dialogue that occurs in this most dynamic of marriages, what I call the emergent marriage. Stay tuned for Part Two. What Couples Talk About in the Emergent Marriage.

Gary Stokes was founder and CEO of a national laboratory testing new strategies for the development of children and families in poverty. He has coached hundreds of leaders who are working to build stronger families, including Presidential appointees and other top executives in government and education. Gary writes for HopeAfterDivorce.org, FamilyShare.com, LAFamily.com, and CupidsPulse.com. His recent book, Poise: A Warrior’s Guide, charts a path toward a vibrant life of joy and practical advantage. Visit Gary's blog as he maps the universe of poise at http://thepoisedlife.com/.




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