Common Cold #3: You Trying To Fix Your Spouse

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You know you can’t change your spouse, and it's frustrating when you try, so why do you keep doing it? It’s like we have this natural pull to get people to see and do things our own way. This happens all the time in marriage. Maybe you are thinking: “I never try to control my partner.” Well, that would be super-human of you. But before you disregard the rest of this article because you don’t need it, let me ask you a few questions:

*Do you ever raise your voice or shut down during a disagreement?

*Do you ever “remind” your partner they are supposed to do something, but do it in a way that is less than kind?

*Do you ever withhold love from your partner because you don’t feel they deserve it?

*Do you ever go on and on, telling your partner what they should be doing differently or why what they did was wrong? (i.e., lecturing)

If not, that’s great. But if you’ve ever done these things with your spouse or children, I encourage you to read on. Remember: this is a common cold. It happens to the best of us.

Why do we try to change others when we know that we can’t? 
Everyone knows that trying to change someone else doesn't work. Ever. Trying to control people backfires. Real change only happens when people choose to do so. So why do we spend so much time trying to change other people? To control what they do? This isn’t going to make any sense to you, but the number one reason we do it is because we think we can! I know I just told you that we know we can’t, but why would we try if we didn’t think that we could? There is obviously a disconnect somewhere. I believe that that disconnect comes most frequently because of desire and fear.
We desire a particular type of spouse, who does or doesn’t do certain things. We have hopes and expectations galore (and these aren’t necessarily bad). These expectations are influenced by the homes we were raised in, the movies we watch, the books we read, and the news feeds we scroll through. When our expectations aren’t met, we fear that we are missing out on something. We fear that, unless we do or say something, those expectations will never be met, and that’s a really scary thought. These feelings can be really intense and they almost always lead us to do or say something to try and change our partner. But this never makes us feel any better.

Stay Out Of The Wrong Box! 
Sometimes in our efforts to help those we love, we gravitate to two extremes: we either try to control them or we do nothing. Often times we bounce between the two. One wife might say, after nagging her husband, “Fine! You don’t want me to remind you to do the dishes, then I won’t say anything!” Neither of these choices is very effective because if he’s not doing the dishes he does need some help, just not the kind this wife was willing to offer. She needs to become more persuasive, not controlling. Let me show you a diagram that I think will help you increase your persuasiveness. This diagram is an adaptation from The Power Grid by Cynthia Scott and Dennis Jaffe, presented in their book Managing Personal Change

The Box of Fulfillment 
How do you feel when you take action over something that you can control? For example, how does it feel when you actually get out of bed and go exercise? Or when you choose to be kind even when others are not? Most people say it feels satisfying, fulfilling, and empowering. This is because it feels good to act for ourselves, and not be acted upon. This box is a win-win. Not only do you feel better, you also become more persuasive. When your focus is on things you can control (your thoughts, your motivations, your words, your actions and reactions), people are more inclined to hear what you have to say. The longer you stay in this box in the way you think, speak, and act, the more persuasive you will become. 

The Box of Avoidance 
How does it feel to take no action over things that you can control? Whether it is exercise, diet, household chores, or something else, people tend to feel guilty, stagnant, and just “blah.” This is because it feels terrible when we reject our ability to act for ourselves. We stay in this box when we cave to the whims of circumstance or yield to the voices of justification. This box drains our capacity to persuade other people because it increases the likelihood we will be hypocritical and apathetic, neither of which is very persuasive. 

The Box of Frustration 
When you try to control things you can’t control, you are in this box (often referred to as the box because it is the most common box you will find spouses and parents). If you find that you are feeling frustrated or angry in your relationship, there is a pretty good chance that this is where you are. This is the hardest box to leave. It’s like there is a constant pull to be here.  Staying in this box is terrible for two reasons: First, this is a miserable place to be. It’s exhausting and frustrating. When you choose this box, the outcome inevitably leads to misery. So unless you enjoy misery, I encourage you to stay out of this box as much as you can. 
Second, the more time you stay in this box, the less persuasive you become. It’s okay to want to help your partner be a better person and to help them meet your expectations, but this box isn’t helpful. In fact, this box makes it even more likely that your partner won’t change. When was the last time that somebody trying to control you made you change? It doesn’t make any sense to stay in this box, unless you like shooting yourself in the foot. 

The Box of Acceptance 
This box requires us to take no action over those things we can’t control. While the box of frustration is the hardest box to leave, the box of acceptance is the hardest place to stay. It’s not natural to stay here. Going in this box is always an intentional choice and you do not stay here unless you are determined. Only those with a forgiving spirit are able to stay here very long. However, the payoff for staying in this box is incredible. It is in this box that you increase your capacity to be patient, charitable, non-judgmental, and accepting. Some people may mistake this box as a passive place to be, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. In this box, you actively choose to think about things differently. You choose to view circumstances and people differently, through a lens of humility, compassion, and positivity. You are probably no more persuasive than when you are in this box. If you are able to spend most of your time in this box and the box of fulfillment, you become a powerful persuasive force. Someone people want to listen to and follow.
There is a lot more that can be said about these boxes and how they apply in different circumstances, so if you have questions, feel free to ask. For now, I will wrap up with these 4 points:

**Our thoughts, feelings, words, and actions reflect which box we are in.

**Happiness in family life only occurs in the Box of Fulfillment and the Box of Acceptance. When these work in tandem, life is great.

**It is not possible to find true peace and contentment in the Box of Avoidance or the Box of Frustration. Even if it doesn't come immediately, misery will always come to those who stay in these boxes.

**Remember the Serenity Prayer: “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” 

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