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Back in the early years of my marriage, I wanted my spouse to change.
Not everything—just a few things that drove me crazy.
They say you can’t change others, and while technically that is true, you might be surprised to find you have more power than you think to change other people.
Here is the secret: to change someone else, you have to first be willing to change something you are doing.
Think about it for a second. Most of us get upset and demand or complain and criticize our spouse for not changing. If demanding, complaining, or criticizing worked, we wouldn’t need this article. I tried those things for years, and nothing was getting better in my marriage. In fact, things were getting much worse. But here is how I changed one thing I was doing—and it really did change my husband’s behavior.
My husband and I had a reoccurring argument over being late. I wanted to be on time, but he was fine with being late. This one argument got so routine, it practically led to a divorce!
Seems silly that being late can lead to divorce. But it wasn’t just the fights or the being late that made me feel bad enough to leave my marriage. It was the feelings I had every time my husband disregarded my wants and needs.
When someone perpetually ignores our requests, over time we begin to tell ourselves that the other person does not care. We can begin to believe we aren’t important enough for them to take us seriously. That is exactly where I found myself, and I was ready for something to change. Obviously, I felt certain he was the something that needed to change.
My husband’s tardiness was a frequent occurrence. It happened two or three times a week. We would make plans for the evening, usually to meet with other friends. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get my husband to come home from work on time to meet our friends at the appointed hour. Needless to say, we were always late. I did all sorts of things to “help” him be on time:
Remind him before he left for work.
Call him an hour before we were to leave.
Call to make sure he left work on time.
Helpful things like that. Can you say “over function?” Yuck.
I would even do things once he came home late. I would give him “the look” that said I was disappointed, annoyed, and angry. Then I would pout on the way to our destination. That’s hard to admit, but I was so angry. Nothing I was doing was working.
I was working with a life coach at the time who helped me see how unhelpful my actions were. She showed me that I was wrong in the way I treated him.
Just because someone treats you poorly does not mean you have the right to do the same. This was hard to hear. Who wants to treat someone respectfully when you firmly believe they are showing you so much disrespect?
One evening when things were going well, I asked my husband to join me in a conversation. I told him I regretted my behavior in the past. In the future, if he came in late for our evening plans, I would not be upset. Rather, I would wait for 15 minutes, and if he did not show up by then, I would understand and go ahead and leave. That way he could take his time and meet up with us later. No more pouting or evil eye.
I have to admit, to stop focusing on him and start focusing on me was a little more difficult than I thought. But it was really quite empowering at the same time.
See, when we try to change others, we give our power away. You will know you’re giving your power away because you will feel feelings of hopelessness, confusion, frustration, anger—negative stuff like that.
At first, it didn’t feel good to go on ahead and be on time. I remember feeling very nervous about leaving him behind—wasn’t that being mean? I struggled with this before I realized the real truth: pouting and giving him the evil eye was being mean!
Anyway, here’s the good part. As I kept being on time and focusing on that, instead of focusing on what I could not control, something magical happened.
It was around Christmas time, and I was at a company party. I had left to be on time and had been there for a bit when my husband showed up. He walked right up to me and said, “Sorry for being late. I’m going to make a real effort to be on time in the future.” You know what? Over time he was late less and less often.
Now, we never argue about his being late anymore. I am no longer late because of his actions, and I’m really not angry on the more rare occasions that he is running behind. Our marriage is better because I’m not trying to control him anymore.
All of this changed just because I stopped trying to get my husband to change and focused on changing how I reacted to him instead.
And they say you can’t change others.