I’m surrounded by weddings right now. Officiated a ceremony Saturday, started pre-marital counseling for another couple Sunday, and will soon be headed out the door traveling to another wedding this weekend.
I’d like to share with you one of the really important, hard to explain, hard to practice truths about marriage that will almost certainly make you a better partner for your husband or wife.
It’s an ongoing tension that the most successful marriages manage better than the rest. Here it is:
Sometimes love means encouraging your partner to change and sometimes it means loving them exactly as they are.
I didn’t say it would be easy!
I did say it’s a tension to manage. Here are the 2 parts:
First, being happily married requires certain relational skills. When those are lacking (or completely absent) the loving thing to do is pursue them. These are the parts of your marriage that can and should change. If you’ve been married 5 years, for example, talking about important things with your spouse should be easier now.
Here’s a handy-dandy list of some areas where you can and should try to change yourself and your partner:
- Communication: learning how to listen, feeling more confident expressing yourself, etc.
- Conflict Resolution: learning how to have a good fight – not avoiding, not exploding
- Personal Habits: learning to share chores, accommodate each others schedules, and put the toilet seat down
- Financial Management: coming to see eye to eye on finances and agree on shared goals
- Sex: both your affection and your ability to discuss intimate things together should increase
- Spirituality: If you can get naked in front of each other, you should be able to pray with each other.
Again, all of these are things that should get better over time. Love means change – in these areas.
On the other hand, being married requires respect. So when it comes to fundamental issues of identity and personality, you should never ask or demand your partner to change. These are the parts of your marriage where you should accept that “it is what it is” and learn to appreciate how it is. If your partner wasn’t outgoing when you dated, for example, what makes you think they should be more outgoing now?
Here’s a handy-dandy list of some areas where you should give up trying to change yourself and your partner immediately:
- Extrovert/Introvert: Some people get their energy from being around others; others get their energy from being alone. That’s just how it is.
- Basic Orientation to Change: Some see change as exciting, others as frightening. You just have to respect that your partner may react to big news very differently than you.
- Task or Relationship Focus: Some are more driven to achieve and find satisfaction in completing a task. Others are more attuned to relationships and find satisfaction in pleasing others.
- Emotional Steadiness: Some are easily rattled and some are near-impervious to stress. Chicken Little will never be Spock and vice versa.
Again, all of these are things that have to do with personality, and therefore asking them to change is asking them to be someone else. Give up trying to change your partner in these areas. You’ll both be glad you did!
I’m sure there are things to add to both lists, but the main thing – again – is to see that sometimes love means encouraging your partner to change and sometimes it means loving them exactly as they are. Forgetting the former leads to complacency and distance. Forgetting the latter builds resentment quickly.
The next time there’s tension in your relationship, remember THIS tension and ask – Is this a skill thing? (If so, work on it!) or Is this a personality thing?(If so, leave it alone!). If it’s multilayered – and it probably is – I hope these questions help you sort out the layers and answer the question – Should I ask my partner to change?