Out of all the literature I have read and all the skills I have tried, I have decided that these two things are the most important ways that you can improve your relationship. When I embrace these two things, I am so happy with my marriage! And when I forget them…things can get gloomy again.
The two best ways to improve your marriage are:
- Accept your spouse EXACTLY as they are
- Focus your attention on what YOU can do for the relationship.
Now, I do want to give a caveat that these tips are for people who don’t have an abusive relationship. If you are in a relationship that you feel is abusive, don’t accept your spouse the way they are. Do what you feel is best – get divorced, leave the situation – whatever you feel you need to do.
But for everyone else who feels unsatisfied with their relationship but still wants to remain together, these two tips can do wonders for you.
Accept your spouse EXACTLY as they are
The first key to good relationships is to accept your partner exactly as they are. Stop wishing that they would change.
A lot of times, we spend all our brain power thinking about the things we wish were different about our spouses. We think about “if they did this differently, then I would be so much happier.” But guess what? We can’t control them. Let me repeat that. You have ABSOLUTELY NO control over your partner. So if you can’t control them, why spend all your time thinking about how they should be different? Sounds like you are just making yourself miserable.
Sometimes I feel like “I just want my husband to love me and cherish me above ANYTHING. And then I could love him.” What if he feels the same way? Someone has to start loving first.
Don’t you want someone to accept you EXACTLY as you are? If you are loved exactly as you are, without someone wishing you would change, that love feels so secure. So supportive. If that is what we want, then that is what we should give.
Let’s talk about manipulation for a moment. Manipulation is where you try to force someone else to do something (maybe through guilt-tripping them, coaxing them, crying, complaining, etc.). Manipulation isn’t very healthy, but we all naturally do it to some degree. So what I am suggesting is that you intentionally stop trying to manipulate your partner and just accept where they are right now.
Focus your attention on what YOU can do for the relationship
I’ve seen this principle in many different marriage programs. In Drs. Stanley and Markman’s PREP program, it is called “Do your part” and is one of the three keys to success in relationships. In Gottman’s program, it is woven throughout many of his principles such as “Nurture your fondness and admiration” and “Turn towards each other instead of away” and “Let your partner influence you.” It all centers on giving you back your power and focusing on what YOU can do instead of what your partner should do.
If you think “If my spouse would just clean up, then I would be happier.” Do you realize what you are doing? You are giving your spouse all the power to your happiness. Instead, let’s take the power back. Let’s focus on what you can do alone.
Can you be happy with your partner even if they don’t clean up? What good parts about your spouse could you focus on to create feelings of happiness? Remember that your feelings come from your thoughts. So we can have more control over our feelings when we intentionally try to think certain things.
I like to ask myself: “How do I want to show up in this relationship?” If your partner isn’t going to change how they act anytime soon, then what do you want to do about it?
The Great Part
So the great part about these two things is that it eventually leads to what you want: a better and happier marriage. If you radically accept your partner, then in the future it will be more likely that you will be able to influence them.
No one wants to take advice from anyone unless they know that that person accepts them fully.
So if you really seek to understand and accept your partner, they will probably accept influence from you. It is ironic because by giving up the need to influence them, you are able to influence them more. But you don’t do it because you want to change them. You accept them because you have learned to love them deeply.