Dr. Peter Pearson

Article Summary:

Always dealing with the same problems in your marriage? Here's how to influence your partner to change their problematic habits.

Problems In Your Marriage? How to Influence Change in Your Partner

Everyone has something they'd like to change in their spouse. Here is a 7-step process to create a change in your partner. The key to the success of this process is that it makes your partner want to change, instead of feeling coerced.

1. MAKE A LIST of the top three behaviors your partner does that annoy you. For example, leaves messes around house, pouts, doesn't do their share of household tasks. Then select the one problem that has the best chance of your partner responding to your discomfort. You'll increase your chances for success dramatically by focusing on one problem at a time. Let's go for a big one here and say the problem is that your partner is not involved in household chores.

2. DESCRIBE THE PROBLEM in clear detail. This includes what your partner does and your reaction to the problem. For example: "Honey, there is a problem I need to discuss with you. When you come home from work and start reading the mail, change your clothes, or turn on the news without looking around and noticing the kids are cranky, squalling for dinner, and I'm really busy making dinner, I see you as a blind and insensitive clod."

3. DESCRIBE YOUR REACTION to the problem. "When you act so oblivious, I think you care much more about responding to your own needs first and foremost, and you pitch in only when it is convenient for you. I feel angry, alone, and resentful. When I feel that way I end up being chilly to you and withdrawing any affection. I don't like how I react but that is what I have been doing."

Here is the "formula" for describing the problem.
A) You have specified the behavior of "not being involved in household chores" by giving specific examples.
B) You have given your reaction to it by stating: "when you do (the behavior) I think_____ (you're inconsiderate...) and feel _____ (angry, alone, resentful), and then I do _____ (withhold affection).

It is important to let your partner know what your complete response is to the behavior that is a problem. Especially let them know what you do when you think and feel the way you do. This really informs your partner of the consequence to them when they do the undesired behavior. Include in your reaction the meaning of the problem for you. For example, lack of involvement in household tasks represents not being loved, respected, or valued.

4. BE EMPATHETIC. Tell your partner why you think it would be hard for them to change the undesired behavior. This lets them know you see the problem from both perspectives and that you have an appreciation for what you're asking them to change. For example, "Honey, I think pitching in when you get home would be difficult because you feel depleted and want some time to yourself in order to regenerate. I think pitching in at the level I want is a lot to ask of you."

5. DESCRIBE HOW YOU WILL HELP. Because you're not just going to make a request and then hope for the best, the next step is to describe what you will do to help your partner make the change you want. For example, "Honey, your pitching in when you get home is so important to me that I will do _____________ ." (Fill in here what you think will be a high motivator for your partner to make the requested change.)

6. ASK IF THEY ARE WILLING to make the change you're requesting. Are you willing to get involved in household chores? They may agree to all or part or none of your request. They might say "no" to you but would be more willing to consider the change if you offered a different motivator or inducement to change. Then you can decide if it is worth your efforts.

7. FIND OUT WHY. Regardless of whether they are willing to change or not, ask why. Knowing why they are willing to change will help you understand what motivates them. You'll be able to encourage them more effectively along the way. If they don't want to change, finding out why not will help you determine how to move forward. In that case you still have two more options. One, you can ask if this is a temporary or more permanent position. If it seems there will be no change for now, let them know the consequences-how you think, feel and act-and then drop it for now. The second option is to go to the second problem on your list and repeat the sequence described above.

Of course the biggest improvements in a couples' relationship come when both people change and grow. But there are often things you'd like your partner to change, and this format helps you do it in a way that supports both of you.

Peter Pearson, Ph.D., and his wife Dr. Ellyn Bader, are founders of The Couples Institute in Menlo Park, CA. Since 1984, they have helped people create extraordinary relationships. Authors, speakers, and therapists, they have been featured on over 50 radio and TV programs including "The Today Show" and "CBS Early Morning News." For more information, visit the Couples Institute.

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