Soon after the wedding, the process begins. That adorable, "perfect" person starts to irritate you. Behavior you could never have imagined appears. You discover your spouse doesn't know how to fold towels "over and under" and doesn't seem interested in learning. Your mate knows how to open drawers but not how to close them. Even the way they load the dishwasher is irritating.
But you're certain that with a little instruction, the person you married will change. Several months later, your spouse still isn't responding to your improvement program. So you begin a new approach: manipulation. You find out what he likes and use it to get what you want. You manipulate by sex, flattery, flowers, even new cars. By the end of your first year, your frustration level has sky-rocketed and you resort to arguments, tears, temper tantrums, and threats.
Karolyn and I struggled with these irritations. I know manipulation doesn't work, because I tried it. We can't demand change; we request change.
Step 1: Choose your setting. By setting I mean time, place, and your mate's feelings. The ideal time is after a meal. No one responds well when hungry! The place should be private, never public. Pointing out something in front of others is negative, even if you couch it in humor. And always consider your mate's feelings. Is he or she emotionally ready to receive a suggestion tonight? Sometimes the answer is no. She's been overloaded with requests, and simply can't take another one.
How do you determine if your spouse is emotionally ready? Ask. "Would this be a good night to make a request of you?" If the answer is no, I can almost guarantee he'll be back in less than an hour saying, "About that request. What did you have in mind?" Curiosity can be irresistible!
Step 2: Don't give an overdose. By nature, this is exactly what we do. We hold inside all our irritations, and when enough pressure builds, we erupt with a long list of things we wish our spouse would change. What happens when you tell your spouse five things that irritate you all on the same night? You kill the motivation to change. Try one request every two weeks. That's 26 a year. The husband can make his request this week and the wife can make hers next week.
Step 3: Give compliments along with your request. Tell me three things you like about me before you tell me one thing you'd like to see changed.
I remember when Karolyn requested that I "get the hairs out of the sink." Before she made her request, she said, "First, let me tell you how much I appreciate that you got the bugs off my windshield last night. Second, I love that you hang up your clothes. I talk with other wives who say their husbands throw clothes all over the house. Third, I really appreciate that you vacuumed the floor on Thursday night. That's next door to heaven to me. One, two, three. Are you ready? Those hairs in the sink bug me."
Did I get the hairs out of the sink? You bet! Why? Because she likes me. Look, I'm already better than some guys. I want to be better, and she's given me a suggestion. I'm highly motivated, and I'm now an expert on "getting hairs out of the sink."
What about those things your spouse cannot or will not change? The answer is found in 1 Peter 4:8: "Love covers over a multitude of sins." I'll paraphrase that to say, "Love accepts many imperfections." Your spouse will never do everything the way you desire, even if you follow my three-step program. Some husbands have been running behind their wives, turning off lights, for 15 years. Each time they turn off the light, they mumble another noble sermon about saving money and poor stewardship. But their wives still don't turn off the lights. While I don't want to discourage you, if your spouse hasn't turned off the lights in 15 years, she may never. Maybe you need to understand that she's the light-turner-on-er, and you're the light-turner-off-er. Love accepts many imperfections.
Copyright © 2004 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.