Most couples I encounter in my counseling office have dreams of how wonderful their marriage would be if only … The if only statements almost always focus on things they wish their spouse would change:
- I wish she would get rid of some junk.
- I wish he'd help me keep the house cleaner.
- I wish she wouldn't worry so much.
- I wish he'd plan date nights once or twice a month.
- I wish she'd stop being so critical.
- I wish he would express appreciation for what I do.
- I wish she would stop criticizing me in front of our children.
- I wish he would put things away when he finishes a project.
My guess is you also have a wish list. The good news is that many of your wishes can come true. Try these three steps and see if your spouse becomes more responsive to your desires.
Step 1: Look at yourself
The first step may be the most difficult because it begins with you. Jesus said in Matthew 7 that we are first to "take the plank out of our own eye."
Identifying your past failures in the marriage and being willing to confess these to your spouse is the first step to making your wishes come true. The wife who is willing to say to her husband, "I realize I've been spending too much time with my mother and not enough time with you. I feel badly about that, and I'd like to ask you to forgive me. I want to make that different in the future" is on the road to seeing her wishes become reality.
Your willingness to deal with past failures communicates to your spouse that you are serious and want to improve your marriage. By nature we tend to wait for our spouse to take the initiative. But how about you taking the initiative? Even if you feel your failures are minimal, dealing with them creates an atmosphere of growth.
Step 2: Speak the right love language
The second step is speaking, unconditionally and at least once a week, your spouse's love language. The five languages are: words of affirmation, gifts, acts of service, quality time, and physical touch. One of these speaks more deeply to your spouse than the other four. Learning to speak his or her primary love language will change the emotional climate in your marriage.
Step 3: Request change
The third step is the one you have been waiting for: you request change. So prepare your wish list and get ready to watch your spouse change.
Here are the guidelines for making requests.
- Limit your requests to one every other week. (That's 26 requests a year. If you could see 26 things change, would that be a good year for you?)
- Never make a request when your spouse is hungry or tired.
- Always make your requests in private—never in front of other people. When you bring up something in front of others, it becomes a putdown to your spouse.
- Ask if your spouse is emotionally ready for you to make your request. For example, "Would this be a good night for me to make a request of you or would it be better to wait?" This respects the emotional state of your spouse and gives the right to select a more appropriate time.
- Precede your request with at least three compliments. A husband might say, "Before I share my request, let me tell you how much I appreciate the fact that you cook good meals for the children and me. I really appreciate all the work you invest in doing that. Secondly, I want you to know how much I appreciate the fact that you take my shirts to the laundry each week. That's a real help to me. Thirdly, I want you to know how much I appreciate your involvement at church. It makes me feel good when I see you singing in the choir. Bottom line, I really like you. Now, here's my request. Would it be possible for you to get the hairs out of the sink before you leave the bathroom?"
Chances are that's the last time he will see a hair in the sink. His wife feels loved and appreciated. She's motivated to respond to his request.
Gary D. Chapman, Ph.D., author of The Chapman Guide to Negotiating Change with Your Spouse
(Tyndale House), has been married 45 years to Karolyn.
Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today/Marriage Partnership magazine. Click here for reprint information on Marriage Partnership.