You feel like you have tried everything to get your spouse to understand what you need in your relationship. But nothing is working. Or if it works, it doesn’t last for long. You are so frustrated, but you don’t want to throw in the towel. Because even though you sometimes feel at the end of your rope, you really want your marriage to work.
I hear you. Marriage isn’t easy. You put two imperfect people together who are most of the time trying their best but sometimes get in their own way, and it can get messy. You fumble. You try something new. You don’t try anything for a while. But you know you want something to change.
Ways People Try to Improve Their Marriage
Most people start by trying to get their spouse to see what they are doing or not doing. Or by suggesting they read a book together to find ways to improve their marriage. But the one thing that is usually missing from the search to improve one’s marriage relationship is identifying what you can do differently. Again, I truly get how it’s so much easier to see what the other person is doing or not doing.
Some of you understand that you play a part in the relationship problem, but it can be extremely hard to see the details beyond this intellectual idea. It’s hard to take an honest, objective, non-judgemental look at ourselves. That is, to really get what your spouse is up against when they are talking and living with you. And to do this without judging yourself, but instead noticing the strengths and the challenges you bring to each interaction.
The idea is not to go from blaming your spouse to blaming yourself. Instead, it’s about learning to see all the moving pieces, the bigger picture, so then you can focus on the piece that you have the authority to do something about. That is, taking 100% responsibility for just your part in the problem.
Working on Your Part is More than Self-Care
And by working on your part, I don’t mean just practice self-care. While you may need to take better care of yourself, working on your part is usually bigger than going to the gym or getting a pedicure. Working on your part includes really understanding your part in helping create the problem you are struggling with. Then identifying what you want to do differently, so you can feel less tense and more relief.
You may identify several things you want to do differently: taking more time for yourself, confiding in your spouse more than your children, working on not taking your spouse’s actions personally, focusing on what they do more than what they don’t do, etc. These ideas include not only self-care but also how you relate and think about your spouse as well as how you think about yourself and manage your reactions. We are never really done working on our part because we are always evolving and adapting to changes within and around us.
3 Components for Working on Self to Improve Your Marriage
Before you get overwhelmed with all you could work on, let’s break down the components of working on self to improve your marriage. You will be focusing on growing these three things:
1. Self-Awareness: Identifying your part in co-created relationship problems. Observe your positive and negative interactions with your spouse. What do you think your part is in the co-created distance and/or conflict?
2. Self-Responsibility: Taking responsibility for your thoughts, feelings, and actions. We all have the tendency to either put all the blame on ourselves or the other person. Instead of shifting the blame back and forth, own just your part.
3. Self-Directed: Becoming less regulated by others’ reactions. How do you take your spouse’s behavior less personally? Start to see your spouse as separate from you. Instead of fixing or avoiding your spouse, connect compassionately and curiously.
The idea is that if both people (or at least one person) is working on their part more than working on their spouse, then there will be less pressure on the relationship to be your source of happiness. With less pressure on the relationship, it is easier to connect intimately and enjoy each other’s company. You feel less frustrated and you are more open to connecting instead of wrapped up in your own thoughts.
What’s one thing you’ve worked on within yourself or in relating differently with your spouse that’s helped not only reduce your frustration but also improve your connection?
Are you interested in learning more about working on just your part in order to reduce not only your stress but also improve your connection? Marci Payne, MA, LPC offers marriage counseling for one at her practice in Independence MO and online. She helps men and women who are struggling in their relationships find better ways to connect even if there is only one spouse in the therapy room. Schedule your free 15-minute phone consult with Marci to determine if working with a counselor is the next best step to take. (Note: Relationship counseling for one includes those in nearby areas of Blue Springs, Grain Valley, and Lee’s Summit.)