Still trying to change your spouse?

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The way your spouse dominates conversations at parties drives you crazy. Or maybe your spouse’s fixation on keeping an immaculate house exhausts you. Even after decades together, you may be still hankering to change your spouse in some way. 

“People love to ‘fix,’ change, or control others to make them more like themselves,” says Tony Ferretti, Ph.D., a psychologist and co-author of Change Your Life, Not Your Wife: Marriage-Saving Advice for Success-Driven People. “They justify this desire with the rationalization that if a spouse were to change, he or she would be much happier, better as a person, and would experience life more positively. In some cases, people struggle with insecurities and want to focus on the spouse’s problems as a way to feel better about themselves.” 

But the reality is, you can’t change your spouse. The harder you try, the less successful you’ll be, Dr. Ferretti says. “No one likes to be told what to do or how he or she should be different.” 

Instead, try looking inward and putting that energy into making changes in yourself and your relationship’s issues, advises Dr. Ferretti. (The exception, of course, is if you’re worried about destructive habits such as drinking, gambling, or abusive behavior—which do require change.)

Some places to start:

  • Consider irritations as complements to the relationship. Perhaps his childlike ways are a good counterbalance to your tendency to take life too seriously. Maybe her fanatic obsession with cleaning and organizing prevents the house from turning into total chaos. 
  • Reframing differences as gifts that your spouse brings to the relationship will help you see your partner in a new light and make you more appreciative of his or her uniqueness.
  • Practice forgiveness. Maybe your spouse can’t help pinching pennies or always running late. “Forgiveness for aggravations like these builds relationships and helps you let go of disappointment, hurt, and sadness—knowing that certain expectations likely will not be met,” Dr. Ferretti says.
  • Keep a positive reminder. Jot down your spouse’s best traits to help keep you cognizant of all the good. If you’re comfortable, it’s even better to do this together as a marriage-building exercise.
  • Value “you” time. Spend time doing things that don’t involve your partner. “Couples need an individual identity and ways to experience fulfillment and happiness independent of their relationship,” Dr. Ferretti says. “Otherwise, they may become overly dependent on each other to fulfill all of their needs, which is impossible. In fact, having interests and activities outside of your marriage can bring positive energy, stimulation, and fun to the relationship.” 
  • Don’t forget to laugh. Tame tension by seeking out humor—for example, recalling funny moments or spending time with others who make you laugh. “Laughter can restore a positive emotional connection, defuse negative emotions, and increase intimacy,” Dr. Ferretti says. “Humor creates happier marriages and closer relationships.” That said, the humor should never be at the expense of your partner.
  • Invest in the relationship, not in changing your partner. “Successful marriages are a partnership of equals whereby each partner takes responsibility for (and only for) his or her own feelings, thoughts, and actions,” Dr. Ferretti says.