Are you tackling some projects around the house this summer?
That’s great. Just make sure that fixing up your husband isn’t one of them.
Treating your spouse like an endless fixer-upper project is one of the most dangerous things you can do to your marriage. But It’s all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking you can change him to meet your ideal. Women are under a lot of pressure to be “perfect” in all ways. And we tend to transfer those expectations, and the stress that goes along with them, to our relationships with our husbands.
In marriage, each partner needs to be seen and accepted as is. Treating your husband as a project tells him he’s not okay. Constant correction — of the way he does the laundry, talks to the kids, dresses for work, acts at a party, you name it — will eventually push him away. He may seem compliant to your wishes on the outside, but could end up feeling resentful and suffocated inside. In the worst case scenario, he ends up feeling rejected, an especially painful experience for anyone.
It’s fine to inspire each other to continue growing. Love truly can bring out our best. But before you push your spouse to change, ask yourself these important questions:
1. Is this a deal breaker? Be clear about the types of things you cannot tolerate in your relationship (i.e., addiction to drugs or alcohol, disrespect, etc.), and then directly request that your husband change those. He may agree to change, or he may not. If he refuses to work on altering something you can’t tolerate, then you have important decisions to make about the future of your relationship.
2. How realistic am I being? Ask yourself, “Is it realistic to expect my quiet, reserved husband to become really social?” Everyone has a range of qualities, some of which you will love, and others that may drive you crazy. It’s not wise to attempt to change your husband’s core personality, unless you feel like banging your head up against a brick wall! Acceptance is the key here. Don’t ask your partner to twist themselves into a pretzel in order to be with you.
3. What is the message my husband is getting? Will that make him feel more or less confident? More or less valued? Want to get close to me or push further away? If you are constantly pointing out what your husband needs to change, it will ultimately take a toll on how he feels about himself. Remember to minimize criticism because it is one of the things that can unravel the marital bond. People usually pull away from people who make them feel bad about themselves.
4. Who actually needs to change? If you have a tendency toward perfectionism, be careful to keep that in check. When you judge yourself harshly and don’t embrace your own vulnerabilities, it’s easy to be critical of your partner, too. You may need to ease up on yourself in order to ease up on him. True acceptance will make both of you stronger, which is ultimately great for your relationship.
5. Can I let go if this change doesn’t happen? Because you’re married to an adult, they have the right to say, “no” to requests you make. In long-term relationships, it’s important to let go of wishes that are not going to come true. Otherwise, resentment can build ever so quickly. If you’ve asked for a change that is not a deal breaker for you and change is not happening, work on wholeheartedly accepting things as they are and letting go.
When you are realistic about the changes you would like, negotiate respectfully for them, and accept what you cannot change, you may find that your husband seems like less of a “project.” And you can save your fixer-upper impulses for your home improvement projects!