Pushing Your Spouse Do you constantly push your spouse to do things they don’t want to do? Dr. Fiore explains why you should be happy with what you have. BY DR. NEIL FIORE
Do you push your spouse to do things they don't want to?
Why do I push my spouse to do things they don’t want to do?
Have you noticed that you’ve shifted from unconditionally loving your spouse to wanting to change him or her? You may find yourself thinking, "If only they would exercise more, lose 10 pounds and clean up after themselves, they’d be perfect." Many of us think we know exactly how to run our lives in a way that is the healthiest, the coolest, the most efficient and, in a way, shows we are superior to others. Having found the secret to a near-perfect method of conducting ourselves, we generously offer to teach others. But, why do they not see our wisdom and gratefully follow our hard-won advice?
It’s only natural to want to share with others the skills you’ve mastered––often through painful trial and error––and to want to impart them to your spouse, children and co-workers. In fact, as every parent knows, it’s frustrating to see your children repeat the same mistakes you’ve made in life because they refuse to listen to you. It’s as if they’re saying, "You’re not perfect. So let me make my own mistakes."
Do opposites attract?
You may have been attracted to your spouse for the same reasons that are bugging you now. He or she is different from you, has interesting eating habits and beliefs and some peculiar obsessions that you once found endearing. And, after all, you’re more than willing to accept your spouse as a student on your better, perhaps higher, path.
Initially, both of you were once willing to be flexible and to overlook say, the difficulty of dining out when one of you is a dedicated vegan and the other favors meat and potatoes; or one of you considers "What is your sign?" as a normal introduction, and the other doesn’t know if he’s a Gemini or a Scorpio. Perhaps you weren’t considering these opposites when you were so attracted to the larger package. The truth may be that similar interests and values make us feel more comfortable with our spouse for the long-term than those attractive, quirky differences.
How much of a nag do you want to be?
If you continue to push your spouse from a superior, teaching role, he or she may initially comply to please you, but eventually will rebel. Becoming a nag is not a very attractive role and it’s ineffective. Give yourself credit for choosing your spouse and stop trying to improve him or her. If you must ask for a change of a behavior, do it as a request or assertion that says: "Excuse me dear, but I have this little obsession that makes me sensitive to morning breath/week-old dishes in the sink/talking with your mouth full. Would you mind––just for me––to pay attention to this?"
People consider their behavior and beliefs to be normal and just the way things should be. So, they don’t feel any need to change anything. But, they can make an effort for a friend or a loved one who seems to be overly sensitive. Consider how much more effective the first assertion might be when compared with: "Why don’t you do what I do? I brush my teeth first thing in the morning; wash the dishes immediately after I use them and never speak while I’m chewing my food. You should be more like me."
Be grateful for what you have.
Ultimately, a close relationship helps us rub off the prickly edges of our egos. Take one week or one month to just notice your tendency to teach your spouse; then, take one breath to stop yourself and find something you’re grateful for about him or her. Start appreciating what you have. Stop pushing and savor the differences just as you might if you were visiting a foreign country, or planet.
Dr. Neil Fiore is a psychologist practicing in Berkeley, CA, a coach, a speaker, and author of Awaken Your Strongest Self: Break Free of Stress, Inner Conflict, and Self-Sabotage [McGraw-Hill, 2006]. His bestselling guide to overcoming procrastination, The Now Habit [Putnam, 2007], is revised and available at iTunes under "Audio books," and at www.audible.com under "Self-Development." You can schedule phone sessions with Neil at "Coaching" along with his "Free Articles & Tips" at www.neilfiore.com.