We all want to be loved unconditionally and accepted for who we are. So, it makes sense that you would want to love and accept your spouse, too, in order to truly love well. But, what do you do about those parts of your spouse that are annoying or disappointing, the parts you honestly wish were different?
In a nutshell, you can’t change ‘em, and if you think you can, you are in for a heap of trouble. If you struggle with wanting to “fix” your beloved, here are some tips to change course:
1) Have you accepted yourself? If you are critical of yourself and don’t forgive yourself for mistakes, how can you possibly be accepting of others? First, make peace with yourself. Other than Jesus Himself, no one is perfect, including you. Psalm 139 is a great passage of Scripture to meditate on to learn self-acceptance through seeing yourself the way God sees you.
2) Let go of unrealistic expectations. Think about the expectations you have for your spouse. Then, put those same expectations on yourself. Many times, the things that frustrate us about others are actually things that are true of ourselves. For instance, you may wish your husband was more social and outgoing, but if you are honest, you are critical of yourself for being introverted. If this is the case, go back to #1.
3) Give feedback, not criticism. There are likely parts of your husband or wife that you married hoping would change. Perhaps you have even discussed these things and your spouse has acknowledged them as weaknesses. Giving feedback in a kind way can be very helpful to helping someone see the need for personal growth, but you cannot make another person want to grow. You must let go of expectations that your spouse must change in order for you to love him or her.
4) You can love your spouse and still not like everything they do or say. My mom used to say, “I love you, but I don’t like what you are doing right now.” People change because they decide to change. And, if your spouse did change those things that are bothersome to you, those changes would likely impact the parts that you do like. People are packages, not parts to pick and choose among.
5) Grow Spiritually. It is good to be honest with God about the things you wish were different about your spouse. Ask God to help you see your spouse with the love God has for him or her and accept your spouse in the meantime, even if you never see the change you want. Spiritual growth includes learning to accept the things you cannot change.
6) Set Boundaries. Accepting someone is not the same as tolerating abuse. Being physically, emotionally, or sexually abused is not love. If you have an abusive spouse, connect with supportive people or a therapist to determine the boundaries you need to put in place.
7) Focus on the Positive. It is human nature to be critical and see the worst in people. If you look for the bad, you will find it. But, if you train yourself to look for the positive in someone, it will be there. For couples, it can be very helpful to remember the things you fell in love with about your spouse, the good things. Notice those things as much as possible and brag on your spouse about them. As you focus on the good, you will notice your heart softening toward your spouse and then feeling renewed affection.
The bottom line is that God, who is love, looks at your spouse with greater love than we can probably imagine. If God, who is perfect, can love your spouse, He can help you learn to love unconditionally too.
If this is a struggle for you, give us a call. We help couples in this predicament on a regular basis. It is possible to change.