How to ask for change… without pissing off your spouse.

Sometimes I (Dr. Heitler) get invited to be a guest poster on other people’s blogs.  Recently, I had the honor of guest blogging on Alisa Bowman’s terrific marriage blog,

The conversation became quite lively, so I thought I’d summarize my thoughts here.  Here’s the particularly good question that sparked the discussion:

Q: Whenever I ask my spouse to change, she gets mad at me and says that I’m always blaming her and picking on her. How can I improve my marriage if my spouse won’t even listen to my requests?

Here’s some of the advice I’ve been giving:

Your job is to look at what YOU can do differently vis a vis your wife’s habits. Trying to change YOUR WIFE will invite her to feel blamed and picked on.

So skip the requests.

Instead, give feedback about how her actions affect you.  And figure out new ways to prevent or to respond to your wife’s unacceptable behaviors.

Here’s an example of giving feedback.

Dan’s wife frequently left her clothes on the bedroom floor, so Dan explained to her, “I like when there’s a place for everything and everything is in its place. I feel edgy around messiness. When I see your clothes on our bedroom floor, my hackles go up and I feel irritable toward you.”

After receiving your feedback about your reactions to something she/he is doing, hopefully your spouse will begin to think about making changes.  That’s called “responsivity.”  Responsivity is a sure winner for creating a happy home life.

Even without responsivity from your spouse though, you can be thinking about what you could do differently that might help.

Dan came up with a great idea.  He found a large and quite attractive basket, which he placed next to the reading chair and lamp in their bedroom.  “How about if we use this basket as the laundry basket instead of just the one in our closet.  Let’s see how good we can get at shooting hoops as we take off clothes!   Look,” he added with a grin, “I can pop my sock in, I think, from way over here!”

Dan then pulled a lovely side chair from another room.  It just fit into the small space next to the new basket.  “How about if we drape clothes that have been worn but don’t yet need laundering on this chair?” he asked his wife.  “That way if we don’t want to take the time to hang them up, they still won’t end up on the floor.”

Dan’s wife laughed.  “I love it, and I love you,” she said, punctuating her comments with a kiss.

….. If you want to read more of the conversation this topic triggered, check it out here:

– Dr. Heitler