“You’ve Changed!” – In therapy, I hear many couples state their spouse has changed since they have been married.
I listen intently as they describe and discuss their spouse who they believe is not the same person he or she was the day they said: “I do!” After being accused of changing, the accused typically states something like, “No I haven’t changed. I am the same person!” Sometimes they even reverse the accusation and accuse their spouse of the same offense while stating, “You are the one that’s changed!” The truth is your spouse more than likely has changed, and so have you. This is good! If you have been married more than a few years and there has not been any change this is certainly a problem for several reasons.
1. Change is inevitable – don’t try to stop it
Nothing stays the same, especially when it comes to the human race. From the day we are conceived we are changing daily. We change from an embryo, then a fetus, then an infant, a toddler, a small child, pre-teen, teen, young adult, and so on. Our brains change, our bodies change, our knowledge base changes, our skill base changes, our likes and dislikes changes, and our habits change. This list of ongoing changes could go on for pages. According to Erik Erikson’s theory not only are we changing biologically, but our concerns, life challenges, and priorities change as well throughout each period or phase of life. If we are constantly changing since conception, why would that suddenly stop the day we get married?
For some odd reason, we expect change to stop once our spouse decides they want to spend the rest of their days with us. We want them to remain the person they are the day we fell in love with them forever as if we can’t love them any other way.
2. When we fail to give our spouse permission to change
Lack of change in a marriage is a problem is that change is often an indication of growth. I think we can all agree that when we say we haven’t changed, we are essentially saying there has been no growth. When we fail to give our spouse permission to change we are telling them they aren’t allowed to grow, evolve, or progress. I acknowledge that all change is not positive or healthy change, however, this too is a part of life. Everything won’t be as we anticipated or wished for.
Personally, I have been married 19 years, and I am grateful neither of us is the same as we were when we exchanged vows in our early 20’s. We were great people then as we are now, however, we were inexperienced and had a lot to learn.
3. Lack of recognizing factors that impede growth
Various mental health conditions and/or emotional problems, chemical dependence, or exposure to trauma can prevent growth and change. A licensed clinician can assess and diagnose to determine whether there is a clinical issue that needs to be treated.
4. We simply don’t like some of the changes
Now that we know our spouses will change and should change, let’s talk about why adapting to those changes can be so difficult. There are numerous answers to this question, but the most basic and most important answer is we simply don’t like some of the changes. There are changes we see in our spouses that we applaud and appreciate, and there are those that we simply don’t welcome, we despise and frown upon.
5. Allow your spouse to evolve into the person they choose to be
I encourage all married people to allow their spouses to evolve into the man or woman they were meant to be and choose to be. Trying to shape someone’s behavior or personality other than your own results in frustration, conflict, and strained relationships. When an adult feels as if they can’t be themselves, you are embarrassed simply because they are being themselves in the presence of others, and they feel rejected by their spouse they are at risk of experiencing symptoms of anxiety and depression, feelings of sadness, anger, resentment, and possible thoughts of infidelity. Each of us wants to feel accepted by our spouses and feel as if they are okay with who we are rather than embarrassed by who we are.
A good example is a wife expecting her husband to return to college to acquire his degree because she wants him to have a better career. She is well educated, has a prestigious title with her employer, and is always very vague when her colleagues inquire about her husband’s career. She is ashamed of the current title her husband holds with his employer. She continues to suggest her husband further his education, although she is aware he has no desire to do so and is happy with his current career. This could result in her husband resenting her, feeling as if she is ashamed of him, feeling inadequate, and might make him question his marriage altogether. Wanting the best for your better half is essential in a happy marriage.
Sometimes it is important to accept that your best for your spouse may not be the same as their best for themselves. Allow him/her to be who they are and allow them to be happy. This is one of many good reasons that discussing career goals with future spouse prior to getting married is important. This will give the opportunity to decide if their career goals match yours, if not, decide whether you be able to live and coexist happily with different goals and possibly conflicting definitions of success.
Address the potential harm and developing a plan of action
When changes that are harmful to personal well-being or the health of the relationship occur, the approach that is taken is key in addressing the potential harm, and developing a plan to cope and/or adjust. Approaching the subject and your spouse with love and understanding rather than malice and anger is important. It is also important that both parties are able to play a role in developing a plan to reduce potential harm and make additional changes together if needed. This approach will reduce the likelihood of one party feeling as if the changes that have occurred and the plan to adjust to the changes is being done “to them” rather than “with them.”