Fixing your spouse vs. knowing your spouse.

As I ponder the clients I met with yesterday, an interesting pattern surfaces. In all of the marital cases there was some degree of lack of understanding about the individual or the partner. As they interacted with each other, it was like watching a mechanic try to use a screwdriver on a nail, or using a wrench on something that needed sand paper. They didn’t know their partner well enough to know how to interact with them in a constructive way. Each just got frustrated with the other because he or she was not being the way they wanted them to be.

My daughter and I were looking at some of the YouTube clips of the songs from “Fiddler on the Roof” and when we watched, “Do you love me?” I was reminded of some of the research I did back in my college days on what ingredients/factors help create successful marriages. Arranged marriages are successful for several reasons. In an arranged marriage culture, for the 10 years before the wedding, each individual is spending their mental an emotional time pondering whether or not he or she is going to be able to meet the needs of the new spouse, while in cultures like ours, we are trained to think about the opposite, which is, “Is the other person going to meet my needs?”

In an arranged marriage culture, each individual is trained to become so self aware that they are concerned that their own weaknesses might cause the marriage to fail, where today in our culture the concern is about the other person’s flaws causing the marriage to fail.

We give ourselves all sorts of room for development. If I handle something wrong because I am in a bad mood then my partner should cut me some slack, but if they do something wrong (handle a parenting moment imperfectly)then it is time for a full intervention.

It is hard enough to work on self development, like having your head under your own hood trying to find and fix your own problems, to have someone push you out of the way and start pointing out things they see are wrong with you and using the wrong tools to fix it….

The first thing (and perhaps the only thing) you need to know about your spouse is whether or not they are doing the best they can in their personal development. Almost every individual I meet in my office I ask the question, “Are you doing the best you can with the information you have?” And if I ask the question sincerely, without someone else in the room to be judgemental about their answer, the is an emotional pause, a deep breath and a confirmation that they ARE doing all they can do, followed by an exasperation because they know that it is not enough.

I ask, “Will you ask for help if you need it?” They confirm this as well, but most are quick to inform me that they are unlikely to ask their spouse for that help because the spouse is more likely to “beat them up” than to help in a constructive way.

Think of how you feel when you are asking for help. Think of how you need the other person to handle it when you ask for help. Most of us need a kind, patient and compassionate person when we are vulnerable enough to ask for help. When your spouse needs help, are you being kind, patient and compassionate?

About Maurice W. Harker, LPC

Director of Life Changing Services, Director of Sons of Helaman, Facilitator of the WORTH group, Consultant for the Daughters of Light program.