Does your marriage challenge you to be a better person? Healthy marriages often help people strive to be the best person possible. If you and your spouse aren’t gently helping one another grow, there are some things you can do to help one another.
It is a great goal in life to constantly want to improve. This doesn’t mean you need to have low self-esteem or feel bad about where you are in life now, however, wanting to be a better person can prevent you from growing bored with life. It can help you keep life in perspective and can help you to grow as an individual.
Sometimes, as we strive to make ourselves better, it is hard to look outside ourselves to see what we could be working on. This is where a partner can help. A spouse who feels comfortable to gently offer you some feedback can help you to see some areas where you could improve. However, accepting such feedback can be difficult. It requires you to be very open-minded as well as humble. It also requires you to try and examine your behaviors as objectively as possible.
One Couple’s Example
Emily and Maurice had been married for several years. Maurice had made some gains over the years in learning to improve his social skills as well as how to talk about his feelings honestly. He did so with support and feedback from Emily.
Maurice’s habits included things such as bragging and dominating a conversation. Over time, he recognized that his need to be the center of attention often sprang up from insecurities. When he bragged about things, he felt like others looked up to him. However, he sometimes lost friends and offended his family. He turned to Emily for help about what to do.
Together they developed a plan. Whenever they spent time with friends and family, they would have a discussion about it afterward. She offered him some feedback about how she thinks others responded to him. She would point out things such as, “I think Chris really liked that you spent a lot of time asking him about his new job.” She also offered some critiques such as “I think you may have hurt Al’s feelings a little when he was talking about how he can run two miles and you said you could do that in your sleep.”
Maurice agreed to listen and think about whatever Emily told him. He sometimes disagreed with her critiques; for example, stating, “Everyone knew I was joking when I said that.” However, he spent at least a day thinking about it before coming to any conclusions. And when he did agree with Emily’s feedback, she participated in talking with him about ways that he could handle the situation differently in the future.
Discussing Options with Your Spouse
In order to be effective, both partners must agree to view this as a partnership. Otherwise, if you are simply trying to change aspects of your partner that he doesn’t want to change, it isn’t going to be effective. In fact, it could be damaging to your marriage.
Talk to your partner about your desire to grow as a human being. If you have specific ways in mind, such as how to do better at budgeting, interacting socially, or being more responsible, discuss this. Tell you partner exactly what you would like to see yourself doing differently and what this might look like.
Discuss how your partner can be helpful to you. Create a plan that will increase your awareness of the problem and strategies for how to address it. Then decide what steps each of you will take.
Ask your partner if he would like any help making any changes of his own. If he doesn’t, accept that for now. If he does, invite him to tell you how you can be helpful to him in making this change.
Practice Giving and Receiving Feedback
There’s an art to both giving and receiving feedback. When you are giving feedback to your partner, learn how to deliver the information in a gentle, non-judgmental way. Stick to the facts as well. For example, say something like, “I noticed you spent $200 on clothing this week” instead of “you bought tons of stuff you don’t even need.”
When receiving feedback, agree on a timeline of how long you will consider the information given to you by your spouse. When your spouse gives you the feedback, don’t argue. Instead, develop a response such as “thank you, I will think about that.” Then agree to spend a day, a week, or even a month thinking about the information and deciding if you want to change.
Remember that the feedback is designed to help you and not hurt you. The goal is to help you live the life you want to live, not cut you down and make you feel bad about yourself. If you and your partner are struggling with this or if it is making the situation worse, consider marriage counseling as an option to help the two of you work together as partners who want the best for each other.