Editor's note: This is the fourth in a five-part series on improving your marriage. This week's edition of LIFEadvice is about the benefits of seeing the best in your spouse.
SALT LAKE CITY — If you have been following my series on marriage the last three weeks, you have read about how your two core fears (of failure and loss) are creating selfishness, defensiveness and conflict in your relationship.
In article two I addressed the importance of working on your self-esteem, to quiet your fear of failure, which makes you more capable of loving your spouse. In article three we talked about forgiveness, which is the foundation of a strong marriage, and choosing to be a giver, not a getter.
In this edition, I am going to teach you an amazing technique for getting your spouse (or anyone else in your life) to change their behavior in the most positive way possible.
We all know that you cannot change another person. No amount of nagging, begging, threatening or pleading will work if they don’t want to change. But there is something you can do that might encourage them to want to change themselves … and if this happens, everybody wins.
But (and this is a big BUT) if they sense at any level that you are trying to change them (and that you don’t fully love them as they are right now) they will resist changing and dig into their current behavior even deeper. They will also deeply resent you and see you as unattractive.
If you are disappointed with your spouse on any level, for not meeting your expectations, trust me, they know this and it is making it difficult for them to feel attracted to you. This is just a universal principle of truth you must understand. People must feel that you fully accept and love them as they are right now, in order to feel attracted to you.
They must also feel fully accepted before they are open to changing themselves.
Thus, the first step to getting them to change themselves is to let go of your desire to have them change. You must forgive them for disappointing you, let go of your made-up expectations and wishes that they were different, and commit to seeing them as perfect "as they are" right now. This is precisely what they want and need most.
I realize this is tricky. Especially when you are not happy with their behavior. But this is what forgiveness is about. It is about seeing your spouse accurately as a perfectly, imperfect, flawed student in the classroom of life, just like you. It is about understanding that their behavior is not who they are, and that their goodness and light is bigger than their errors, fears and faults. Forgiveness is also about choosing mercy and giving allowances because you want mercy and allowances back.
We all desperately want to be loved, admired and respected. We desperately want and need some reassurance that we are, in fact, good enough. Though you cannot be responsible for your spouse’s self-esteem, you can and must choose to see them as good enough if you want a healthy relationship.
Getting validation to quiet our core fear (that we aren’t good enough) is what we all want and need most.
Most women are terribly afraid they aren’t good enough as far as their appearance, their weight, their work and their parenting and if they hear anything that even hints of the idea that they are falling short in any of these areas or disappointing you, you will trigger their "sore spot" core fear. Once this is triggered, they will be too focused on their fear of failure to be loving toward you.
Most men are terribly afraid of rejection and not being loved or wanted. They work hard to support their family and all they want is to be respected, appreciated, loved and wanted. If there is any slight inference that he is not wanted (especially physically), this will trigger his “sore spot” core fear. The experience of not being wanted makes him less capable of love.
Though you cannot be responsible for your spouse's self-esteem, you can and must choose to see them as good enough if you want a healthy relationship.
So, the point of all this is that if you want your spouse to love you (and give to you) then they need a great deal of encouragement, validation, acceptance and appreciation for who they are, in spite of their mistakes. We all desperately want our partners to see the best in us, believe the best of us, give us the benefit of the doubt and know that we are trying to be a good person, do the right things and treat them right even if we don't always do it. We need them to see our goodness and value it.
The most magical thing you can do for your marriage is to look really hard for the good in your spouse and show them you can see it — often. Spend some time and really explore the depth of the good potential in your spouse. If they could be their highest best self, who would they be, how would they act, how would you see them? Write down the qualities you know are in them, even though they may not be behaving this way now.
Now, imagine how you might treat them if they were this person right now. What things would you say? How would you appreciate them? Would you shower them with praise and tell them how lucky you are to be married to them?
Start saying and doing those things right now.
Tell them often how grateful you are for such an amazing spouse. Tell them how lucky you are to be married to them. Shower them with affection, support and appreciation. Figure out their love language and give them love that way. Tell them the amazing qualities you see in them and mention each attribute specifically. Help them to see this picture of who they really are (the amazingness) reflected back in your eyes.
If you see an amazing spouse who is a great person, you will help them to see themselves this way and this will make them want to become this amazing person. This works because — people want to live up to your highest opinion of them.
If you want your spouse to be more motivated, start telling him how amazingly motivated he has become lately and how much you admire that. If you want a spouse who is more affectionate, instead of complaining that she’s not affectionate, start showering her with appreciation for being such a wonderful affectionate wife. Trust me — this works. It may take a little while, but encouragement and love can sink into their subconscious mind and change them.
The more happy, appreciative and grateful you are for this amazing person in your life, the more they will love, adore, cherish and want you. The best medicine to repair your marriage is encouragement and appreciation.
We spend too much time focused on what's wrong. We are too blinded by the faults and flaws and we are missing the light. But the light is there — in all of us. No matter how covered up with fear it has been, your spouse’s light deserves to be honored. The more you choose to see their light, you will literally reveal it to them and because you see it, they will see it, and it will heal them.
You are not lying to them (though it may seem that way). You are just seeing something in them they can’t see yet — but it is in there. If you tell a grouchy teenager what a sweet, wonderful, kind person he is, and you tell him this often enough, he will start to see himself this way and he will be kinder.
You will have to try this and find out for yourself.
Just know that I love, adore and want my husband because he continues to see the best in me even when I mess up. The more he sees the good in me and thinks I'm wonderful (especially when I know I don’t deserve it) the more madly in love I become.
You can do this too.
Kimberly Giles is the founder and president of claritypointcoaching.com. She is a life coach and speaker who specializes in eliminating drama in the workplace. She offers free coaching calls every Tuesday night.