What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of marriage? Is it “forever? Love? Or for “better or worse?” I think of all of those things and then some. I will also be firm in reminding you that each one of those concepts, especially “better or worse,” isn’t pretty. Sticking it out is so easy when things are for the better. ‘Better’ means that things are most likely working for the couple and not against them. It can be so beautiful and feel so good. There are no threats of health problems, no signs of infidelity, and/or nothing that suggests abuse.
I’m not certain how everyone interprets that ‘worse’ part. However, I do know, the experience is different for every couple. Some couples’ ‘worse’ may be financial problems, while ‘worse’ for other couples may be greed or selfishness of one or more parties. I always tell couples to decide what their ‘worse’ is and develop a crisis intervention plan to get out of it. An intervention plan can be a breeze when the problems are behavioral (staying out late, hanging with friends too much, etc.) or environmental (loss of employment, relocation etc.) However, a behavioral intervention plan can be a challenge when a change seems permanent, in other words, your spouse is no longer who you married.
People change and the reality of it all is, they should. Your spouse shouldn’t be comfortable being who they were on your wedding day. They should be better than the person they were on your wedding day. Unfortunately, the cookie doesn’t always crumble that way. Some people lose themselves in marriage, become depressed or become comfortable doing the same things everyday and guess what? In the true spirit of marriage, you have to push through.
Here are 5 ways to Cope When Your Spouse is No Longer Who You Married
Sometimes we get caught up in who our partners were when they were courting us that we don’t consider that who we met, may not even be who they really are. Maybe they engaged in sex all of the time and after a year or two of marriage, they stopped. Maybe they took the time out to groom themselves and now, they don’t even care if their socks match. Inquire about the change and exactly when it took place. This doesn’t have to be done by asking your partner what happened. Exploring can be done by observation, paying attention to what they respond to and when they do engage in something, then speaking on it. Exploring will allow you to gather facts and make correlations when the two of you finally sit down to talk. An example of this is as follows: After about 30 days of exploring his wife, a husband notices that she only wears dresses when it’s girls’ night and sweatpants when it’s the two of them. In conversation, he finally asks, “Darling, I notice two Fridays in a row, you dressed up for girls night, then on Saturday, we went out to dinner and you wore sweats. I’d like to see you in a dress too.” After speaking with her, he learned that his wife believed that wearing dresses for her husband, often led to sex, and she didn’t want to run the risk of getting pregnant. How we explore and communicate the differences in our marriage has a big impact on how we resolve them.
2. Get to know them again
Change is hard, but inevitable AND sometimes, (actually most times) change is not even about the person no longer wanting the marriage. It’s about them, no longer wanting themselves. When someone doesn’t like something about themselves and they are brave, they change it. The unfortunate part is, they don’t always feel comfortable sharing that desire to change with others because the change may not be supported. For example, if a couple started out in the marriage as, ‘smokers’ and later, one of the parties learned the benefits of being smoke free, he or she may decide to stop. I’ve seen this happen plenty of times with couples. Most of the time, the change occurs in the face of a pregnancy and the wife decided to change her habits for the sake of a healthy baby. The best way to handle something like this is to get to know your spouse as a new person. Treat them as you would meeting them for the first time without the trait or characteristic you remember. In the example of the ‘smoker,’ the husband may go outside to smoke, or make sure his “smokey” clothes aren’t where the baby sleeps or others can smell them. He may have to change his thought process and tell himself, “my wife doesn’t smoke…” It is hurtful to disrespect the change and refuse accommodations because of what ‘use’ to be. Similarly, it is also unfair to force change on your spouse because you decided to do things differently. Sure it’s amazing when a couple can embark on a journey of change together, but the best changes are those that aren’t forced.
3. Re-invent yourself
Relationships were never designed to get to know others. They were designed to get to know who we are with others. While we are exploring our spouses and their changes, it’s almost more important to explore what their change is bringing out in us. Are we triggered with bad memories by their change? Are we annoyed? Are we better people? What happens to you as the spouse when your spouse is not the person you remember, is worth looking into. No matter how bad a situation becomes, there is usually something good to see in that. A spouse who decides to shut down and no longer communicates can be a time for the other party to learn how important communication is to him or her. Similarly, the distance may allow time to self-actualize or be more congruent with self. Marriage is great but it’s even greater when two people who have the life they want, come together. A healthy marriage wouldn’t require one person to give up their dreams so the other can be happy. Similarly, it wouldn’t imply that one suffers while the other gains a sense of euphoria. When one party has chosen to take away the air that a marriage needs to breathe, it is neccessary for the neglected spouse to use that time to find an airway that allows them to breathe on their own, as long as it isn’t a threat to the marriage. Sometimes a spouse changes because there is too much pressure for them to be EVERYTHING to one person. As a result, they too shut down and restrict their emotions and physical presence. Sometimes the lesson is simply, finding your own air then sharing the breathing space with your spouse so your being ‘ok,’ doesn’t take away from their ability be present in the marriage.
4. Strengthen your spirituality
If your spouse has changed for the worse, this is that time to build your closeness with your higher power. Changes in our spouse, (especially if they aren’t the type to take responsibility) can make you feel like you’ve done something wrong or you’re the reason for the negative change. Don’t fall victim to that. While there may have been factors that contributed to negative feelings, one person can not be responsible for another person’s permanent actions. Getting closer to your higher power, whether it’s praying more, meditating more, or change of interpersonal connections will allow you to still be happy with yourself, despite the obstacles in your marriage. When you pray, pray for your spouse as well. Their change in personality is a clear indicator that they aren’t strong enough just yet to fight adversity. Take care of yourself and protect yourself. Don’t let the negative spirits of others, turn you to darkness.
5. Don’t try to fix it
If you’re a problem solver such as myself, chances are your approach to things is about fixing them. While “fixing” is a great gesture of help, every problem isn’t ours to fix. The solution to struggles our spouse may be having, is within them. Marriage triggers a lot of ideas, thoughts and feelings for most people. For example, marrying someone with traits like your parent can spark unresolved issues with one’s “internal child” (that child part of someone that just didn’t get what it needed). Since, we probably weren’t present when our spouse was younger, it’s not on us to make it better. All we can do is encourage our spouses to get help and let them know that we will be in their corner throughout the journey, so long as it doesn’t cost us our sanity.
This post was written to give insight to personality changes within the marriage. It provides coping skills and tools to help understand and deal with such changes.
Nya B is an author, mental health clinician, speaker and adjunct professor in behavioral arts and sciences. To learn more, follow her on IG and Twitter @author_nya_b and check out her website at http://www.nya-b.com