Change has gotten a bad rap in our society. Most “normal” people will say they hate change and yet that is not true. What they hate is “being changed” or being forced to change by someone else.
Think back to times in your life when you decided to change your work, your residence, your whatever. I bet the feelings associated with those self-chosen changes were exhilarating and joyful. I realize that some changes we make we do so only because we see no other viable option and those are not so enjoyable.
But stay with me on this when I say that change is a normal and constant part of life and relationships. We all change over time – some changes for the better and some not-so-much, but we change none-the-less. These changes can be a blessing or a curse to a relationship. They can also lead to one person requesting, at times insisting, that the other change in the same way they are.
And that, my friends, is a serious mistake. Again, most all of us will resent and resist enforced changes by anyone, perhaps especially by those closest to us.
A fundamental requirement for healthy marriage, for any meaningful relationship, is respect. When one party asks the other to change something about him or herself, that request can easily be interpreted as a lack of respect. When that is the case, a positive response to the requested change is highly unlikely.
So what do you do when your mate is doing something hurtful, or not doing something helpful that you desire from him or her? First, you must choose the right time and place to make your request. If you know your mate is tired or stressed or mentally occupied elsewhere, that is not the time to engage with them about your need. Please choose a time and a place when he or she is most likely to be receptive to your request. Don’t just spring it on him or her without some forethought and prior planning.
Second, you must voice your request as a request, never a demand. Think about how you react when someone demands something of you. You’re right to expect your mate will likely react in the same unpleasant manner.
Third, you must be clear about the specific change you seek and certain that your mate understands the change accurately. The only way I know how to do that is to ask him or her to tell you in their own words what they understand you are requesting. So often one person can ask for A-B-C, while the other hears B-C-D. If emotions are high, the other might hear 7-Giraffe-Cadillac. It is also helpful to explain why you hope for the change, and how you feel it will help your relationship.
One technique I have found to be helpful comes from the folks at PREP Inc. They teach the X-Y-Z technique when you have something to say to another person which may be misunderstood or taken the wrong way. As I wrote n PLAY NICE in Your Sandbox at Work:
The XYZ technique works this way: When you do X, in situation Y, I feel Z. For example: “When you come in late for our morning staff meetings, I feel disrespected, and wonder if perhaps you don’t realize how that impacts the rest of us, or what a problem it presents for us.”
Note how this approach attacks the problem but not the person. Ideally, the person will be open to hearing more specifics about how their performance is causing problems for others. Many people will simply not care, but many will appreciate being shown that they are creating a problem and will take corrective measures.
Conflict is often a negative experience due to the manner in which it began. All too often when you are upset with someone, (or when you desire some change from them) you might let them know without regard to how they will receive what you are saying. You could be so focused on your own state of mind that theirs is of little or no concern to you. Big mistake!
If you actually want to see a change in someone else’s behavior or performance, then you need to be careful about how you present your request/suggestion. If you begin your comments with a put‑down or insult, you might just as well not say anything else. The person will be so focused on your perceived attack that he or she will be unable and/or unwilling to hear whatever else you might say—even if the point you are making is intended for their personal benefit.
Maintain a non‑threatening, respectful manner, and your words will likely find receptive ears. Put the other on the defensive and you might just as well speak to a wall.
There is lots more that could be said about seeking change in your mate, but hopefully these tips give you something to think about. Always keep in mind that you and your spouse are one, and any requests for change must be for the good of the relationship not either party’s own personal desires.