Often couples get stuck in a rut – a cycle of self-defeating behavior that continues to erode their relationship. Knowing how to change your relationship for the better is not difficult. It can be challenging, but the principles are based on common sense and understanding how change takes place in our lives.
The other day my wife and I were having a conversation about a couple who was having marital problems. We discussed how we could help them and at one point I said, “Sometimes you have to change some things if you want to change some things.” It’s a simple, yet profound, concept.
Before we deep dive into the nature and structure of change, let me share some statistics that are meaningful to our discussion.
I’m a subscriber to John Forde’s Newsletter called, COPYWRITER’S ROUNDTABLE. Letter #928 included the following:
The University of Exeter collaborated with several U.S. universities to see if liberals and conservatives have different brain patterns.
In the study, the researchers ran MRI scans while participants of different self-proclaimed biases completed certain tasks. Blood flow and brain activity showed how they took different approaches to solving problems.
And that was true even with non-political questions and puzzles. Liberals took one approach, conservatives another, and non-partisans a third.
I found that study interesting so I did a little digging and tracked down the original article: Democratic, Republican voters have different brains than nonpartisans.
Don’t worry, this is not really about politics (at least what I have to say isn’t, so hang in there and I’ll explain).
According to the findings, nonpartisans process risk-related information in a different way than Americans registered to vote as either a Republican or Democrat. Notable differences were observed between partisans and nonpartisans in several areas of the brain associated with socialization and engagement with other people (understanding other people’s thoughts, connecting with social groups, etc).
These regions include the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, the right medial temporal pole, and the orbitofrontal/medial prefrontal cortex.StudyFinds.com
The big question: Are they hardwired at BIRTH, or are they PROGRAMMED that way?
It’s the, which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Most research shows that our brain waves can be altered by our experiences. In other words, we aren’t ‘born Democrat or Republican. We learn to think that way. This changes (in essence) the way our brains are wired to process information and solve problems.
For example, blind people develop certain brain capacities that ‘seeing’ people do not have. (Source)
Deep sleep and rest rewire our brains. (Source)
Deaf children can learn words faster than hearing children because the brain rewires to adapt. (Source)
Think about those statements. Our brains have incredible transformative power. Simply put, these studies suggest our brains can rewire to produce the results necessary for us to live great lives.
What does all of this have to do with your marriage? A lot actually.
As we explore a few basic principles about change, keep in mind it takes commitment and discipline to bring about the transformation you seek.
Nobody knows what really goes on between any couple, but decades of scientific research into love, sex and relationships have taught us that a number of behaviors can predict when a couple is on solid ground or headed for troubled waters. Good relationships don’t happen overnight. They take commitment, compromise, forgiveness and most of all effort. Keep reading for the latest in relationship science, fun quizzes and helpful tips to help you build a stronger bond with your partner.Source: nytimes.com
One other quote worth noting from a New York Times column, ‘How to have a better relationship.’
“People have a fundamental motivation to improve the self and add to who they are as a person,” Dr. Lewandowski says.
“If your partner is helping you become a better person, you become happier and more satisfied in the relationship.”Source: nytimes.com
Things to Change In A Relationship: It’s Not What You Think It Is
When we talk about things to change in a relationship, we are not talking about changing the essence of who you are so you can ‘get (or keep) a guy.’ This is not about changing yourself for someone else.
Yet, it is about growing into the person you want, need, and desire to be. That’s why I prefer the term transformation.
Someone put it like this: Change is becoming something you are not; Transformation is becoming what you really are.
I like that explanation.
They both look similar on the outside, but they are vastly different.
The term change represents something that is forced. Unnatural.
Think about dieting. A diet is a forced change in what you eat (usually temporarily) in order to achieve some weight loss goal. The key is, it is forced. You are doing something that you do not normally do. You are changing your eating habits by using external
Transformation, on the other hand, implies internal growth that allows you to become what you already are.
Think of a cocoon, Inside is an ugly caterpillar. Yet, in time, that ugly worm transforms into a beautiful butterfly. It becomes what it already was…what its DNA determined. There was something on the inside of that worm that produced an incredible transformation when the circumstances were right.
When you view your relationship through the lens of change – always trying to change what it is, who your spouse is, how you are…you will never experience the marriage you desire.
If, however, you view it through the lens of transformation – it is already beautiful, trusting, loving, and intimate – you will automatically move in the direction of that conviction and belief.
Again, I want to point out, this is based on scientific research, not Medieval alchemy. It’s how God created our brains (mind) to work.
How Do You Change The Dynamic Of A Relationship?
To live in a committed relationship requires both partners to work together. That means there are many things that need to change in most marriages.
Communication. Intimacy. Shared life and responsibilities. More time together.
The list is endless.
The key principle we will present in this article is: Don’t Try To Change Your Partner, Change Yourself.
Nothing changes until you change.The Healthy Marriage
The key to success in marriage is to change yourself for the relationship.
This isn’t meant to imply your spouse doesn’t’ need to work on his stuff. On the contrary, we all have issues that need to be addressed.
The reality is you can’t really change another person. You can manipulate to get your way, coerce agreement on a matter, and even throw a tantrum to get compliance out of your spouse; but those things rarely bring about lasting change. The house of cards ultimately falls when the other person gets tired of your behavior.
The change that will bring about the greatest transformation…
The change that creates the biggest impact…
Happens when you change your own thoughts.
This isn’t some new-age, mysticism, or cosmic babble. Research connects our habit behavior to our thoughts.
Think of it like this. How we think, act, and respond to situations creates groove-like patterns in the brain. This, in turn, causes us to relive those patterns.
Ever traveled down an old dirt road with deep ruts? It’s hard not to drive in those ruts. The path is so worn it almost pulls the vehicle into those pre-defined grooves.
The same thing happens with our brains. The more we perform a certain behavior (good or bad), the more likely we are to repeat that behavior.
To change your world, change your mind (heart, thoughts, actions). When you change what goes on in your mind, you will change the world you live in.
Practical Ways To Create Positive Change In Your Marriage
If the real source of transformation comes from within, how do practice making our marriage better? How do we put this into place?
Here are three tips on how to begin the journey of inner transformation.
1. Practice gratitude.
Shaunte Feldman talks about the importance of gratitude and how negative words change our brain grooves (my words, not hers).
This interview from Ali Worthington is worth a listen.
2. Choose what you think about regularly.
Mike Brescia has taught life transformation for decades. His research detected two factors needed for personal transformation. He calls these releasing and installation patterns.
Releasing refers to letting go of the negative thoughts, beliefs, and attitudes that keep us trapped in the life we do not want. He identifies 11 keys to removing those from our lives.
Second, installation of new beliefs. He calls these core positive mental attitudes. Just as there are 11 steps to letting go of negative patterns, there are 11 steps to installing positive ones. These correspond to each other.
His research discovered that letting go of the negative and installing patterns is the key to lasting transformation. This process can be summed up with the word repetition. What you do consistently over time establishes new patterns.
This is why it is vital to choose your thoughts. Too often we allow our thoughts to run wild, We imagine rediculous outcomes to minor problems. We fantasize and think on things that are destructive. We allow our minds to control us instead of taking control of our thoughts.
Choose what you think about your marriage; and choose wisely. Those thoughts will determine the direction of your relationship.
2. Find Out Your Partners Love Language, and Commit To Making Them Feel Loved
The more you perform a specific action, the more ‘automatic’ it becomes. This is how a habit is formed: Consistent repetition.
Each morning when I get out of bed I walk across the room into our bathroom, pick up my toothbrush and toothpaste, turn on the faucet and brush my teeth. I don’t think about it. I don’t plan it. I just do it. It’s automatic.
Why? Because I’ve done this since I was a child. The bathroom has changed over the years. The rooms look different. But the habit follows me, not the location. The reason is simple, I have a habit.
We can create the same habits for our relationships. It demands repetition, consistency, and discipline. But what we do on a regular basis will become a habit if we persist.
The question is not will we create habits in our marriage. The real question is ‘what habits will we create?’
By discovering our partners love language, we can then choose to do things (routine) that create positive habits that will make our marriage better.
If you do not know your spouse’s love language, you can start here. (Amazon Link)
FAQ about Making Your Marriage Better
Below are questions our readers (and internet searchers) ask about how to change their relationship.
Can You Change For Someone You Love
Yes. It takes discipline, commitment, and love for your spouse, but it is possible to change. In this article, we talked about what we consider one of the key places to start – your thoughts, beliefs, and views about marriage.
Books, courses, and programs can help you cultivate the right goals and habits to get your relationship on track; but the best place to begin is working on your thoughts and beliefs. Without the right mindset, you are working against yourself.
Go back and read the section on change vs transformation above.
What Is A Toxic Relationship?
The simple answer is, a toxic relationship is one that poisons both you and your spouse.
A physical analogy might help: Toxins are not meant to reside in our bodies. They pollute and interfere with the normal functions of your body’s ecosystem.
A toxic relationship happens when attitudes, thoughts, and behaviors hurt the marriage instead of helping it.
Every couple faces issues they need to work through; that doesn’t mean the relationship is toxic. It becomes toxic when those issues are unresolved and become the determining factor in how you function as a couple.
I toxic marriage ‘feels’ like poison in your relationship. It breaks down your relationship ecosystem.
Can Toxic People Change?
Yes and no. It all depends on the person. As mentioned above, changing your relationship demands commitment, desire, and discipline. The most important factor of those three is desire. If the person truly desires to change, they can.
I’ve seen men (I mostly deal with men) who were total jerks turn their lives around and become loving, passionate husbands.
I’ve also seen narcissistic men go from relationship to relationship and never change.
It depends on the person; do they want to change? That’s the big question.
What is the True Sign of Love?
I’ll close with this one because it (in my opinion) is the most valuable question to answer.
The Apostle Paul gave us the best answer to this question:
4 Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; 5 does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; 6 does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; 7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.1 Corinthians 13:4-7
To sum it up, true love is selfless. Applied to marriage it looks like this:
- Love thinks your spouse before it thinks of self.
- Love serves your partner. Willingly. Freely.
- Love doesn’t keep score on what your spouse does wrong.
- Love is willing to work through issues because being together is more important than being right.
- Love trusts your spouse has your best interest at heart.
You can continue the list. Bottom line: Love cares about the other person.
Final Thoughts on How to Change Your Relationship for the Better
It is possible to create the marriage you desire. It takes clarity, determination, and discipline. The beginning step is to take control of your thoughts and beliefs about your marriage.
In this article we presented practical keys to help you change your relationship for the better.
The main topics we cover were:
- Things to Change In A Relationship: It’s Not What You Think It Is
- How Do You Change The Dynamic Of A Relationship?
- Practical Ways To Create Positive Change In Your Marriage
We also answered a few frequently asked questions on this topic:
- Can You Change For Someone You Love
- What Is A Toxic Relationship?
- Can Toxic People Change?
- What is the True Sign of Love?
We mentioned Mike Brescia in this article. He offers programs to help people retrain their minds. His work is based on neurological research; it is not subliminal, techniques or hypnosis. It is, however, a very unique approach to life transformation. His company is Think Right Now. He offers a host of programs that target specific life skills.
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