How to Get Your Spouse to Change (Maybe) - OZY | A Modern Media Company

How to Get Your Spouse to Change (Maybe)

How to Get Your Spouse to Change (Maybe)

By Anne Miller

SourceOana Szekely/Corbis


Because our love lives, like our bank accounts, always have room to improve. Here, have a chocolate.

By Anne Miller

Who says love can’t be codified? 

Social scientists have come up with 4 types of communication that we humans use when we talk to our significant others. Of course, some methods work better than others.

Sarah C. E. Stanton, a graduate student at the University of Western Ontario who has studied love, happiness and forgiveness, writes for the Science of Relationships blog. In one post, she outlines the four types of couple talk based on scientific research of how couples interact.

The list?

Neglect is pretty obvious. In a way, it’s the absense of talking — ignoring, withholding, spending less time with your hottie. You know that feeling you get when your boyfriend suddenly seems to be spending more time with his friends then with you? Yeah, not a good sign. 

Exit, in expert-speak, means nagging, screaming or threatening to leave — the kind of behavior that definitely does not say, “I’m here for ya’, Babe, whatever you need.” 

Loyalty is supporting a partner (even through criticism), giving things time to resolve on their own and hoping they’ll improve. 

Sometimes they do. But when they don’t? 

There’s Voice. Active. Direct. Positive. Solution-based. Focused on change both for yourself and your partner. In other words, talking, like adults. 

Change doesn’t automatically mean the relationship will get better. It has to be the right kind of change, effected the right way.

Of course, constructive, pro-active chat is easier said then done — especially when you’re staring at a pile of dirty dishes while your toddler screams in the background or you’re coming off another 18-hour workday. It’s then that you might want to invoke Mark Rothko’s famous words: “Silence is so accurate.” 

But talk we must — particularly if you’re looking to change your partner (and frankly, who isn’t?). Even though, according to a recent study, change doesn’t automatically mean the relationship will get better. It has to be the right kind of change, effected the right way. Here’s the wrong way: Haranging your partner to change. Better way: Encouraging change through praise. 

Or, as the authors Shreena N. Hira and Nickola C. Overall note in their study, Improving Intimate Relationships: “Intimates who desire relationship change need to engage direct efforts to change the partner but offset partner reluctance by conveying that they care for and love their partner.” 

So pack up the snide ”are you going to help with dinner or have your thighs adhered to the sofa?” remarks. Instead try, “I love you, Honey, but I’d really appreciate it if you do the dishes more often so we could have more time together.” It might actually work, given enough time (Loyalty, remember?).

And if all else fails, you could take your cues from that Modern Love column and use animal-training techniques to reward behavior you like and ignore what sets you off. Only try using chocolates in place of mackerel.

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