There will undoubtedly be many times in your marriage when you want your partner to change. There may be other times when they do so and you’re not ready for it.
Though I’ve worked with couples for years and often walk with them through these changes, I’m not always prepared for these shifts in my own marriage. Truth be told, there are moments when I look across the dinner table at my husband and think, “Who are you and what did you do with Mike?” (like when he recently announced that he wanted to buy a juicer. [He’s a meat-and-potatoes guy from Texas]).
I would bet I’m not alone and you’ve had these thoughts too.
When your partner changes, it may raise confusion and concerns, depending on how mild or extreme the changes. If they all-of-a-sudden decide they detest raw fish, you may miss your weekly trips to Rock’n Sushi but it probably won’t end your marriage.
In contrast, major changes or changes of direction may leave you feeling threatened and insecure. You may fear that they’re reneging on an unspoken promise they made when you married, or even that they are becoming a different person altogether.
Whatever the case, unexpected change—positive or negative—can throw your relationship into a tailspin, so let’s look at what might happen and how to deal with it.
Things to Consider When Your Partner Changes
Shifting circumstances can cause common-sense change in many situations, so first ask yourself if there are obvious reasons for your partner’s new behavior.
For example, if your spouse used to be a party animal but now heads to bed at 8:00 p.m. in order to rise before sun-up to meet the demands of a new work schedule or location, this doesn’t mean they’ve changed. It means the situation has changed in a way your partner had no control over and they have adjusted accordingly.
When your partner changes for these kinds of reasons, try changing with them. It’s a chance for you to get creative, discuss the new normal, and negotiate your needs. Once you adjust, you may be surprised to find that you’re much happier with the new set of circumstances than you were with the old!
Personal Growth (or Devolution)
Marriage has a way of forcing (I mean “inviting”) us to mature and re-order our priorities. This kind of development and change is a good thing as long as you don’t feel left behind.
The best thing to do in this case is to voice your observations and ask your spouse about them. Perhaps they aren’t even aware of what you’ve observed, but they may also share a personal revelation and how they’re attempting to be a better person.
This happened recently when I shared with Mike my observation that he wasn’t getting as stressed out about workplace drama and shenanigans. He said that he had realized that work-related stress was negatively impacting his health, that there was no reason to get so upset, and that he needed to re-focus his attention on me and what was going on at home. This led to a great conversation and gave me the opportunity to applaud him for these efforts and thank him for making me a priority.
Acknowledging, embracing, and praising growth-related change in your partner gives you the opportunity to enhance your oneness. You may also ask them for advice or suggestions so you can improve on this area of your life together.
When you observe things you feel are in the negative category, still mention them out loud but refrain from criticizing the behavior. For instance, the other day when we were late leaving the house because Mike was running late, I said (in a smiling tone), “You used to be so tardy and prompt to everything—even early. I hardly recognize you anymore.” Then I changed the subject completely and we had a nice time . . . but he hasn’t been late since.
If “rolling with the changes” is getting old, check out our article on
Overworked and Underpaid: My Marriage is Too Much Work.
Your Expectations of Your Partner
When your partner changes and you respond in a way that is disproportionate with the change, you may find that you had unreasonable expectations to begin with.
This is especially true in the newlywed stage of marriage. After all, everyone puts their best foot (and face) forward during the dating phase, so it’s possible that you expected something wonderful to continue that simply can’t be sustained.
If you’re thinking, “He used to be so patient and never lose his temper, no matter what I said”, this is a sign that you might be off-base. No one can be endlessly, tirelessly patient.
There may be other times when you were cautioned about bad behavior but chose to ignore the warnings. Many clients have shared—after their “I do’s”—that friends and family tried to advise them of potential problems and they chose to look the other way.
Whatever the back story, focus on the behaviors you do like and make sure these things are mentioned often. The saying “What gets rewarded gets repeated” is applicable here. Positive reinforcement will encourage continuation of these behaviors and you should see more of them. If you regularly admire what your partner does well, they will be more open and willing to discuss those things you want them to improve.
You Are the One Who’s Changed
I went for many years without needing glasses, but a few years ago, began needing regular eye exams and prescription reading glasses. (If you would have told me when I was 30 that I would need trifocals by the time I was 50, I would have laughed you out of town). As if this wasn’t bad enough, the changes in my eyes seem to be accelerating, as my first set of such glasses lasted three years; the second pair lasted about two years; and the ones I bought only a year ago are no longer working well. Clearly, the way I see the world—and the lenses I need to see it clearly—have changed, despite my being the same basic person in all other ways.
In the same way, you may be the one who is seeing your partner differently, or feeling as if you need something more or different from them, because your own needs have shifted. Considering how you’d like them to approach you when you change should guide your actions here.
And don’t forget: there is also the chance that you and your partner have gotten complacent in your relationship, a temptation that happens to everyone married for more than a few months.
For more tips on what to do when your partner changes,
check out this article at PsychCentral.
When Your Partner Makes a Complete 180
As described above, most of the changes you observe in your mate won’t be earth-shattering ones. But in rare cases, you may run up against a tremendous and overwhelming change in your spouse that throws you for a serious loop.
Such changes might include when your spouse used to want children, and now doesn’t. Or when they swore they’d always want to live downtown without a car and now want to buy a farmette. Or when they now want to quit their climb up the corporate ladder, downsize your lifestyle, and start a nonprofit.
When your spouse changes in a major and shocking way, it’s time to have a heart-to-heart. Here are 5 crucial elements to include in this discussion:
Curiosity: Instead of making assumptions or accusations, approach the conversation as a fact-finding mission.
Clarity: Get crystal-clear on what your partner is asking for and why they want it.
Compassion: Empathize with their desires and the reasons they feel driven to make a shift.
Caring: Demonstrate your love and maturity by remaining calm and respectful. Ask to re-visit the matter later if you need time to process or plan your reaction.
Commitment: Reiterate your dedication and the desire to work toward a mutual solution, no matter how long it takes.
This is a great template to use in any discussion with your mate, but especially when emotions are running high and there are important decisions to be made.
When your partner changes after you marry, it can set off a chain of events that can be scary and unnerving, but these events don’t have to be alarming or signal the end of your relationship if you handle them correctly. It’s best to welcome positive change with open arms and work with your partner to make the necessary adjustments. Approaching a negative or shocking change with curiosity, clarity, compassion, caring, and commitment will help you address the change in a way that brings you together instead of pushing you apart.
Considering how you would like your spouse to approach you when you change may be helpful. When you do so, and continue to grow with your spouse, you will gain a lifelong partner who will be there for you no matter what life brings.