Linda & Richard Eyre: A simple but hard lesson of marriage

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Many people go into marriage thinking that they will be able to change their spouse into the person they want him or her to be — into the person who will fulfill their needs and give the spouse all the things he or she wants.

It is natural in a marriage relationship to think about what you need from your spouse, about what you expected and wanted from your wife or husband. And with those thoughts come all kinds of feelings about the ways you wish he or she would change.

• Why can’t he see what I need?

• Why can’t she be more like me (or like my mom)?

• Why doesn’t he try harder to make me happy?

• Why doesn’t she like more of the things I like, or at least support me on things I like that she doesn’t?

• Why isn’t he the soul mate I thought he would be?

Many people go into marriage thinking that they will be able to change their spouse into the person they want him or her to be — into the person who will fulfill their needs and give the spouse all the things he or she wants.

When it doesn’t happen quite like that, there are feelings of disappointment and sometimes even resentment. Some do this silently, letting the things he does or the things she doesn’t do build up inside, gradually deepening that resentment and pulling them further and further apart. Others get aggressive in telling their spouse the ways he is letting us down or the things she ought to be doing. The suffering in silence can turn a person into a sadsack; the criticizing and complaining can turn a person into a nag.

The hard lesson of marriage is that a partner gradually starts to live up to the bad reputation a spouse gives them. The pattern tends to be that the more a spouse feels they can’t live up to their partner’s expectations, the less they try and the more they feel like failures. The more they are told they are not meeting needs, the less confident they feel and the more likely they are to keep disappointing their spouse. When a spouse is told that he or she is not meeting the needs of their partner, it can be seen as proof of failure and he or she will usually either push back and fight or withdraw and give up.

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