Marriage Improvement: The Importance of Believing Your Partner Can Change

Marriage and Family Therapist, Jennifer Chappell Marsh, looks at a study indicating a connection between relationship happiness and belief your partner can change.

If you are a married couple, you are no stranger to working to make your relationship better. One way we work to make marriage better is by letting our partner know what bothers us and requesting change. This might sound like anything from “Honey, I need to you take out the trash on Thursday mornings” to “I just need you to listen to me!”.  When our requests go seemingly unnoticed we get angry. What we don’t often think about is how we may be sabotaging change in the relationship.

A new Northwestern University study shows a strong connection between your faith in your partner’s ability to change and your overall realtionship happiness. Basically,  the more you believe your partner is capable of change the more happy you will feel in your relationship. That is true even if you think your partner could still do more to be a better partner.

So what does this mean? It means that if you fundamentally do not believe your partner is capable of change then it doesn’t matter what they do. Their efforts will not be able to impact your heart. They will be set up to fail in your eyes. The result is relationship sabatoge. If your partner does not get positive feedback about their new efforts, at some point they will probably give up.

Good news is, there are things you can do to prevent sabotaging positive relationship change. Instead, you can learn how to promote it and keep it going.

How to Prevent Sabotaging Positive Change:

  • Ask yourself this question: “When have I been hurt by someone important to me and have experienced feeling like it was truly mended with that person?”. If you cannot identify a time when you’ve  been let down, hurt or betrayed and have felt like that person was able to make amends then you probably have no basis for believing change can truly happen.
  • Notice small differences in your partner and speak up. Change doesn’t happen over night. Changing behavior usually takes many small steps to get there. It’s hard to do things differently. Think about the last time you set a goal to loose 5 pounds, eat healthier or incorporate more “me” time into your schedule. There are many small steps that add up to meeting your goal. It’s also helpful to have some encouragement along the way. So, notice small steps and give your partner some positive feedback.
  • Ask your partner to be vocal about what they are doing. Your partner may be trying to do things to please you but if it’s not specifically what you are looking for, you will miss it altogether. Ask your partner to let you know when he/she is doing something in hopes you will notice.

An important ingredient to building a happy marriage is to believe that your partner can change, to recognize these types of efforts and to resist blaming him or her for not trying hard enough all the time.