Many people are skeptical about their spouse's claims that they will make drastic changes in order to save their marriage.  Often, this whole speech sounds very familiar because they have heard it all before.  And this leaves them with more doubt than confidence.  A wife might complain: "For the last five years, my husband has not been a good partner to me.  He's very immature.  He puts his needs before mine.  He still acts like a child sometimes.  His most important objective is always himself and his ability to have fun.  He's always wanting to go out with his friends and gamble or spend money instead of spending time with me and our daughter.  He's underemployed because he has no real goals for the future.  Basically, he lives for today and says he will worry about the rest later.  I used to find this refreshing and cute, but this is no longer the case.  Today, it just annoys and frustrates me.  At times, it feels as though I have two children instead of one.  And I want to be married to an adult.  A couple of weeks ago, I told my husband that I was taking our daughter and going to my mother's.  He immediately begged me not to go and said that he would change.  He said he will start to take the future seriously and will spend more time at home.  The thing is, he has told me this multiple times before.  Things sometimes change a little for the short term until he begins to resort back to his ways.  It really drives me crazy.   At the same time, I want to believe him because I do want to save my marriage, especially for my daughter.  But I worry that I'm just wasting my time and that he's not capable of changing or of acting like an adult.  He just doesn't seem willing to grow up.  What should I do?"

I couldn't make important decisions about this wife's marriage, but I could offer her some insights about saving her marriage and initiating lasting change.  I will share these insights below.

It's Possible To Make Lasting Changes That Improve Or Save Your Marriage, But You Have To Be Very Diligent:  There's an old saying that people never truly change.  It's my experience that this just isn't true.  Admittedly, lasting change can be very difficult.  People tend to revert back to what is the natural inclination for them.  But anyone can change their habits with repetition and reinforcement.  It's not always easy and you will often have to check in regularly and draw his attention to when he begins reverting back to old patterns.  But if the marriage and his family are that important to him, he can make substantial changes and stick with them.  The mistake that people often make is that they become complacent.  It's normal for him to regress.  But when he does, rather than becoming frustrated and declaring that he will never change, draw his attention to the problem and continue to move forward, which leads me to my next point.

Make Room For Regular Times To Check In And Reevaluate:  Because making lifelong changes can be a bit difficult, it's in your best interest to schedule times when you can come together and evaluate his progress.  This process shouldn't be set up to make him feel as if he's failed or that he's in trouble.  Instead, it should offer some accountability coupled with the opportunity to get back on track.  It can help to make this clear to him from the start.  You might say something like: "I really want to believe that you can change.  But we both know that you've promised to change before and yet here we are again.  I would like to save our marriage, but you have to understand that my doubts are reasonable.  This frustrates me because I love you and I do want for things to change so that we can be happy.  Here is what I am willing to do.  I'd be willing to give you the opportunity to change as long as you will agree that we will go out twice a month to discuss the progress and make whatever changes are still necessary.  I don't want to do what we have done before which is just to hope for the best and not follow through.  Would you be agreeable to this?"

Offer Reassurance As Well As Accountability:  It's very common for the person who is doing the changing to feel a hit to their self-esteem.  They can feel like the bad guy.  They can begin to believe that they don't deserve you or that they can't make you happy.  This probably isn't what you want.   You want to build their confidence so that they can believe that change is actually possible.  You don't for them to expect that they are going to disappoint you.  So, when you see even small changes, make sure they are aware that you not only notice, but you appreciate their efforts.  When this wife caught her husband being responsible or making a conscious effort to do the right thing, I'd suggest making a huge deal out of it and heaping on the praise.

This sort of positive reinforcement will make him want to do better.  It will encourage him to keep right on going because his efforts are paying off.  Likewise, when you see him regressing, try to approach him with love rather than with frustration.  Make him believe that you believe in him.  And then he will more likely to rise to the occasion to please you.

In my own marriage, I was the one who needed to change.  I had promised to change before but had always reverted back to my old ways.  However, when it became clear that I needed to change or lose my husband, I finally got serious about doing what was necessary.  And my efforts eventually paid off.  There was a time when my husband and I were literally on the verge of divorce.  And yet today, we are very much together and quite happy.  If it helps, you can read my story on my blog at http://isavedmymarriage.com

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