So you started to implement some life changes.
You thought your spouse would be delighted. And that the changes would improve your marriage.
Instead, that person you used to know has reacted the opposite way: s/he has become distant, uncomfortable, and possibly even sullen around you.
Things aren’t like they used to be… but not in the way you hoped for!
What’s really going on?
First off, if this scenario describes your reality, I want to give you a big hug.
You’ve been brave.
You’ve made massive changes.
But that doesn’t mean your significant other is going to like them.
In fact, if your history with your spouse includes a lot of the behaviors you are currently “putting off” or unlearning… or your “new self” flies in the face of values your spouse still holds… it’s little wonder that things have gotten rocky between you.
Simply put: you’ve changed. That individual has not. And relationships only work when two people are walking together at the same pace, in the same direction.
But there’s another deeper reason for the discomfort between you and your significant others.
You’ve broken an unspoken contract in the relationship… and unless you two come to a new “contract,” consciously and verbally, things are likely to continue irrevocably downhill.
However… that being said… it’s also impossible to force your spouse to sit down for this type of conversation. And if you do, you’ll likely only make the relationship worse.
There is hope, however.
I don’t say any of this to scare you, but to help you understand a powerful principle that shook me to the core when I finally realize it was at play in my relationships:
Your spouse probably doesn’t actually want you to become better.
Yes, you heard that right:
Your spouse might have griped about certain behaviors or traits you’re now trying to change… but that doesn’t actually mean they wanted you to change them.
Here’s what that actually means:
People usually only feel they benefit from relationships that are predictable… and right now, yours isn’t.
When you started your relationship with your spouse, each of you were in a particular emotional place, with particular beliefs and expectations. And you naturally (probably without much thought) fell into certain roles in the relationship.
He pursued. You withdrew. He earned and took care of you. You spent and were taken care of. He partied. You were the sidekick.
Now, you’ve shifted roles… and s/he doesn’t know what to do with that.
You’re becoming more emotionally open and available at the heart level for genuine connection. But he really isn’t that open.
You’re healing your relationship with money–and you’ve actually started to earn some. Now, he feels threatened because his sense of worth was partially in taking care of you.
You’re staying home and studying your Bible, talking to your coach, or watching personal development videos while he goes out to party. He feels left out, or like perhaps you’ve become “holier-than-thou” about the clubs.
Suddenly, you aren’t “playing the role” you used to play in the relationship….
And this throws your entire marriage relationship into flux.
When we aren’t showing up as our real, authentic, God-designed self at the time of our marriage, then the likelihood of our spouse applauding this shift (if s/he isn’t also making the same shift) are not high.
Add to that, the actual natural human tendency not to want anyone else to succeed or better themselves.
The story is often told of how when a bunch of crabs are in a bucket… if one of them happens to claw his way up to the top of the bucket… the others will try to grab him with their claws and pull them back down right before they crest the edge of the pail.
Because the other crabs want that one back down where they are.
If you are on a journey of emotional healing, empowerment, and deeper relationship with God, you will experience that same “tug” from others. Be it your spouse, your siblings, your parents, your lifelong friends or others.
Not everyone will do this, please understand me. And of those who do, most are doing so not out of malice, but out of unconsciousness. They only know that they feel irritated, uncomfortable and challenged by your new habits. Yet they probably don’t know why.
It helps to be aware of what’s happening… so you can have more patience and compassion.
You might be desperate for change, but most of the world avoids it like the plague. And it’s especially challenging when your spouse… the person you share a home and a bed and a lot of history with… doesn’t know what to make of the new you.
So what can you do if you realize your spouse is pulling away, rather than getting closer, to the new you?
First, if you feel panicked every time you notice this “silent treatment,” I want you to pause. Breathe. Collect yourself and return to the calm center of your up-and-down-breathing.
Then I want to invite you to get outside of yourself for a moment. You have gone on a particular journey that has made you hungry for change, yes.
But your spouse has not yet. Imagine the compassion that God has for your spouse, and ask Him to give you that same compassion to open your heart up to this person, rather than shutting down in anger or fear.
Part of this opening up is coming to terms with the fact that you cannot change the direction your relationship will head.
And you shouldn’t try to figure it out, manipulate it, or control it either.
If you’ve been “chasing” your spouse, trying to get affirmation or connection out of them, STOP RIGHT NOW.
Let the topic of your life change go dormant for awhile.
Stay focused on God and His Love. And serve your spouse with open-hearted love and generosity, no matter how they respond to you.
The only person you can control is… YOU.
Over time, you will see whether your spouse comes to terms with the new you and draws closer to you again of his/her own free will. Or….. if s/he decides the relationship is no longer something s/he wants anymore and decides to leave.
Know that whatever s/he makes ultimately, is a reflection on him/her, not on you.
You don’t have to pre-assume the outcome of this situation. You just have to be present in the moment, living the life that is actually in front of you rather than worrying about it or wishing fo rit to be different.
The less pressured your spouse feels to get on your bandwagon, the more likely your chance of re-establishing the relationship on new ground.
This is the time to recognize what’s happening… that you’ve broken unspoken “contracts” or WHO and HOW you will be when the relationship formed…
And that your spouse isn’t sure WHO or HOW to be with the new person emerging in your body.
Whenever you feel yourself getting tense and tight, come back home to your breath. Take some time to get quiet. Meditate. And visualize the compassion God has for both you and your spouse.
Ask Him for incredible grace and generosity to love your spouse, but also give him/her room right now.
I cannot promise you what will happen. But I do know one thing:
Whatever happens, God will see you through it.
You will be okay.