Saturday, 7 September 2013

Facing the need to change.

One of the things I love about my relationship with my wife is that she welcomes it when I follow my manly impulses.  It doesn't matter if it is a discrete but daring display of physical affection when out in public, a risque text message, wanting to hold the remote control, letting my inner 10 year old out to play, cooking up a pot of super spicy chili, or whatever.  She is fine with me being me and enjoys it when I express my feelings for her in my own way.  She is my partner in all parts of my life, joining me in watching mindless action movies, target shooting (actually I think I was joining her for that) or even going to ComicCon (in cosplay even).  She doesn't try to retrain me, change my interests, mould how I express myself or otherwise reshape me into something I'm not for her comfort.  She will reign me in if I start to go too far but that's a good thing too.

Likewise I don't quash her unique character.  When her fearless optimism sweeps her into starting projects I would never dare to dream of, she knows I won't be one of the obstacles she will face.  I'll watch chick flicks or even play board games with her.  We have expanded each other's horizons many times.  I would have never seen Casablanca were it not for her.

The one area where this did not go so smoothly was in the bedroom.  When we got serious about creating a mutually satisfying marriage we ran head first into the fact that how we act as a lover stems from our sexual identity, and changing our behavior and attitudes about intimacy can't happen without changing something basic about ourselves.  It took a lot more than tagging along to a movie you wouldn't normally choose to watch.

It doesn't work very well if you passively sit back and cheer on your spouse in their pursuit of a better marriage with you, it's your relationship too.  If you don't share a common vision of what your marriage should look like,  what changes would improve it, or if one of you is unwilling to work towards that vision, then that may be the first thing to work on changing.

Sometimes when we are trying to change our marriages for the better it can wind up with one spouse feeling like they are being rejected or not loved for who they are.  It is important to be clear that there is no emotional blackmail going on and your love is not conditional on getting your own way.  The objective is to create a closer bond and stronger attachment that will bring greater happiness to you both, not gratification of your own desires at the expense of your partner's feelings.

Often the 'you want to change who I am' accusation is followed by the the 'why don't you change instead?' question.  And it is a valid question.  It is also a complex question as each situation is unique, and often change is required on both sides.

I would say a good rule of thumb to follow is that change should be in the direction of moving towards each other AND moving towards what God wants marriage to be.  One spouse changing to accommodate the selfishness or other unChristlike characteristics in their spouse is not a good change. Likewise, good change does not create an imbalance so the happiness of one spouse comes at the expense of the other.  If your spouse is challenging you to rise to a higher level of oneness where intimacy with each other and with God is increased, accept the challenge, find a way to rise to meet it, and enjoy the blessings that come as a result.

There are times when serious issues (past abuse, health situations etc.) can make positive change very hard to achieve, or ever make some changes impossible for a time or for all of mortality.  If however the couple is committed to a common vision of what it should be like without such obstacles, then there can be unity in the relationship as they work around them as best they can and look forward to the day when those limits are gone.

Both my wife and I have had to make changes of course.  We have each felt the temptation to push back and try to get our spouse to change so we wouldn't have to improve ourselves, but by ignoring that and making changes for the better we have found a closeness we never would have otherwise.

The Book of Mormon teaches:
Ether 12:27 
And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.
I believe that this applies to our marriages as well.  If emotional intimacy is a weak area, together you can make it strong, likewise with sexual intimacy or any other part of your relationship. What is required is the humility and faith from both of you to work at it with the trust that God will keep his promise and help make it a strength.

Do you and your spouse share a common vision for your marriage?  If you each made a list of what things you would like to see change, are there any things that would be on both of your lists?  Does your spouse know what would be on your list and do you know what would be on theirs?  Change can be scary, but either you pursue it, or you stay where you are until other forces change things for you.

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