What do you do when you realize you have been blaming your spouse for what’s not going well in your relationship? Or maybe you believe your partner is to blame, but you realize that expecting them to change isn’t working. Maybe you’re ready to step up and take responsibility, to be the one to bring about change in your lives and your relationship. Great! That’s where change begins.
Most of us start out thinking the problem is someone else’s. Start with asking yourself, what was my part in the problem? You may honestly struggle to find anything. It is much easier to see what they are doing wrong, but if we are honest with ourselves we can come up with at least one thing we could have done better. This is an important first step in healing ourselves and our relationships. If we start there, it creates a place to connect with our partner. It is like an olive branch, a sign we’re working toward peace, and signals we are trying to put down our guns. Even just admitting one thing to ourselves opens a door with the other person as well as helping us to be honest with ourselves. When that door opens, we often start seing other things we could have done different, too. This is important for healing a relationship.
John Gottman writes about how as relationships become more negative, partners begin to only see the negatives they expect to see from their partner. Since they now view the relationship as negative, everything their partner says and does is seen as negative. Since both partners are likely doing this, it becomes a race to see who can remember the worst about the other and inflict the most damage. We stay at war and anything they say becomes an invitation to continue the battle. It’s a ‘civil war’ where everyone loses.
We need to start seeing them again with positive eyes instead of eyes of resentment. Otherwise, we feel justified in holding on to our anger toward them. Change starts with a choice. When we choose to lay down our right to battle with them, and let go of having to be right, not only can we begin to change, but also to connect with them. They may not be at the point yet where they are willing to admit any wrongdoing themselves. As they see you making changes, though, they often begin their own process of softening.
So, the first step in the process of change is when one person is willing to change. At least one of you will have to decide the relationship is more important than the things you have been fighting about. Someone has to make a sacrifice. Are you willing to let go of needing to be right? Can you decide to “step up” and be the one to start healing your relationship, even if your partner is still ready to fight?