What To Do When Your Spouse Has Changed

Working toward growth and connection (when possible) can do wonders for your relationship.
By John Daum
February 8, 2022

Navigating changes in your spouse can be difficult and serious. How serious?

If changes in your spouse cause you emotional or physical harm, consider reevaluating your relationship to determine if your situation is safe.

That serious. Short of that, even well-intentioned, positive changes in your spouse can still be distressing, frustrating, and confusing.

Change! = Adapting? = Distress!

On your wedding day, you knew that you, your spouse, and your marriage relationship wouldn’t remain exactly the same. Of course, there would be changes! The honeymoon phase passed. Seasons of life bring changes, and shifting circumstances like careers and children offer new challenges, too. 

But maybe your spouse has really changed. Perhaps you’re feeling insecure, or like you’re being stretched beyond your ability to adapt in a relationship that feels unpredictable. That HURTS. That’s Change-Pain.

Heads Up! Your Change-Pain reflex might be to go for the “quick fix” and… change your spouse. 

Change-Pain whispers: Just apply pressure to your spouse in the right spot, in the right way to, you know, change the change. It’s tempting – but be careful with your reflexes. Change-Pain can make us react to our spouse in unhealthy ways. 

You don’t want to make things worse.

In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, Dr. John Gottman says, “People can change only if they feel that they are basically liked and accepted the way they are. When people feel criticized, disliked, and unappreciated, they are unable to change. Instead, they feel under siege and dig in to protect themselves.” Perhaps you’ve seen this play out already.  

We have to negotiate and navigate change. This requires (hard) conversations and resilience. Melissa Ferrari, psychotherapist and counselor, offers essential advice about talking through changes with your spouse:

“Relationships can survive arguments but generally not threats.”

You know when you go to the doctor, and they ask you to rate your pain on a scale of 1-10? 

Imagine a scale for Change-Pain.

How would you rate that?

1 Bear with me; I have to ask. Have you changed in a way you might not have noticed?

Looked at things from your spouse’s perspective? Are you balancing your concerns for yourself with concerns for your spouse? Are your feelings and responses proportional to the change in your spouse? In a healthy way, openly and honestly share how you feel.

2-3 Has there been a change in circumstances? Big or small? Good or bad?

Changing circumstances usually change people. Acknowledging this isn’t an excuse, but it may explain some things. Talk with your spouse about it. Be honest, direct, and kind. Express your concerns and feelings and be willing to listen to theirs. Working through this can strengthen your relationship.

4-5 Do the changes in your spouse conflict with your needs, desires, priorities, or goals? Do you relate to each other differently?

These aren’t small things, but you can work through them. Your spouse might have no idea how you feel. Start there. Try to be positive, flexible, and hopeful.

6-7 Feeling deceived or duped?

Was there a Major Thing you and your spouse discussed before you married, and now your spouse has changed their mind? These situations can easily make you feel uncertain, insecure – even cheated. Get the support you need. Your conversations with your spouse may need to be mediated by a couple’s counselor or therapist. That’s okay. 

8-9 Have changes radically impacted your relationship or put it at risk?

Practice curiosity and share your concerns with your spouse. Prioritize staying connected. Explore the little daily actions that keep a couple connected. Psychologist Dr. Jamie Long drops some wisdom here: Marriage is not a noun; it’s a verb. It isn’t something you get. It’s something you do. Don’t settle.

10 This needs to be taken extremely seriously. Is there emotional or physical abuse?

Are you scared or nervous to disagree with your spouse? Do you feel safe? Bring in the professionals and even the law NOW. (For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here, or contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse 24/7 at 1−800−799−7233.)

Change (and your threshold for adapting to it) exists on a spectrum. Is it possible to communicate and negotiate to a middle ground you can BOTH live with? Not just to keep going, but to keep growing?

Your spouse has changed. BUT, you can only control one thing: YOU. Please don’t let this be discouraging – it’s empowering!

How we respond to challenges forges our identity.

What happens next might be tricky. Working toward growth and connection will probably require time, energy, commitment, or even a brave acceptance of something new. Get help when you need it. 

Marriage is hard sometimes. It might feel like a mountain to climb if your spouse has changed. But, if you choose to climb, you’ll be a marriage-mountain-climbing marvel. 

And soon, you’ll be enjoying the view

Sources:

You Are Not the Person I Married | Psychology Today

How to Navigate and Embrace Change in Your Relationships | PsychCentral

12 Thirty-Second Ways to Connect With Your Spouse | Psychology Today

7 Small Ways Spouses Can Stay Connected

Please use the resources below to address your specific needs:

What to Do When Your Spouse Disappoints You

What to Do When You Disagree With Your Spouse

Working Through Resentment With Your Spouse

8 Things You Should Never Do During an Argument With Your Spouse

5 Tips for Understanding Your Strong-Willed Spouse

What to Do When Your Spouse Doesn’t Meet Your Expectations

How to Communicate Better With Your Spouse

6 Ways To Agree To Disagree With My Spouse

How to Deal with a Spouse Who Can’t Handle Conflict

What to Do When Your Spouse Is Toxic

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