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How to Get Through to Your Spouse

Convincing your spouse to change is much easier once you realize that you have to appeal to their way of thinking, not yours. From The Sex-Starved Marriage: Boosting Your Marriage Libido by Michele Weiner Davis

Good Things Come in Smart Packages
Years ago I worked a great deal with adolescents and their families. I remember countless cases when the parents wanted their kids to do certain things but the kids absolutely refused. And then their parents would insist, offering reasons the kids should comply: “You’ll learn good study habits,” or “It will make you a stronger person,” or “That’s what I had to do when I was a kid.” But the explanations weren’t compelling enough, and nothing ever changed. After repeat offenses, the kids would get punished. No amount of reasoning with them made a difference. The kids thought they were right, and they weren’t going to change. Never mind that they were losing privileges left and right.

When I approached things a little differently, I got better results. Sometimes I would get the kids alone and tell them, “It must really be a pain in the butt to have your parents breathing down your neck all the time and telling you what to do. You must hate it when they punish you.” My words were music to their ears. Then I would wonder out loud, “Gee, I wonder what you need to do to get your parents off your back?” “That’s easy,” they would tell me; “I would just have to _____ [come home on time, make my bed, do my homework, and so on]” — the same behaviors their parents were expecting. Although unimpressed with the reasoning their parents offered them for following the rules, they liked the idea of getting their parents to back off. Together, we would then scheme how they might “underhandedly” shock their parents by doing the things that would get their parents to back off. Sneaky, eh?

The obvious moral to the story is that even if you have the most incredible suggestion in the world, you might not be able to convince others of your brilliance if you don’t approach them in a way that make sense to them. You have to appeal to their way of thinking, not yours.

So what does this mean for you? You need to review the way in which you’ve been approaching your spouse about improving your sexual relationship.  You need to think about your packaging. Have you tried to motivate your spouse who believes that a good sexual relationship comes not from obligation but love, that part of being a good husband or wife is being a receptive sexual partner? While all your explanations might make sense to you, they might not click with your spouse. You need to think about what might motivate him or her.

I know a man whose wife wasn’t physical at all, and this bothered him. He yearned for more physical closeness, even nonsexual hugging and kissing. His wife told him that touching feels good, but then for that matter, so does taking a hot bath, and a hot bath is a lot easier.

I asked him what he tells his wife about his need for more sexual connection and he said, “I say, ‘I’m unhappy with the way things have been going. I need more affection,’ to which she replies, ‘So, what? There are things I’m unhappy about too.’” It wasn’t until he realized what truly motivated his wife — their children — that he found a more effective way to get through to her.

He thought about the fact that she had devoted her entire life to their children. She home-schooled them. She chauffeured them, short-order-cooked for them, and tended to all their emotional needs. They were her life. He knew that her own parents had a very loving, affectionate marriage. He also knew how much she appreciated growing up in that atmosphere. And so he said, “Do you want the kids growing up not seeing any affection? Don’t you think it would be better if they saw us hugging and kissing and loving each other?” That planted the necessary seed. The very next day, she agreed to go to a therapist. Good things come in smart packages.

Are you thinking about what lights your spouse’s fire when you ask him or her to change? If not, alter your approach, and you’ll have a better chance of getting through.

Michele Weiner Davis is the author of The Sex-Starved Marriage (Copyright © 2003 by Michele Weiner Davis), The Sex-Starved Wife, The Divorce Remedy, Change Your Life and Everyone in It, and several other books. She is a regular guest of The Oprah Winfrey Show, 48 Hours, 20/20, Today, and CBS This Morning. An internationally renowned seminar leader and marriage therapist in private practice, she lives with her family in Illinois.




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