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Getting a spouse to change requires tact

SHARE Getting a spouse to change requires tact

She wants to get her husband to stop smoking. He wants to get his wife to drink less. He wants her to exercise. She wants him to lose weight and have a physical. None of these wants are bad. But how do you get your mate to change without becoming a nag or inviting a blow-up?

The first step is to put in your request. For example, "I'm concerned about the amount of wine you're drinking. Research says that two drinks a day is fine, but more than that affects your health. Would you consider cutting back to two glasses?"If your mate resists and says, "I almost never drink more than two glasses" or "The glasses I drink are small," you might go one more round and say, "Well, I'm concerned. I know drinking can creep up on you. Maybe you'll think about it." Then let it be for a while. Sometimes simply calling attention to a developing bad habit will bring it into the other person's awareness.

Now suppose a few months go by and you still see your mate drinking too much. At this juncture you might offer a trade-off of sorts. For example, "Suppose you wait for me to come home before having a glass of wine. Then we can have one together. And while we're enjoying our wine we can enjoy each other and share the day. Or we can start making dinner together."

If your mate says you're trying to bribe her, tell her she's right. You're concerned. You love her. And you believe it's your responsibility to try to help her, even though she may not want your help.

Another suggestion is to ask your mate what she gets out of drinking. If she drinks to relax, ask if there's another way she might relax. Could the two of you take a walk before dinner? How about a foot rub? Keep focusing on what she gets from drinking and how you might help.

If you're concerned about your husband's smoking, tell him. "I'm so worried about your smoking." Then you might ask if he'd consider giving it up. If he says no, ask if he'd consider a bribe.

Most of us are curious enough to ask, "What kind of a bribe?" You might say, "You pick." I know a husband who gave up smoking in exchange for his wife giving up 35 pounds. They both feel great about their accomplishments.

If your husband staunchly refuses to give up smoking, ask why. Keep your tone of voice neutral and don't let your feelings of frustration show.

If he answers, "My grandfather smoked and he lived to be 97," ask your question again. But why do you smoke? If he says it's his pleasure and tells you to stop bugging him, be prepared to let the issue go. The only thing you can do now is request that he not smoke in front of you or the children because of the effects of second-hand smoke.

Deciding to change takes time. When you ask your mate to change, you've already been thinking about the change. On the other hand, your partner needs time to incorporate your request. Give him a few months and try again. Sometimes in therapy I find myself suggesting the same thing 50 or 60 times before the person is willing to try a new behavior. I, however, stay steady with my request. I don't get angry. And I don't give up.