Is Your Patience Preventing Marriage Growth?

Patience without action, like faith without works, will not produce any good thing.

Patience is only helpful once effective steps have been taken

I want to start off this topic by giving you a little test. Can you put the following three steps in the right order?

  • harvesting
  • planting seeds
  • being patient

As a gardener, patience is an important part of growing my vegetables. However, if I don’t take the action steps, all the patience in the world won’t get me a cucumber. Year after year I would be frustrated that nothing was growing and eventually give up on my garden altogether.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? But this is the method that many people use to improve their marriage. In case you want to check your answer for the test, the correct order is planting seeds, being patient, then harvesting. It will not work in any other order.

The right marriage building steps, in the right order

Building relationships has to happen in the correct order as well. Some people tell me that once their spouse starts to treat them better they will start to treat their spouse well. This is like saying, once my garden starts producing cucumbers, then I will plant some seeds. That of course does not work.

Here is another test, this time about relationship building steps. See if you can put them in the right order:

  • being patient
  • stopping needy behaviors
  • using good boundaries
  • making your spouse feel loved and important

This might be a little harder since there are four steps rather than three. Put in the wrong order you won’t be able to get relationship improvement. The correct order is, stopping needy behaviors, making your spouse feel loved and important, using good boundaries, and then being patient. Patience is necessary as a last step because we can’t get sudden improvement even if we do all the right preceding steps.

What to expect at each step

It’s good to know how things usually progress to help you know you are on the right track.

What to expect with the first step:

When you are stopping needy behaviors, your spouse will continue to do things that you don’t like, but will be less negative towards you. If you thought that stopping your needy behaviors would stop your spouse from doing things you don’t like, you would become frustrated and might return to your needy behaviors.

What to expect with the second step:

After you have eliminated your needy behaviors (my book on Overcoming Neediness can help you with that), then it is time to move on to doing things that make your spouse enjoy being with you more. That doesn’t happen automatically by stopping damage.

You have to do things that help your spouse to feel validated, desirable, and important. Even so, your spouse will still be doing things that you don’t like. If you didn’t know that, you might give up and go back to doing needy behaviors such as criticizing and complaining. Then you would have to start over at square one.

What to expect with the third step:

Once your spouse is enjoying your relationship, then it is time to use boundaries to stop damaging behavior your spouse is still doing. That will make your spouse angry and punitive. This reaction is resistance against change. It is completely normal and to be expected. Whether you are using a boundary with a child or adult, they are never going to like it. They have to go through the process of adjusting to it.

What to expect with the fourth step:

As you continue to not be needy, continue to be validating, and continue to use good boundaries, your spouse will become less and less upset. Your relationship will continue to grow and trust will be restored. It takes at least three months of consistent behavior to restore trust. Expecting trust before then is like expecting to harvest your garden soon after planting it.

Patience is the expectation of good results with the continued application of effective behavior. Patience without effective behavior is just wishful thinking. Seeds not sown will never grow.

Progress encourages patience

Most of my clients experience some progress within one week of stopping their needy behaviors, regardless of how long problems have gone on. As they continue with the other steps, things continue to improve. Normal progress is two steps forward and one step back. The step back is still part of progress.

People who think progress means today is always going to be better than yesterday and tomorrow is going to be better than today become discouraged. You need to be able to see with that step back, that it wasn’t as far back as you were and to keep doing what you have been doing to move forward.

The limits of progress

All relationships plateau at some point no matter what you do. The best athlete will hit a limit in ability regardless of additional practice. That limit will differ from person to person. No matter how much I work out, I am not going to be able to do what a professional athlete can do.

To determine the potential for improvement in your marriage, you need to identify when your relationship with your spouse was at its very best. However it was then is the potential you can reach again. You are very unlikely to improve past the point when your relationship was at its best.

When your relationship plateaus, you should have two goals. One is to maintain that level by continuing to do what got you there. The other is to supplement your relationship to compensate for what you will not be getting from your spouse.

Wanting to get every need met by a spouse is a common cause of dissatisfaction in marriages. In reality God is the only one who can meet all your needs. Never expect your spouse to be able to do what only God can.

By the same token, you are not going to be able to meet all of your spouse’s needs. You are not God either.

For example most people will not be able to have all of their social needs met by their spouse. This could be because of time demands on a spouse, or because of the spouse’s emotional inability to provide it.

Unmet needs following relationship plateau

Many people will need to have other sources of validation in addition to what their spouse gives. You can get that by friends, but also from church, Christian fellowship groups, a full or part-time job, or by doing volunteer work.

Practically, the only needs you will not be able to have met by those other than your spouse are sexual needs. Most of the time, when peoples sexual needs are not being met, they haven’t actually worked to the point where there relationship has hit a plateau.

Even if your spouse could meet all of your needs, it’s still important to have other sources. For example, suppose your spouse’s need for quality time is one hour a day and yours is two hours a day. Your spouse will enjoy quality time with you for an hour and then the second hour would be work. While your spouse may be willing to do that, it will negatively impact your spouse’s feelings for you.

If you can get that other hour of quality time from other people, then you will have your needs met, your spouse’s needs will be met, and your spouse will enjoy your relationship more. As a result, you will have a closer marriage.

Similarity is the best predictor of relationship success

The more similar your needs and your spouse’s needs, the easier it will be to meet each other’s needs while not feeling like your marriage is a lot of work. The more different your needs are from your spouse’s the more you need to have other sources of fulfillment. Otherwise you will make your relationship a lot of work for your spouse.

One of the hallmark’s of a needy person is a tendency to try to get others to do more than they naturally want. By doing this, they make having a relationship with them a lot of work and damage their desirability.

If you have made your relationship a job for your spouse, you can use my book on Overcoming Neediness to start to make your relationship pleasurable again for your spouse. That will result in you getting more of what you want from your spouse.

An exercise for moving from patience only, to effective action

1. Make a list of things that you hope will happen in your relationship. For example, you might want to date your spouse more, have more one on one time, have a more enjoyable sexual relationship, cooperate in managing finances, work as a team in parenting, and so on.

If you have nothing you hope for, it means you are satisfied with your relationship the way it is and you should just keep doing whatever you are doing.

2. Add to this list as you think of more things. 

3. Next, write after each item whether you have had any real improvement in this area in the last 6 months.

4. For things that are improving, just keep doing what you are doing.

If there are things which are not improving, or are getting worse, then what you are doing is not working, even if all you are doing is waiting for your spouse to change. Waiting for your spouse to change would be an ineffective thing that you are doing, which contributes to things not changing (or getting worse). After each of these things that are not improving, write “I need a new method.”

5. Prioritize your list. The more items you have, the more important it is to determine what you should work on first. Two common mistakes that prevent relationship improvement are:

  1. Working on two many things at once, and
  2. Working on things in the wrong order.

Improved one on one time would come before dating more, for example. And, having better dates would come before having a better sexual relationship. All three of these things would come before managing money cooperatively or parenting as a team.

6. Identify a new step you could take for your high priority goals. Do not consider doing more of the same or trying harder as steps to take. When something is not working, doing it more will make things worse rather than better.

7. This is more of a caution than a step. Don’t consider talking about your dissatisfaction or relationship problems with your spouse to be an action step. Talking about problems is like using sandpaper to polish your car–the more you do it, the worse things will get. Instead, you will either be taking steps to:

  • become more desirable for your spouse,
  • validate your spouse, and/or
  • use good boundaries

These are the only things that have the potential to improve your relationship.

Will being patient get you where you want to go?

If you have taken these steps, you will be creating change regardless of what your spouse does or doesn’t do. Patience alone could never accomplish that. The substitute for patience is never impatience. It is persistently taking good actions until you get good results. If you need help determining what actions you need to take, I would be happy to work with you to make your relationship enjoyable for both you and your spouse.

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