This article was originally published on nurturingmarriage.org. It has been republished here, with permission.
If your marriage is anything like the millions of others out there, it's not perfect. You experience ups, and you experience downs. There are highs where you catch glimpses of what marriage can be, and there are lows where you want to pull your hair out.
Throughout all the ups and downs, there is one question that will transform your marriage. It's the one question that is essential to the ultimate success of any marriage.
The question is this: "What do I need to change about myself?"
When you first married your spouse, you thought he or she was perfect — or at least close. But it didn't take much longer than the honeymoon period to become keenly aware that this just isn't true. Bummer.
Your spouse has silly quirks (and sometimes bad habits) that absolutely drive you nuts! Perhaps he or she sometimes fails to recognize your contributions or just isn't sensitive enough, thoughtful enough or observant enough.
All of these things may leave you screaming inside, "Why can't you change? You're not the person I married!" or "Why should I have to deal with this?" Although the natural tendency to nitpick your spouse's flaws is compelling, it will do little (if nothing) to improve you marriage.
The question you should ask is not, "How can I change my spouse?" but rather, "How can I change myself?"
From time to time, there may be a thing or two (or three or four) that you and your spouse don't see eye to eye on. Perhaps it's an issue with finances, chores or a disagreement over how to discipline children. If you're going through a rough patch, don't focus on the changes you want your spouse to make, falsely thinking that will fix everything. Instead, consider how you can change.
You can't change your spouse, but you can change yourself. As you make a conscious effort to practice many of the changes you'd like your spouse to make, you'll be surprised to see him or her taking notice of your actions. Before you know it, your spouse may just begin to follow your lead!
If you're frustrated that your husband isn't romantic or thoughtful enough, then try doing a little something nice for him — and don't just do it once so you can say you tried. Go out of your way regularly, and be patient. He'll catch on. Is your wife driving you bonkers with her need to have everything organized, categorized and color-coded? If so, then do something to compliment her on her talents, or put your shirt back in the closet in the right color category. Your wife will appreciate your efforts to change, to give in a little, and she may even ease up on her OCD tendencies.
Even if your spouse doesn't make significant changes, you can rest assured that your efforts to change and improve have nurtured your marriage. Marriage isn't easy, and it was never meant to be. It forces you to look beyond yourself, to stretch and to grow. Like any meaningful and worthwhile pursuit, it requires your very best effort and a lot of hard work — and it leads to the most rewarding, fulfilling and meaningful successes. Ask any happily married couple of more than a few years, and they'll tell you that marriage is the hardest and most rewarding thing they've ever done.
Finally, there may be certain situations when a spouse has done everything possible to change and improve but the magnitude of marital problems is just too great. This advice is not intended to suggest that one spouse alone can fix everything, that the weight of an incredibly heavy burden is one-sided. That's simply not the case. There is help available in the form of trusted friends and trained professionals, and there may be cases where the only alternative is to end the marriage.
If this applies to you, know that you are an incredibly strong individual. Your efforts are not unnoticed and your commitment and fortitude point to the strength of your character. We applaud you!
For all of us, a strong marriage is the most worthwhile endeavor we will ever pursue. While it will take our very best, it will be worth every effort! No marriage is perfect, but as we consider the ways we can continually improve ourselves, we have the power to transform our marriages into everything we've ever hoped for.
Aaron & April are the founders of Nurturing Marriage, a website dedicated to strengthening marriages. They enjoy playing football with their two little boys, watching sports, eating cereal late at night, and going out for frozen yogurt.