How to Discourage Your Spouse

Couple ArguingCriticism is a poison that sours relationships. When things aren’t going well in a marriage, that tends to be the time we are most likely to throw every complaint we’ve got at our spouse when instead it’s encouragement and a search for what’s good that is more likely to affect positive changes in behavior. It’s funny how we mistakenly think we can berate and belittle our spouses into behaving better.

It seems to be the universal longing out there for the other person to change. “If only they would do this…” “If only they would change that…” “If only they…” the list goes on!

Here are some of the ways discouragement occurs in marriages:

  1. Setting overly high expectations or having unrealistic standards for our spouse and/or marriage.
  2. Focusing on our spouse’s mistakes in a misguided and ineffective attempt to motivate them to change.
  3. Making comparisons to other spouses or other couples.
  4. Making pessimistic interpretations of our spouse’s behaviors, intentions, etc.
  5. Dominating by being overly responsible, sending the message that we don’t think they are competent or capable.

Instead, encouragement is a universal motivator toward positive change. Encouragement is the process of giving courage and hope to someone. What better gift to give a spouse than encouragement, especially when they are having a hard time and maybe not behaving so well. It’s a difficult thing to look for and identify glimpses of goodness when we’d rather focus on the ways our spouse is messing up and needs to change.

Even amidst some of the challenges my husband and I have endured, my husband chose to be an encourager during an important time. I can absolutely attest to the motivational power of encouragement to make someone want to change, and to even go through the hell it sometimes takes to bring about change. If he had responded differently our lives could have been much different than they are today. It really does only take one person with a will to endure a difficult time, with as much hope as they can muster, to ultimately change things for the better.

When people are acting poorly that is exactly the time they are most in need of encouragement, when our default is often to discourage them even further with our criticism and condemnation. Encouragement isn’t just some relationship skill, but an attitude that for many of us must be developed.

Encouragement focuses on the effort or improvement in our spouse’s attitude or behavior rather than on the outcome or results. We can encourage someone without strings attached to certain behaviors. Look for and acknowledge even minute improvement or effort on your spouse’s part, and you’ll be pleasantly surprised to see more of it. Watch and see just how your attitude toward your spouse (positive or negative) tends to bring about the very behavior you expect.

People that are encouragers have made peace with themselves and tend to have faith in someone just because they exist. Encouragers breathe life into an otherwise dismal and discouraging situation. Wouldn’t it be great if we could all learn to be encouragers.

I challenge us all to look at our own behavior and see if there are ways we might be discouraging our spouse, and strive to become encouragers.

Other Resources

Article “How Do I Get My Spouse to Change?!”

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