“My husband is so immature and irresponsible, and often acts like a child. What is the best way for me to try and help him change?”
This is a question we have received from many wives, usually after they have already tried being critical and pointing out his mistakes to him, only to find that that does not work. That is a path that will only lead to hurt and resentment for both of you. You cannot be critical of him and be happy at the same time.
You can, however, have what you really want, which is to be happy and have a fulfilling marriage, regardless of whether he truly is immature or not. We’ll discuss how to achieve this and you will soon understand why the solution does not include being disapproving of him or trying to “fix” him.
In this article, we will discuss:
- How selfishness is often disguised as love
- Why you shouldn’t try to “help” him grow up
- When it’s OK to be supportive of his growth
- Why you have the urge to change him
- The only way we know how to get him to change: the selfless way
Don’t just skip ahead to the end or you’ll be disappointed without understanding the logic behind it. The value will come through absorbing the steps along the way. It’s worth it, because if you understand why you have this desire to change him, then you’ll understand the way to overcome your own resentment and dissatisfaction.
Beware Of Selfishness Disguised As Love
Your husband is probably the same guy you married. The same guy you promised to love unconditionally, regardless of whether he changed or not.
You might think that if only he would change, your marriage would be so much better. But trying to achieve this change by pointing out his faults to him and trying to force him to “grow up” will not lead you to a happy and harmonious marriage.
Why? Because identifying and pointing out faults has nothing to do with love, and that is ultimately what marriage is all about.
Is it possible to help him change by lovingly supporting his own growth?
Yes, there is a way to do that, but you must be very careful with your actions and attitude. Otherwise, you may think you’re doing good while in reality, you are undermining your own marriage. For instance, look at this email we received from a client:
Hi, it is true that one ought not to adopt the role of a teacher… that would not be appropriate in a relationship… one wants to love and be loved.
However, I am not convinced why we should avoid trying to help each other grow.
Certainly one should not aim at upsetting another by pointing out their flaws to them; nevertheless, one can help oneself and one’s partner to grow out of weaknesses, by TALKING and COMMUNICATING… turning a blind eye is not a constructive option.
One aspect of loving is to help our partners grow. Of course, only if they want to. I certainly do not support the approach where one avoids dealing with one’s own sensitivities first, I neither concur to the notion that one should be silent on the other’s weaknesses. At the end of the day, mutual love includes the endeavor for mutual growth. While not being a teacher but a lover!
This “sounds good” but do you see what she did there?
Even though Patty acknowledges that she shouldn’t try to change her husband, her mind is still trying to find some loophole to get around it.
On the one hand, she recognizes she shouldn’t be a teacher nor point out flaws to her husband, but then immediately suggests she could help him “grow out of weakness by talking”; and not being “silent on the other’s weaknesses”.
She talks up and down about love and frames her position as if it’s coming from a pure, heart-centered place. But it’s not. Her arguments are based on a selfish desire to point out her husband’s flaws. She is essentially asking for our permission to justify what she already senses is going to be harmful to her marriage.
This is why you must be very careful because your own mind is very sneaky and it will try to find ways to act selfishly under the guise of “love”.
How do you know if you are acting out of real love?
One way is to try and take the personal emotions out of a situation and look at it as if it were someone else. For example:
Recently a woman who is taking our course told me she wasn’t sure her husband would come back to her. She wanted him to, but he had discovered that she had cheated on him. I asked her what she would say if her brother told her his wife had cheated on him. Without hesitation, she said: “I’d tell him to leave her!”
Looking at another’s situation, it becomes quite clear. It is difficult to see our own situation clearly.
Your marriage will only grow from real love. So if you pour the false love of selfish behavior into it, you’ll actually be damaging your marriage, as you are likely doing now with your frustration and condemnation of your husband.
Since happiness in marriage is your goal, we need to understand and root out the cause of this subtle and complex challenge.
Let’s first look at why you shouldn’t try to help him grow.
Why Can’t I Help My Husband Grow?
When we are close to someone, we see all kinds of things nobody else sees. We see beautiful things that most people miss, and we also see things that are not so beautiful.
One of the key requirements for a happy marriage is respect; we have to learn to respect but not to expect.
Respecting him, and the choices he makes or doesn’t make is a critical part of loving him.
Ask yourself how you would feel if it was the other way round? Would you like to be judged and told about your flaws? Of course not. What we all want is to be accepted and loved unconditionally.
Pointing out a person’s psychological, emotional, or physical flaws is a hurtful action.
Surely it wouldn’t make you feel great if your husband bought you an exercise bike for Christmas and suggested you really needed to start a diet and exercise program, right?
It hurts even more when the person who does this to you is close, someone you should be able to rely on for moral support. Your husband will feel no different and will also feel deeply hurt.
Having the advantage of objectivity is a tool we can and should use on ourselves, and although our perceptions of the flaws we see in others are probably spot-on accurate, those imperfections are not ours to work on. It is easy to reason that you want to do this for him or her because if the other person just got rid of that one particular flaw then their life would be so much easier for them. Doesn’t he or she realize you are only trying to help? Yes and no! I’m afraid it’s not as simple as that.
Flaws are not so easily uprooted. Flaws are habits. Look at it like this: we only see a plant with its fruits once it has grown above the surface. We don’t think about the huge network of roots below. That plant is like our flaw, visible on the outside, while the roots are deep subconscious habits of perceptions and reactions. Even when looking at ourselves we can often only see the “plant”, while the “roots” remain hidden deep under the ground.
The focus and amount of energy required to remove even the smallest flaw are great. And then people are only able to deal with the flaws they can see, and only when they are emotionally ready to do so. This whole process is extremely personal. When a flaw is pointed out to someone, it almost always does more harm than good by making the person immediately be on the defensive, feel resentful, self-conscious, and intruded upon. Why add that to your marriage?
No matter how sweetly you word it, it still comes across as, “you’re fat and need to exercise” or “you’re inadequate and need to change.”
If you don’t want to hear that from your husband, then you shouldn’t “help him” by pointing out his flaws either. And if he does say something as callous as that to you, then any negative retort you make is not going to help your marriage either. Expressed negativity, from either party, actively damages your marriage. This is one of the reasons why learning to communicate correctly in a marriage is of so much importance. One of you has to be the bigger person and let it go if you want to enjoy a fulfilling marriage.
When you truly love him, you will accept your husband for who he is and let him grow on his own, at his own pace. Pointing out his flaws is not expressing love, at all.
In fact, it is quite common and probable that the flaw you see in him is a flaw you also have, because we tend to see the shortcomings in others that are residing in our own mind. Life just works that way.
When Is It OK To Help Your Husband Grow?
When you are truly supportive and loving toward your husband, regardless of his idiosyncrasies, you will enjoy happiness in your marriage.
It is 100% OK to help your husband grow when he is striving for his own growth and you are there to support him.
For instance, let’s say he decides on his own that he wants to lose weight. He starts going to the gym, starts eating healthier, and decides to run a 10k marathon. In that case, it would be completely loving for you to stop eating junk food at home, hide your snacks, join him on some of his workouts, be his cheerleader on his runs, and help him to stay motivated during setbacks.
Do you see the difference?
In this scenario, he chose to lose weight, and you’re supporting his choice. You did not say, “You need to lose weight” nor imply that you would withdraw sex, affection, or that you might even leave him if he didn’t.
The same is true in psychological situations.
Perhaps he realized that he has an anger problem, which has been hurting himself and everyone around him. He has finally come to terms with it and asks you for help. Note that we don’t promote therapy for anger. Instead, we find understanding anger is a far better way to resolve anger problems, just as understanding marriage is far more effective than therapy.
Your support means making sure his schedule is free to walk in the park by himself, meditate, or other methods to keep calm. You try to avoid saying or doing things that you know will trigger him. If there are external problems that you know would cause him to fly off the handle, you try to deal with them yourself so as to not bother him. However, if knowing about it is important to him, make sure he knows that you’re dealing with it so he doesn’t think you’re hiding it nor putting it on his plate.
It also means you don’t jab him with complaints and criticism; something you should never do in a marriage anyway. If you get into arguments with him, you be the one to end them by saying, “Honey, I love you, and I don’t want to fight with you. Let’s talk about this issue again tomorrow when we’re both calmer”. Again, this is what you should be doing daily in your marriage anyway.
Being loving excludes reacting negatively and emotionally when he gets angry, or cutting him down for his anger problem and telling him he needs to fix it… or else.
There is one thing I want to make clear: if his anger leads to physical abuse, you need to ensure that you and your children are safe, which might mean leaving until it is safe to come back. But let’s not get side-tracked.
In both of the above scenarios, he was the initiator and driver for his change. He did not need your suggestion, expressed wish, or implied threat that he change. He made the choice on his own.
Not only does this respect him and his free will, it also means that when he does decide to change, it is far more likely to be a true and lasting change. If he’s changing solely based on your demand, then as soon as you relax, he’ll revert back to his previous habitual behavior. If he changes out of his own desire, he has the possibility to root out the bad habit and become a truly changed person.
Finally, isn’t this the kind of love and support you want him to provide for you? Do you want your husband to support you by listening as you work through your emotions on your own? Or do you want him to just tell you how to fix the problem, as men are inclined to do? Do you want him to point out all of your flaws and weaknesses and let you know what needs to change?
If you don’t want that, then why would you allow yourself to behave that way?
Now it’s not entirely your fault that you feel a desire to be critical of him, as your behavior is somewhat psycho-physiologically motivated, but you still bear a responsibility to not go along with this impulse in your marriage. Understanding that impulse is key to overcoming it.
Where Does Your Desire To Fix Him Come From?
Why do so many women disapprove of their husbands’ behavior and want to fix it? Let’s return to Patty’s email.
Remember she recognized that trying to change him was futile and inappropriate in a marriage, yet part of her was trying to find a way around it, pretending that she was trying to change her husband out of love, helping him improve himself for his own benefit rather than hers.
This tug-of-war in her own mind is the battle between her ego and her true heart. Patty’s ego refused to accept her husband for who he is. Though she referred to ‘love’ several times, her suggestions were not loving at all! The ego is very subtle and sneaky. It fools you, me, and everyone on earth.
Some think that only men have egos, but that is just a misunderstanding of what the ego is.
Ego does not mean ‘male bravado’ or having a chauvinistic demeanor. Ego means your conscious awareness is absorbed in the emotions and selfish desires that drive the body, rather than your conscious awareness being connected to the true heart, the source of Love.
When our consciousness is not in tune with the heart, then the body is in full command and will drive most of our daily behavior. It drives us to eat when hungry, or get cranky if we don’t. It practically forces us to run to the bathroom. It causes the mind to become aggressive or focused when it feels threatened. It even makes us very “open and interested” when there’s a well-timed, good opportunity for “procreation,” now or in the future. It is always there, just below the surface.
When we operate from our selfish, biologically or psycho-physiologically driven compulsions rather than from heart-centered compassion, that is the ego. And this takes place on a daily basis for everyone. The body is only interested in its own survival or in producing children. It uses your emotions to control perhaps as much as 95% of your behavior!
But the body cannot love and it knows nothing about your marriage. It is inherently selfish. Love, on the other hand, is inherently selfless. And you must be heart-centered and selfless in your marriage if you want to be happy and fulfilled.
Men’s and women’s egos manifest differently due to biological gender differences. Understanding what those differences are and how they influence us is important if you are to realize why you act the way you do and how that impacts your relationship.
For instance, part of a man’s ego is built around his strength, intelligence, the attractiveness of his mate, his performance in the bedroom, and the protection and resources he provides for his family. Knowing this, it would be very loving of you to acknowledge your husband every time he displays these traits and actions.
A woman’s ego on the other hand is partially built around a need for security so that she has a safe place in which to raise children. Even women who don’t want children commonly seek security or its derivative, status, simply as a result of their biological motivations. Security for the modern woman commonly comes from having status in society or financial abundance. Consequently, the woman’s ego often drives her to focus more on her appearance than a man would.
There are also many universal manifestations of the ego that are not based on gender. “What about me?” “Why should I put in the effort if he/she isn’t going to?” Anger, jealousy, being a victim, selfishness, and all other negative emotions are expressions of the ego.
I’m sure you’ve experienced many of these but perhaps didn’t know they were triggered by your body’s drives. Most of us don’t even notice when we are being selfish because the mind wants us to be fooled into thinking we are “right”.
By asking, “When will he grow up?” women usually mean when will he stop playing video games or hanging out with his friends, and instead focus all of his time and energy on me and our children? Which is a common, but inherently selfish thought.
The appropriate way to look at this is to ask yourself: if your husband prefers to spend time with video games or his friends rather than with you, then why? Spending more time with you would provide more opportunities to build a more fulfilling marriage, but people want to be around others who are positive and genuinely supportive. If he is choosing to be elsewhere, what does that say about his experience at home?
It is likely that you have become less tolerant and more critical of him. You’ve changed your behavior from being the sweet, wonderful woman he married, and have started to push him away.
Marriage is as simple as this:
- Either your actions are selfless, driven by love, and your marriage will improve and become happier every day than the day before,
- Or your actions are selfish, driven by the body, and your marriage will deteriorate.
So is it all your fault? Are you the only one to blame for your marriage problems? Of course not. Don’t allow yourself to ask egotistical and selfish questions like these. Both of you have brought your marriage to where it is today through a mixture of selfless and selfish behavior. The way to get your marriage back on track is through rising above the selfishness of the ego and behave selflessly. Fortunately, it only takes one of you to do this. You do not need to wait for him to do it first, or even at all. You will become a much happier person when you drop all expectations of him and love him selflessly.
In single life, selfish thoughts and behaviors are normal and mostly harmless. But in married life, they are very destructive. If you continue to allow these instinctive and habitual behaviors to go unchecked and drive your behavior, then your marriage will continue to spiral down until one of you finally throws in the towel. I can guarantee you that.
To be happy in marriage you must be selfless and truly loving; heart-centered rather than ego-centered. Truly loving is more than just a behavior or two. It means supporting your husband as I’ve outlined. It also means looking at your own thoughts, from which actions spring. Vigilantly watch your own mind, and monitor your speech and behavior to ensure they are truly loving and supportive. Otherwise, you are likely to be deluded into behaving selfishly under the guise of love. This is not out of your reach. Like most people you were probably never taught how to control your own mind or emotions, so you just didn’t know that self-control was even possible, let alone necessary for you to have a fulfilling marriage. It is so fundamental that it’s the first thing we teach our clients in our courses. It is the expectation that in marriage, you take responsibility for your own behavior.
Finally, there is one other truly selfless way you can help your husband grow.
The Selfless Way To Help Your Husband Grow
Now that you understand the biological drives and boundaries described above, you are equipped to understand this section. If you skipped straight here, then you’ve missed the value of this article.
This is the most effective way that we know of for you to help your husband grow into a more mature person. One who will likely be a willing participant in enriching your marriage.
We have helped many wives do this, which has helped their husbands grow and change. This method does not use any tricks or gimmicks. There’s no manipulation – you won’t be doing this in order to get him to change. Yet, it is the only way that we have seen work.
When you got married, it became your responsibility to overrule your instinctive reactions and express true love to your husband as you promised in your vows. That’s the only way to enjoy a fulfilling marriage. There is no way around that responsibility.
There are no tricky loopholes for the ego-mind to sneak through and justify bad behavior under the guise of love.
Your level of happiness comes down to the choice you make in every interaction with your husband. When he says something, is your response loving or not? Is it selfless or selfish? Is it expressed from your heart or your ego? These are the questions you should be asking yourself on a daily basis to ensure you are in control of your mind and your life, rather than your body’s selfish drives.
If both of you started behaving from love instead of from selfish desires, your marriage would take off like never before. However, mutual effort is not a requirement!
If you alone start making this shift, he very likely will want to spend more time with you. If you start showing him what real intimacy is, by bringing all of your sexual and non-sexual interactions up to the level of the heart, he won’t be interested in distractions or “relief”. If you start cultivating a loving marriage and resume treating him the way the young woman he courted did, he will want to grow into the man you hoped he would become.
The only way that we have seen work to get him to change, is for you to be an inspiration for him.
This means you stop turning your critical gaze on him and instead turn it on yourself. Rather than cataloging his flaws and expecting him to change, you identify and fix your own flaws.
Now that the tables are turned, is your ego becoming sensitive and defensive? Are you already rejecting this idea out of hand? Are you perhaps thinking you have very few flaws or thinking of how you’ve already put so much into the relationship and if he’s not willing to make any changes, why should you bother?
This common reaction is the body’s drive-to-survive influencing the mind. It is the nature of the ego. We all want to fix others, but we never, ever want to fix or even look at our own flaws.
We have seen thousands and thousands of marriages and never has the husband or the wife been the sole cause of all of the marriage problems while the other was a saint who truly gave the unconditional love they imagined they were giving.
The fact is that if you are having problems in your marriage, neither you nor your husband are innocent. You have both damaged your marriage as a result of your own individual misdeeds.
You can clearly see your husband’s flaws, and he can see yours. However, it is difficult for either of you to see your own flaws well. But if you turn your critical gaze on yourself, fix your own issues, and truly become a better person for your own sake, then you will naturally inspire him to reach far higher than he normally would, or has ever reached before. And you won’t even need to say anything.
If you wait for him to grow up first before you become a loving wife again, that will never happen.
If you want to help your husband become the best man he can be, then look only at improving yourself. Remove the weeds from the garden of your own mind. Plant only sweet flowers of smiles, compliments, and loving behavior. Don’t worry about what he is or isn’t doing in his own mind-garden.
You clean up your mind and behavior and see what it does for your own happiness. I promise you that if you fix your own inner environment, you’ll be far, far happier in your marriage and with your entire life, even if your husband does not change one bit.
He does not need to change for you to be happy. Your husband will never be “perfect”. You probably won’t ever be the “perfect” wife either. But neither of you need to be. One of the secrets of marriage is that you just have to continually strive for perfection, and that is enough to attain happiness.
You can love him entirely for who he is, where he is currently at, for the good things that caused you to fall in love with him originally, ignoring the flaws, and have a truly happy and fulfilling life and marriage. And if he chooses to, he can do the same; he can love you regardless of your flaws. But that is his choice to make.
I know I have set some lofty goals for you and it is important that you aim high and strive for these goals. I’ve given you much of what you need to start working on yourself to see a dramatic improvement in your marriage. We know this works. We have helped many women and men improve their marriages without their spouse’s help for 2 decades now.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to change one’s own habits. Imagine trying to change someone else’s!
Many of our clients were inspired initially once they learned what is truly possible in marriage and started behaving lovingly again, only to find a couple of days later they were back to reacting negatively and selfishly.
They were only able to succeed once they began working through our marriage-saving process. It leads one step-by-step through learning to control the mental negativity, emotional reactions, and eliminating bad habits and behavior. Then once the negativity is removed, our system teaches one how to truly love their spouse.
The same process I used with my one-on-one clients when I had my private practice has been adapted into an online video format to make it available worldwide through The Marriage Foundation.
You too can work through my system at your own pace, and be supported by our counselors, trained by me. We regularly hear reports of marriages bouncing back very quickly. We know our process absolutely works and even provide a guarantee so you can feel safe trying it out. If you think you might need help changing your habits or staying motivated, I encourage you to take a look at it.
Whatever you do, think about what I have shared with you, and start looking for ways to incorporate more and more love into your marriage. You and your family have my blessings and best wishes.