No Man is an Island... But a Snowflake
So how do you get to know and learn to love someone that is so very different from the person you thought you were marrying? I can tell you that the first and most important step is to accept that your spouse is a snowflake. No, I don't mean that they are literally a flake of snow, but that your spouse is an individual, completely and uniquely different from you or any other person who has ever lived. Try to identify these differences and seek to understand them.
This concept is of equal importance for both husbands and wives to learn and apply to their lives. Remember that your spouse had a life before you came into it, they were independent and took care of themselves. They had trials and conflict that they handled on their own and in their own unique way. So move over and let them do things in the way they are accustomed to doing them! As discussed in another article your spouse's way of doing things is not necessarily wrong, just different. Watch what they do and see if there is something you can learn from it.
Learn to accept and encourage your spouse's independence and self-reliance. You do not want a spouse that is entirely dependent on you. Sure, its nice to be needed and feel necessary but to be someone's primary reason for living gets exhausting and burdensome. You also will want to be able to take comfort in the fact that should something happen to you they will be able to survive without you. The last thing you need to deal with as you lay dying is being terrified of what will happen to your family when you're gone.
It also is a very exhausting life to be constantly trying to change your spouse. You must learn what is truly in your ability to control and be at peace with the things you cannot change. And I can tell you, though some may think my experience is limited, that you can only change yourself. You absolutely cannot change your spouse. Meaningful, life altering, lasting change can only come from within. Your words and actions may help persuade or encourage but nothing you do or say will have any good impact unless your spouse has a desire to make the changes themselves.
A personal hero of mine, Marjorie Pay Hinckley, had quite a lot to say about marriage and the importance of individuality, her nearly 67 years of marriage as the resource for her insight. Marjorie certainly did not lead an easy life, but managed to raise a happy, healthy, and moral family and maintained a sweet and endearing relationship with her husband in spite of their challenges. You see, she was the wife of President Gordon B. Hinckley, a former Prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS Church). At the time of Gordon's death in 2008 at the ripe old age of 97, the 'Mormon' church, for whom he was the prophet for 12 years, spanned the globe with over 13.5 million members, increased from just 9.5 million when he became prophet in 1996. During his ministry, among his many other church related duties, he traveled the world visiting members in other countries and participating in humanitarian aid projects all while trying to raise a family and be a kind and loving husband. Though I am sure they both would have loved to be together as much as possible, Marjorie was often left for months at a time to raise their five children on her own while Gordon attended to his responsibilities as the prophet. She was ever optimistic and a role model to many women in the church. Aside from being a loving and devoted wife, mother, grandmother of 25, and great-grand-mother to 35, she also traveled with Gordon after their children were grown and spoke at many church functions, often about her life and marriage. She often counselled couples that they should not seek to control or recreate their spouse, and that doing so will only result in conflict and unhappiness. She and her husband discussed this very subject in an interview they gave for a magazine that is circulated among the members of the LDS community, here is part of the interview:
Church magazines: Why has your marriage been so happy for so long?
President Hinckley: The basis of a good marriage is mutual respect—respect for one another, a concern for the comfort and well-being of one another. That is the key. If a husband would think less of himself and more of his wife, we’d have happier homes throughout the Church and throughout the world.
Church magazines: Sister Hinckley, you have said that your husband “always let me do my own thing. He never insisted that I do anything his way, or any way, for that matter. From the very beginning he gave me space and let me fly.” How has he done that?
Sister Hinckley: He never tells me what to do. He just lets me go. He has made me feel like a real person. He has encouraged me to do whatever makes me happy. He doesn’t try to rule or dominate me.
Church magazines: President, you have said: “Some husbands regard it as their prerogative to compel their wives to fit their standards of what they think to be the ideal. It never works.” How have you avoided doing this with Sister Hinckley?
President Hinckley: I’ve tried to recognize my wife’s individuality, her personality, her desires, her background, her ambitions. Let her fly. Yes, let her fly! Let her develop her own talents. Let her do things her way. Get out of her way, and marvel at what she does.
Church magazines: What are some of the things she does that make you marvel?
President Hinckley: Oh my, many things …
Sister Hinckley (smiling): This will be hard for him.
President Hinckley: … She has run the house all these years. When our children were growing up, I was away much of the time on Church assignments. In the early days, when I had responsibility for the work in Asia, which I had for a long time, I would be gone for as long as two months at a time. We couldn’t telephone back and forth all the time in those days. She took care of everything. She ran the home. She ran everything and took care of the children.
We had a garden in our backyard. When I came home from one of my long assignments, I found that it had all been planted to lawn. She and the children had spaded up that backyard, sown lawn seed, and there was a beautiful lawn! The garden didn’t suffer, because we could plant another garden to the south of us. But that whole backyard became a beautiful patch of lawn.
That’s typical of the way she did things. She was independent and had a great eye for beauty.
So this week, continue to contemplate how you and your spouse are different, but observe your spouse whenever possible. Watch what they do, how they do it. Don't be afraid to ask them why they do things a certain way, this will help you understand them better. If you ordinarily are a bit controlling try to give your spouse more freedom to do things the way they prefer to do it... ie. If your wife is putting the cups in the bottom rack of the dishwasher, don't get on her about it, let it go, and perhaps ask her why she prefers to load the dishwasher that way. Do not correct the behavior unless someone or something will be hurt or damaged by the process. If your spouse has mentioned in times past that there is something they would like to do or have an interest in, think about ways you can encourage them to pursue it or ways in which you might be able to help them achieve their goal.