Have you found yourself at the end of your rope in your relationship? Perhaps you are feeling very dissatisfied, but your partner doesn’t seem willing to make a change. Or maybe, things have changed for periods of time, but they inevitably drift back to the way they were. If this rings true, feelings of resentment may have been building in you over time, resulting in anger or apathy toward your partner.
Friends and family may have given you advice to ask more assertively for a change, tough it out or just leave. You may have tried couples therapy in an unsuccessful effort to get your partner on board. You know you can’t endure it much longer the way it is and asking over and over again for change hasn’t helped, but you’re not quite ready yet to throw in the towel on your relationship. There may be another option. Instead of just waiting around for your partner to change, you can conduct a love experiment.
Just like a scientist, you can conduct an experiment to gather important data that will help guide you along the appropriate path. Experiments have subjects, variables and procedures and the results are used to support or weaken theories. In a love experiment, you are the scientist and your relationship is the subject. Your theory that you want to support or disprove might involve whether your relationship is worth continuing or whether it can change for the better.
In an experiment, the dependent variable is what the scientist measures and the independent variable is what the scientist deliberately varies during the experiment. In your love experiment, you will be varying your own behavior and then “measuring” your own response (thoughts, feelings, urges) in order to support or weaken your theory.
Since it is understood that we cannot change others, the love experiment involves changing yourself to see what impact your new behavior has on your relationship. The procedures include increasing behaviors that have been shown by marriage and family researchers to be conducive to strong, healthy relationships and avoiding behaviors that are correlated with relationship failure. Behavior to increase includes:
- Active listening – inviting your partner to share their thoughts with you and showing them you are truly hearing what they have to say.
- Assertive communication – expressing your own needs and preferences in a way that honors the other person’s position
- Validation of your partners feelings – not necessarily agreeing, but acknowledging their point of view
- Expressing appreciation and respect for your partner – making sure your genuine positive feedback outweighs your negative feedback.
- Taking responsibility for your own feelings and behavior, being proactive, and admitting when you’re wrong.
- Accepting influence from your partner – compromising, negotiating, being fair, sharing major decisions.
- Trust building – being open, dependable, reliable, and consistent
Behavior to avoid includes:
- Harsh criticism – saying things that attack your partner’s character, implying that you’re right and they’re wrong
- Expressing contempt – insulting, belittling or abusing your partner
- Defensiveness – making excuses, preemptive attacks, blaming or discounting
- Withdrawing – ignoring, leaving, changing the subject, avoiding
- Lying or other betrayals
- Angry confrontation or threatening words/behavior
You will need to introduce the independent variable (being the very best spouse you can be) consistently and for a long enough time that you can get a reliable measure. It has been said that it takes about a month to make a behavior a habit, so be prepared for a long haul. You may start to notice a change in your own relationship satisfaction, and if you’re lucky, you may also notice a change in your partner’s behavior toward you. If after putting in your very best effort you notice no difference in the way you feel, at least you have gathered some important additional information toward your relationship theory that may help guide you toward your next steps.
If you or someone you love is struggling with relationship issues, it may be helpful to consult with a professional. You can find mental health professionals in your area through online therapist locators such as those hosted by the American Psychological Association, Psychology Today, Network Therapy and GoodTherapy.