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posted: 2/27/2014 12:20 PM

Tips for dealing with a spouse who isn't perfect

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After a few years of marriage, most of us realize there are some things about our spouse that we don't particularly care for.

It may be as inconsequential as the way they brush their teeth, or as important as their religious commitment.

As I worked with couples over the years, it has seemed to me such irritants and issues tend to fall into three broad categories.

First, there are those things that bother us that our spouse can change and is willing to work on changing.

For example, I have this habit of talking with my hands when I get upset. I was never really all that aware of it until my wife pointed it out to me, and added that it bothered her.

As she described it, it would bother me too, so I decided to try to change. And I've made a bit of progress, though I've got a way to go yet.

Second, there are those things our spouse will not, or cannot, change (even if they do sometimes drive us crazy) and that we are willing to tolerate.

For example, a friend of mine enjoys country and western music, though his wife dislikes it intensely. He tries to be sensitive to her dislike, but he is not willing to stop listening to it and expects "equal time" for his music on the stereo. His wife accepts this as a small price to pay for the healthy marriage they enjoy.

There are also some things we accept because our spouse simply cannot change them (or what is involved in doing so is just too much to ask). They may have short legs, or big hands, or tend toward baldness. Or they may get nervous in large crowds, or fall asleep at parties sometimes, or cry at sad movies.

Even though such characteristics, habits, or traits may bother us, we recognize that they are not changeable (or would be incredibly difficult, costly, or painful to change).

Third, there arise in some marriages things we are not willing to accept or tolerate. Our spouse's drinking, an extra marital affair, or physical abuse, for example.

But this category may also include our spouses' insistence on always winning an argument, or their religious dogmatism, or their need to accumulate more and more money at any cost, or their fear of being intimate.

Often this is not even a matter of what is right or wrong, but simply what we as individuals need to be satisfied in our marriages.

Obviously, when there is anything in this third category, our marriage is in deep trouble. In fact, unless we find some way of moving things out of this category and into either of the previous two, it is safe to say our marriage will probably end.

Year by year (if not day by day), we discover habits, characteristics, likes and values that we assign to these three categories (hopefully the first two). The better we know our spouse, the more we will have to make such decisions. It's simply part of the price we pay for working at building a healthy marriage.

Such a perspective on marriage may be at odds with that promoted in much of our popular books, magazines, television shows and movies. Too often these media suggest that we fall passionately in love with our ideal mate, get married and live happily ever after.

Or, if that fails, we simply get divorced and try again with somebody else.

What I am suggesting here is that there is a middle ground where most healthy marriages find themselves. We recognize there is no such thing as the ideal husband or wife (or ideal person, for that matter), and work to learn to live with and appreciate the one we have chosen.

While this may not be as dramatic or exciting a portrayal of marriage as that which we see in the media, my guess is that it is an easier one to make work.

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