Understanding Your Spouse for a Better Relationship

Are You Over-complicating Your Spouse’s Reasons for cheating, distancing, etc.?

In today’s podcast, Coach Jack will help you to understand the reasons underlying all of your spouse’s behaviors. You can use your knowledge of these reasons to improve your relationship without the need for lengthy discussion or counseling.

After listening to today’s podcast, you may want to:

  1. Read a book on how to motivate a difficult husband to have a better relationship.
  2. Read an article on how to motivate your wife to love you more.
  3. Get coaching to learn to how to  motivate a spouse to reconcile with you.

Understanding Your Spouse for a Better Relationship

(Podcast Transcript)


[Introduction to the podcast]

Announcer: On the Reconciling Marriages with Coach Jack podcast, Christian psychologist, author, and relationship coach, Dr. Jack Ito, will help you to build and restore your marriage. By learning just a few relationship skills, you can help your spouse enjoy your relationship more, while getting more love and affection from your spouse. Listen to Coach Jack as he helps you with one more step toward a marriage both you and your spouse will love.


[Coach Jack’s presentation begins]

Jack Ito PhD: This podcast is titled “understanding your spouse for a better relationship.” Sometimes what our spouses do or say can be hard to understand. Do you ever wish that you could understand your spouse better? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a book that explains all of his or her behaviors? But then again, would that really improve your relationship or would you be so upset with what you learned that you would wish that you didn’t understand your spouse? Well, today I want to share some of what my 28 years of relationship counseling and coaching have taught me about why people do what they do and why you don’t have to understand your spouse in order to have a successful relationship with your spouse.


Too many times, in an effort to understand their spouses, people talk and talk and talk about problems, thinking that if they understand their spouse, or their spouse can understand them, that their relationship is going to improve. Wouldn’t it be nice to find out that you can improve your relationship without having to do all that talk about problems, and without having to get your spouse to understand you very well, or having to understand your spouse very well? After all, those obstacles that many people feel are blocking them from having relationship improvement. If you have been banging your head against the wall, metaphorically, trying to get your spouse to understand you, then I want you to know that’s not really necessary in order to work on improving your relationship.


I am a psychologist and I was trained in schools in the United States like most psychologists here. After many years of doing counseling the way I was trained to, I realized that most methods of counseling are not very helpful for improving relationships, even if they promote understanding and communication. What I learned after doing counseling for a number of years was that what people really needed the most were skills for connecting with their spouses so that they can enjoy their relationships more. And then many times people got hung up on trying to understand each other. Because my emphasis on teaching skills aim to promote relationship connection and satisfaction and a desire to get away from just working on communication and understanding and the typical talk therapies, I switched to coaching.


Most methods of relationship counseling are actually more helpful for counselors than they are for the people they counsel. Counseling methods are aimed at promoting understanding by talking about problems and needs. The premise is that if you and your spouse understand each other better, that will lead to a better relationship. All it really does however, is keep people going back to counseling—hoping that at some point their spouse will understand them well enough to make the changes they want. They have actually confused understanding with desire. Just because your spouse understands why you don’t like what you don’t like, and why you want what you want, does not mean that your spouse will be motivated to stop doing what you don’t like, and to start giving you what you want. And I think that is what most people actually want. They are not simply wanting their spouse to understand them; they are actually wanting their spouses to stop doing those damaging things and to start doing the things that make the relationship more pleasant.


Many people work on the same things on there own as they might do in counseling. Except without a moderator there, their working on talking and improving communication often breaks down to criticizing, arguing, debating, and complaining. If you are doing that, then it really is a big step up to work with a counselor. So if you can at least talk in a nice way, even people who have found out that criticizing and arguing doesn’t really make anything better they often continue to do it because they hope that although it hasn’t worked so far, that it will start working at some point.

If they can only get it through their spouse’s head what they don’t like and what it is they want. They think that if they do that, then their spouses will be motivated to stop doing the damage and to start doing what they want. Many times people also continue to do things like criticizing and arguing because they actually do work a little. Sometimes people will do what we want to just to shut us up or because they’re afraid of making the relationship worse. So they will do it kind of in compliance mode. Even when we get what we want by arguing and criticizing, it still does damage to the relationship though, and I would encourage you, since there are better ways to get what you want  and to stop but you don’t, that you actually give up those needy and damaging behaviors and replace them with helpful behaviors.


I understand curiosity, I understand wanting to know why your spouse does what he or she does. I’m a psychologist. All of my life, since childhood, I’ve been trying to figure out what makes this person do this or what makes a person do that. Having come from a background of childhood abuse, I think it’s kind of natural that I tried to figure things out like this. Research has shown that about half of counselors have been abused. Which shows that when you grow up in a chaotic environment many people try to figure out what’s going on and how to make things better. Growing up in that kind of environment stimulates people to think more about people’s behavior than growing up in a stable, conflict free environment, where there’s not really much question of figuring out of people’s behavior. If you grew up in a situation where there was high conflict or where you were abused, I certainly can understand you wanting to know why your spouse does what he or she does. And, let me help you a little bit with that.


The difficulty understanding that most people have is they try to overcomplicate things. Principles for understanding why people do what they do come down to two things.

Either they think they have to or they want to.

These are the two reasons which account for almost all of human behavior and going beyond that doesn’t really accomplish anything more in terms of relationship improvement. We can always ask, “but why.” “Why do they want to,” “but why do they think they have to,” and we can keep going back off into a person’s childhood and that’s what many therapists have traditionally done. I haven’t found that to be helpful. Whether a person is doing something because they were raised to think they have right to do that or they’re doing something because they want to do that, it turns out that the methods for dealing with that in a relationship are just the same. When a woman asks me why her husband is having an affair, I know she’s been thinking about this over and over—perhaps spending many sleepless nights trying to figure it out. She thinks that if only she could figure that out, that it will somehow give her a clue how to fix things. But you know what? It won’t. Knowing why it rains won’t help you to change the weather. Knowing why your husband is having an affair won’t make him want to stop. All you really need to know is that he either thinks he has to have an affair, which is very unlikely because there are other options open to him which are much better, or he wants to have an affair.


So because there are many alternatives to having an affair, no man really ever has to have an affair. He might say so. He might say, “well I had to have an affair because you won’t have sex with me,” or “I have to have an affair because our relationship has been bad for so long.” And if you just think about that at the surface level, then you might buy into that. But if you use a little critical thinking, then you are going to ask yourself. “well even though he might have some reasons to have an affair, are there other alternatives? Is that the only action that he could have taken?” Then of course that’s not true. He could have talked to you about your relationship, he could have gone to marriage counseling with you, or coaching, or to a marriage retreat. He could have done things to help you to enjoy the relationship or having sex with him more. He could also have separated or filed for divorce in order to try to improve your relationship. There are a number of things that your husband could have done other than having an affair. So it still comes down to why is he having an affair—because he wanted to choose that option. In this example we’re talking about an affair, but this is going to apply to most things.


If you want your husband to end his affair, then he’s going to have to either think he must end his affair or he has to want to end his affair. When I work with a woman to help her husband to stop having an affair, just as I wrote in my book on preventing and ending men’s affairs, we need to actually use two of those reasons. We have to one  improve the relationship with him so that he does have more motivation to keep his relationship with his wife, with but also he has to also be put into a position where he would think that his relationship with a wife would end if he continue to have his affair. Working on both of those reasons, to make it feel like he has to give up his affair and also helping him to want to give up his affair, is going to actually result in the change that wouldn’t simply by criticizing, arguing, and fighting, which really doesn’t make men want to give up their affairs—it just makes them want to spend more time with their affair partner. Now in this case I used the example of a man and an affair but this is the same for women and is the same for other behaviors besides affairs. This is actually the same for every behavior that we can talk about.


Now, let’s try a couple of other examples. How about this one? “Why does my wife not pick up her messes?” You can apply this to children, a husband, in-laws, or your dog, or whoever you want to. So, given the reasons why people do what they do, can you answer this question, “why does my wife not pick up her messes?” Well, either she doesn’t think she has to, or she doesn’t want to, or both—she doesn’t think she has to and she doesn’t want to. If that behavior has been going on for some time, the most likely answer is both of those things. How about this example, “Why does my wife reject my sexual advances?” Which you can also apply to husbands of course. No mystery here either.  Either, what? Either she doesn’t want to or she doesn’t think she has to, or both. The likely answer is both. She doesn’t think she has to and she doesn’t want to.


When we talk about changing behavior, we don’t talk about increasing communication. We actually talk about motivating the person by helping them to want to do the thing that you want. And to thinking that they have to in order to keep a relationship with you good, which they really enjoy having. Relationship building does have to do with helping our spouse to enjoy being with us more even when it has to do with changing some of their damaging behaviors. We can never build a relationship through criticizing, arguing, fighting, yelling, screaming, breaking things. We can never build a relationship purely by doing negative damaging things. We can get compliance if we scare someone enough,  but we can never build a relationship that way.

The key to have a better relationship is not figuring out why your spouse doesn’t want to do something, but figuring out how to make your spouse want to do something.

It’s a far better use of time to learn how to be attractive to the opposite sex than to figure out why they are not attracted to you.

 You can spend months talking about your past relationships and figuring out why they were not attracted to you, or you can start to learn, in one hour, several important things to work on to be more attractive. That’s the counseling versus coaching difference.

Do you want to spend session after session figuring out “why,” talking about the history of this problem, or do you want to learn some things that you can do this week to start making things better? As a coach, I focus on helping my clients to behave in a way that creates a desire in their spouse or other people to interact with them the way that they want. And I help them to use boundaries to make their spouses feel like they have to stop damaging behaviors whether they want to or not.


The result of those two things is rapid improvement in the relationship for who? For both  of them. Whenever you are working to improve a relationship, it’s not just for you. You are also working to improve it for your spouse. Relationships improve most when we use both of the motivational factors together—want to, have to. Suppose you use only one of these motivational factors. For example, suppose you work on being very loving and submissive to your spouse who is having an affair. Obviously you are working on the “want to.” To want to be with you. That is going to make your spouse’s relationship better with you because they are going to enjoy you more. What spouse wouldn’t like it if  their spouse is being very loving and submissive. But, on the other hand, is that going to make your spouse want to give up his or her affair or other behaviors that you might be trying to change? The answer to that is “no, not at all.” When you work on simply giving the other person what they want, more of what they like, then they will enjoy you more, but it doesn’t make them feel like they need to give up their staying out late, they’re not spending time with you, their not doing whatever. After all, the relationship will be working very well for them. In the case of an affair, if you are simply submissive and loving, then your spouse is going to really enjoy the relationship with you more but also continue to have an affair. The same true for both men and women.


We don’t give up good things in order to have another good thing, as long as we can have them both. I like to use this example of my clients sometimes: if you have a restaurant and you want people to come to your restaurant, then you will work on having really good service and really good food at prices that people also think are reasonable for what you offer.  But, no matter how good you make your restaurant, your food,  the service, the prices, that’s not going to make it so that people only want to eat at your restaurant. They are still going to want to go to another restaurant. We need to remember that when we work on relationships with our spouses, that no matter how good we can behave with them, it’s not necessarily going to motivate them to give up other things which they also enjoy. Whether that’s alcohol, spending an excessive amount of time playing video games, or with social media, or many other behaviors. They will enjoy both. So, why doesn’t it work just to improve your relationship. well it’s because they don’t have to give up the other good things.

Like it or not, we always have to consider both motivational factors to get someone to change.

We don’t need to do that in order to get someone to like us, or to enjoy being with us. If t that is your goal, you only need to work on the “wants to.”


If you want to take extra time to work on figuring out your spouse, I don’t want to discourage you from that. I just don’t want you to go about learning in a way which damages your relationship. I think it is interesting to figure out how people came to be the way they are and talking with my wife about why she does things and why I do things—sometimes we really enjoy doing that. We’re from two different cultures and have very different backgrounds and it can be an interesting thing. We’re never bringing conflict into the picture though. It’s just honest curiosity without criticism. So don’t feel like you can’t talk with your spouse about understanding each other better, or talk to your spouse in a way which promotes understanding. Occasionally, even though I know the two reasons why people do things, I also will ponder questions like, “why don’t the trash collectors pick up my garbage like I pay them to?” and other things that seem mysterious. Many mysteries going on for me in the government and other places these days but I have to remind myself of the two reasons. And in the end, it never changes what I have to do. I know that even if I can figure out that not picking up my garbage has to do with the driver having ADHD, or being on drugs, or having intelligence issues, or having some kind of bias against people with garbage cans like mine, that in the end I’m going to have to call the city and arrange for special pickup.


Understanding doesn’t really change the actions that I need to take. The same is true for figuring out things that the government is doing. I’m not in politics. I’m not an influencer. I’m not going to be changing these things. I can stress about them. I can wonder about them. But, in the end I can only do what I can do. And I think it’s a wise thing to do not to spend a lot of time trying to figure things out, especially if they are things that stress us out. Sometimes it’s good just to focus on the things that we can do to have good relationships with the people around us and to motivate them to want to be with us. The fact is that when we have problems with other people, whether it’s your spouse or your kids or your mother-in-law, regardless of why they do what they do, You can either focus on motivating them, which is possible, or you can accept that they are never going to change (which sometimes is a wise thing to do), or you can cut them out of your life. I can tell you I have helped a lot of people to motivate their spouses to have better relationships and it never involved criticizing, complaining, arguing, convincing, or talking about needs. It also didn’t involve explaining.


So many people think that explaining things to their spouse will create change. If you do enouth explaining to your spouse, all you get in return is isolation from your spouse. If you’re still trying these needy methods, take a hard look at what they are getting you then don’t give up on your relationship. Don’t say, “well, I’vee done so much criticizing and arguing, complaining, and she or he still hasn’t changed, so I guess I will give up on the relationship.” No, that’s not your alternative. Instead of doing those needy things,  learn how to motivate your spouse. So stop asking, “why doesn’t my spouse want to do something?” and instead, start asking yourself, “how can I motivate my spouse to want to do something.”  So, for example, instead of ask yourself, “why doesn’t my spouse take me out on dates?” a much better question is, “how can I motivate my spouse to  want to take me out on dates?” Answering that question is going to lead to action; answering the first question is probably going to lead to anger. This shift  in focus from understanding to motivating can revitalize your marriage. You will be making your relationship better for both you and your spouse—without having to deal with all of the frustration that trying to understand your spouse, or trying to get your spouse to understand you, can bring.


If you would like to learn more actions that you can do, even if you don’t quite know why your spouse does what he or she does, then I invite you to take a look at some of my articles on improving your relationship with your spouse. You can find them at coachjackito.com.


[Podcast wrap-up]

Announcer: Thank you for listening to Reconciling Marriages with Coach Jack. Visit coachjackito.com to learn more skills for reconnecting with your spouse and restoring your marriage.