How to Deal With a Spouse Who Doesn't Want Change

When Your Spouse Doesn't Value Self Improvement

Angry couple sitting back to back on bed
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Does your spouse complain about not feeling well but won't see a doctor?

Does your spouse make plans for a romantic evening or getaway with you and then ruin it by being too tired or not feeling well?

Does your spouse talk about spending less money, or eating more healthy foods, or spending more time with the family, or getting more exercise, and then not follow through with those plans?

Does your spouse make promises that aren't kept?

Does your spouse acknowledge that there are problems in your relationship but refuses to change behaviors or see a marriage counselor with you?

If your answer is "yes" to all or most of these questions, it sounds like you have a spouse who either refuses or is not motivated to change. 

The frustration of your spouse's lack of follow through on good intentions, or saying one thing and then doing another, or breaking promises can slowly erode both the emotional and physical intimacy in your marriage. This frustration can be heightened if your spouse refuses to seek marriage counseling with you.

What can you do when faced with a spouse who has a serious problem or troubling behavior? Here are some examples of a spouse's behavior that may destroy or cause major friction  in your marriage:

  • gambling
  • getting drunk often or drinking too much
  • spending too much money
  • having a very negative attitude
  • not able to hold down a job
  • emotionally or physically abusive
  • doesn't make time for the children or you
  • frequently unfaithful 

If your spouse won't change, isn't willing to work on improving your marriage, or won't seek help, you may be on the path to divorce. Although it isn't easy to cope with this type of situation here's some guidance on how you can deal with a difficult marriage when only one of you wants change.There are no easy answers when your spouse can see no reason for a change.

Some situations can be dealt with and other situations are deal breakers. Only you know what you can tolerate and still be emotionally healthy yourself.

You Can't Change Your Spouse

  • Accept that you can't change your spouse. You can only change yourself and your own reactions. Changing your own behavior may trigger your spouse to want to make changes.
  • Respond differently to difficult situations. If you've had the same argument over and over, state that you will not rehash the issue and leave the room. If you've not expressed your feelings previously, share how you feel with your spouse.
  • Never endanger yourself or your children by remaining in an abusive situation.

Know Yourself

  • Get to know yourself and look at your own attitudes, behaviors, expectations, hopes, dreams, memories, concerns, behavior triggers, fears, etc. Ask yourself how long you think you can stay in your marriage if things don't improve.
  • Consider individual counseling to prevent feeling depressed or helpless, to understand your role in the conflict in your marriage, and to clarify your plans for your future.
  • Decide which of your spouse's negative behaviors you can live with and which ones are deal breakers. Decide if you are able to adjust to the irritating and hurtful situations in your marriage or not.

    Face The Issues

    • Realize that your spouse may not be as frustrated and unhappy as you are.
    • While sharing your love for your spouse, express your concerns and fears about the future of your marriage. If you are having doubts about your love, make a list of what you love about your partner.
    • Don't postpone having a conversation with your spouse to identify the behaviors and face the issues that are creating problems in your marriage.

    Strategies for Difficult Conversations 

    • Pick a location for the conversation that is free of distractions.
    • Choose a time when neither of you is tired.
    • Be warm and not confrontational.
    • Don't lecture.
    • Stay on the topic.
    • Identify the problem.
    • Clarify how the problem is impacting your marriage.
    • Talk about what you want in your relationship, not about what you don't want. Discuss what makes you both happy and fulfilled.
    • Brainstorm and discuss solutions to the problem. Bring up the possibility of marriage counseling.
    • Agree to set a time frame to re-evaluate how things are going.
    • Try saying something like this: "We disagree a lot and it's causing disconnection between us. That's why I would like for us to go to seek couples therapy." or "I love you and I care about us. I need some help in learning how to communicate to you better. I would like to try counseling with you."


    If things are not going well when the two of you are ready to re-evaluate your marriage issues, think about these questions:

    • Is this a temporary crisis or the end of your marriage?
    • What is the best thing that could happen if you stay together?
    • What is the best thing that could happen if you divorce?
    • What is the worst thing that could happen if you stay together?
    • What is the worst thing that could happen if you divorce?
    • Even if you believe your marriage is over, try one more time. Don't leave without telling your spouse you don't think the two of you can save your marriage without professional help.

     Be Willing to Change Yourself

    "But what people fail to realize, including many marriage counselors, is that we can change other people. In fact, we have the power to create dramatic and long-lasting changes in those around us. The secret lies in how we target our energy and efforts, because our capacity to change others is entirely based on our willingness to change ourselves. This is not double-talk or trickery, it’s simply the reality of relationship dynamics. 'If I create a change in my own attitude and behavior, my spouse and the marriage itself will automatically be forced to change.'" Marina Benjamen, Ph.D. in "Marriage Myth: Spouses Can't Change" on

    You may also want to read: The Four Biggest Marriage Fails.

    *Article Updated by Marni Feuerman