Most (okay, really all) the really effective work we do in our marriage is inner work. We think it is work between us and our partner but it is really the work inside us and what we think and feel about our partner.
When we focus on the inner work (managing our thoughts, processing our emotions, etc) we become independent. Our success is dependent on ourself and not on getting them to change.
When we focus on changing the marriage (this usually means we are focused on changing our partner) we become dependent. Our happiness and success are dependent on someone else.
When we are independent we show up as a partner, willing to engage and willing to try. We know that we are not perfect but that we are in control of how we feel. Independent people do not need to control others, they just accept them as they are. The differences are not a threat.
When we are dependent on the marriage and our spouse, we do not show up as partner, but as a dependent (meaning someone not in control). We look to the other person to make us happy and make us feel better. This leads to resentment and disempowerment because no matter how much they love us, they will always fall short of perfection (usually very short).
Let me give you an example:
I used to be a dependent in my marriage. I expected my husband to take care of my emotions. When I was sad, he needed to make me feel better. When I was happy, he needed to celebrate with me. When I was angry, he needed to be angry too. This never worked all that well. Once we entered the mixed faith marriage phase it deteriorated even more. He didn’t want to be angry with me and didn’t want to celebrate what I was learning. I was on my own emotionally and I didn’t like it. I wanted him to be there to emotionally hold me up, even though he never did it “right.”
When I started to learn that I was in charge of my emotions and he was in charge of his emotions, I didn’t like it very much. It was much easier to blame him when I wasn’t feeling good. Now I had to take responsibility for feeling sad, frustrated, irritated or whatever. At first it was hard. Then I started to realize that it was very empowering. If I wanted to feel different, I didn’t have to wait for my husband to come along and say just the right thing. I was in the driver seat of my life.
Can you guess what happened in my marriage when I was no longer blaming him for not being perfect at managing my emotions?
I no longer had to get him to say and do just he right things and I no longer had to get upset when he did not. I could just LOVE him exactly as he was.
Doing the inner work was more effective at changing the marriage then the outer work had ever been.
When I work with my clients I like to focus on the inner work because once we can come to the relationship as an independent partner versus a dependent one we come with the ability to give an accept love without fear and without hesitation.