10 September 2012

Five Steps to Becoming a More Patient Spouse

Tired of the constant bickering in your marriage? Looking for a way to get past the little irritations that stir up anger or resentment? We have all heard the incredible stories of divorces that can be traced back to the most silly elements: the cap that is always left off the toothpaste, the toilet seat that is never put down, the husband who always leaves his dirty laundry on the floor, the wife who covers every surface in the bathroom with her make-up goodies. Those problems may not apply to your relationship, but if you give it some thought, you may well identify some other seemingly insignificant elements that always manage to rattle your cool and trigger an argument. According to blogger Eddie Lewis, the solution to stifling the urge to argue with your spouse is rooted in something everyone can develop and practise: good, old fashioned PATIENCE. 

I have been following Eddie's excellent series on what love is, and I recommend this series for anyone (irrespective of your faith) who wants to understand love better. This series of blogs explains love in terms of the adjectives listed in the Bible, and goes a step further to make the teachings practical and applicable to everyday living. The second post on patience caught my attention because patience is characteristic of successful, loving, old fashioned marriages. I raised a question on that blog to which Eddie Lewis provided a very practical answer: some simple steps that any couple can follow to get past the easily-annoyed, quickly-angered, tantrum stage of their marriage. Eddie graciously granted permission for the sharing of the following extract from his blog entitled "Five Steps to Patience":

Step One: Prayer

I think to be more patient, it begins with actually desiring that in your life. If you do not want to be patient, there is no way to fake it. I believe that the way we learn to desire patience is through wisdom. When we can see, through our mind’s eye, the multitude of rewards that come from patience, how could we desire anything BUT patience? So, the first step in becoming more patient is prayer. The Bible clearly says that God will give us wisdom if we ask for it. Pray for wisdom about patience and through that wisdom you should be able to see the benefits of patience, which should translate into the desire to become more patient.

I must stress once again that patience is impossible to fake. Without this desire, you cannot be patient.

Step Two: Plan

The second step is planning. Most of the stuff that pushes our buttons does not only happen once. If we stop and think about those things that make us respond emotionally, we can identify them in advance, before they happen again. When you recognize an emotional trigger, do something about it. Make a plan. What will you do differently next time? What can you do to avoid having that button pushed in the first place? When you plan your responses in advance, you can modify a lot of your own behaviors. For those triggers that you find to be too strong for planning, when you continue to react the way you were programmed to react, it is possible to reprogram that reaction over time. Until that happens, it’s important to avoid that trigger as much as possible (which also involves planning).

I have always been annoyed by the saying, “That’s the way I am and I’ll never change.” The truth is, we are all capable of changing. In fact, I would go as far as to say that none of us are capable of avoiding change in our lives. If you think your emotional triggers are “hard wired”, think again. You can change that part of who you are. But you have to want to do it and you have to make a plan.

Step Three: Communicate

The third step is to communicate your plan. This step is somewhat new to me. I have learned the hard way that a plan is no plan at all if it is contained within our own minds. We must express our expectations to other people. Let’s say that you and your spouse have been having fights about money. If you have gone through the first two steps, you desire and have prayed for wisdom/patience, you have made a plan about the things the two of you have been fighting about and the triggers you have recognized, now is the time to tell your spouse what that plan is. Being patient is not a different way of fighting the battle. It’s more like giving up the fight and taking that first step towards working together. So there is no room for secrets here.

I will be the first one to admit that this is my weakest area on this topic. I am a good planner, but I have been self employed for my entire life. I have never had a real need to communicate those plans to anyone else. It is very difficult for me to tell someone what my plans are and to map out my expectations. But it is extremely important to do this. Without this part of the process, you are still fighting with your spouse. You are still trying to “go it alone” when the two of you should be working together.

I remember when my ex left me and I literally begged her to try to work things out. I tried everything I could to get her to give our marriage a chance. Her response? She said “I already tried working it out.”

I hope this rings a bell with every married person who reads this comment. When you try to work things out on your own, you are still working against your spouse, not with him/her.

Fourth Step: Defend and Execute

The fourth step in becoming more patient is to defend and execute your plan. I put defend and execute in the same step because they are the same thing. And no, I am not saying that you should defend your plan against your spouse. I am saying that there will be many challenges to your plan. Do not give up just because it got hard. Do not give up just because it’s taking you longer than you expected. A good plan involves breaking larger goals into smaller steps. Being patient is a large goal. Do not be discouraged if it takes a while. It’s going to take a long time to make such drastic changes in your life. And unfortunately, that period of time will actually seem to take even longer than it actually does.

Also, it’s important to be wise enough to recognize when to break through an obstacle or to just go around it. Sometimes plans need to be slightly modified. And, unfortunately, sometimes those modifications seem to other people as if you are quitting. Keep your eye on your final objective. A good example of this is for those triggers that you cannot modify or reprogram in the short term. I’m not saying that you should stop trying to modify them, but it is important to not allow those unmodified triggers to divert you from your ultimate goal. Know when to go around the obstacle, know when to avoid that trigger completely in order to reach the final objective.

Fifth Step: Evaluation

The fifth step is evaluation. A goal like “being more patient” is a life long pursuit. If you use hiking as an analogy, the landmarks you use to reach your goals will change as you make your way further in that direction. When out hiking, it is important to stop now and again to readjust your bearings. The same is true in your efforts to become more patient. Take time now and again to evaluate your progress. Look at what you’ve done right and at what needs to be done better. Make adjustments to your plan based on your successes and failures.

Another reason for the fourth step is to give you confidence. When you take a step back to see how far you’ve come, it always gives you more confidence to face what lays ahead.

I know that this five step plan sounds like it comes straight out of a self help book. For me, these steps were several months in the making. I had to follow these steps to make the progress I’ve made so far. And none of it came from a self help book. All of this that I’ve shared in this comment is stuff I learned from reading the Bible. I lived through some changes in my own patience and went to the Bible for help every time I had a problem.

Thank you, Eddie Lewis, for allowing us to repost this extract from  "Five Steps to Patience".

The five steps to becoming a more patient spouse make the excuse of "I am not naturally patient" redundant. Getting upset over the little things is entirely optional. If you continue to let the little things chew at your sense of peace and erode the harmony in your marriage, you must accept that you are doing this by choice. If a more harmonious marriage is what you desire, you can make a move in the right direction today. The five steps listed above will point you in the right direction. Whether you are the husband who aspires to lead his home confidently, or the wife who longs to be more submissive, patience remains the key to taking your relationship to the next level.  


  1. Anonymous11/9/12 08:42

    My wife pushes my buttons every chance she gets. Its like she likes to argue. I don't get that. She baits me every chance she gets. I'm not sure this patience thing will work in our case.

    1. It won't be easy, but patience can still win in your case. Your wife may be pushing your buttons, but that happens because you allow it. You can choose to take the lead in your marriage and not be manipulated by your wife. To get there, you need to disable those triggers, and patience is the key to that.

  2. Great post! I'm not the most patient guy I know, so I know I have lots of work to do. Fortunately, my wife is very patient with me. I think I need to print out these steps and keep them where I can see them often.

    1. You are fortunate to have a patient, supportive wife, Rob. Cherish her! And let us know how those steps work for you in the long term.