Are You Motivating or Manipulating Your Spouse?

Isn’t it always easier to see what our spouse needs to do than what we need to do? 

I can easily get caught up in this problem, since I’m also a counselor and life-coach. I can diagnose an unhealthy attitude or action, and step in with my “trusty counselor’s voice” to bring my husband down a notch or two in nothing flat!

The problem with this approach is “what I believe” because …

  • I believe I’m only helping.
  • I believe I’m rooting out a problem.
  • I believe I’m motivating my spouse!

What could be better than all of that?! And to make matters even more confusing, if I handle the situation wisely, I truly can motivate him. But very often, when I focus on getting my spouse to change, rather than choosing to change myself, what I end up doing is manipulating him.

So what are the differences between motivation and manipulation?

  • Motivation involves respect, meaning you allow your spouse the freedom to accept or reject your suggestion.
  • Motivation involves coming alongside of your spouse—never appearing condescending or competitive.
  • Motivation communicates humility on the part of the motivator.
  • Motivation puts the other’s interests as the priority over his/her own.

  • Manipulation involves deciding for your spouse what is best or right.
  • Manipulation often involves some type of coercion.
  • Manipulation is often negative and sounds like criticism or nagging.
  • Manipulation often projects guilt on the other: “If you don’t do this, then you’re hurting us.”
  • Manipulation often involves a sense of entitlement on the part of the manipulator, and therefore, is driven by pride or selfish desires.

The best solution to this confusing problem is to determine what you can change about yourself. For example, Let’s say I want my spouse to spend more time talking with me at the end of the day. Instead of nagging him or criticizing him (which is demotivating) for not doing what should be “healthiest” for our relationship, I should form a game plan to change myself.

What would a game plan include? (List is not exhaustive!)

  • Think about how I want to say something ahead of time, instead of waiting until the moment it occurs and my irritation is showing.
  • Ask my spouse for input on how to address the need I have, instead of deciding for him/her.
  • Lower my expectations, believing that I’ll get exactly what I want. (Marriage is a partnership!)
  • Be patient with my spouse’s progress when he/she agrees to the change.
  • Commit to pray about this matter, for more than just a day.

All of these strategies involve things you and I can do that don’t include changing our spouses! But very often, I think we’ll find that if we change ourselves first, our spouse will more willingly follow our example!

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12 responses to “Are You Motivating or Manipulating Your Spouse?”

  1. I love your gentle reminder to commit to praying for more than just a day. That’s where the real change takes place, isn’t it? Yet it’s also unfortunately the step I often neglect because I’m too busy brooding or nagging. Thanks for your wisdom, Beth!


  2. I enjoyed this too. The motivating tips are helpful, and the manipulating ones are enlightening. Thanks for taking time to share this wisdom. Linking up from WIP.


  3. Very good post, Beth, on a too-seldom-addressed topic.I like your list of differences between manipulation and motivation.Much of the marital advice promoted in Christian circles leans more toward manipulation than motivation.Even loving behavior on my part can be manipulation, if my expectation is changed behavior by my spouse rather than love given unconditionally without expectation.


  4. I love how you explained the difference. I’m still learning to be a motivator:)


  5. Yeah, prayer is often one of our last resorts when dealing with a problem. And God is the only One who can really motivate our spouses! Thanks so much for your kind words, Becky and for weighing in on the conversation!


  6. You’re quite welcome. I’m glad you stopped by and joined in the conversation!


  7. I think that’s true, Joe, but I also think it’s probably unintentional. It’s really confusing, especially in the heat of the moment, to know when you’re motivating or manipulating. It really is all about dying to ourselves, following Christ’s example in all of life and especially marriage. Thanks so much for coming by and encouraging me!


  8. Excellent, Beth! My background is in social work so I really appreciate your approach. And sounds like we have a few things in common… mental health professional & married to a pastor, yet a complete mess & lots of baggage coming into it! so, it’s nice to meet you 😉 Hope you’ll consider linking up to our weekly link up at blessings,lauren


  9. Yes, I agree. I usually become aware of my own wrong motives after the fact…when I realize I’ve begun to feel justified in being offended over a minor issue. I go to God looking for support and He, instead, points out where my own motives took a wrong turn.


  10. This is excellent counsel! How our families must hate it when we put on our counselor/life coach/teacher hat when we talk at them instead of coming humbly, with no credentials, to talk with them.


  11. Yes, it’s a blessing and curse all in one. I just keep trying to remind myself to be like Christ–a humble servant–rather than a proud counselor! 🙂


  12. Eek. Guilty as charged. I too often take my counselor tone to my husband and don’t allow any room for discussion. I’m right, you’re wrong. Fix it. I’m learning…slowly but surely. The hubby is patient with me. Thanks for linking up with WIP!


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