Guilt is an effective motivator.

It’s also a great way to make you an unbearable spouse.

If you’ve ever had someone lay the, “If you really loved me you would…” guilt trip on you then you know exactly how that makes you feel. Loathing. Disgust. Nothing like, “I love you! I’d love to do that for you!”

Motivating your spouse to change by using guilt may get you the short-term gains but it is going to cause long term pain.

Why Do We Use Guilt on Our Spouse?

It does work as a technique to help a powerless person in a relationship get his or her own way.  But it is just not healthy when used to this end.

It causes resentment and anger in marriages. It dampens a child’s sense of independence and self-control (Mandara & Pike, 2008) and can lead to depressive symptoms and low self-esteem (Leith & Baumeister, 2008).

So while it does create leverage to obtain the outcome you want, it really is hard on your spouse and on your children.

Often we do this because it was modeled for us in our family of origin.

Or, we may do it because we genuinely do have less power in the relationship. Guilt is a way to even out the power imbalance. So I do want to call out all the control freaks here: if your spouse is guilting you, it may be because you aren’t sharing power with him or her in your marriage. So when you are getting guilted, just give yourself a real honest check-in to see if you’re provoking it.

The Entitlement Twist

One of my huge life-lessons when I first got married was understanding how selfish I was.

I think we all bring some entitlement to the relationship. Because we’re in love I deserve or expect a lot from you. That can also come out in the language, “If you really loved me, you would…”

The research shows when one spouse brings excessive entitlement to a marriage that there are some real nasties associated with this. Violence. Aggression. Higher divorce rates. And–surprise—selfishness!

If You Really Loved Me, You Would Stop Guilting Me

We reveal some key things to do to replace the guilt and entitlement during the episode. But for those of you that are reading this, here are a couple of key points to note.

First, find a healthier way to express your needs. Try: “I would really like you to …, is there any way that can happen?”

Second: learn gratitude. Really. If you bring an attitude of service to your marriage it will pay far greater dividends than an attitude of entitlement. Entitlement is a sin. Confess, repent, and serve.

Image courtesy of Jason under the Creative Commons license.