Marriage isn’t always easy. We come into a relationship with certain expectations and can be disappointed with reality. Marriage reveals our weaknesses, and I have learned that the best thing to do to try and fix your relationship is to work on yourself. I talked about this concept more when I wrote, “This One Tip Will Transform Your Marriage.” The questions still remains, “If I change me, will my spouse really change?” The short answer? There’s no guarantee.
If I Change Me, Will my Spouse Really Change?
I’m guessing that’s not the answer you want to hear. I know I don’t want to hear it either. Movies like “Courageous” and “War Room” are fabulous for encouraging positive steps in marriage. I absolutely believe that making steps to change how you interact with your spouse can make huge impacts on your marriage and often result in positive changes in your spouse. I believe God is big and through prayer great walls can be broken and relationships can be healed. Reconciliation is more likely as you take action toward respecting or loving your spouse, meeting their unique love language and having a servant’s heart.
That said, there is no guarantee. Your spouse has free will – just as you do. Your spouse is sinful – just as you are. Sometimes we all wish it were easier. If I follow this recipe, my marriage will be healed. If I take these steps, my kids will be OK. Oh, if it were that simple. Life is complicated. People are complicated. We live in a broken and sinful world where you will face strife, conflict and hardships.
I believe the prosperity message that can be promoted in Christian circles isn’t a healthy one. The message of Christianity isn’t that life becomes some sweet walk in the park when we choose to do it God’s way. The idea of faith is more that we have a God that suffered for us. He has been broken, so He understands our pain. He has the strength, power and empathy to walk through it with us and give us guidance along the way.
The Bible doesn’t teach that be will be void of hardship. There are no promises of a pain free life. Some find great disappointment in promises they thought were being promoted. “If I just stay pure until I’m married, I’ll be blessed in my experience with sex.” False. “If I just stay faithful, God will bring me a husband.” False. “If I just pray enough, God will bring me a child.” False. “If I just follow certain steps while raising my kids, they will be successful.” False. “If I just change myself, my marriage will change.” False.
This is what the Bible does teach about hardship?
- “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” – Romans 5:3-5
- “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:35-39
- “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Cor. 12:9-10
- “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.” – 1 Peter 4:12-13
We are obviously ensured that we will face hard times. Why do it God’s way then if there’s not guarantee of better circumstances? God assures us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28. ALL THINGS. That means the hard things too.
How do we respond to the “bad” news that our spouse may never change?
From my limited perspective, I see this as bad news. I’m not one who loves to embrace the trials in life. I love it when things are running smoothly. My response to the challenges of life is something I constantly need to work on. Trying to rejoice in my suffering so that perseverance, character and hope can be built in me is the goal.
I believe people often enter into the concept of improving themselves for their marriage sake are short sighted on what that means. We do it hoping for change in the other person. When we don’t see the change we anticipated, we just want to give up. “Well, I tried my best. He didn’t change. I’m out.”
You made a promise – “through good times and bad.” Of course, if there is abuse, I always advise to get help and protect you and your children immediately, so this is not the situation I am addressing today.
In the Sacred Marriage (affiliate), Gary Thomas poses the question, “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy.” Anyone can handle life and marriage well when all is going along nicely, but it is often those tough trials that reveal our true heart and character.
You may be asking, “Jodi, are you really asking me to stay miserable? Do you want me to remain unhappy for the rest of my life?”
The answer to that question is also no. I don’t wish for you to remain unhappy and miserable, but the solution I’m suggesting requires you to stick around in your marriage. What I want for you is to erase away the Hollywood message from Jerry McGuire aimed at your spouse, “You complete me.” I want to propose that you be completed by your Maker. Your spouse can’t make you happy but God can. Your circumstances don’t take away the misery but God does.
Just look at the brokenness that can be found in the “successful” individuals known to the public. You see people who seem to have it all – fame, fortune, family, and success – throw it down the tubes with addictions, suicide, and divorce. It is said we have a vacuum shaped hole that can only be filled by Jesus. Are you trying to force your spouse into that space? Are you relying on your marriage to bring you joy.
The thing that needs to change (and I’m preaching to myself here) is ones response to adversity.
Ugh. Not what I wanted to hear either. Trust me.
If my primary reason for changing myself is to change my spouse, inevitably I am going to be disappointed. When I perform with the attitude that I’m expecting a certain response or to get something in return, my heart never changes. I, therefore, set myself up for letdown over and over again.
There needs to be a radical shift in my attitude. I need to learn to love without complaint. Love is choosing the best for the other person…over and over again. I love well not because I am going to get something in return but because that’s what I promised to do, and that is what glorifies God. I want to walk away with the attitude, “My husband has not changed, but I have changed. I’m glad my difficult circumstances didn’t change because it was the only way my motives for obedience could change.”
We live in a “self” culture that emphasizes a desire for recognition and inevitable rights. We can forget that our attitude should be like Christ – humble with a heart to serve (Philippians 2:5-9). I’m not proposing it’s easy, but it is what we signed up for when we walked down the aisle and slipped a ring on the other person’s finger.
Elisabeth Elliot is a woman who had a husband killed by the tribe of people he was trying to tell about Jesus. She had enough grace, forgiveness and courage to return to that village and lead them to a relationship with Christ. In a talk found here about servanthood, she recalls her house mother in college who was kicked out of her wealthy family, leaving behind all money and inheritance because she decided to be a Christian. When Elisabeth was talking to her later in life about the impression made on her because of the way this older woman served she replied, “Just think about the Mercy of God that he allowed me to carry mops and toilet paper to his glory.” She speaks of Jesus who, being in the very nature God, made himself a servant to others, and the Bible urges us to have the same attitude.
We often do things in this life for recognition. Elisabeth reminds us that we “are a servant of the Lord of the universe.” Am I accepting the will of God in the daily moments that I find myself in throughout life? I know I am often not, but it’s what I am aim for. It is choosing the right thing in the moment, not for recognition or change of another person, but because it’s right. It’s refining me. It’s glorifying to God.
In the end you say, “My spouse never changed, but I changed. Praise be to God.”
It is not easy. I know many of you are sitting here saying, “You have no idea what I have to put up with.” I agree. I do not.
I do want to add that if you are in an abusive relationship, get help. If you or your children are being physically harmed, leave right now and get yourself safe. The message I’m sharing today is not for those kinds of marriage struggles.
I have seem some really nasty marriage situations. However, I have seen a lot of hope. I have seen couples healed. I’ve seen one person decide to make a change and the other spouse making dramatic change in behavior.
However, I also recognize there are times when individuals’ situations do not change. They have become transformed as an individual, not waiting for life circumstances to become better but knowing that God can take all things and turn them into good. They let their hearts and attitude to be overhauled. That’s what I want. Will you join me?
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