What grade would you give your marriage today? A+? Hallelujah! But perhaps it’s more like a D. There isn’t one marriage on earth that doesn’t face significant problems. Every marriage is the union of two sinners, after all. Add in your different backgrounds and personalities and you’ve got a mess! But there is one thing that, if you implement it, will transform your relationship starting today.
In your head that might sound like, “Wonderful! Tell me how to get my spouse to communicate.” Or, “If you can tell me how to make my spouse give me sex it most certainly would transform my marriage.” Or perhaps it sounds like, “You better tell me something more than just pray about it; that doesn’t work.”
Well, communication, sex, and prayer are all important. But the one thing I have to recommend is in a different category. And I promise this will transform all of the above. I’ve seen it work in my own marriage and in countless other marriages I’ve been privileged to help over a number of years.
So here it is:
Focus on Changing Yourself Before Changing Your Spouse
OK, that probably wasn’t what you expected. But if you’re like over 95% of the people I hear from most of your thoughts are something like, “If my spouse would only [fill in the blank], we’d be just fine.”
But here’s a newsflash; you can’t change your spouse!
Your spouse may be downright wrong, insensitive, irresponsible, selfish, hurtful, or even toxic. But how long is it going to take for you to discover that you can’t change them?
Oh, they can change! I’ve seen too many examples to believe otherwise. I’ve seen marriages marred by abuse, addiction, infidelity, sexlessness, and all kinds of other challenges totally healed and transformed. But not once has that been because one person found the right formula to change their partner. Not once.
I have, however, seen many many marriages transformed when one partner focused on the work they needed to do in their own soul first. As you become changed to become more and more like Jesus you become the invitation for your spouse to come closer.
You can’t control how your spouse responds to that invitation. Not even God will vote for your spouse. But you becoming the invitation for your spouse is more powerful than you realize.
What’s Helped You Change?
Think back to some significant change you’ve made in your life. Perhaps it was learning a new language, losing a lot of weight, going to therapy, or significantly growing in your relationship with God. What helped you make that change? It might have been something like:
- Significant pain in your current condition
- A deep interest in something new
- A strong desire to overcome a challenge
- Seeing someone else experiencing something you want
- Someone expressing their belief in you
But I guarantee you didn’t make a lasting change because someone else manipulated you or guilted you into doing so. You might have had parents, supervisors, or Christian leaders try the legalistic approach, and you might have complied for a while, but your heart wasn’t in it. And any change you made was short lived.
And what is marriage if it’s not about the heart?
As I told a husband yesterday, you can command a lot of things, such as obedience or compliance with certain behaviors, and that may work for a little while. But you cannot command love. If you want your spouse to want you, to want to be closer to you, you will have to win their heart.
But what if . . .?
What if your spouse is behaving badly? What if they’re hooked on porn, abusing alcohol or drugs, easily fly into a rage, or totally shut you off physically or emotionally?
You still can’t change them. (You have learned that by now, right?)
Focusing on changing yourself doesn’t mean being nice. It does not mean continuing to put yourself into a position of being harmed. But as long as you focus on trying to change your spouse you’re only going to wear yourself out. And you’re probably making your spouse more defensive in the process.
Changing yourself may sometimes mean learning to stop being codependent. It may mean setting hard boundaries, having difficult conversations, and sometimes even walking away.
More importantly, you’ll need to consider what it’s been like to be married to you. How safe does your spouse feel with you? Would you want to come closer to you? You may need to learn some new skills of communication, honesty, or vulnerability. There may be some old baggage you need to finish dealing with yourself that you brought into the marriage.
Those are all parts of focusing on changing yourself before changing your spouse.
And doing that will transform your relationship.
Can’t God Change My Spouse?
Certainly He can, just like He can change you. Neither of you can become who God needs you to be to each other without the Holy Spirit’s work in you. But just like God doesn’t force you to change, He won’t force your spouse to change either.
What can you do? Lots! Knowing how to pray about your troubled marriage is powerful. Here are three brief parts to this.
- Jesus, show me my spouse’s heart. Seeing your spouse through God’s eyes will give you a very different perspective. This does not excuse their bad behavior! It does allow you to see them with both honesty and compassion, the way Jesus does.
- Jesus, show me my heart. You can’t white-knuckle it into becoming the spouse you need to be. This is not about self-contempt or being self-righteousness. It’s about seeing yourself as God does, with honesty and compassion.
- Jesus, who do You need me to be to my spouse? Does God need you to take your grubby hands off so He can work? To have hard conversations? To extend grace? To pursue connection? Whatever it is, do that.
As you become the invitation God needs you to be, your spouse will sense that. And that will transform your relationship.
Our new online course Fully Alive Marriage shows you how to overcome marriage challenges, learn to love well, and build a Fully Alive relationship that lasts. You’ll learn the mindset and skills necessary to experience the kind of loving intimate resilient partnership with your spouse you always wanted and that God wants for you.
I’d love to see you in the course.
Your Turn: How have you been trying to change your spouse? Where do you sense God inviting you to work on changing yourself? Leave a comment below.
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- Focusing on changing your spouse never works. But if you focus on changing yourself you BECOME the invitation for your spouse to come closer. That will transform your relationship. Tweet that.