Why should I be the one to change when it’s my spouse who’s causing the problems in our marriage? That’s the issue we’d like to discuss this week. The edited points we’re going to share come from the book Divorce Busting by Michelle Weiner-Davis. It’s not a Christian book, but we believe the principles are helpful and biblically sound. It’s sure worth the read as you glean through the information given. See if you agree as you read what she has written on this subject. Michelle writes:
Why Should I Be the One to Change?
“Have you and your spouse been so angry at each other that you’ve gone your separate ways and stopped interacting with each other? Have you convinced yourself that, until s/he initiates making up, there will be no peace in your house?
“If so, I have few things I want to tell you. You’re wasting precious energy holding on to your anger. It’s exhausting to feel resentment day in and day out. It’s bad for your health and hard on your spirit. And it’s awful for your relationship.
“Anger imprisons you. It casts a gray cloud over your days. It prevents you from feeling real joy in any part of your life. Each day you drown yourself in resentment is another day lost out of your life. What a waste!
“I’ve worked with so many people who live in quiet desperation because they’re utterly convinced that their way of seeing things is right and their partner’s wrong. They spend a lifetime trying to get their partners to share their views. I hear, ‘I’ll change if s/he changes,’ a philosophy that ultimately leads to a stalemate.
The Chain Reaction Accompanying Change
“There are many variations of this position. For example, ‘I’d be nicer to her, if she were nicer to me,” or ‘I’d be more considerate and tell her about my plans if she wouldn’t hound me all the time about what I do.’ You get the picture! ‘I’ll be different if you start being different first.’ Trust me when I tell you that this can be a very, very long wait.
“I’ve been working with couples for years and I’ve learned a lot about how change occurs in relationships. It’s like a chain reaction. If one person changes, the other one does too. It’s simply a matter of tipping over the first domino. Change is reciprocal. Let me give you an example.
“I worked with a woman who was distressed about her husband’s long hours at work. She felt they spent little time together as a couple and that he was of little help at home. This infuriated her. Every evening when he returned for work, her anger got the best of her and she criticized him for bailing out on her. Inevitably, the evening would be ruined. The last thing he wanted to do after a long day at work was to deal with problems the moment he walked in the door.
Feeling Justified in Feelings
“Although she understood this, she was so hurt and angry about his long absence that she felt her anger was justified. She wanted a suggestion from me about how to get her husband to be more attentive and loving. She was at her wit’s end.
“I told her I could completely understand why she was frustrated and that, if I were in her shoes, I would feel exactly the same way. However, I wondered if she could imagine how her husband might feel about her nightly barrage of complaints. ‘He probably wishes he didn’t have to come home,’ she said. ‘Precisely,’ I thought to myself. I suggested she try an experiment.
“‘Tonight when he comes home, surprise him with an affectionate greeting. Don’t complain. Just tell him you’re happy to see him. Do something thoughtful that you haven’t done in a long time, even if you don’t feel like it.’ ‘You mean like fixing him his favorite meal or giving him a warm hug? I used to do that a lot.’ ‘That’s exactly what I mean,’ I told her. She agreed to give it a try.
The ‘Change’ Experiment
“Two weeks later she returned to my office and told me about the results of her ‘experiment.’ ‘That first night I met him at the door and without a word, gave him a huge hug. He looked astounded, but curious. I made his favorite pasta dish, which was heavy on the garlic so he smelled the aroma when he walked in. Immediately, he commented on it and looked pleased.
“‘We had a great evening together. It was the first in months. I was so pleased by his positive reaction that I felt motivated to keep being ‘the new me.’ Since then things between us have been so much better, it’s amazing. He’s come home earlier and he’s even calling me from work just to say hello. I can’t believe the change in him.’
“The moral of this story’s obvious. It’s a law of relationships. If you aren’t getting what you need from your loved one, instead of trying to convince him or her to change, why not change your approach to the situation? If what you’re doing (talking to your partner about the error of his/her ways) hasn’t been working, no matter how sterling your logic, you’re not going to get very far. Be more flexible and creative. Spend more time trying to figure out what might work as opposed to being bent on driving your point home. You might be pleasantly surprised.
“Remember, insanity has been defined as doing the same old thing over and over expecting different results.”
The One Motivated to Change
Here’s another point Michelle makes on this subject:
“I generally assume that one spouse is more motivated than the other to work on the marriage —read self-help books, take marriage education classes, and so on— and believe that it’s truly possible for one person to trigger positive relationship change single-handedly. My experience has taught me that I don’t need both spouses in order to help couples improve their marriages.
“I just need one motivated spouse. Relationships are such that if one person changes, the relationship changes. So I show people how to approach their partners in more productive ways. Often this triggers a solution avalanche. However, when both spouses are willing to read the books or attend a marriage education class, it will mean that you’ll have a shared perspective and similar ideas about what real change in marriage requires. But the operative word here is willing.
“If your spouse has pulled away and lets you know, ‘I love you but I’m not in love with you,’ or if you’re already doing the ‘Last Resort Technique’, your asking him/her to read a book will probably be viewed as chasing. Chasing a reluctant spouse can be like opening the door to let him or her out of the marriage. If your spouse has told you to back off, don’t ask him or her to read a book.
Asking Instead of Insisting
“If on the other hand, things aren’t quite as rocky, you can consider asking your spouse to read it. Don’t insist —just ask. Some people have made more progress by leaving the book around the house in a conspicuous place rather than asking directly. You might just pique your spouse’s curiosity. But you shouldn’t make reading the book an issue. That could be detrimental.
“And one more thing —don’t assume that if you’re the only one reading the book that it’s a less-than-desirable situation or that your chances of reconciliation are worse. They aren’t. Ultimately, you have to be the catalyst for change whether your spouse reads the book or not. You have to change you. So get started. Read all you can and put to use what you learn.”
(You can read more articles by Michele Weiner-Davis by visiting her web site at Divorcebusting.com.)
Try Something New
Too often we try our method of communicating, and eventually give up thinking it’s hopeless. But with God, nothing is hopeless… nothing is impossible. (See: Luke 1:37 and Luke 18:27.) As someone once said:
“God is able to create and re-create —and when we think everything is dead —that’s when He can do something exciting!”
We’re told in the Bible: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.“ (Galatians 6:9)
We pray you will not “become weary in doing good.”
“May the Lord direct your heart into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.” (2 Thessalonians 3:5)
Steve and Cindy Wright
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Filed under: Marriage Messages
3 responses to “Why Should I Change? – MM #43”
(USA) Why should I change? I asked myself that same question for the biggest part of our 30+ years of marriage. Why should I be the one to do all the work? Why should I be nice to her if she isn’t nice to me? I could could list several more. But I think you get the point. First and foremost, because God commands in Ephesians 5 “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the Church”. Now, me being human and all, this can be a very daunting task. Unconditional, unceasing and forever love. Seems like a pretty tall order for us mere humans. Do we ever mess up? Sure we do, but we need to face that, ask for forgiveness and move on.
About a year and a half ago, through the magnificent grace of God I realized that our marriage was nothing more than married roommates and something needed to change. We had lost the fun, the togetherness, and the passion. For many years I believed that our down fall was all my wife’s doing and if she would just change than things would be better. What a huge misconception. Yes there were things that she needed to change in her life, but my telling her that, and nagging about it wasn’t going to change anything until I changed my attitude and actions. And change I did. I committed myself to be the husband God wants me to be. I started to pay more attention to my wife’s needs than to mine. I changed the priorities in my life, from work – fun – me and God when I needed him, to God – my wife – my family – my work.
This was not a quick or easy change. And it was met with some hesitation and confusion by my wife. I then began to understand I needed to change one other nagging aspect of myself — that being communication. I have never been one to talk much, especially about personal thoughts and feelings. I slowly started to express my thoughts and feeling and to my great surprise my wife was interested in what I had to say. All these years I believed she didn’t care what I thought or felt, when in actuality I had never given her the chance. We slowly began to openly discuss our relationship and feelings. It has been so invigorating to be able to talk with her.
Back to the original question, “Why should I change?” Because in most marriages if one of you steps up and make changes and corrections in your life, it can make a huge difference in your marriage. And more than likely your spouse will begin to respond in kind. When that happens the dominoes will start to fall.
The transition and life correction is not an easy step. But one that I am so grateful that God pointed me to. We are still growing closer as a couple and look forward to many more years of being close to God and each other, and never going back to the old days. “Yes, one can make a difference in your marriage.” FHG, Rob
(UGANDA) This is the right message at the right time!!! How come? Every time I am about to break with anger and give up on my marriage I get the right message for it.
I am in my second year of marriage… and my God… all the girls out there who fantasize and day dream that marriage is a bed of roses should be enlightened… You do not sit back and expect things to flow, no way! Marriage is a job, a job that one once dreams of having and works hard to keep, despite all the challenges.
Over the weekend my nanny left. So we were in a fiasco of how we are going to work … Because my husband has private business he decided to stay home look after our baby. I went to work unsettled and started looking for a nanny. I thought of all the plans he had for the day that were ruined and decided to talk to my manager about it so that I could flex my time. After this I called hubby and told him he could attend his meeting — I would be home in the afternoon. He sulked and rudely told me they were doing fine.
I went home to check on them. He rudely asked me why I had returned home… I left and went back to work… I was filled with anger; I could not do a thing… thinking to myself… why does this man have to make me feel guilty? Why does he have to treat me like a rug? I was so infuriated I felt like going to my mamas. I recollected all I have done for him and all he has done to me that has ticked me off! Then as I was furious. Not focused, I decided to look at my email and hey here it was …. to me … why should i change! This was my attitude. I always felt this man should style up coz I am doing all the work while he fools around…
e.g a time we went out and he started dancing with other women. I felt so embarrassed and told him about it which only made it worse. He asked ‘its’ not that I am sleeping with them.’ It hurt even when I tried to tell him that even the mere looking at, or thought of it, is cheating. Oh my God, I wished there was someone to make him realise the impact of his actions!
I also retaliated by doing the same and he wasn’t happy. I said ‘do you see how it feels?’ but no. The next day he was flirting with woman x… I told him it wasn’t making me happy. He asked me how I would react if he were a celebrity… Then sometimes I feel like I think I am in the worst place with the wrong man. Yet deep inside I admire him, love him, am proud of him but he makes me maaaaad!!!
I am glad that Steve and Cindy are doing this job. I am so happy that you cool me down when I am bubbling with anger. After reading this I realised compromise is part of this. I have to let down my pride and try. It will be hard but I will do it.
(USA) Oh my gracious, precious, God!!! Boy, did I need this one. I’ve been married for 17 years and reading this lesson and the discussion messages, really opened my eyes… Rob who’s been married for over 30 years! I was really ready to walk, my husband told me he wanted to be happy and I was not making him happy. I’m thinking…here we go again, why me God? Why am I ‘always’ the one to be the peacemaker? Why do I have to make him feel worthy? What about me, when do my needs get met? What have I been doing? Paying attention to his faults and falling for the games that he plays.
I have to make sure that I’m right with God, I have to be pleasing in God’s eyes. It’s so hard when you have someone who thinks they do no wrong and that offense always comes from the other person instead of looking at themselves. If I wait for him to admit that he’s wrong or say that he’s sorry…well, it will be a very long time. God let me be pleasing in your sight and help me to see myself, let me see my spouse the way that you see him. Amen.