Developing relationships with most people is optional. That's the beauty of free will. We can choose who we want to associate with most of the time. But what happens if you wake up one day and realize the person we are married to is a nice, even interesting person but you’re worlds apart? What happens when you realize they need work, major “only God and an army of angels can change this guy” work?
If you meet someone in a social setting whom you have little in common with you can choose to walk away from them. Developing a friendship with the person is optional (unless God directs you to pursue one). We encounter people all the time who are nice, even interesting, yet we are worlds apart so a close friendship doesn't develop. That’s okay. Youur spouse on the other hand, is a person you need to get along with and when they become a problem you need to get to work and quickly.
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When I was leading the Passion Pursuit Bible study as we were reviewing chapter one, a precious lady, and friend of mine said that she can identify with the statement “Why am I always the one to read books, got to seminars and try to make changes but he won’t try to be a better husband?”
I can relate too. I've said that out loud or to myself more times than I can count in twelve years. Not so much lately but six or eight years ago I (thought) I reached my limit in trying to work on something that seemed low on my husband's priority list.
The popular reason I have heard for being the one to change goes something like this: The one who is more spiritually mature needs to do the work since they recognize the issues and see it as priority.
Sometimes it’s not what you say but how you say it and with the above reasoning, I take issue with how it is said.
I would say that 75% of the time the person who is more spiritually mature is the one who will recognize the issues. The problem is in the thinking. When you think of yourself as more spiritually mature than your spouse you’re setting yourself above them, a rung up, as if you are higher on the spirit scale than they are.
When we think I this way we make it harder to love or respect because behind every thought or action is the foundation that we are better spiritually superior. The underlying reasoning is selfish and self-centered.
The other danger with self-centered motives is that we are quick to see when there is no progress on the other side. It’s a circular pattern: We’re spiritually mature so we try to make changes and they don’t measure up so since we’re more spiritually mature we keep trying to make changes. On and on it goes and we begin to point a figure at the other one saying, “See, they aren’t spiritually mature so they’re not trying!”
We also risk losing the humility of recognizing when our spouse’s spiritual maturity is growing because we for so long focused on the lack there of.
I remember when I felt this way about my husband. On probably all accounts I was more mature spiritually than he was even though I was still a newborn Christian. I worked and worked and read books and prayed and kept saying, “see God, nothing changes!” I would shake my fist at Heaven demanding to know why I had to be the one who needed to change. I wonder what God did when I was crying had fist pounding to Heaven? He probably shook His head and smiled saying, “Oh daughter, you know so little about my grace and mercy.”
Stop Dwelling On Him, Focus on You
And therein lies the answer. When I took off my husband's shortcomings I could release him to God and see small glimpse of progress in him. I found that I was just as messed up as he was, just in different areas. I needed help. When I looked at myself I was able to press in, to work on the relationship. I was no longer working on it because I was “better” and “brighter” than he was. I realized just how broken I was and how much work God needed to do in me and once I found restoration I wanted to continue to work on me and us because I was humbled by God’s grace and mercy.
That is the key to working on your marriage even if you are alone in the desire for change.
The grace and mercy of God should propel you to do the self-work necessary, not so that you’re spouse changes, (there’s never a guarantee of that) but because God has so much in store for you. We work out or salvation one day at a time, one challenge at a time from glory to glory. Jesus loves you. He died for you so you could be whole. Step out of the shadow of selfishness, doubt and anger. Step into the light that is Jesus. You cannot make him change but you can find your healing.
I love this story told by Shawn Michaels in his book, Wrestling For My Life. Shawn spent countless nights passed out from popping pills and each night his wife Rebecca, after tending to her looped us husband, went into her closet to pray that God would help Shawn stop taking pills, “she would sense the Holy Spirit telling her these words: “You change. You be the woman you are supposed to be, and he will be the man he’s supposed to be.”’ (emphasis mine.)
He continues, “It still amazes me to think that instead of nagging me to make the obvious changes I needed to make, she set out to get her heart right with the Lord.”*
You see, that is why we should work on ourselves and “our side” of the relationship. We can never control, manipulate or guilt someone into right behavior. Any results come with damning side effects and won’t last anyway. But when we set ourselves in a position to hear from God and open our heart to what He has for us those changes can last a lifetime.
The next time you are tempted to question why you need to do the work, flip the switch. Ask instead, “God what in me do you want to change?” Nothing guarantees your husband will change, your marriage will thrive or even last. Follow the Holy Spirit and remember God’s amazing grace. No matter what happens in the end, you can walk with confidence that you have done everything necessary and within your control.
*Wresting For My Life, page 137.
Every marriage has issues, challenges, and problems. No marriage will be perfect but there is a striking difference between a workable marriage and one with physical, mental, emotional, financial or verbal abuse. If you are in a relationship that is abusive, nothing you do will change the abuse. Abuse is about control, manipulation and deep-seated issues in the abuser. Please, seek help. Leave if you must. God did not design you to be a punching bag. Don't believe the God hates divorce lie. Staying in an abusive relationship does not make you worthy because of your suffering.