Char and I have been married for 32 years now. I’ve had to do a lot of repenting for how I treated her in the early years.
I married Char, in part, because she’s so different from me. I somehow knew that I needed those differences. I’m task-oriented; she’s relational. I’m in a hurry; she’s not. In a thousand ways, she provides a helpful and needed counterpart to my tendencies. I’m so much better for having her in my life.
The problem is that some of those differences started to grate at me. I see this in other marriages too: the very reasons that we’re drawn to our spouses are the reasons we’re irritated with them later. I got grumpy with Char. I would let her know when she let me down. I think I was trying to change her.
It took me a while, but I eventually realized that I’m not supposed to change Char into someone else. My call is to love her as she is, not to try to change her into someone she isn’t. It didn’t happen overnight, but our marriage became healthier when I stopped trying to change her and started appreciating her — including her differences — instead.
I’m ashamed to admit it, but it took me a while to begin to honor my wedding vows: to love, honor, and cherish her. I still have a long way to go in living out Paul’s instructions for marriage in Ephesians 5: to love my wife as Christ loves the church, nourishing her, even giving up my life for her. I’m still learning to live with my wife in an understanding way, showing consideration and respect for her, as Peter instructed in 1 Peter 3:7.
I stopped trying to change Char and focused, imperfectly, on loving and serving her.
And a fascinating thing happened. As I stopped trying to change Char, she changed. It turns out that love is a more powerful change agent than dissatisfaction or criticism. It’s not like my love was designed to change her; love with an agenda isn’t love at all. She didn’t change in the ways that I’d planned. But she changed in beautiful and unexpected ways. The irritants became gifts. She became more beautiful and more admirable, or perhaps, more accurately, I was granted eyes to see what was there all along. She flourished in an atmosphere of grace and acceptance and possessed, in greater abundance, the gifts that God gave her. In the best sense, she became more of herself.
We don’t have the perfect marriage. I have a long way to go in loving her as I should. But I’ve been married long enough to tell you that trying to change your spouse is a fool’s errand. Loving and serving your spouse, on the other hand, is transformational.
Ironically, the best way to change your husband or wife is to stop trying to change your husband or wife. Love him or her. Become a servant. Keep your marriage vows. Do this, and don’t be surprised when the wife or husband God gave you begins to change in the most beautiful and unexpected ways, and you enjoy your marriage more than you ever did when you were critical.
The best way to change your husband or wife is to stop trying to change them. Love and serve with no agenda, and your husband or wife is bound to change in the most beautiful and unexpected ways.