One of the most damaging, yet common mistakes of getting married is thinking the other person will change after you get married. Most people don’t. What was once a cute little annoyance becomes a nerve-ripping fire starter when you have to live with it every day, day after day.
It’s one of the questions I ask couples during pre-marital counseling. “What is it that you hate about the other person?” Normally, people know instantly what it is about their fiancé that drives them up the wall. Then, I’ll ask another question: “Can you live with it?” Why do I ask that? Because most people don’t change, and if they do change, they don’t change much. Most of the time, what you see is what you get.
Having said that, there are those things that your spouse could do better. There are little changes, that if made, could make life a lot easier.
But here are two things we know about change. First, no one can change another person. We simply don’t have that power. Second, no one changes unless they really want to.
Ah, there’s the rub. How can we get our spouses to WANT to change?
First, we communicate what we need by taking ownership of what we’re asking.
For instance, we say, “It would help me if you did…” That works a lot better than, “You need to stop doing that!” There’s no nagging. No anger. Just a polite request for help.
Second, (and this is the fun part) we reward approximate behavior.
(I’ve stolen this insight from my professor and friend, Wade Rowatt.) Here’s what I mean. Any time your spouse gets CLOSE to the requested behavior, you celebrate. For instance, if your spouse is a slob and during the day they pick up one article of clothing, THAT’s what you celebrate! Yes, the rest of house is still a mess, but you don’t mention that. You simply tell your spouse that life is better because of that action.
Now, you’re thinking, “Mike, that won’t work. It’s silly and obvious.” Sure it is, but that’s half the point. When your husband picks up a pair of socks and you kiss him for his help, he’ll know what you’re doing, but it’ll feel so good he won’t care.
Yes, it’s a slow way to change, but it beats arguing and yelling at each other and nothing changing at all in the end.
So, give it try.
Ask for what you need, and then look for the smallest reason to celebrate.
Give it try. I’d love to hear your stories.
I grew up in the middle of Cold War. About once a month, our schools would have drills on what to do if we were attacked by nuclear weapons. We had to go out in the halls, sit down along the walls, and put our heads down to cover our eyes from the bright blast of the explosion. (Yeah, I know, but we actually thought it would work!)
Throughout our city, you would see black and yellow signs pointing us to the closest Civil Defense shelter. If there was an attack, sirens would sound, and we would run for the nearest shelter. All we had to do was find the sign, and we’d find a safe place.
Now, there are little red and white signs around our community with the silhouette of a child and the words “Child Safe” on the sign. With the growing numbers of child abuse and abduction cases, communities have designated places where a child can go and be protected—no questions asked.
Everybody needs a safe place and maybe, just maybe, that’s why you and your spouse live in the neighborhood where you live. Perhaps God has placed you in the middle of your community so the families around you always know there’s a safe place. A place where they can find the love of Christ in and through the love of your family. A house where they know if they show up, they’ll be welcomed with unconditional love, peace, and safety.
We live in a hard world. People are always looking for someone or someplace that’s safe. Who knows, maybe one of the purposes of your marriage isn’t just so the two of you can know love, but so that an entire neighborhood can experience the love of Christ.
Every discipline has a set of rituals or actions that are the building blocks of everything else done in that particular discipline. In music, it’s the scales. In cooking, it’s dicing garlic and onions. In football, it’s blocking and tackling. On and on the list goes, and you get the point. In every discipline, there are a series of basic actions you have to master in order to get better at your desired task. Until you master these basics, you’re stuck and you won’t be able to develop in your chosen field.
Walking with Christ is the same way. There are some fundamentals—some basics—that we have to master if we ever want to grow fully into the person we’re created and called to be. In 1 Kings 19, God gives the prophet Elijah some very good gifts. It comes at a particularly difficult time in Elijah’s life. Jezebel is looking for him and has promised to kill him when she finds him. He’s tired. He’s depressed. When God comes to him, God gives to Elijah the simple gifts that should be part of all of our lives.
First, God lets Elijah sleep. Most of us live sleep deprived lives. We don’t get enough rest and because of that, we’re irritable, sloppy in our work, and generally inattentive to our lives. Lack of sleep leads to all kinds of physical problems and depriving someone of sleep is considered a form of torture. So, here’s the first basic: Keep Sabbath. That means finding one day a week where you disconnect from the world and reconnect with God and the people that you love (like your spouse and your children). Our world keeps us constantly frazzled and frantic. There’s literally no time to think. No one makes good decisions under these conditions. No one likes living like this. So, unplug. Rest. Worship. Literally, this is God’s will for you. Keep Sabbath.
Second, God gave Elijah fresh bread and water. For Christ-followers, Christ Himself is the water and bread of life. For us, prayer and Bible study are as important as breathing and eating. We can’t know Jesus as deeply as we want to without a disciplined life of prayer and study. This means finding a time of day where you step away from the world and into the presence of our Savior. The radical teaching of Christianity is that our Rabbi is alive. Our Teacher is still working with His students. Nothing excites a teacher more than an eager student. Pray. Read the Bible. They’re the basics everything else is built on.
Lastly, if you keep reading, you’ll see where God gave Elijah a friend. He called Elisha to serve along with Elijah. The last basic you have to keep? Finding true spiritual friends. In American Christianity, we have this myth of the Marlboro Man Christian. You know, a person who lives his or her life in solitude—as one against the world. I don’t know who started this myth, but it’s simply not true. Following Christ is too hard to do by yourself. You need friends. Remember, it was always Paul and Silas (or Barnabas). It was Peter and John. Pray Jesus will bring into your life true friends who will encourage you and hold you accountable to your best self. It’s a basic. You can’t do more until you first do this.
And no, you never outgrow these fundamentals. They never change or lose their importance. There’s a reason we talk about our faith in terms of a journey. We never get there. We’re always on the way—one step after another. It is, after all, pretty basic.