"A good marriage is one which allows for change and growth in the individuals and in the way they express their love." ~ Pearl S. Buck
As I was looking through marriage quotes this morning I came across this one and it really made me think. I've talked before about the fact that so often when we get married we think we can change our spouse and the dangers of that kind of thinking. But what happens when they start to change on their own?
My husband and I got married when we were 18 and neither of us had any idea of what we were supposed to be doing. We didn't know how to be married and naively thought there wouldn't be much to it (don't laugh too hard!). What we very quickly ended up with was a huge mess! During this time we both began to expect certain behaviors from each other, these were the behaviors we had been showing so it was completely natural to expect them from one another. However, after some major events in our marriage we both began to change and work really hard to fix the mess of a marriage that we had. At that point I discovered just how hard it can be to allow a person to change!
I would make a mistake and expect my husband to react in an irrational angry way, but he wouldn't. I would get angry at him and pick a fight expecting him to fight back, but he wouldn't. I almost started looking for ways to test him to see if he was really different and for a while I was shocked every time he proved that he was. Then I went through a phase of punishing him for how he used to be. Even though he hadn't responded negativity like he would have in the past, I expected him to so i'd punish him, just in case!
Over time I realized that him changing was just as much my responsibility as it was his. You see, he had to make the choice to actually change but I also had to allow him to change and learn how to react to the differences in him instead of what I expected from him. I had to stop treating him like the person he used to be and get to know this new wonderful man that had taken over. Once I did that I saw our marriage begin to transform!
So here's a few suggestions I have for someone dealing with a situation like this.
1. Appreciate the effort.
In order for someone to change something about their nature or habits, it takes a conscious effort on their part. When you are used to reacting in anger and you try to to change that about yourself it is HARD! Most likely they will not change instantly so there will be mess-ups along the way. Be sure they know you're aware of their effort and that you appreciate the work they're putting into it.
2. Be patient with them.
As I said, these are not changes that will happen instantly. The bigger and more difficult the change, the longer it will take and the more patient you will have to be with them.
3. Leave the past in the past!
If you know that your spouse is working to improve in a certain area, do not use that particular area as a weapon against them. Forgive them if you need to and let.it.go! Neither of you will ever get anywhere if you are constantly bringing up past failures and throwing them in their face. I can tell you from experience that if you don't allow your spouse to grow and change they will stop wanting to grow and change and that's not a good place for either of you to be.
4. Encourage them.
Look for every opportunity you can find to lift them up and encourage them. It can be exhausting to work on changing things about yourself and it's very easy to feel like you're not doing any good at all. So find times to encourage them and tell them that they're doing a great job.
5. Pray for them.
Any change that a person makes in their personality or nature is done through the strength of Christ. It is not easy and it does take each person making a conscious choice and effort to do so, but the ability to change comes only from Him. With that being the case, take every opportunity to can to pray for your spouse in whatever area they are working on.
Change is often very difficult but it is a part of life. If you are married for more than a month you are going to see your spouse change, sometimes for the better and even sometimes for the worse. It is our job to support each other and lift each other up when those changes occur. It's so important that we remember to allow our spouses to make those changes!