Can You Change Your Partner?
Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.
Each of you has a calling in marriage. It is to be an encourager rather than a critic, a forgiver rather than a collector of hurts, an enabler rather than a reformer.
By doing these things you help your partner become all that it is possible for him or her to become. You are called to make things easy or possible.
Too often people discover that marriage stifles and limits rather than frees them to become all they can be. Often this is because one spouse adopts the role of critical reformer.
Reformers try to get their partners to meet their own standards or become replicas of themselves. Insecure people want their mates’ behaviors, beliefs and attitudes to be just like their own, and they are threatened by any real or supposed differences. This is not a healthy request for change.
Consider the following:
“Some spouses seem to have an almost irresistible urge to reform or improve their partners in some respect. It’s constant; there’s never any satisfaction.
A wife may want to make her husband more socially acceptable, or to get him to take more responsibility around the house. A husband wants his wife to be a better housekeeper, or to be more organized.
Sometimes even the tiniest habits seem to require corrective action; the way one dresses, the way one walks, the way one squeezes a tube of toothpaste.
“All of us need to change and grow in hundreds of different ways. But it’s a problem when a husband or wife appoints himself or herself a Committee of One to see that the necessary change is enacted, and in doing so says, “You must change; I can’t really accept you as you are until you get busy and do it.”
The result is that grace is smothered and all genuine desire for love-motivated change is undercut.”
There’s the difference! A demand confines; a request gives freedom.
Do you know how to request rather than demand?
Years ago I discovered a wise quote:
“We try to change people to conform to our ideas of how they should be. So does God. But there the similarity ends. The way in which we try to get other people to conform is far different than the way in which God works with us.
Our ideas of what the other person should do or how he should act may be an improvement or an imprisonment. We may be setting the other person free of behavior patterns that are restricting his development, or we may be simply chaining him up in another behavioral bondage.
The changes God works in us are always freeing, freeing to become that which he has created us to be.”
Whatever change you will seek needs to be advantageous for both you and your partner, as well as for the relationship. It is not our responsibility to take on the job of reformer.
The Holy Spirit can do that much better than we can. Our task is to request changes of our spouses and to provide an atmosphere of acceptance and patience that allows God freedom to work. Then we must learn to trust God to do the work.
Satisfying marriages have a common ingredient—mutual education. Mutual education means that both of you must become skilled teachers as well as receptive learners.
The reason for this is to develop a greater degree of compatibility. If you neglect this education process, your relationship could be in jeopardy.
Mutual education is a gentle process. It involves positive modeling of the desired attitudes or behavior, gentle prodding, sensitive reminders, encouragement, believing your spouse can succeed and not blaming or rebuking.
It focuses on the positive, and you want to manage that change so the end result is positive. I am sure that is what you want too.
H. Norman Wright is a licensed Family Counselor and child therapist and has taught in the Grad. Department of Biola University. He is the author of more than seventy books