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Do you ever think, If only my spouse would change, then I’d be happy? If you’ve been married for any length of time, you’ve probably thought that at least once. Unfortunately, God hasn’t given us a magic wand to change our spouses! That’s okay though. Here are 10 tips to help you when your spouse won’t change.
10 Tips For When Your Spouse Won’t Change
1. Recognize that you can’t change everyone you want to change.
Now you might be thinking, Isn’t this a no-brainer? Doesn’t everyone know that? Well, no. I didn’t. It took me almost 20 years to learn that little fact. I always thought that if I could just think of that one thing to say–that one sparkling, shiny thought–that then my husband would see the light and say, “Where have you been all my life? Of course I want to change!”
I kept trying to find that sparkly thought, but I never found it. Then I started truth journaling. And after two months of truth journaling the same thoughts over and over, God finally got through my thick head and said, “Barb! Wake up! I haven’t given you the power to change everyone.”
That was back in the days when I thought I was the good guy and my husband was the bad guy. God used the annoying faults of my husband to point out my own annoying faults (one of them being a critical and condemning spirit). God taught me how to love and enjoy people in their as-is condition, which brings me to the next point.
2. Recognize that your spouse isn’t as bad as you think he or she is.
I was operating under the impression that some faults are terrible and other faults aren’t that bad. Interestingly, all of my faults fit into the “not that bad” category. My husband’s faults fit into the “terrible” category.
I was delusional.
My husband was a great person, just a very different person than I. With different strengths, weaknesses, preferences, and priorities. Who was I to say that I was the good one and he was the bad one? We both had sinful tendencies.
God in His kindness put us together because He wanted us to rub off on each other. That’s happened. I like silence much more than I used to, and my husband likes conversation much more than he used to. I’m more accepting of others than I used to be and he’s more willing to change than he used to be. This brings me to the next point.
3. Ask your spouse if he’s willing to change.
I know. I said we couldn’t change our spouses. But we can ask them to change. The question is, “How do you do that?” When I used to ask my husband to change, it was usually late at night, when I was extremely hurt or annoyed. Do I need to say that those conversations didn’t go well? He felt threatened and attacked, and I felt like he didn’t love me enough to work out our problems.
If you’re going to bring up something, do it in a loving way. Pray through 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 or Colossians 3:12-15 so you’re in a loving mood when you start. You may also want to truth journal or go through these annoyance questions first so you have the truth at the front of your mind.
Then bring up your subject in a respectful, way. But as you bring it up, recognize that he may not be willing to change or may not feel like he’s able to change. This isn’t surprising. Just think of how hard it is for us to change.
If the behavior is a stronghold, he won’t be able to change in his own strength. He’ll have to go to God again and again for help. Not everyone is willing to take the time to do that, which brings up my next point.
4. Accept the fact that he or she may not be willing to change.
Yes, this is very sad, and it will bring many tears. But those tears can bring us closer to God as we rely on Him for help with life. God will help us see our spouses through eyes of grace and truth and become more accepting and less judgmental in the process.
When I think back to my early years of truth journaling about marriage, I’m so thankful God didn’t interfere with my husband’s free will and change him on the spot. Instead, he used my husband’s faults to change me in a million ways that I needed to change.
5. Set boundaries if possible.
Just because we accept our spouses, that doesn’t mean we have to accept everything they do. Depending on what they’re doing or not doing, we may be able to set some boundaries. For example, if your spouse is constantly a half hour late to gatherings, you can kindly tell them that you’ll be driving separately as you don’t like to be late.
Or if your spouse yells at you, you can kindly tell them that every time they yell you’ll leave the room. Assure them that you still love them, but that you’re unwilling to be yelled at.
If you’re in a potentially abusive relationship, talk to a counselor before you do anything. But if you’re in a normal relationship, you should be able to experiment. Just make sure you’re kind and loving while you implement your boundaries and also that you’re consistent with enforcing them.
Unfortunately, you can’t always set up boundaries. For example, what if I wanted my husband to initiate deep conversation with me 3 times a week? Those are boundaries I can’t enforce because I can’t make him do that.
There’s also not a logical consequence if he doesn’t do it. I could withhold something he wanted, such as sex, but that would be unloving, unbiblical, and would probably make him less inclined to learn how to initiate conversation.
Remember Romans 2:4? It was God’s kindness that leads us to repentance, and that will be true for our spouses as well. Our kindness is their best hope for change.
Update: A few days after this post went out, my friend Ngina wrote an excellent post on boundaries. Here’s the link to her helpful article: Boundaries in Marriage: 5 Guidelines for Setting Boundaries with a Difficult Spouse.
6. Go to a counselor.
That said, while we’re being kind, it might be helpful to see a counselor. The counselor could hear the particulars of our own struggle and give us ideas for change. Another thing that will help is to work on this next step.
7. Make the best possible life within the context of what you can’t change or God doesn’t want you to change.
Let’s say you’re in that relationship where your spouse isn’t meeting your emotional needs with good communication. That’s hard, but it’s not the end of the world. You can still talk through everything with God and learn to rely on Him to get your emotional needs met.
You can also make close friends who will talk through things with you. Just make sure those friends are people you wouldn’t ever be attracted to in a million years. My own rule is that I never spend time alone with men or talk about marriage problems with them because it would be too easy for me to be attracted to them if I did that.
Find creative ways to meet the needs your spouse doesn’t meet. In some ways, my writing/podcasting ministry is a result of my husband not wanting to do youth or young adult ministry with me. I would love to have all those people over to my house and have fun Bible studies, but he kind of likes to come home from work and enjoy the peace and quiet!
Years ago, I accept this and got involved in teaching speech and interpersonal communication to homeschoolers, teaching Bible studies at church and other youth gatherings, and eventually starting my own ministry writing and podcasting. And I’m perfectly happy doing those other things.
8. Dwell on the good in your spouse.
My husband is a wonderful guy. Your spouse is also wonderful. It just depends on what parts of his or her personality you’re focusing on. When you were dating, you probably focused on their strengths. But it’s easy to get caught up in looking at their weaknesses after you’ve been married awhile. Life will be better if you focus on their strengths. This will be easier to do if you follow the next tip.
9. Rely on God to get your needs met.
This is by far the best tip. It’s what helped me get to the point where I thoroughly enjoy my husband. Here’s what it looked like on a practical level: every time I was annoyed with my husband I would truth journal. After two months of doing that I had a completely different attitude toward him.
If you’d like to give this a try, look at the renewing of the mind tools tab at the top of this blog. There are resources on truth journaling and other ways to renew your mind. This practice not only improved my attitude in marriage, it also revitalized my relationship with God and drew me closer to Him.
Once God started meeting my emotional needs, I no longer needed my husband to do that. This freed me up to love and enjoy him. We’re celebrating 35 years of marriage this year and I’m so thankful I didn’t ever consider divorce.
Relationships go through stages. You may not be too excited about your spouse right now, but if you persevere in marriage and go to God for help, you can get excited again.
It happened to us and it’s happened to so many others I know. It’s worth the struggle, not just for the marriage but also for the potential growth in character and relationship with God.
10. Be Thankful.
This last tip is helpful no matter what we’re working on. I think it’s essential for contentment, in general, but also for contentment in marriage. When we focus on all we have to be thankful for, rather than all we have to complain about, we’ll be much happier. And also much more excited about our marriages!
Note: These tips are based on marriage between two non-abusive spouses. If your spouse is abusive, please get professional help as soon as possible!
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If Your Spouse Has Been Unfaithful
If your spouse has been unfaithful, check out this episode: What to Do When Your Spouse Has Been Unfaithful
Ngina Otiende says
Barb, I LOVE this post! It’s so interesting because I am talking about the same thing this week! Specifically #5 – boundaries. In fact I’ve given the same examples :) I love everything you’ve said. We’d have more peace in marriage if we focused on the things we can change and trust God for those we can’t.
Barb Raveling says
Just checked out your post, Ngina, and I love it! I revised mine to include a link to yours under the boundaries tip as I thought it was so helpful. Thanks for mentioning it! Love all that you do to help marriages!
TC Avey says
Great post, Barb.
I found this post helpful with how I relate to my mother as well. There are times we clash and can’t seem to communicate. This post reminded me to see the good and respond to her in love.
It’s amazing how God uses situations like this to refine us. I’m thankful He doesn’t simply make things “better”. I would miss so many opportunities to learn/grow if He did that.
Barb Raveling says
Oh that’s fun that you could use it for other relationships. I guess it makes sense since the principles are basically the same! I agree that I’m God doesn’t always just make things better right away. I love how He redeems difficult situations!
Bernard Haynes says
Barb, I enjoyed the post.
Barb Raveling says
Thank you, Bernard! It’s good to see you! I just went over to your blog and re-read a post that you had just re-posted on the huddle – it was great!
The thing that really stuck out to me is your humility to see your side in things. I think that’s where most people run into issues; they only want to see their side of things. None of us are perfect, but letting the pride go is the first step to any breakthrough.
Wonderful reminder of how to be the person God has designed for us to be with our spouses.
Barb Raveling says
I agree, Floyd. Letting the pride go is essential – and that’s hard to do!
Betty Draper says
Sure wish we had turned to Christ early in our marriage, lots of bad water under the bridge. But eventually the bad water turns to fresh water especially when the Lord is the Living Water in your life. Still it takes years to learn all these points, trial and error, try try again, more trying, more changing, more forgiveness, more honesty, more seeking help, more forgiving, more on purpose loving, more forgiveness of yourself more than anything. Great post Barb..
Barb Raveling says
Love how you put that, Betty, with the bad water turning to fresh water when the Living Water is in your life! I love how God redeems bad situations and brings good from them and also turns them around! I too wish I had done things differently early in our marriage, but like you said, it can take years to learn all of these points! Especially when you start out young and immature, like we started out! But then, maybe that’s how everyone starts out. :)
I lile this post, except for #5 about boundaries. I feel like this would often times come across as passive agressive. And also, as a wife, you could run into issues of not respecting your husband’s authority. Take your example of leaving if your husband isn’t ready on time. (Granted, this is probably more likely to be a woman’s problem, but you never know) If you tell your husband you’re leaving without him, you are almost definitely undermining his authority and likely to anger him. I would not recommend leaving without your husband to any wife. To be honest, if my husband did this to me, I would be irate. A better solution might be to meet the situation head on and say, “I see you have difficulty getting ready on a deadline, which causes us to be late quite often. What can I do to help you so we can be more punctual?” I realize this sort of fits into the “asking your spouse to change” category, but with the twist of intending to be a helpmeet to your spouse. Many times, we can ask our spouse to change, but if we aren’t willing to be a sacrificial, nonjudgmental help in facilitating that change, the change will never happen.
Barb Raveling says
Hi Tina, Thanks so much for commenting. I always appreciate it when someone writes to disagree with me because they sometimes bring up things I hadn’t thought of before and I also want to make sure I’m scriptural. I do think I could be wrong on this. My husband isn’t a yeller, nor is he late, so I haven’t been able to try this! If I were in that situation, I might feel like that would be super rude.
I guess the question I would ask is, “Are we being good helpmeets if we allow our husbands to yell at us and treat us disrespectfully, or are we enabling them in their bad behavior?” I’m not convinced we’d be helping them, especially if they were professing Christians. As far as the being late thing goes, I would think they wouldn’t care unless gas money was an issue or they were a bit on the controlling side – i’m thinking significantly late, not just 5 or 10 minutes.
I’m wondering if it would be considered disrespectful if you talked about it ahead of time in a respectful way, assured the other person of your love, and explained why you wanted to add the boundary. I’m not sure. I think a lot would depend on the situation and I think it would be helpful to talk it over with some wise counselors.
I know one of my faults is to give too much advice to my adult kids. I’m not sure if one of them added a boundary on me, but I suspect she might have as I’ve noticed our conversations often end more quickly if I start giving advice! This has actually helped me to not only notice when I give advice but also stop a behavior that I wanted to stop. She’s not disrespectful in any way but it’s been helpful to me in changing my behavior that needs to be changed.
That said, I think you could make a biblical argument for letting them be late and yell – I’m thinking of some of the verses in the Sermon on the Mount, the submit to your husband verse, and also Sarah going along with Abrams plan, although Abigail didn’t go along with Nabal’s plan. So anyway, I appreciate you bringing it up. I could be wrong! And I’m glad you liked the rest of the post!