Dear Barbara, How do I convince my husband to change?

Dear Barbara,

How do I convince my husband to change? There are certain areas we’ve been fighting about for years now. And I really am right. How can I get him to see it? 

The moment I married Dennis I knew I was in for an adventure. He wasn’t just different in his interests. His recipe for life was positively foreign. We were like oil and water, constantly separating in our jar. We still cannot be more different. (Note the present tense!)

I remember Dennis would get an idea and be off and running. I, on the other hand, was used to thinking through things and evaluating before acting. Often during our first year of marriage I felt left in the dust.

Dennis was expressive and always asking questions; I tended to be quiet and cautious, thinking about what I wanted to say before I said it. I felt overexposed.

And then there was money. Dennis wanted to spend money on fishing; I wanted to spend money on furniture. We had a combined income, but how did we determine who spent what? I felt it unfair that he freely spent what he wanted without consulting me. I felt confused.

It’s fair to say that the unique, fresh traits that attracted me to my spouse while dating became tiresome or irritating after years, or even months, of marriage. When I encounter these clashes, I have learned I have choices:

-Do I communicate disdain for a trait I now feel is flawed?

-Will I withdraw to avoid dealing with it?

-Should I try to change him?

-Do we talk about it?

One day a couple years into our marriage adventure I decided to press for a change in my husband. I realized while doing the laundry for the umpteenth time that my husband’s tee shirts, boxers, and socks were always inside out. How inconsiderate! Every laundry load, I had to take the time to reverse Dennis’ clothes right side out and then fold them.  One day I asked him why he did that and would he change so that my job would be easier.

His answer surprised me: “That’s the way I’ve always done it. I’m a man and men do that.”  He wasn’t angry.  Flippant is more like it.  Saving a minute or two of time wasn’t worth the effort, was the message I heard.

I might’ve deserved the answer I got. It’s quite possible that I asked with a judgmental attitude that communicated disdain for his lifelong habit. I’m sure I wanted him to hear feel sorry for me, thinking that would motivate him to change.  Or maybe my timing was off.  Those are details I don’t remember now.

I did continue to fold his clothes, turning them all right side out for years and years.  It never occurred to me to fold them inside out or not fold them at all.  I wasn’t into confrontation.

But about ten years later, I decided to ask again. With laundry for eight people, I was desperate to save any time I could.  This time I explained that inside out clothes weren’t a deal breaker for our marriage (even though I’d been resentful at times over the past decade). I told him that with all I had to do it would be really helpful if he would change the way he’d “always” taken his clothes off.  And he agreed.

Both of us were more mature. New habits take time but he wanted to lighten my load and made it a point to cooperate for my sake. The way he’d always done it didn’t matter anymore.

I know there were (and are) things that I’ve wished to change about my husband that are much deeper than dirty laundry. But the truth of the matter is that I honestly don’t have the persuasion, the argumentative skills, and most importantly the power to change a single one. Only God can change people’s hearts and habits.

A young wife I know faced a challenge in her husband that did need to be corrected. She shared with me that her husband viewed pornography, repented, and then got back into it. She felt she needed to press for change. I agreed. This kind of deep change in a man’s life is crucial because it was a pattern of sin.

She began to seek good council from mentors and then from a trained godly professional counselor. Together, they made a plan for actions she could take to get her husband’s attention in a respectful way.

First there were small steps that didn’t work. Then more significant steps were taken that did make him realize he had to address this sin problem in his life. He did and the marriage is healthy today. Unholy lifestyle choices, which are offensive to God, can and should be addressed and changed.

But personality traits, natural gifting and skills and the lack thereof, personal preferences, and emotional wiring cannot be changed. They are not sinful. The expression of those from birth traits can be sinful or unhealthy but can be coached, refined, and developed to be sure.

My husband’s spontaneity that I both enjoyed and resented was not a sin problem; neither was it something I could change. I’ve learned to let him be who He is, who God made him to be. And he’s learned to be sensitive to how his spontaneity impacts me. Today he’s much more wiling to adjust his natural bents out of love for me.

I imagine you, too, have discovered there is much that cannot be changed in your husband. The wise wife learns to accept those differences. Instead of nagging and pestering and scheming to force the change, she learns to trust God to do any changing or moderating on His timetable. She also learns to ask God to change her heart to be more gracious to her husband and surrendered to God for His plan and timing.

Everyone knows changing each other isn’t the goal of marriage, though you and your husband will repeatedly make this mistake of believing it is and work tirelessly to change each other over the length of your marriage.

I hope you can see that differences aren’t the issue. It is our response that matters.  The temptation is to think in terms of who is right and who is wrong, or whose way is better.  That’s when mistakes are made.

Learning to understand each other and fully appreciate this other human being for who he is and who he is becoming opens the door to peace.  Accepting and appreciating his oppositeness—that he will never be like you, nor you like him—keeps us from becoming critical and resentful.

We are still today after 45 years of marriage, very very different. We’ve actually learned to appreciate and enjoy those differences and idiosyncrasies instead of resenting and being repelled by them anymore.

We are indeed poles apart as men and women.  And it is very good.  You need what he brings to your life. And he needs the flavor of your life to enhance his. Remember, we all have weaknesses or tendencies we will never completely conquer. Because of our fallen nature, we’ll never achieve perfection until we reach heaven.

Learning to be at peace with unchangeable differences has been liberating. Our methods of approaching life most days are really a matter of preference and we are okay with that.  Most of the time.

Remember:

-Each marriage brings unique ingredients unlike any other couple’s combination. Every union is a one of a kind creation.

-Differences are good and normal. Welcome them.

-Feeling surprised by them is normal too; relax in the process.

-How you respond is totally in your control.

PS. If you are interested in attending our Weekend to Remember marriage getaway, use the code “ForMyMarriage” for a $100 discount on the registration fee.

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16 thoughts on “Dear Barbara, How do I convince my husband to change?”

  1. Not sure if this topic is still active, as the post is dated July, 2018, but the comments appear to be dated prior to that date. Probably my lack of experience with blogs. Anyway, I’d appreciate your prayers. I am engaged but, although he acknowledges God’s work in his life, I am now questioning whether his heart is really converted. I’ve repented of physical intimacy prior to our marriage. He seems to perceive me as overreacting. When I asked him about attending Weekend To Remember, he bristled at the registration cost. I never brought it up again. There are other concerns as well. He is a paraplegic, so I feel I would be abandoning him if I call off the engagement. Besides this, I have invested quite a bit of my life, myself, in him, and I don’t regret that. Maybe I have some sort of “savior complex”. In need of wisdom and courage…

    1. I hope you got some answers before now, but in case not, here are my thoughts….♡
      Girl, your man is precious and your desire to care for and about him is beautiful and good. God places those desires and strengths in you for a very good reason! He longs for you to be able to use the personality and giftings He’s given you in ways that will bring freedom and life abundantly!
      Obviously I don’t know your fiancé, so I’m only responding based on what you have said…. if there is ANY doubt in your mind whatsoever that he is not surrendered to, and wholly committed to Jesus Christ, and you ARE committed to Jesus, you cannot enter into a marriage covenant with him. Because marriage is not just an agreement to live together and care for each other. It is a spiritual covenant, made in the presence of God, and you, as a child of Light cannot enter into a covenant with one who is still serving the enemy camp. There will be two warring kingdoms inside your marriage union. Scripture says “what partnership can Light have with Darkness?” And “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of Darkness but rather expose them.” Sweet girl, I can feel the war in your heart…. I’m a nurse and have often felt the same strong pull to care for someone so much that it blurred my judgement about their character and position before God. But here are a couple questions I would encourage you to ask yourself and be brutally honest about….
      1) Jesus came to bring life and freedom…. would marriage to this man bring freedom in your spirit and soul? Or would it bring bondage and tension?
      2) Does your fiancé seek Jesus above you? Does he encourage and actually/practically help you deepen your relationship with Jesus?
      3) If he was not para, and there was no pull to care for him, is this the type of man you would want to live with until the day you die?

      Hugs and much love to you. May Jesus give you so much wisdom and a boatload of courage to walk with HIM ♡♡
      Please feel free to email me personally if you want to talk more. ♡ truck.lovin.cowgirl@gmail.com

  2. I’m so glad there are other couples who have differences.. my husband and I are so opposite on so many things.. when I married him I thought I could change him and nagged, fought and made both of us miserable.. but then when I backed off and just showed him more love then he was more sensitive to my complaints..I think if you weather the rough times it really makes you appreciate each other more and more.. and we will be celebrating 50 years in a couple months.

  3. This is a hard topic. I recently arrived home to a wet basement. The “man cave”, or more accurately, junk room, had water on the floor. My husband of 30 years wasn’t coming home for 2 more days. I spent a Saturday morning removing his wet boxes and crying. I have asked him many times to get rid of some stuff and this was my final straw. Been thinking how to speak to him. This didn’t convince me NOT to speak to him, just thinking how. Help!!!

    1. God is able to make all grace abound to you and to help you pass that grace and mercy on to your husband. Maybe you could make a list of all the things your husband does and has done right and remember the many things you do appreciate about him to help put the “man cave” frustration into perspective. I’ll pray for you tonight and hope you will be able to communicate in a godly way with your husband even though it feels hard right now. It’s always freeing to obey God and put our flesh in its place–a struggle–but so worth it!

  4. Superb!

    I’ve been married for 38 years. My husband and I have struggled with our differences our entire married life. Also, It seemed we were the “odd” couple because none of our married friends seemed to experience differences and volatility the way we did.

    It’s comforting to know that the Rainey’s, yes, even Dennis and Barbara Rainey, have their differences. Still.

    This realization gives me hope. I only wish I had read this article years ago.

  5. God is so good! I just had a disagreement with my husband. He sent an email to someone this morning stating that “he and I” were “wandering” about a particular thing. He copied me on the email, but had not discussed it with me. He does this often. He volunteers us for stuff without consulting me, he says we feel a certain way about certain things when it’s not how I feel at all. I was so frustrated with him this morning. I prayed to God for wisdom on how to handle these situations without getting totally unhinged. God brought Barbara Rainey’s name to my mind. I opened up my email, and immediately came across this blog, which I feel was written just for me. “Over exposed” is exactly how I often feel when my husband does these things. I am like Barbara and need more time to process things out. My husband gets ideas and goes with it. I know my husband loves the Lord. But, his zeal makes me nervous because I don’t won’t us to get ahead of God and His timing. Thank you for writing this article and helping me put all this into perspective.

  6. It is funny how God puts us together with somebody so different than us. We are attracted to them and then after we get married the differences bother us. God has a great sense of humor. Thanks for reminding us that we can choose to overlook things and ask each other nicely to make small changes that will make a big difference in our marriage.

  7. Excellent article! Thank you for sharing your wisdom and leadership, Mrs. Rainey.

    And Lisa, thank you for the reminder that God does redeem the time!

  8. We are in a bad place .I left hoping he would see how serious I am.but it has turned for the worse .we are very different and always blame the other person.it is not looking good for us.he refuses martial help.dont know what to do

    1. I’m in the same spot as you. It’s true when they say it’s never just you/me. Truth is I don’t even want to be married any more but I stay and I pray and I ask God to search me and know me and create in me a clean heart that His will may be done in my life

      1. Thank you Mrs. Rainey for your words of wisdom, sin vs. habits. I knew my husband had a serious addiction to pornography and sought help for our family. But after 16 1/2 years of marriage, he has filed for divorce. It was a very difficult journey, but thank God for His healing power, love, grace, and mercy. A friend in Christ

  9. Thank you for your great advice. It hits the nail in the head: is it a sin issue or not? Mature people work through habits to accommodate one another. I was shocked I had choices regarding the porn issue. Wish I’d set some boundaries 30 years earlier, and saved a lifetime of grief, heartbreak not to mention the ugliness it did to our children. Thankfully, My man recently got into professional treatment, got accountable and we are both in freedom groups and reaping positive benefits in our marriage and with our children. It’s ultra difficult, but worth it. Start where you are. God redeems the time.

    1. Lisa,
      Thank you for sharing your story that others may be encouraged and helped.
      We rejoice with you for the healing you are experiencing today. I pray many will hear your story and believe God for redemption as you have done! Nothing is impossible with God!

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