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.
-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.
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