How can I get my spouse to change?
If that word “get” means “make,” “manipulate,” or “manage,” it is unacceptable.
Changing others is not our responsibility. Our responsibility in all our relationships is enabling others to be all the Lord intends them to be. We attempt to change others for our own interests. We enable others to fulfill God’s will for the Lord’s sake and for theirs. The model for our relationships is the One Who “took upon Him the form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7), therefore serving is the key to relationships.
Even if we were married to a perfect spouse, some days we’d find things to change.
Three truths will help settle our viewpoint. First, God’s sovereignty assures us that our spouse is the perfect instrument with which the Lord intends to mold us into His likeness (Romans 9:20). Second, our spouse’s bothersome qualities indicate where either we (see the previous paragraph) or our spouse need divine refining. That directs us to the “feet” that need to be washed (John 13:4-17). Lay aside your rights, slip on the servant’s towel, fill the basin, and serve. Third, the Lord never entrusts us with a responsibility for which He does not enable us (Philippians 4:13, 19).
Since it’s generally easier to answer a different question that what has been asked, it may seem unfair to change this question; however, the more appropriate question is, “How can I be a better spouse?”
What practical steps will help me be a better spouse?
Grow spiritually. If the objective is to be a God-honoring spouse in a marriage that can then be God-honoring, a first requirement is spiritual living. This does not mean perfection, but submission to the Lord through obedience to His Word and communion with Him – daily reading and prayer. The Bible is not a manual on how to have a good marriage; it is food that enables spiritual living.
Forgive graciously. Forgiveness is a basic Christian grace (Ephesians 4:32). You may be very aware of your spouse’s wrongs; however, the balance in your marriage between acts which you could forgive and acts for which you need to be forgiven is likely closer than you realize. Besides, the Lord has forgiven you far more sins than the wrongs done to you. Even when your spouse doesn’t recognize wrongs done, a forgiving spirit doesn’t require a penalty for those wrongs.
Confront effectively. Effective confrontation is a difficult but necessary art. Confrontation that creates alienation is not effective, but avoiding confrontation is self-serving and unkind.
Effective confrontation recognizes a behavior that is detrimental to the spiritual, emotional, or physical well-being of the spouse. For the glory of the Lord and the good of the spouse, effective confrontation finds an appropriate time to state some positive means for dealing with that behavior. Tenderness and meekness (Galatians 6:1) are requisite.
Does God have different expectations for a husband and a wife?
For the wife, the Scriptures teach that fondness for her husband is a learned behavior (Titus 2:4). Romantic love is a pleasant start, but this deepening fondness is an ongoing education and the grace manifested in Christ is our ultimate teacher (Titus 2:11, 12).
Submission to her husband is enjoined on the Christian wife (Ephesians 5:22, 24; Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1). This is not a form of benevolent slavery. Submission recognizes, respects, and supports her husband’s God-given role.
For the husband, the Bible says, “Husbands, love your wives” (Ephesians 5:25), to which Paul adds (Colossians 3:19) “and be not bitter (exasperated, irritated, indignant) against them.” This love is not dutiful, but is a joyous devotion to understanding and meeting the varied and unique needs of his wife, to contribute to his wife’s fulness in God’s purpose for her.
The wife’s role is to complete her husband, providing him with the insights, emotional sensitivity, and balance required for them, as one, to accomplish God’s will. The husband’s role is to care for his wife by giving her the security and leadership she desires. The Lord has suited each for the role He designed. The beauty of marriage is understanding these differences and working within the framework of God’s design for each spouse.
When I lack motivation or encouragement, is there any help?
Keep in mind that honoring the Lord as a spouse is not a means of changing your spouse; it is your loving service to the One Who saved you and wants to honor you. The ultimate purpose is His approval now and at the Bema (2 Corinthians 5:9, 10). Yield daily to the gentle Spirit’s work. He is able to give the needed grace. The struggle you sense indicates His desire to claim more of you for Christ (James 4:5, 6).
Look behind you. Your children and other young folks who observe you will be greatly influenced by your example. They have a sixth sense that sees through pretense.
Be thankful that your experiences open windows into the Lord’s heart and provide a deepening understanding of the greatest thing God will ever accomplish – presenting a Bride to His Son.
The path to the greatest glory a loving, almighty Father could plan for His Son led through the agonies of Golgotha. Should we complain that our path to eternal glory is not always comfortable?