What if she won’t change?

Marriage argument © Christos Georghiou | Dreamstime.com

This has been in my drafts folder for a while – then today @couplethings (AKA Couple Things) asked some questions they get regularly, and the first one was “What if I’m the only one who wants to work on our marriage?” So …

More often than I hear, “She won’t work on it”, I hear “She won’t change” but I think it’s the same thing. My bride and I hear this kind of thing often, from both men and women. The one who’s communicating with us feels they are willing to work on the marriage, but feels their spouse is not. Notice the word “feels” twice in there? See more on that below.

My short answer, assuming the person’s feelings are correct, is to work on yourself, and do what you can do for your marriage without your spouse’s involvement. When you change, you put pressure on your spouse. That can result in a variety of things both good and bad, but it is almost certain to result in some sort of change on her part. Even if the results seem bad, that can be a good thing in the long run. Marriage issues don’t get better on their own, and the longer they are left alone, the worse things get. Many marriages that could have been saved end in divorce because no one had the guts to work on things before it was too late. When you change, you end the status quo, and start a cascade effect. If your spouse has been unwilling to work on the marriage because they hate change, you have removed that obstacle by starting change. As long as change is being forced, maybe they will get involved.

If nothing else, working on you will help you deal with your spouse in better ways. A counsellor, and particularly a marriage counsellor, can help you understand and avoid the traps and bad habits that have made arguments worse. So, even if your spouse does not change, you can learn to be less hurt by her bad choices.

Bottom line: Do something. The sooner the better. Push her to get help with you, and if she refuses, go alone.

Now as to why I hedged on the validity of the question. “I’m the only one willing to work on the marriage” sometimes means “She is unwilling to deal with what I think is wrong” or “She is unwilling to work on it the way I think it should be worked on” or “She has some other issue she thinks is more important than the issue I want to work on.” Likewise “She won’t change” can mean “I can’t get her to do what I want” or “She won’t change the way I want her to change. “

Sometimes both husband and wife want to work on the marriage, but they have a difference of opinion about what needs to be worked on, or what needs to be worked on first, or how they should go about working on it. My theory is that those who really want help will be willing to go to a trained third party and let that person decide what needs to be worked on the most, and how that should be done. If one of you is willing to do that, and the other is not, then the one who is unwilling to do it looks to me like the one who is not willing to work on the marriage.

And yes, you can end up with someone who is no help, at least for you. Check the link above for more on that.

Image Credit: © Christos Georghiou | Dreamstime.com

5 Comments on “What if she won’t change?

  1. I have found that when I think she is not willing to change, and that I am the one working on my marriage, that the real problem is not usually her, it is me. Even in that thought I am being selfish and wanting things my way and that is NOT love. Selfishness is the opposite of love. I have also found that if I intentionally act to my wife the same way Jesus responds to me when I act just like her, that God will change me and because I change, I get a different response from her. After all, if I keep doing the same thing and expect different results, I believe they say that is the definition of stupidity. So when I intentionally respond like Jesus does, I am acting differently and it causes a different response from her. If I continue to act like Jesus does, her changed response will become a habit and even part of her character. The problem is always me – or in some cases – was me, and I am now reaping the consquences of my past actions and responses to her.

  2. This post gives me real hope by changing what I can change – myself!

  3. A comment to the first poster. OK. But it can’t ALWAYS be you.

    “Even in that thought I am being selfish and wanting things my way and that is NOT love.”

    If your way is not biblical then its selfish, but what if your desire IS biblical? Its not love because YOU want it?

    I don’t know man. That’s almost like saying Jesus never wanted anything from us. He just LOVES us without any expectation?

    jesus loved u s while we were yet sinners, BUT, HE has demands and commands and even disciplines us when we sin.

    And HE did nothing wrong EVER and yet was rejected time and again. Some walked with Him for awhile and then never walked with Him again.

    I’m not disagreeing that we are to work on ourselves. But it seemed to me like you were saying that its ALWAYS us. Whoever wants something in the marriage….whoever has an expectation, is selfish.

    I don’t think that’s biblical.

  4. Please note that the husband may not be the problem, but he cannot change his wife by his present bahavior. If we do the same thing and expect different results, some discribe that as insanity. When we don’t act the way we should to God, God does not foce us – He “submits” to our wills. However, he does allow the consequences of our sin to touch us. It is usually those consequencese that cause to to look at ourselves and see our sin. My wife made a statement to me on time out of anger that I will never forget. She said, “You have made me what I am and now you don’t like it.” As I thought about that statement, I realized that she has responded over the past 30 years to my behavior – some good and some bad. Now that she does things or does not do things I don’t like or believe is right, in order for her to change, I have to do something different and sometimes, like God does to us, I must allow the consequences of her actions or lack thereof to touch her. I am discovering that action is more loving and caring than any of my past actions.
    I believe that is more biblical than we want to accept because it requires us to crucify our flesh for our spouse to see God in us.

  5. I agree with John Delcamp that we can often see different results by doing something in a new way.

    Even if we can’t precipitate change in our spouse, we can learn how to better deal with their behaviour. We can learn how to not get pulled into their games and manipulation – which is better for us, and uncomfortable for them. This in turn can bring change.

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