How to Recognize Real Change
How to recognize real change —
Erin and I do a fair amount of marriage mentoring. That is, we walk along side couples who are, in most cases, in some sort of crisis. Our goal in mentoring is to work with that couple to provide a safe place for them to unpack the issues that are causing division in their marriage and to augment the work they may be doing with a therapist or counselor. In most situations, we find that only half of the couple is really determined to work on their marriage, while the other is simply there because of the demands of their spouse.
We often find that one person in the marriage is desperate for the other person to change.
It’s true that we can’t force someone to change. But what we can do is put consequences or boundaries in place as a way to move our spouse towards change. Consequences could range from living apart for a set amount of time, to temporary separation or even divorce in some situations but they are a powerful and sometimes necessary way to promote change in your marriage when used appropriately.
But sometimes we have the wrong expectations for how quickly our spouse should change or even what real change looks like. So, I want to address both of those issues.
How can I tell if they are changing?
We hear this question all the time. Recognizing real change can be a tricky thing because there are often possible indicators of change which are only temporary or even facades used to trick us into believing that progress is being made.
Here are 5 ways to tell if your spouse is really changing:
(What real change looks like)
1. Are they aware that what they are doing is wrong? — Have you ever heard “the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem?” Well if not, now you have. That phrase has been around for a long time and is mostly commonly associated with Alcoholics Anonymous. The idea is that you can’t or won’t fix something if you aren’t aware or if you can’t acknowledge it is broken. So, does your spouse acknowledge the pain he or she is causing you and your marriage? If not, then they are not going to change. If they profess to being a Christian, that is, if they say that they follow the teachings of Jesus Christ then they need to remember that God does not reconcile with non-repentant people.
2. Do they listen for and respect feedback? — How open is your spouse to accepting your feedback? What does he/she say when you tell them that something they are doing is hurting you or someone else? Are they open to feedback on how to change? This doesn’t give you license to nag your spouse about the issue but when you approach the subject in love, how do they respond?
I used to hate it when Erin would give me feedback on my progress. But that is mostly because I wasn’t making any progress and even though her feedback was honest and true, I didn’t want to hear it. It wasn’t until I could accept that Erin was for me and wanted what was best of me and our marriage that I was able to lean and to the discomfort of negative but loving feedback. Remember, the Bible says —
Listen to counsel and accept discipline, that you may be wise the rest of your days. Prov 19:20
3. Are they displaying humility? — The truth is, if they aren’t doing numbers 1 and/or 2, then they aren’t displaying humility.
It is impossible to change without humility!
4. Are they open to accountability? — Let me start by saying that as their spouse, you should not be their primary source of accountability. That isn’t to say that you can’t ask questions about their process but you need to leave the accountability to a same-sex friend of your spouse. It needs to be someone who you both trust and someone who you know will be honest with your spouse. If there isn’t someone like that in your spouses life, then I encourage you to talk to your church leadership about it. Maybe there is a men’s or women’s group that they could plug into.
Now, let’s talk for a second about the process of change.
(How quickly should I expect the change to take place?)
Have you ever planted flowers or some sort of garden? The directions are pretty simple:
- Decided what you want to grow.
- Dig hole(s) in proper soil.
- Cover seed(s) with soil.
- Water as required by seed type.
- Expose seed to sunlight (as directed by seed type)
- Add more water/fertilizer as frequently as necessary.
- Enjoy the fruit and/or beauty of the seed.
Yes, I know the directions are going to vary some based on what you are growing but that pretty well sums up the basics of gardening, right? Now, notice what isn’t included in those directions. The directions for growing a seed NEVER include the following statement:
Every other week, dig up the seed to see if there is progress in its growth.
Now, let me be perfectly clear about something. If you and your spouse have hit an obstacle in your marriage then you both need help. Whether the issue is an affair or financial problems, you both need help. You may need help understanding why you made the choice(s) that have so negatively impacted your marriage or you may need help learning how to set boundaries or consequences to promote reconciliation and healing in your marriage. And they type of help you need could be something as simple as reading a few books together or something like individual and/or couples counseling with a licensed therapist.
You see, when Erin and I were going through marriage and individual counseling we were both changing but —
We were changing at different paces.
That is, my process of growth didn’t look just like Erin’s. But the worst thing we could do to one another is start digging up the seed to see its progress. In real terms that means, the worst thing we could have done to one another is keep challenging each others growth by comparing it to our own. Believe me, we tried! The most important question when it comes to growth is simple —
Are we growing? Or more importantly ask yourself —
Am I growing?
Ultimately, the only reason you should be concerned about your spouses growth process is if they aren’t doing anything to get better or if they refuse to recognize that they need to get better. Otherwise —
give them space and grace and let them go through the process of growth and change a their own pace.
You see, there is a reason that the flight attendant tells us to put the oxygen mask on ourselves before we try to put the mask on our children. The lesson is simple, you can’t help someone else if you are out of breath. In marriage terms, that simply means that you need to focus on your part of your marriage and not the part of your spouses. You can click here for more information on Owning Your Part.
Remember, real growth and positive change is often really hard! In fact, the Bible refers to it as a “renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2) Sometimes, this renewing, transformation may feel like a literal death and it doesn’t happen over night!
You and your spouse have to be patient with one another. The most important thing is that you both have the same end goal in mind — Reconciliation and having the best possible marriage!
I realize it isn’t easy to take such a hands-off approach towards your spouse’s growth but it is the only way to ensure that the change is authentic and sincere.
Leslie Vernick has written a great book that may be a powerful resource for you – “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage”
Note: This post is not to suggest that you are to stay in an environment where you or your children are suffering any type of physical or verbal abuse. If that is the case, then please, take time to speak with a friend, therapist or church leader and develop a plan to live apart from your spouse while you are both getting the help you need.