We met Bob on our family vacation living next door to our house rental. We invited him over for coffee one morning, and he told us about his sixty years of life before he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. He mentioned how his wife left him after five years of marriage because he wouldn’t change. As he retold the succession of women that came after her, he said, “Yea, they all tried to change me, but I would never let them.”
And here we have the age-old paradigm of a spouse not wanting to change, and the other partner trying desperately to change them. Listening to Bob’s life story helped me reflect on the two most important factors that both spouses need to keep in tension: change and acceptance. Typically, we see these two camps divided. Either we must unconditionally accept everything about the other person, or we can’t accept anything about them and it becomes our mission to conform them to our own image. But really, neither has to be exclusively true. In my own marriage, I’ve learned it’s best to keep these two sides running parallel to each other and asking God for discernment and wisdom to know when to employ each one.
Bob had his heels dug into the ground and wouldn’t move. He was not letting marriage change him. But we must go into marriage expecting and desiring to be changed. God uses it as a means for holiness in our lives. Both husband and wife must listen to each other and always consider (even seek out) the other’s viewpoint and advice. When we seek ways to grow and change for the glory of God and the good of another, our marriage will prosper.
When I first got married, I was afraid of being a nagging wife. But over the years, I’ve better understood my calling to protect my family by keeping my eyes open to my own sin and the sin of my husband. There have been significant issues that I needed to confront my husband about in our marriage because if left unchanged, they could have been potentially harmful for our family (and had already left me damaged). There have also been many times where I’ve been frustrated with my husband and, instead of confronting him, I evaluated myself first and found that it was really just my own personal issues. In those moments I would see that first I was the one who needed to change, and it really wasn’t about him. Then of course, there are the “petty things” of marriage, like a roll of toilet paper being put on the “right” way or arguing over clothes being left on the ground, that require the ability to be flexible and let go of our preferences.
Areas that need to change will vary in every marriage. When it comes to our spouse, we must remember that there are things to let go of and things we can not let go of. There are things to be overlooked and things that must not be overlooked. We need wisdom and discernment from God to know the difference. Having a willingness to listen and change is a way for both partners to lay down their lives in service to one another.
It takes discernment to know what needs to be changed and what just needs to be accepted. Petty or peripheral things take a certain amount of acceptance on our parts. We must fully accept our spouse for who they are and all the various ways they will change from season to season. Though I’ve learned to confront my husband on significant issues in his life (and the effects on our family), I’ve also learned to be gracious, patient, and accepting of him. I’ve learned to accept our differences and see them as God’s means for growth in both of our lives. I’ve had to wrestle through the personal effects of my husband’s anxiety and depression and be willing to accept him, and all his struggles and weaknesses, as my own. I’ve had to accept his fight with lust as my battle as well. Acceptance means we’re in it together, I’m not leaving you, and I’m helping you and loving you all the way.
This tension that we must keep in balance with God-given wisdom is really a call to be like Christ. He calls us and accepts right where we are. His acceptance of us never wavers, we always belong to him, and will never be turned away or cast off. His love always covers us. But though he accepts us fully, he desires our growth and maturation. He wants us to become more like what the father declares us to be. So he gives us a helper in the Holy Spirit, who makes us more real, more like our true selves. Before the curse. Before we were broken. Let’s model Christ to our spouse in this way. The foundation being acceptance, but the ever onward call to grow into Christ’s image beckoning both spouses forward.