Last week I encouraged you to not give up too soon on your marriage. But what if your spouse just doesn’t respond at all? Or things have gotten even worse since applying love and respect? Your natural conclusion is – this doesn’t work! At least not in your situation. After all, it takes two, right?
Technically, that may be true. If one partner has determined in their heart that nothing…NOTHING…is going to change his/her mind and they are hell-bent on pursuing their own selfish ends, such a marriage might not be saved. People do betray, like Judas betrayed Jesus. That’s why adultery is so destructive. Infidelity betrays.
On the other hand, who truly knows a person’s heart but God? An angry, hurt person may do things s/he truly doesn’t want to do in their deepest heart. Though the person appears hardened, they may be protecting their real feelings. Thus, what seems hopeless is not hopeless to God. The Lord sees underneath. He sees this person’s feelings of insecurity and insignificance. This is why we observe God changing many marriages when the mature person joins Him in looking under the façade instead of always taking things at face value. Over time, amazing things begin to happen in a marriage that seemed from the outside to have no chance.
Remember this, too. If you have been disrespectful and contemptuous towards your husband for 5, 10, 15 years, will he trust that you have changed overnight? Or even in a month? Probably not. And if you have been unloving towards your wife for years and all of a sudden turn it around, will she trust you right away? I doubt it.
This is why in some cases things appear to get worse when love and respect is applied. The receiving spouse is skeptical and even angry that his/her spouse is switching behavior and then expecting immediate forgiveness for all the past pain. Or he/she is afraid to believe in the change for fear of being let down and hurt even more.
May I challenge you even further? In those cases when you feel unconditional love or unconditional respect has failed to impact your spouse, can you honestly say you were consistent in your behavior? I am not suggesting perfection…none of us can do this perfectly! But think of it this way: are you consistently making more loving and respectful deposits than unloving and disrespectful withdrawals?
Learning new ways of responding (and not reacting) is hard work. Old habits die hard, and they often flare up when we least expect them to…like rolling the eyes or mumbling "whatever" under our breath. But these old habits can be the death blow to your spouse who may use it as proof that you haven’t changed at all.
So when you fail...and you will fail... admit it to your spouse, and try, try again. Make some more deposits. Over the long haul, your spouse will recognize your efforts but you must stay the course.
Next time I’ll share more about why I disagree with the statement, “It takes two.” Stay tuned!