Then it happens. They begin to notice this other person they married is a little... strange. Their habits are unusual. They react in ways that they previously had not. Sometimes, they behave in ways that seem downright disrespectful. The starry-eyed young lover falls quickly from that cloud as they realize there are things about their partner they don't care for, and in this discovery, tries to change them to be more like themselves!
When my husband and I were engaged and going through our premarital Bible studies and counseling, we heard one particular piece of advice over and over. "Whatever flaws, bad habits, and annoyances you see in this person now will still be there after you say your vows. They will never change.”
Thankfully, we had been friends for years before we dated, so we knew each other very well. We skipped some major surprises that way. As I heard this advice, I thought "This doesn't really apply to me. This will be a breeze."
It was a breeze. Before we lived together.
Not long after we were married, the daily living together illuminated small things that had never bothered me before... such as his devotion to his wardrobe. He had shirts from high school, and socks from his military days. There was one shirt in particular that was old and faded and probably not the same color it had been when it was purchased. (Funny how when he wore it when we dated, I never noticed the imperfections.) Over time, it started to get on my nerves.
I sweetly asked him to consider giving it up. He informed me that the shirt had value, and he could never part with it. He actually enjoyed wearing it! When I questioned why, his answer was, "I've had it for a long time. It's a good shirt!"
A bit confused, I suggested he just wear it around the house, and not in public -- especially not to work. He laughed and told me he planned to wear that shirt wherever he wanted to.
I decided to wait several days before breaching the topic again. And again a few days after that. And so on. Each time I suggested the shirt's retirement, he laughed, and in his good natured fashion, told me "no way."
It aggravated me that he didn't want to do as I suggested. After all, I was only trying to be helpful! It seemed like I'd have to take matters into my own hands. Unfortunately, I've never been good at covert operations.
"You found your shirt stuffed in the back of the closet? What was it doing there?"
"Check the laundry room... check it again. Not there? Oh, no!"
"Your shirt was in the bag to take to Goodwill? Weird."
I'm glad my husband is so patient! He thought my actions were funny, but I can see now how they could have led to real problems. I realized that I could never force him to change something he liked just because I thought he should. And it hit me that if I continued to criticize him, I may make him feel like in some way, I was unsatisfied with him.
Eventually, he decided to stop wearing that shirt on his own -- after I ended my crusade.
I've realized, on a small scale, that it's human nature to want to change things about your husband or wife. All that advice I'd been given was right! As much as I love him, there are things about him that bother me. And, truth be told, there are things about me that drive him crazy, too. For example, I forget to close doors. You could literally trace my path through the house by the doors I leave open, to cabinets, rooms, closet, etc. He has to go behind me and close them all. And, I forget to turn the oven off after I cook.
When he first brought up the oven problem to me, I didn't think much about it. "Oops! I didn't mean to do that!" Problem solved. Then it happened again. And again. It's a wonder I didn't burn down the house! But, the more often he mentioned it to me, the more irritated I got -- maybe because deep down, I felt embarrassed that I couldn't remember such a simple thing. I got fussy sometimes, reminding him just who it was that did the cooking, anyway.
Another piece of advice we received before we married was to accept each other “as is,” expecting the other to stay exactly the same for the next 80 years -- but be willing to change ourselves if we realize our own habits disturb the other. And if one of us requests the other make a change, make sure it is truly important. I will admit that, in retrospect, the shirt ordeal was not even worth a discussion. The oven, however, had merit.
If a couple spends their time nit-picking each other instead of accepting each other as they are, they will eventually lose focus of their mission as a family -- to glorify God and enhance His kingdom, and to nurture a strong, close bond to last a lifetime..
It's so easy to see your husband or wife's faults as big, glaring problems, and not see your own at all. Romans 12:3 says, "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you." In this, Paul is admonishing the Church to work together as one body, with respect and love, so that God can be glorified. He urges each member to understand how their differences lead to a complete, functioning body. He also says in verse 10 of that chapter, "Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves." That's good advice for our marriages!
Mmmmm... I smell gingerbread cookies. Did I turn the oven off?
Jen Booth is a social worker and a budding author. She resides with her husband in Louisiana. You can contact her at [email protected].