This must be the most frequent question I get. Readers always want to know “how do I get my spouse to do …”, whatever. It’s not always phrased this bluntly, there is a myriad of subtle variations (like this comment on my last post), but at the end of the day the spouse A wants spouse B to do (or not do) something they aren’t (or are) doing. We want an action plan, and people have made millions creating action plans and selling them to the masses because we all want to believe that if he did A -> B -> C and got to D, we can follow the same steps.
What did you do?
I’ve been pretty clear that my marriage was not always what it is now, that we started off being a “sexless” marriage, but we have, over the years, improved. I often get asked, “what did you do to fix it?” I know what you want. You want a turnkey solution to fixing your marriage.
Here’s the problem: Your marriage is not my marriage. What I did will not work perfectly in yours. It didn’t even work perfectly in mine. It took a lot of heartache, hard discussions, and growing on both sides. It is not a simple A -> B -> C solution.
That said, I think the Bible has some advice for us that is so generic it will work in any situation. That’s the easy part. The hard part is interpreting it for your marriage/life.
What to do when I can’t get my spouse to do what is right
When [the Holy Spirit] comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgmentJohn 16:8
I have a love/hate relationship with this answer. I love it because it’s so simplistic, it relieves us of any potential guilt of failing to convert/change our spouse, and it tells us God is in charge. I hate it because I want to be the saviour, and I want to be able to affect change, and I want to be able to pick when and how it happens, and everything that is selfish within me screams that I must be able to “do” something, anything! But you can’t. It is not in our hands. We don’t get to make decisions about other people’s thoughts and will. So, is that it? Well, no, we can do something.
Wives, in the same way, be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives1 Peter 3:1
Now, this is talking to wives, but I think we can extrapolate to husbands as well, for the purposes of this discussion. There is great power in being an example to others. Most often, showing is more powerful than telling someone. I believe this is the primary reason we are losing so many youths from our churches. In the last generation or two, there has been a severe decline in Christians being sincere in their beliefs. We used to get made fun of for being old-fashioned, for having outdated ideals, antiquated traditions. Now we are scoffed at for being hypocrites, and leading the march against us are our teenagers. Why? If you care to know, I’ll indent to explain, if you don’t care, you can skip to the next section.
People’s brains are amazing things, and even more so are the brains of children. Our brain continues to grow at an astounding rate starting before we’re born until about age 25. There are some key milestones
- 7-12 months – basic language skills, plays simple games, looks for lost items
- 12-24 months – start to like songs, stories, rhymes, understand familiar objects (cup, spoon, etc), start playing make-believe.
- 2-3 years – sorting objects, solving simple problems, more advanced make-believe
- 3-4 years – classifying objects by purpose, more complex problem solving, engages in fantasy play
- 4-5 years – can distinguish between fantasy and reality, wants to experience things they have seen or heard, but not experienced themselves
- 5-7 years – more complex problem solving, more complex fantasies and wanting to experience riskier scenarios
- 7-11 years – increased memory, can develop plans to meet goals, start to trace problems back to its origins
- 11-15 years – this is where it gets scary
Somewhere in the 11-15 year mark (it differs per kid of course), something flips. It is like there is a single connection that changes things, and as soon as it is made, nothing is ever the same again. It is the idea of the ideal. The concept that there is a “perfect”. A perfect day, a perfect painting, a perfect friend, and yes, a perfect family. And guess what. You aren’t the perfect family. And now they know. And this is where some of them snap, they believe there is a perfect family out there, and they are stuck in a “flawed” one. And they are pissed, and the only thing that could make it more catastrophic: if no one acknowledges it. This is where we lose them.
They start to understand that there is a perfect dad, a perfect mom, a perfect Christian. Even if none of these things exists, there is a theoretical possibility, and we will fail to match it. So, what do we do? Sadly, most of us put up our shiny walls, we hide. We hide the dirt, the flaws, the problems, we sweep it under the rug, we tell them “don’t go in there”, “don’t talk about that”. We think “if they don’t see it, they won’t know it’s there”. Too bad, they already know you’re not perfect.
So, they grow up believing you are even worse than a flawed human: you are a hypocrite. And if you are a hypocrite, then why would they want to follow some outdated religious views of their hypocritical parents? And as soon as they can, they leave to find perfection, because instead of dealing with the issue head-on, we stepped around it and pretended it wasn’t there.
Alternatively, we teach our children that we are flawed before they can figure it out for themselves. We apologize and ask for forgiveness FROM THEM when we hurt them (accidentally, on purpose, physically, emotionally or otherwise). They will grow up seeing that yes, their parents are flawed, but that’s OK, they are dealing with it and learning to grow, and the child can too. The world is not that scary, we’re all in it together, and we have a loving God to help us along the way. Anyways, we should get back to the topic, because I could talk about this other topic for days and completely forget what I was doing in the first place.
Show by example
So, as I was saying. Be sincere in your faith and life. Show by example. Now, this isn’t as simple as “well, if I show I want sex all the time, she’ll want sex all the time”. Libido is probably not the underlying issue. There are plenty of spouses with low libido that still have frequent sex. But, perhaps there is an issue of selfishness. Perhaps you both are selfish. In fact, I guarantee you both are in some way with some part of your life, because there are no completely selfless people. So, show how to be selfless by being more selfless yourself. If you’re having trouble with this, I highly suggest a DVD and workbook called A Life to Die For. Our church’s small groups have gone through it twice, and I swear, it changed the entire culture of our church from the inside out. In fact, we intend to do it again, because it was so impacting, and because we’re feeling a little selfish again and need a refresher.
Finally, I’ll leave you with some verses on leading by example:
Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.1 Timothy 4:12
Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignityTitus 2:7
Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.Ephesians 5:1
Be imitators of me (Paul), as I am of Christ1 Corinthians 11:1
In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.Matthew 5:16
Lastly, and above all. Don’t forget to pray. I know we all say that and it’s almost cliché now, but prayer helps. Sometimes it helps by having the outcome you want. Sometimes it helps by venting. Sometimes it helps by showing you what you really need. Don’t worry about the outcome. Just pray.
So, how do you change your spouse? Be an example and pray. Show Christ to them, and let Him change them. Best case scenario: you’re spouse recognizes what they are doing and repents. Worst case scenario: you’re spouse never changes, but your relationship with God improves. It’s a win-win.