October 11, 2017

How (and Why) to Stop Asking God to Change Your Spouse

Gary Thomas — 

While working on my book Cherish: The One Word That Changes Everything for Your Marriage, I interviewed a woman who told me about an amazing marital “exercise” she put into practice. She spent an entire year working on her husband’s Christmas present. What she did was write a journal that recorded something she was thankful for about her husband that particular day. These were very specific, day-by-day accounts of what the husband did and why she was thankful to be married to him: putting up the Christmas lights when it was very cold (December 7th), coming home and playing with the kids after a long business trip even though he was obviously tired (Sept. 22), that kind of thing.

When she gave her husband the journal he immediately sat down and read it in one sitting. Later, when recounting this gift to a friend, he told him, “Reading that journal makes me aspire to be the man she thinks I am.”

This wife thought she was giving a gift to her husband, but what she found was that by affirming him so specifically she was giving a gift to herself. She was motivating her husband to become even more of what she appreciated.

I recounted this story to a men’s Bible study that I attend, and one of the men said, “Why don’t we do that for our wives?” We all thought, “Yeah, that would be nice,” and then did what we men typically do—forget about it.

Except that this man went to an office supply store and bought six blank daily journals and brought them to our Bible study the very next week.

I began filling in the day-to-day account that very day. It was easiest for me to do it first thing in the morning. I’d wake up, and even before I prayed, I’d pick up the journal, reflect on the previous day, and write something nice about what Lisa had said or done. Occasionally, it might just be a reflection of who she is, but I wanted it to be very specific, not generic—something that couldn’t be written about any other woman.

After just one month of doing this, I noticed something curious—I hadn’t prayed once for God to change my wife. When you begin each day thanking God (and your wife, through writing) for who your wife is and what she has done, and you have a running account of her excellence that soon stretched over not just weeks, but months, it just seemed a bit picky to then say, “But God, could you also shape her to do more of this? Or a little less of that?”

There’s more to it than this, though. Because I had to find something new to write about every day, I had to scan my wife throughout the day, trying to “catch” her doing something wonderful, or making sure I remembered something positive that she said. So I was always on the lookout for the best, her most excellent qualities and characteristics. If I saw something displeasing, it wasn’t relevant to me. I couldn’t write about that! So I’d forget it and keep looking for the good.

It changed the way I thought about, looked at, acted toward, and spoke about my wife. During the summer I began to get paranoid about losing the journal. Because I was writing it in longhand, it couldn’t be replaced. But even if I had lost it, it still would have been a tremendous gift to both my wife and me. It was an early gift to my wife because it changed the way I treated her, appreciated her, and spoke to and about her. And it was a gift to me to be reminded and filled with such gratitude that I get to be married to a woman who gives me something new to praise every day.

Last December, that journal became one of my wife’s Christmas gifts. She was almost speechless, which is saying something for Lisa.

“You found 365 nice things to say about me?” she said. “Even on my not-so-nice days?”

Our oldest daughter said, “Sheez, Dad, that’s like something you see in a Hallmark movie that nobody ever actually does.”

Here’s the thing: I’m as happy as I’ve ever been in my marriage, no doubt due in part to the fact that I spent the better part of a year looking for the positive in my wife every single day. My wife feels particularly cherished because she feels the effects of a husband who is mentally choosing to cherish her first thing in the morning every day.

Everybody wins.

And it took me no more than a couple minutes a day.

Why not give it a try?

This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.

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10 responses to How (and Why) to Stop Asking God to Change Your Spouse

  1. Ok so this sounds great!
    I am in a marriage where my husband isn’t close to the Lord and doesn’t want to spend time with me, which is painful.
    There are some great things about him and I’m thankful to God for those things.
    What wisdom would you share with me, a wife that has done everything from marriage retreats, arranged countless dates, did the love dare, and did the power of a praying wife without any difference in the marriage?
    Should I try cherish?

  2. I am always taking notes from you and when I heard you talking about this during an interview on the radio earlier this year, I got on my Shutterfly account and created a personalized journal titled “You are my beloved-Volume One” because I hope to continue this idea for years to come. I don’t know if this kind of thing will bless my husband as much as it blessed you. I’m sure the thought will be received and even cherished. I can agree the real gift is my attitude toward him each day as I look to catch my husband in the act of something praiseworthy. (Which is honestly not that difficult…in fact, I have begun to run out of room in the journal.)

    Gary, this idea, and countless others you’ve shared from your own marriage, has been a blessing to mine. For that I’m eternally grateful.

  3. I think I found my next challenge! Always enjoy how your post not only are thoughtful and biblical, but so practical and at times, a bit challenging. Blessings!

  4. My husband did this for me one year from January 1 through February 14 and gave it to me for Valentine’s Day. It is one of my most treasured possessions. Currently, we are having some challenges, but I read that to encourage me. Maybe it’s time for me to do the same for him.

    I do want to comment that I don’t think this should replace praying for our spouses. We can still pray for God to help, bless, grow, strengthen, favor, etc. our spouses each day without the focus being on Him changing them for us. I believe God wants to change us for our benefit and his glory so I don’t think it’s a negative thing to pray (as we are led by the Holy Spirit) for those areas that will benefit our partners as well as to be thankful for the wonderful qualities they already possess.

  5. Wow! I’m amazed by this post! I’ve never thought of doing this, I try not to criticize my fiance as he’s always doing something nice for me. However, I’ve never thought of writing a journal about all the good things he’s done. I will start to do this from today and present him with it for his birthday next year God spare. Thanks Gary!

  6. “Challenge” eagerly accepted!

  7. Great idea … I’m going to do it!

  8. Gary, I did this exact same exercise about twenty years ago in the second year of my marriage. It was a game changer! It was more of a gift for myself than my wife because it changed my attitude and forced me to look in advance for the things I later be thankful. It’s amazing what can happen when you keep your gratitude radar going. I wish I could say I’ve always kept that same attitude for the last twenty years but maybe it’s time for me to do it again. Thanks for the reminder!

    • Jason, that was my experience exactly.. Good to know you were 20 years ahead of me! Nothing new under the sun…

  9. Wow this is something i need to practice. I can say for me my marriage has been hard lately but i have chosen to see the positive side and focus on what i can change in me. This is an encouragement to stop focusing on what he needs to change or stop praying God change him and to start focusing on the good side. Thank you so much God bless you.