November 10, 2016

Singles: If He Won’t Change to Get You, He Won’t Change to Keep You

Gary Thomas — 

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.

Singles: If He Won't Change to Get You, He Won't Change to Keep You

I’ve found men are most motivated to change during two times in a romantic relationship:

  • Prior to the wedding (to get the woman to agree to marry them) and
  • When a wife files for divorce.

Those are the easiest times to get a man to reconsider and reform long-standing bad habits.

If you’re single, you don’t want to ever imagine the second scenario—it’s a nightmare to play the divorce card to get your husband to listen and I’m certainly not recommending it. The first scenario, however, is one that single women (and men, in the same way) need to take very seriously.

Let me put it like this:

Women, if he won’t change to get you, he won’t change to keep you.

If there’s something in your romantic partner’s life that really bugs you—he’s drinking too much, he has a worrisome temper, excessive spending, porn use, he’s lukewarm about church, etc., and it comes up in premarital counseling but still doesn’t change, it won’t change after you’re married.

During engagement, you’re with a man when he is most motivated to change. If he figures out he has a “pass” while you’re engaged, he will reasonably assume he’ll also have a pass in marriage. While it’s embarrassing and expensive to call off an engagement, it’s devastating to go through a divorce. If you didn’t take the first option (calling off the wedding), you’re likely to put up with even more before pursuing the second (filing for divorce).

If you want him to be more serious about his earning potential; if you want him to be the one encouraging the two of you to go to church (instead of you having to remind him), bring it up and see what he does. If the answer is nothing or very little, then you can be reasonably certain he’s not going to be any more motivated to address his job situation after marriage. In fact, he’ll probably be less so. He won’t take a sudden interest in church, either. In fact, he’s far more likely to attend less.

My friend, marriage and family therapist Dr. Steve Wilke, reminds me of a key principle: the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. If a man isn’t motivated enough by the thought that you might not marry him if he acts out, he won’t be motivated enough by the thought that you might divorce him if he acts out. Most Christian women don’t want to even mention the word divorce, and biblically, there are very few scenarios where, in good conscience, they can even pursue that option.

Please understand: motivation is so important in marriage. Husband A carries on controlling behavior for a decade, by his own admission, until his wife files for divorce. He changes almost immediately. Husband B has 101 reasons why he can’t “yet” find a job, and after 12 years of this ongoing behavior, the wife files for divorce. Husband B has a new job within 30 days of his wife filing.

These aren’t coincidences.

It’s all about motivation.

And if your guy isn’t motivated to please you as a fiancé, he won’t be motivated to please you as a husband.

The most frustrating circumstances for me in pastoral counseling are when one spouse is obviously distraught over his/her spouse’s behavior, and the other spouse seems mildly apathetic, at best. How someone can be unmoved by a spouse who feels like she is drowning is beyond me but it’s not all that uncommon.

Marry a man (and men, marry a woman) who will be motivated to change out of reverence for God and empathy for you. Something may not be forbidden by God, but if it hurts my wife, that’s all the reason I need to let it go. How can I love my wife if I’m hurting her?

Engagement is the time to test your potential spouse’s motivation. Bring up the issue. Make sure he/she knows it really matters to you. If that’s not enough to send them (on their own initiative) to a counselor, a recovery group, or to stop entirely on the spot (if it’s the kind of behavior that can be stopped), then you have two choices: go ahead and get married, essentially agreeing to live with this character defect for the rest of your life, or find someone else who loves you enough to address character issues that cause you pain.

I recommend you seriously consider the latter option.

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18 responses to Singles: If He Won’t Change to Get You, He Won’t Change to Keep You

  1. My advice to single people:

    Do you want your potential children to grow up to be just like this man (or woman)?

    When getting married, you are choosing your children’s other parent. They will adopt many behaviors, beliefs, and attitudes from the person you choose.

    Don’t hope they grow up. Find someone who is always continuing to grow.

  2. I am a student in a Christian based University and happen to currently be in a relationship similar to this. In my research for solutions, I have come to realize that even in the Christian world that the majority of the blogs I’ve read focus on the male being the instigating factor in the selfish relationship arena, which I don’t feel is conducive to solving any negative relationship issues. We as Christians are given the honorable work of being the example for secular society yet, man seems to be the “big red flag” whenever the subject of selfishness in a relationship is discussed. This only causes more resentment thus causing wounds to the integrity of the faith.

  3. Good day Sir. I’ve been a twitter follower for quite sometime already and I cant help but relate to almost every article about love you write. In this post, I was really convicted. I can relate so much on almost all points. Ive been with my partner for almost 8 years now and we have a 6 yr old daughter. And my question is, do you think your thoughts about choosing to marry someone apply to women like me? To unmarried women in live-in relationship hoping that one day their partner/father of their child would really be that open to embrace change, much more character change? We’ve spent years of ups and downs and I can say what we have now is fine but there are times I feel he’s not living up to his full potential, much more pour all effort when it comes to us as a family. I dont know, I just need an advice maybe. Moving out was an option before but I know it wont resolve anything. Im the quiet type who would choose to let issues pass rather than confront them or nag my partner which is why maybe, we’re still in this kind of situation after all this time. I dont want my child to be father-less but I also dont want to suffer and just observe my partner’s ways hoping there would be a miracle that will make him change and be more mature. I’ll really appreciate any words of wisdom or advice. Thanks and more power.

  4. Dear Pastor Gary, I have a close friend, a middle aged woman, who married a man with temperamental /anger and violence problem. She knew all that before they marry. This man had had a poor childhood and had been deeply damaged by his parents, but has a good and noble, compassionate for the poor and needy heart – but he needs inner healing. When my friend had realized his inner misery she says she couldn’t leave him alone in the world in such a state and by dep compassion, which is the agape, Christian love, she had accepted to marry him. They both love God, they have good periods in which it seems they love each other and they still live together, after seven years of marriage, but I know very often she lives a hell and gets from him all the blames for it: in these moments he is without any conscience that this hell is entirely because of his inner problems. Basically she became an escape goat. Where they live they have not even a proper church, let alone a counseling ministry. She tried to find one it by Internet, no chance. Poor she has a lot to bear trying to help him and staying with him – divorce is not an option for her. But now even something worse happened to them – his abusive, manipulative and selfish mother went to live near them, claiming his devotion and presence. It seems that my friend is at the edge of what is bearable. She is deeply distressed and hurt.
    What can I advise her, a loving and devoted Christian? Did she do the wrong thing, marrying her husband? Has she to suffer until the end of her life? She seems to accept to die but not to fill for divorce, because God hates divorce! But is there any help and hope for her?

  5. Hi Gary! This article is one of your best! I have emailed it out to so many and we will talk about if in a new, simple, strong way for every pre marriage couple we counsel. This has provoked a deep, meaningful, restorative conversation with Mike and I regarding our own engagement, marriage and struggling issues. This is said in such a profound way that points us straight back to the Lord for the only way to be motivated to change! Like you’ve said before and we say it every day ” when you have the HEART TO, God will help you with the HOW TO.
    Love you Gary and Lisa! Hope all is well.

  6. Thank you, Pastor Gary. Using preventive care and employing steps that help protect is very wise in a relationship. It’s like you are sharing relational “antioxidants, vitamin C, and fresh veggies” before entering cold and flu season. It would be wise to use some healthy, refusal skills during that time, and you are advocating for the same: going for someone who addresses character issues and being willing to sharpen each other, possibly (and probably) refusing certain behaviors. Two verses came to mind as I read and reflected: “as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another,” and “love always protects….” The “building up” and “calling out” of one to another is either welcomed (yes, sometimes begrudgingly) or shunned. Keeping Faith.

  7. This is spot on. Something along the same lines that my Mum has frequently told me, is that you can’t change a potential spouse. You should never get into a relationship/engagement/marriage with the mindset that you will be able to change that person. Doing so is not loving unconditionally, it’s loving them on the condition they will become what you want them to be. If a man is generally putting his best foot forward whilst dating, you can assume that the guy you see whilst you’re dating is the best version of him. Getting married, you will only see worse versions. So don’t assume a person will miraculously become a model husband or wife post-wedding.

  8. My husband of 20 years is a “pleaser ” and a fake to every one but me. Before we married he pretended to like the things I liked-dancing, socializing, kids, helping others, affection. After we were married he announced that men in his family don’t dance. His only interests in life are work, eating, tv, and sleeping. He pays little attention to our grandchildren ( my son’s children), his social life is at work, and he rarely touches me, and talks to me only about his health problems. He talks to others and comes across as a very nice person, and then afterwards he goes on and on complaining about them.I have gotten to the point that I don’t even like him, and If he never came home again I would probably feel relieved. That is a very sad way to live, but whenever I try to discuss it with him he says I just look for problems.

  9. I could not agree more with this. This needs to be shared with young people who are in potentially dangerous dating scenarios because they do not always listen to those closest to them.

  10. Wow! what a great article. Thank you for these teachings. I learn a lot from them.

  11. In my limited experience, the change doesn’t stick. A person can alter behavior for a couple of years, but then ends up back in the old patterns, so you really have to wait it out to see if it’s just until the goal is achieved or a permanent addition to character.

  12. Good article! We have to slow our roll and take our time. Eternity is too long to live in misery!

  13. Hi Gary,
    I am an ardent believer of your views and greatly enjoy reading your posts.
    Will this change really be sustainable? I fear that after they have achieved their dream, the motivation for the change can diminish hence relapse into their old self.

    • Good question. The problem of “sustainability” is exactly why you have to test someone’s motivation. Do they show empathy? Do they show an appropriate fear of God? If you mention something that hurts you or bugs you, do they have to be reminded again and again and again? If so, they’re not being motivated by your pain. They’re motivated perhaps by getting tired of hearing you talk about it so they’ll do just enough to get you to stop talking. That’s poor motivation, the wrong kind of motivation. If they are motivated, the change will be sustained. If they aren’t, it won’t.