Can My Spouse Really Change??

Can My Spouse Really Change?

by Dr. David B. Hawkins

“I’ve been praying and praying for change, believing that God can do anything. But my husband seems to become more stubborn and angry every year. I’m not sure he will ever change.”

Such was the latest email I received, the same as many I receive about men—and women—from well-meaning people.

“Can people really change?” people ask sincerely. I can hear the doubt in their voice. They’ve been told by many professionals and friends that people don’t really change. They’ve been told that once you are narcissistic/ borderline/ depressed, you will always have those traits. “The past is the best predictor of the future,” they’ve been told.

This counsel is, sadly, short-sighted and in many cases, wrong. While it certainly has elements of truth, it is negative, pessimistic and fails to fully incorporate what we know about the change process. It also fails to fully appropriate the changing power of the Lord in our lives.

Recently an influential and powerful man called me. He had run his marriage like he ran his business—with directness, firmness and determination. He had ignored all the warning signs that his wife of twenty-five years was not his employee and had reached her limit of feeling voiceless. She had been divorcing him one day at a time for the past five years. Finally, the day arrived when she “suddenly” left, leaving him bewildered, anxious and incredibly threatened. All efforts at talking her into coming back failed. He had resisted change for too long and she was fed up.

He reached out to me for help.

“What can I do to win her back?” he pleaded. We embarked on a process of change that has, as of this date, slowly begun to melt the ice built up around her heart. They remain separated, but he can see glimmers of hope that are encouraging to him. We began with understanding some truths about change.

Consider the following:

1. Most people resist change in their lives;

2. Most change happens after a significant event causes us to shift our view of our world—“it takes a breakdown to have a breakthrough”;

3. Most change brings with it a time of ambiguity and subsequent fear;

4. Most change leads to a time of temporary chaos—our lives are turned upside down;

5. Most change is foist upon us, not sought after;

6. Most change leads to a positive outcome.

Think about this. Do you agree with what I’ve said? Can you look into your own life and notice times when you have clung to the familiar, even if it was painful? We prefer the struggles we know to the struggles we don’t know.

“But what about someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder?” a worried wife asks. “What about a Borderline Personality woman?” a distraught man asks. “Aren’t these impossible to change?”

To say that these people cannot change is far too simplistic of an answer. Change really IS possible, but it will not likely happen simply, and perhaps not quickly. If you are facing these situations in your life, consider these steps of action.

I recommended the following to help cultivate an atmosphere and environment for change in your life:

First, it begins with you. While we desperately want our mate to change, we must step back and ask if we have created an environment for change to occur. Have you reached your bottom? Have you experienced enough of a crisis in your life that you are ready to walk across ‘the swinging bridge of change?’ Are you crystal clear about what change you expect or must have in your life?

Second, have you stopped enabling ‘the status quo?’ When you insist on change, you must let go of ‘the status quo.’ You must look at every way you enable change NOT to happen. How do you tolerate the way things are? How do you accept the situation just the way it is? How do you make it easy for him/ her NOT to change?

Third, prepare for ambiguity and chaos. When you insist on change, you will face ambiguity. Having reached your ‘bottom,’ you are ready to face uncertainty. This may involve emotional, spiritual and even financial uncertainty. To face change means you have faced the likelihood that your lifestyle, as you know it, will temporarily change. Are you ready for this?

Fourth, prepare for resistance. Few people readily embrace change. Most cling tenaciously to the way things are, even if they are painful. When you face your mate with the challenge of change, it is very unlikely that they will greet you with a smile and a big ‘Thank you.’ Rather, they will twist your words, shift blame and throw down roadblocks as to why they cannot go to counseling, give up drinking or go to an Anger Management program.

Fifth, create a crisis. Unfortunately, change comes when someone does something to disrupt the status quo. You must make it clear that you will no longer do things the way they’ve been done, hoping for change. Change comes as a response to someone putting a stick in the spokes of the tires, causing us to look at our lives from a different perspective.

Finally, insist on specific change and trust the outcome to God. Seeking professional help, you consider how to set boundaries in your life that insist on specific change. You cannot force anyone to change, but you can make it clear that you intend to live life differently. Confident and convicted, you make it clear that the change you seek is for the welfare of both you, your mate and your marriage. Reinforcing your love for your mate, you set out the path of change for your mate to consider. You then take the leap—stepping onto ‘the swinging bridge of change,’ inviting your mate to join you when they are ready.

Remember that amidst this significant change process, God is by your side. “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

I thought this was a GREAT article! I’ve always felt that PA Man CAN change…IF he lets God work on his hardened heart….BUT it’s up to him…I can’t make PA Man do anything….trust me, I’ve tried!


6 thoughts on “Can My Spouse Really Change??

  1. It is a good article. It doesn’t pertain to my marriage though. My abuser ran away from the crisis, he was not man enough to face the truth or work on his problems, instead he shifted the blame onto me and left it there. I was willing to work on our problems, he was not. I can confidently say that he will not change, he ran to his mother who will enable him to be the abuser he is. Sad but true.

  2. It does not pertain to my marriage either. I changed in my marriage, a LOT. I felt like I was constantly changing to ”facilitate” change in him. He neither appreciated it nor changed in response. He used me further. These kinds of articles, unfortunately, helped me stay in a situation that was slowly killing me for far longer than I should have. Because my ex insisted he WANTED to change, was TRYING to change, I thought he would change. In actuality, he was lying. He wanted me to believe he was changing and pretend right along with him that if I had absolutely no expectations of him, he would be better able to be in the marriage for me. That he would start giving me what I needed because I was no longer ‘demanding’ it or ”expecting” it, on my ‘timeline’. To change you have to first see a problem. Mine didn’t see a problem until I kicked him out and even then his efforts to change included me no expecting anything. I you read all the letters he wrote me during our marriage about how he wants to be my best friend, my lover and husband etc. you would actually think this is a man who truly loves me and wants to change. In short, these men LIE. They say whatever they believe will keep them in their comfortable position of not giving us half of ”their” assets and us keeping a running household and front for them as a loving husband and family man. I don’t believe these men can change on a fundamental level. They like who they are. Everyone else thinks they are a great guy – it’s our problem that we don’t think the same.

    • Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and…yes. 🙂 In short, they lie. Mine would promise and…nothing. When I told him breaking a promise was a lie he just looked at me confused and said really? LOL What did he think a promise was? So he stopped promising and would say yes and…nothing. LOL!

      Yes, mine told me he knew he HAD to GIVE me half HIS savings, half of HIS money, but he’s fighting against alimony. So the divorce drags on.

  3. I think this is a great article, thanks for sharing! I believe people can change, but they have to want to change, and like he says, it usually has to be triggered by a major crisis of some sort. Saying people are unable to change locks them into a box and takes away their free will and choice. If someone is desperate to change, I really believe God will come alongside if they ask and help them succeed — even though they may still have to pay the consequences of their previous actions. Having said that, I also believe a lot of people just choose not to change.

  4. “Can Abusers Change?”

    To say that abusers cannot change removes responsibility for sin. They can change, but the vast majority choose not to, which is what the experts state. When God punishes them, their punishment is just. Abusers have options for treatment and are accountable.

    Once the marriage covenant is broken through abuse, the abused partner does not need to stay in the marriage waiting for the abuser to change. The abuser’s recovery is a separate issue and his change is his own responsibility, not his wife’s. This is the mistake most churches make. These churches have over-sentimentalized marriage and are legalists.~A Cry for Justice blog

    THIS is the TRUTH!!! Abusers CAN change….they just choose NOT to change!!

  5. These articles ask the wrong questions. The article should be “Are you worth more than living like this. How many years will you go on making excuses and living to make a relationship work instead of living?” I find it so sad that women think that it is their jobs to “tolerate” poor marriage and spend their entire lives “making” it work. A good marriage works on its own with some bumps and bruises but not everyday aggravation, that’s not marriage, that’s prison.

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