As anyone who has ever tried to break a habit knows, permanent change is not easy. As much as I would want to stop a particular behavior – the pull towards the familiar habit is strong. As Paul said in Romans:
“I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong.”
Does this mean that change is not possible? No, not at all, but it does mean that it takes a lot of effort and patience.
One of the first things that we as counselors try to get new couples in our counseling room to understand is how counter-productive it is to hold their partner’s change as their primary goal. We may well agree that their partner needs to change, but we are all powerless to effect that change. A spouse can influence, plead, cajole and try to manipulate or motivate their mate, but ultimately the transformation must come from within the other person.
That does not mean that you are powerless. It just means that you are incapable of changing them. What you are able to do, however, is change yourself in relation to the other person. When you do this, your partner will have to deal with the ‘new you’ in this relationship.
For example, if one of your bad habits as a couple is getting into shouting arguments and hurling hurtful words at each other, then you can make a personal commitment to stop shouting back and retaliating. It will not be easy – but the interactions will be different. It’s hard to have a one-way fight.
Jesus said it well: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”
Even if the situation is reversed and you are only 20% of the problem, you can still clean up your side of the street.
It is somewhat uncommon that one person in a relationship will change while the other remains the same. It is also risky for the person not willing to grow. They will remain emotionally stuck while their partner continues to mature and the gulf between them will increase, putting the relationship in further jeopardy.
But because change is difficult, you must have patience and consideration for both your partner and yourself. Encouragement and forgiveness must accompany the setting and keeping of healthy boundaries.