Yes, Marriage Will Change You

Why one of the keys to a vibrant, enduring marriage is a willingness to change for the better.

Despite the reality that prenups are on the rise, few of us stand at the altar promising to love, honor and cherish one another while simultaneously planning our divorce. We all want marriages that last a lifetime; marriages that meet our emotional and sexual needs; marriages that foster connectivity, creativity and a sense of shared mission.

Are we expecting too much? Are we setting ourselves up to fail? Maybe, but the bigger issue is that none of us have any idea what marriage will demand of us. Once that gold band slides down our ring finger, we have bound ourselves to a limited human being who will never be able to completely satisfy all of our dreams and expectations.

A Promise to Change

Make no mistake—despite your best efforts and overall wonderfulness, you will occasionally hurt and disappoint each other. Yet if my 20 plus years of marriage and pastoring have taught me anything, it’s that vibrant, satisfying marriages are absolutely possible—under one condition.

In the months leading up to the wedding, we are typically so intoxicated by love hormones and so distracted by choosing a DJ, wedding garb and appetizers for the reception, that we fail to realize one important detail: If we actually want to fulfill our vows 365 days a year, we must also promise to change.

The type of change that transforms marriage is less about self-fulfillment and more about self-denial.

Whether or not we’ve given it much thought, the concept of change, or malleability, has been inextricably woven into the fabric of American life. The idea of becoming bigger, better, faster; of maximizing potential; of upward mobility all presuppose that we can become different people through sheer willpower and/or intelligence.

Though this type of transformation might result in higher earning potential or more power at the boardroom table, it will not necessarily translate to an improved marriage. In fact, the type of change that transforms marriage and allows us to enjoy each other more with each passing year is less about self-fulfillment and more about self-denial—less about establishing our little kingdoms and more about bringing God’s Kingdom to our spouse.

A Partnership with God

Such change is not simply behavior modification (i.e., eliminating critical comments or reining in excessive TV watching); it’s partnering with God to change from the inside out and become more like Jesus in thought and action. The apostle Paul described this process:

“And we, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Each one of us began to change when we admitted our fallenness and made the decision to follow Christ. If we want our marriages to thrive, we must invite God’s Spirit to expose our sin on a regular basis. If we dismiss or minimize our sin, we have no impetus to change—a reality that makes our marriages vulnerable to stagnation or failure.

Jen Pollock Michel writes in Teach Us to Want, “Without the doctrine of sin, we are led toward being unusually optimistic about our humanity. We will refuse to face the viciousness of our capabilities and will trust our desires too much and fear ourselves too little.”

Being mindful of our sin and its impact upon others—namely our spouse—is not meant to make us feel guilty; it’s meant to motivate and inspire us to change.

Acknowledging Imperfections

My husband and I said “I do” 24 years ago. Though we were both well aware of our imperfections, we had no idea how those imperfections would impact our marriage.

To paraphrase poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “How do I sin against thee? Let me count the ways.” I am a hoarder—not of stuff but of time. Here’s a snapshot of how that affects my husband: I’m sitting at my desk writing and he calls to talk. Despite my crazy love for him, I resist his invitation and respond in a distracted, aloof fashion because I value my needs over his. My selfishness leaves him feeling dismissed and me feeling guilty. Though it would be reasonable to chalk this up to extroversion vs. introversion and simply go back to work, after it happened repeatedly, it’s obvious that God is inviting me to work on, rather than ignore, this dynamic.

Simply being aware of my selfish behavior does nothing to extricate me from this pattern—or help me better love my husband. But, if in that moment of awareness I allow my guilt to move to conviction, then confess my selfishness as sin, and ultimately draw from Jesus’s resurrection power, maybe at some point in the near future, I will be able to put the computer on sleep mode and engage when he calls.

We have to want to be a different person in year 10 of our marriage than we were in year one, want to love more consistently and want to faithfully serve our spouse.

Though such revelations and sequential choices might seem insignificant, they are gradually transforming us into God’s glory and radically impacting our marriage in the process.

A Slow Transformation

This kind of transformation happens incrementally and only when we prioritize it. We must want to be a different person in year 10 of our marriage than we were in year one.

As a comparison, athletes don’t become world class by standing in front of their teammates and stating their long-term goals. They train. They dedicate their lives to reaching those goals. Likewise, we will not magically become amazing husbands or wives simply by speaking an earnest vow before friends and family. Just like the athlete, we must train and dedicate ourselves by faithfully responding to God’s directives.

In his book The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller writes, “What, then, is marriage for? It is for helping each other to become our future glory-selves, the new creations that God will eventually make us.”

That such remarkable transformation happens in the context of an enduring commitment between two frail human beings is nothing less than miraculous.

Top Comments

Laurna Tallman

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Laurna Tallman commented…

This gem promises a tiara in your forthcoming book, Dorothy. Too many couples go into marriage carrying naive assumptions propagated by Hollywood and romantic fiction that marriage guarantees endless bliss and happily-ever-afters. And too much advice to newlyweds is one-sided optimism and unrealistic aphorisms about human nature. Your faith-based counsel is a refreshing corrective to blind and essentially self-centered day-dreams. Marriage is intentional, committed, and demanding work with no guarantee that the perks will offset the challenges. Good marriages bring deep satisfaction not only in spite of but because of those labors. Indeed, they are fertile ground for miracles. Can't wait to read the book!

Vaneetha Rendall

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Vaneetha Rendall commented…

Great article, Dorothy. I can so relate to your example of not wanting to leave your computer when your husband wants to talk. Its so easy to brush aside my selfishnesses, and this was such a great reminder to actively look for ways to prioritize my husband and our marriage. Love this: "Though such revelations and sequential choices might seem insignificant, they are gradually transforming us into God’s glory and radically impacting our marriage in the process." Looking forward to reading more about this from you. I need it!

8 Comments

Dorothy Greco

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Dorothy Greco commented…

Thank you Vaneetha. I need it to. (Sometimes I feel like I'm writing this book for myself.) Blessings on your journey.

Kate James

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Kate James commented…

Good stuff here. "Change is not simply behavior modification." This article hints at those wonderful words of Jesus; the last shall be first. 'Last' requires humility, and as Dorothy points out, behavior modification isn't enough. True humility is not only a willingness to change, but a desire to change, and real love for your spouse brings this all together. I've been married 25 years, and this post rings true in so many ways...

Dorothy Greco

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Dorothy Greco commented…

Kate, thanks so much for reading and for taking the time to comment. So appreciate the way you put that together: humility = willingness to change + desire to change + real love for our spouse. Well said!

Michael Johnson

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Michael Johnson commented…

You wrote: "the type of change that transforms marriage and allows us to enjoy each other more with each passing year is less about self-fulfillment and more about self-denial—less about establishing our little kingdoms and more about bringing God’s Kingdom to our spouse."

Amen and AMEN, Dorothy! THANK YOU! Sharing this post with the Future Marriage University (FMU) community at https://www.facebook.com/FMUniversity.

Hope you have a chance to check out this video from our FMU video blog that highlights this same NEED TO CHANGE in marriage: http://tinyurl.com/k4gcmaq.

Dorothy Greco

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Dorothy Greco commented…

Thanks for reading and for adding your hearty amen Michael.

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