“They Said You’d Never Change”
I can clearly hear the voices in my head of multiple women saying:
“Don’t think you’re gonna change him, honey!”
“If he’s like that now, he’ll always be that way.”
“Once a [blank], always a [blank]. People don’t change!”
While these well-meaning and sometimes cautionary statements can be true, especially about destructive habits that naive partners are hoping will just disappear someday, they can also lead to a false belief that people never change.
Change is the Only Certainty in Life
My husband and I were married when I was 19 and he was 24. As I reflect on our 26+ years together, we have experienced many things that have permanently changed us. In some ways, we are still the same people that fell in love all those years ago, but in many other ways, we are completely different people.
Setting aside more complicated situations like substance abuse and mental illness, it’s naive to think that you and your partner won’t change much as you progress through life together. Change is a part of life, and it’s inevitable.
It’s actually unhealthy to avoid it, and trying to avoid it leads down its own path that ultimately, and ironically, changes us.
When my husband and I were going through premarital counseling with our priest, we talked about this natural phenomenon. Our priest asked us questions about how we would respond to future possible marital challenges.
Those questions helped us realize that the longer we stayed together, the more challenges we would face.
Additionally, we had to admit that circumstances could arise that had the power to change us into people we may not want to be. We realized then that the most important thing we could do was try to change together and head in the same direction, even if our paths weren’t exactly the same.
We recognized that we would each have our own personal take on life’s changes; but, if our core value to accept change as an opportunity for growth remained solid, we could change together and use those opportunities to grow stronger as a couple.
Change Can Lead to Growth
Since our marriage in 1996, we have experienced the death of many loved ones, the baby-through-adulthood stages of our five children, the onset of an autoimmune disease, periods of clinical depression and anxiety disorders, four housing moves and a major construction project, along with all the other ups and downs of world relations and the economy.
All of those major things, including all of the seemingly mundane “little things” in life, have changed us tremendously.
We’ve comforted, questioned, and cared for one another in our weaknesses and our failures. There have been arguments, tears, and broken-hearted apologies. There has been conflict, distance, and reconciliation. My husband and I have each had moments where we wondered who this person we were married to was becoming and if we were going to make it through these rough seasons intact.
So far, we’ve gone through the challenges together, and we’ve made it to the other side stronger.
How? For us, staying together and letting change grow us has been rooted in our beliefs or core values. In response to change, our actions have varied based on circumstances, but what we believe has stayed the same.
Here are some of the things we believed when we got married that have remained constant:
- We believe in the sanctity of marriage: that we are accountable to God for the way we preserve and protect our relationship, and that He values our commitment to each other and will help us uphold it.
- We believe that marital faithfulness is the key to building trust and security: we protect the exclusivity of our friendship and sexual relationship. We’re best friends, and we only have sex with each other.
- We believe marriage can last a lifetime: we are committed to preserving and fighting for our relationship as long as we live.
- We believe family is a priority: we don’t give up on family.
- We believe communication is necessary: we don’t ignore issues or avoid confrontation. We talk about our feelings and concerns, and we listen to each other.
- We get help when we’re stuck: we’re not afraid to ask for help when we can’t resolve our issues on our own.
Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes
In some ways, change gets a bad wrap. The negative stories we hear about people changing their minds about major areas of their lives or even their desire for their partner can make change seem like something to avoid. But the change that comes from gaining wisdom and understanding about ourselves and the world we live in is comforting in many ways.
As we navigate life together, confronting all of the wonderful and difficult circumstances that arise, we have the opportunity to learn new things, increase our capacities, and grow stronger emotionally.
When we do these things together, as partners in life and marriage, that growth is reflected in the quality of our relationship. We become better friends, more confident lovers, and more trusted confidants.
The change we can experience as we grow closer and learn more about each other can help us explore new areas of our relationship that weren’t available before. In some ways, as we change, we experience the newness in one another and have the opportunity to fall in love anew, discovering exciting new things about our partners that keep the relationship fresh and fun.
If we resist change, we actually resist expanding our ability to know each other and love each more.
This may be why some relationships stagnate and couples start looking for outside stimulation to pique their interest. Staying the same may seem comforting initially, but years and years of going through the same routines can shift to monotony and boredom if a couple resists change.
What if the Change is Negative?
When you’re walking through grief, postpartum depression, the loss of a job or other major life changes, personality, temperament, and attitudes can be affected temporarily or permanently. These circumstances can emotionally debilitate us and bring out the worst in us. Going through seasons like this is a normal part of marriage, but it can be unsettling and even heartbreaking to watch your partner suffer and struggle to be themselves.
These are the times to hold onto your core beliefs about marriage, and lean on God and others to help you navigate this season.
While our marriage relationship is exclusive in some ways, we should be part of a community of family, friends, and church members who provide a safe and supportive environment that acts as a protective net for us when we are struggling. Clergy and counselors are also valuable professionals who can help us navigate difficult seasons and work through problems.
Wise couples get help when they realize their struggles are beyond their current ability to easily solve or understand them. They value their relationship enough to be honest with themselves and others so they can move forward into healing.
Looking Forward to Change
Since change is inevitable, accepting it as a normal part of life can reduce the amount of shock you’ll experience when it happens. Reframing your relationship with change, and seeing it as a positive component of a healthy and thriving marriage, can help you look forward to the benefits it can offer.
As you head toward your 10th, 20th, and 50th wedding anniversary, you will become different people than the starry-eyed couple that stood at the altar all those years ago, but changing together can be a beautiful journey.