“I don’t’ think I should be the one to always have to change first,” Darrin said angrily. “I’ve been waiting for months for her to make the first move and at this rate we will never get back together.”
Darrin had been asked to separate from his wife, Lauren, several months earlier. It was both of their second marriages and they had only been together a year when serious trouble erupted.
In their late thirties and with two children each from previous marriages, Darrin and Lauren knew they had challenges ahead of them but had not been fully prepared for the significant struggles of a blended family.
“I knew there would be problems,” Darrin continued. “But love can conquer everything in my book. She had no right to ask me to leave.”
“Why did she?” I asked boldly.
“She says it’s because of my anger. But, you know. Her kids, my kids. We argued over a lot of things and she says she had to save her family. I think it’s just an excuse. Now I’m holding out for her to ask me to come back.”
“I don’t think I understand,” I said. “What do you mean by ‘holding out?’”
“She asked me to leave,” he said. “Now she can ask me to come back. It’s that simple.”
“Is it?” I asked. “You sound very resentful. Are you working on the issues she has asked you to work on?”
“Who says it’s all my fault?” he said defensively. “She has just as much to work on.”
“I’m sure she does Darrin,” I said. “But ‘holding out’ for anything doesn’t seem like a wise move. Why not clean your side of the street? Then, what’s left is her stuff. I suspect that if you cleaned up your issues your relationship can only improve.”
Darrin looked at me for a moment, reflecting on what I had said. Clearly he was locked in a power struggle with his wife, a struggle he could only lose. He was focused on her issues and minimized his responsibility for any problems.
“You want to be back with her, right?” I asked.
“Sure I do,” he said. “But I don’t want to do all the work.”
“You don’t have to do all the work,” I said. “Only the work that is yours to do. You can’t do her work, only yours. If you do your work, it’s likely to make a lot of difference.”
“I suppose you’re right,” he said slowly. “I guess I hate to admit that some of what she has complained about has merit. I have pride issues.”
Darrin’s external and internal struggles were ones I’ve seen many times in my work with couples at The Marriage Recovery Center. Each waiting for the other to make the first move, couples often remain locked in a very immature battle. In actuality, we are all responsible for our behavior—nothing more, nothing less. If we will do our work, cleaning our side of the street, the impact is often immense.
Perhaps the most well-known Scripture on this issue is from the Apostle Luke: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31).
Isn’t this simply profound? Don’t wait for others to do the right thing—do it first, because it’s the right thing to do. You want them to act responsibly—act responsibly yourself. You want care and consideration? Give it abundantly to the other.
Here are a few more thoughts on the matter:
One, changing our behavior will make a huge impact on our relationships. Improving our behavior will have a reverberation impact on our relationships. When we do to others what we would like them to do to us, we start a positive chain reaction. Try it and see.
Two, focus solely on your behavior. While it is true that we cannot change others directly, when we focus on ourselves and change what we can change, we will impact others. Others are far more likely to respond favorably and in kind.
Three, clean your side of the street. Do not stop with simply focusing on your behavior and life, change things. Let their behavior slide to the side and change what you have the distinct power to change—you! Doing this leaves their behavior up to them to change.
Four, notice the positive impact of changing yourself. This is such a powerful principle—changing ourselves encourages others to change themselves. Making ourselves the best people we can be encourages others to be the best people they can be.
Finally, leave the rest to God. Having focused on yourself, having cleaned your side of the street, you can then ask God what can be done with the rest. God cares about you, your mate and all your relationships. He will give you wisdom about whether to do anything else beyond your first and primary focus of change—you.
Publication date: May 19, 2015