Here are two phrases that can very quickly ignite the argument flame in our home: "But you always..." or "But you never…."
The first phrase implies that my spouse is incapable of changing their past behaviors. The second phrase suggests that they will not change those behaviors. Perhaps you've uttered "you always" and "you never" phrases like this before: "You always leave your socks on the floor." Or "You never take out the trash." Of course, many would say that these aren't necessarily serious issues, but what about phrases like these: "You always need to get your own way." Or "You never consider how I feel."
You can see just how quickly these statements can escalate, because often when we're irritated about little things like socks on the floor or the overflowing trash can, what we're actually annoyed about is feeling like what we want doesn't matter, or our feelings are not acknowledged. But here's the thing: when we're irritated at our spouse for something that repeatedly happened in the past, it's easy to get into this cycle of being constantly irritated with them: even when they have changed their ways, and no longer do these things.
Comparing them to how they acted in the past and constantly bringing up their past mistakes gives them zero space to change and grow into the individual God created them to be. And as many relationships start with the three words "I love you." I'm fairly certain countless relationships end because of the three words: "You'll never change." And it's heartbreaking. Perhaps in some cases, it is true, maybe they never will change, but if there's anything I've learned over the past near-decade with the man I love, it's this: If you constantly compare your spouse to their past, they really never will change in your head. Even if they do change, even if they become entirely different, you will always assume they will revert to old habits.
I've learned that people change in big and marvelous ways. I've also learned that God changes habits and hearts. We should never say that our spouse "always" does something or "never" does something because we are essentially knocking the feet out from under them before they even get started trying to do things differently. But, if I'm honest, I'm so guilty of this. I always expect my spouse to act the same way they did yesterday, and I never expect them to change those behaviors that drive me up the wall.
I'm also like this with people in general. I figure if they made a mistake in the past, they will likely make it again. I figure if they hurt me in the past, they will hurt me again. I stop trusting and start guarding myself because it hurts too much to think that someone won't make the same mistake twice, only to watch them make it all over again and then have to deal with its ramifications.
Yet, as a Christian woman and a Christian wife: the very basis of my faith is that Jesus Christ has the power and authority to make all things new: "Behold I make all things new..." -Revelation 21:5 Yet, I carry very little hope in my heart that the people around me can actually change. And if I'm sincere, I have very little faith in other people changing because I'm also terrible at changing myself. I have an incredibly difficult time changing old thought patterns and not beating myself up mentally for past mistakes. I'm realizing that sometimes, or perhaps even more than sometimes, my inability to forgive myself for past mistakes, change old thought patterns, or break old habits comes out in the way I treat and even distrust those around me.
So often, the way we treat our spouse (and those around us) is a reflection of how we treat ourselves. If I'm constantly comparing my spouse to their past, it is possible and even highly likely that I am constantly comparing myself to mine deep down in my own heart. We all have struggles. We all have a past. We all have past mistakes. But what's more than that? None of us, myself included, can stand being compared to our pasts. It drives us up the wall: yet we do this to others all the time. With our spouses, it's especially easy to do; we get so comfortable with them and know them so well, so we figure we know exactly what is going to come out of their mouth before they even speak it. We can't imagine ever walking to the hamper and not seeing the socks on the floor or going to throw out a wrapper and have it float to the bottom of the empty trash can. We can't imagine hearing the words: "How can I put your needs first?" Or "I'm sorry I hurt your feelings. I'll never do that again."
So why do we do this? Why do we compare our spouses to their past in the first place? Here's the thing: I don't know why you do it, but with God's help, I am going to be transparent here and let you know two personal reasons why I do it:
Reason Number One: It's an easy way to win an argument.
When an argument isn't going my way, and there is a possibility I am in the wrong, it's a lot easier for me to reach into my mental back-pack of past hurts and throw one of those on the table to derail the entire thing. It's an easy way for me to avoid dealing with a present mistake I may have made when I can flip the focus over to a past mistake they made that is much larger and much more hurtful than my current mistake. Argument won.
If you've never done this, then I admire you. Because sometimes my old prideful nature of not wanting to take the blame rears its ugly head, and I'll throw out a past mistake as an argument winner. God is always working on me, sweet friend.
Reason Number Two: It makes me feel better.
There are a lot of us out there with "holier than thou" attitudes because we assume that no matter what past sins we've committed, there's always someone else whose done worse things than us. And if you're like me and you're a perfectionist who's also incredibly hard on yourself, it can sometimes make you feel a bit better and take some of the pressure off of you if you can be hard on other people. If you can be hard on your spouse. And not yourself.
Stop comparing your spouse to their past - it won't get you anywhere. If you have an extensive list of all the stuff "they did" inside a backpack you carry around every day that's wearing you down and straining your relationship, it's time to hand it all over to Him. It's time to "cast ALL your cares on Him because He cares for you." -1 Peter 5:7
He knows all about your spouse's part and yours. Yet, He keeps on loving. So keep on loving your spouse fiercely. Because looking back only causes division. And leave their past (and yours and everyone else's) where it belongs.
"I was one way...and now I am completely different. And the thing that happened in between...was Him." -Mary Magdalene, The Chosen.
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Kali Dawson graduated from St. Thomas University with a B.A. in English and a Minor in Journalism and Communications. She is a School Teacher, Pilates Instructor, and Mama of two young children and a beautiful 2020 baby. She is married to her real-life Superhero. When she's not holding small hands or looking for raised hands you will find her writing fervently about faith and family. To read more, you can find her on Facebook at Faith, Family, Freelance.