If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.
Many times our philosophy towards marriage is, “I love you, honey. You’re perfect just the way you are. Now change.” The things we once loved about our spouse are now areas of irritation. Before the marriage we might say that we liked the way our partner took care of all the little details. After we’ve lived together for some time we might say that our partner drives us nuts with all the nitpicking, anal behavior he or she displays.
Should we try to change our partner or should we learn to live with their behavior? We would do well to heed Maya Angelou’s advice. If we can change something, then that’s great! But if we can’t, we still have control over our attitude towards the thing that bothers us.
Ultimately the only thing we can control and change is ourselves. If we don’t change ourselves, then we don’t grow and the relationship doesn’t grow. And if the relationship doesn’t grow, it will die. Or at the least, it will deteriorate and we will be susceptible to temptation due to our dissatisfaction of the status quo.
Marriages can be strengthened and improved even if only one person in the relationship is willing to make the effort. If one partner does what he or she can to make themselves the most loving, caring, and sharing individual that they can be, then the other partner will be influenced by that love. And, both lives will show significant growth.
Notice that we are not—and will not—promote the idea that one partner should try to improve the other partner. Trying to change someone into the image you think they should be rarely if ever works. Change must begin and end with me. But just as a riverbed is affected by a change in the flow of the water, as we change the flow of love, the other partner will adjust, change, and be moved by the improvements we make in our lives.
Change yourself. Change your world.
Jamie Finds His Way
Last month: Our fictional student Jamie has a writing assignment so rigidly controlled by the teacher’s requirements that it leaves no room for Jamie’s voice and creativity, for his own intellectual exploration.
Jamie appeared the next day full of enthusiasm.
“That was fun,” he said as the first cookie disappeared. “I spent about two hours on this outline last night, and look what I came up with.”
He handed me a single sheet of paper, single spaced, 9-point type. I took a few minutes to look it over. Meantime, three more cookies disappeared along with a glass of milk. While Jamie refreshed his supply of cookies and milk, I wrote several marginal comments, among them:
Why the 9-point type?
A good deal of this looks like just what the teacher asked for.
You included what was important to you about the book. Good!
Yesterday you were totally upset. Then you spent two hours doing basically what the teacher wanted, and now you’re happy with the results of your work. Because…
Jamie looked over my comments.
“About the smaller type, I wanted to get it all on a single page, and I wanted it to look dense. As for the rest, take another look at what I wrote.”
I looked. Saw the same thing I had the first time. All the points in the teacher’s outline requirements had been covered. Down toward the bottom was a point that included the words “hope and the courage to endure.”
“All right,” I said, “it looks to me as though you are going to give your teacher what she wants plus a bit extra. Nice strategy.”
“Yeah. That’s what it looks like. You saw what I wanted you to see. What I didn’t tell you yesterday is that this outline is going to be graded on its own merit, and this one has an A or at worst a B+ written all over it.”
“This outline says what I’m going to do, not how I’m going to do it.”
“So I ‘saw what I wanted to see,’ and presumably your teacher will do the same,” I mused.
“If you didn’t catch it, she won’t. I’ll cover all the ‘required stuff’ in a couple of paragraphs early in the paper, and cover it in such a way that I lead smoothly and naturally into what I really want to write about – hope and the courage to endure.”
“And you think you can write well enough to sell this?”
“You’re the one who taught me to write.”
I took a short timeout to sip my coffee, munch on my cookie, and digest the sudden realization that the Jamie of the Quixotic battle with a junior high teacher over a Tom Sawyer book report was not the Jamie sitting next to me. He had grown in maturity and skill.
Jamie had, in my terms, found the “third alternative.” And that’s a story for next time.
About the Author: John Overbeck is a writer with a background in journalism and freelance writing, and a teacher with a quarter of a century of experience. For seven years he taught at a K-12 school for the gifted, two of those years as a teaching principal. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
An invitation from Pastor Eastman
Any time you think that some one-on-one conversation might be useful in strengthening your marriage, contact me, Pastor Eastman, at OurChaplain.com / MarriageChaplain.com. We know many counselors and healers who provide great support to couples, and my job is to help you connect with someone who is a good fit to help you move forward in your loving and working relationships. Calling me is best because you will get a quicker response: 513 853 6180513 853 6180, but Pastor@OurChaplain.com or text 513 703 8196513 703 8196 will also work.