As Long as Spouses Espouse Only Faults, Relationship Will Be in Trouble

Published April 1, 1988. Not long ago, I was speaking to a rather large group about marriage. On the front row was an elderly couple who obviously were having a hard time hearing, so I tried to speak a little louder than normal. During the speech I talked about the Change First Principal which is an important dynamic in marital relationships. It is particularly critical for husbands and wives trying to improve their marriage.

It is an almost universal phenomenon that most people in almost any relationship want the other person to change first if changes must be made. Statements such as “I’ll change after he changes,” or “He’ll have to make the first move.” are typical.

The Change First Principal simply states that if you want to change a relationship, you must be willing to change first. You must be willing to make the first move to instigate improvement.

At the end of my speech, the older couple came up to the rostrum where I had just finished speaking. The elderly man shook my hand and said, “Dr. Barlow, you have just solved a major problem we have had for years in our marriage.” He then turned to his wife and said rather sternly, “Did you hear Dr. Barlow, dear? If we want a better marriage you have to be willing to change first!”

It is moments like that when you wonder about your ability to communicate as a speaker.

As long as husbands and wives focus on and emphasize each other’s faults and imperfections, no real progress will be made in trying to change a relationship. The almost universal truth is that when a relationship is impaired each person thinks the other is at fault. Another truth I have learned in marriage counseling is that one person cannot change another person.  We can nag, complain, hint, bribe, insult or even try to physically force the other to change. But as we soon learn, it is to no avail.

The only genuine, lasting change that occurs in a marriage, or any other relationship for that matter, is that which is self-instigated. Change from within. It is the change that occurs when the individual decides he or she wants to change. The only thing you can do as a marriage partner is invite the other to change. But to do so, you must be willing to change first. Set your own life in order.  Then, and only then, will you be in a position to invite the other to change. As the old saying goes, if you are going to reform others, first reform yourself.

The longer I am involved with trying to help people have better relationships, I appreciate some of the wisdom of the past. The Change First Principal is not new. It is taught in the Bible. It states:

“And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s (or spouse’s) eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye?

“Or how wilt thou say to thy brother (or husband or wife), Let me pull out the mote out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam is in thine own eye?

“Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye (or Change First); and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye. (Matthew 7 3:5)

Would you like to improve your marriage? Then you start doing those things that would bring about a better relationship. It is not just another way to improve. It is the only way to bring about lasting change in a marital relationship.

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