Forcing Someone to Change Will Blow Up Your Relationship

RMlogo Forcing others to change will blow up your relationship with them

Test yourself before you read this piece. How do you think about those you would like to see change? The areas of reflection are your motives and practices. If those two things are wrong, the change you are hoping for will probably not happen.

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Two self-assessment questions to start:

  1. Are you generally impatient toward the person you want to see changed?
  2. Are you easily frustrated, critical, unforgiving, bitter, or fearful toward the person that you would like to see changed?

There are more questions I could ask, but these attitudes are enough to help you assess your heart toward those you care about and want to serve. If any of these things reflect a consistent pattern in your life toward others, the first thing you need to do to better position yourself to help them is to change yourself. Being redemptive in the lives of other people starts in your heart toward God, not theirs.

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. – 1 Thessalonians 5:14

Ask the Lord to help you follow Paul’s advice by carefully considering the people you are motivating to change and how you are motivating them. They are not like you; they are different from you, and it would be helpful to understand how they are different, so it does not trip you up when you come alongside them.

A Case Study

Joe knows how to get things done. He is a successful guy. His reputation and business are well-known in the community. People like him and come to him to learn his secret sauce for success.

On the surface, there is nothing wrong with what you see in Joe, but after you begin to look a little deeper, his secret sauce is not something you want to partake. Joe is a controller who demands his employees do things his way.

His methods work because his employees need a job. They are willing to put up with Joe as long as he pays them well. Joe keeps churning along, raking in the dough. Though he is a “success” on the business front, he is a frustrated and unsuccessful husband, father, and friend.

The work methods he implements in his home do not bring the same results. His preconceived ideas of what his family members should be are not being received well because they are more forced than nurtured. This method confuses Joe because he knows he is right; he wants a loving wife and obedient children.

“What’s wrong with that? This is what God wants.”

It may be what God wants, but God does not force righteousness on anyone. The Lord creates contexts of grace and invites people into those contexts while motivating them by that grace. The hardcore law method that Joe is implementing does not motivate people to change–at least not for the right reasons or long-term sustainable ways. His methods do the opposite: They discourage and exasperate people.

The Lord’s grace method motivates us to choose righteousness. He does not demand our obedience or foist it upon us as though the only thing that matters to Him is results. The process of change matters too. The Lord keeps the end goal in mind (Hebrews 12:1-2) as well as the methods that lead to that end.

Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance. – Romans 2:4

Plant, Water, Change

Our loving, heavenly Father could have accomplished His purposes for us without us. I suppose. He could have made us righteous, but by doing so, it would have marginalized what our relationship should be like with Him.

Our relationships would be more robotic than human/divine reciprocality. Joe prefers the robot approach with his employees and family. Hired hands hard-wired to accomplish his goals–a strategy that is blowing up his family.

His employees can/won’t leave, but his children are not as obligated or bound. They won’t “quit” the family now because they are young and his wife is not willing to “quit” (divorce) the marriage–at least not at this time. Joe has put his family between a rock and a hard place.

  1. The Rock: He wants them to be a certain way that he legislates and mandates.
  2. The Hard Place: They are resistant to what he wants, and he cannot legislate his mandates.

The tension in the home moves between tense peace and combustible anger. It has yet to occur to Joe how the outcome was never meant to be his to determine (1 Corinthians 3:6).

God has not called us to determine the outcome with people but to trust Him for those results, even if the results are not to our liking. God has called us to faithfully and gratefully work the process while leaving the outcome to Him. The problem is that Joe wants to plant, water, and control the growth.

James called this arrogance. (See James 4:13-16)

A man who tries to control the process and the outcome does not need God because he is a god. There is no room in Joe’s world for God because Joe has everything under control–at least that is the illusion he wants to perpetuate.

The problem is that Joe is not a good god. Many of his employees are angry with him, his wife is angry at him, and his children are growing in their resentment by the day, which will turn into teen rebellion once they become courageous enough to share their true thoughts with him.

I Know How Things Ought to Be

This is what happens in many marriage and family debacles when one person in the family–usually a parent–believes he/she knows how things ought to be. Based on their belief of rightness, they proceed to mandate or legislate the outcome. This inevitably leads to disaster.

I suspect most of the time the parent is right in what they want to do. Their rightness is not in debate here. The problem is when the parent tries to mandate righteousness on the children. They may be sincerely trying to avert dangers and disasters they see gathering on the horizon of the child’s life, but legislating morality is a multifaceted problem that needs divine perspective and intervention.

  1. Parents are not omnipresent: They do not have God’s full mind on the problems (Isaiah 55:8-9).
  2. The legislative parent does not understand how God can use sin sinlessly to accomplish His good purposes (Genesis 50:20).
  3. Self-reliance rather than God-reliance is a natural temptation for all parents (2 Corinthians 1:8-9).
  4. Parents genuinely do not want their loved ones to suffer, which is an impossible outcome to avoid (Genesis 3:7-19).
  5. Some parents have yet to learn how God perfects His strength in weakness. Sometimes God has to weaken a child so that He can display His strength through the child’s life (2 Corinthians 1:8-9, 4:7, 12:7-10).

Joe could get away with his tactics and strategies at work because his employees would either double down and do things his way or they would leave. Joe has bought into his culture’s view of success. It’s called a win. Jesus dying on a tree was a “win” too.

Joe can’t get away with running roughshod over his family. His way of doing things creates a blind spot that he really cannot see. His reaction leaves him with three options: (1) hire robots, (2) change how he treats people, or (3) continue to live and work in familial dysfunction while alienating himself from everyone within his sphere of influence.

Robot for Hire

If he hires robots for work and marries one for home, he can program them to do what he wants them to do. It would be a perfect world. It would be his world, according to his rules, interpretations, and applications.

If there were anything he did not like about his Robo World or if he made a mistake (not likely) or came to understand things differently (an anomaly), he could upgrade to 2.0, 3.0, 4.0. There is an infinite number of iterations he could create. He would be able to accomplish his goals with little relational angst, effort, or challenges.

One problem: God wants relationships not robots for hire, even though He knows those relationships will always be messy.

The Lord understands the doctrine of progressive sanctification. He will take any person, at any time–just as they are–and relate to them in such a way that motivates them toward change. He patiently works the process of change without mandating artificial timelines for change.

Though He is a bottom line Being, He is aware of the process. In fact, one of the blessings about the process with God is how the process of change deepens our relationship with Him.

The ongoing process of change gives Him opportunities to demonstrate His love to us, even while we are imperfectly following Him (Romans 5:8; 1 Corinthians 11:1). He does not respond to us according to what we should receive; He provides love, ad infinitum (Psalm 103:10-14; Romans 5:8).

Playing in the Dirt

The word Adam means red man or man of the dirt (Genesis 2:7). We are dust (Psalm 103:14). I am a dirt clod, and you are too. The Lord knows this, and He loves playing in the dirt. He knows His audience (John 2:24-25).

He knows life cannot be about present perfection, but a process that matures within a context of loving leadership that moves us into ever-unfolding Christlikeness.

  1. Do you see dirty friends and family members as opportunities to cooperate with God to shape them for His glory (2 Corinthians 4:7)?
  2. Are you tempted to manipulate them according to your preferences rather than trusting the Lord through the process?

Paul talked about this idea when he wrote to the Thessalonians. He wanted to make sure they understood how different people are and how it would be wrong to treat everybody the same way. Listen to his urging:

And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. – 1 Thessalonians 5:14

There are three people groups in this sentence: (1) the unruly, (2) the small-souled, and (3) the physically or mentally challenged. Then he closes his appeal by saying they should be patient with all of them.

Paul was not talking about the result, but the process–how they treated people who were imperfectly plodding toward what they hoped would be Christlikeness. Paul urged them to think about the people they were interacting with on a daily basis.

This is even more important when it comes to your wife, children, close friends, and a local church. Everybody is different; each person requires specialized and customized attention.

Cooperating with God in the transformation of lives is an amazing honor. If our primary focus is the result over the process, there is a good chance we will miss the blessing of engaging our friends in mutually benefiting transformational opportunities that will elevate the fame of Jesus while maturing our relationships.

Addendum: Wives and Husbands

Did you know your spouse–husband and wife–is a double damaged person? Your spouse was born in sin (in Adam) and parented by people who were born in sin (in Adam). This means your spouse came into the world broken and broken people parented your spouse.

You received double damaged goods when you married your spouse. No matter how great the parents were, they were not perfect. Your spouse’s parents did not entirely sanctify your spouse. More than likely there are traces of residual problems that were caused by Adam and their parents.

It is imperative that you become a student of your spouse so you can cooperate with God in the redemptive narrative that He is writing for your spouse. Too often the newly wedded person expects things from their spouse without carefully discerning the damaged goods, with the purpose of discipling them into Christlikeness.

Sometimes a wife will say something like, “This is not what I signed up for.” I must ask, “And you signed up for what? A perfect man or a work-in-progress?” Your husband is a dirt clod.

If you are demanding a result without helping him get to the goal of glorifying God, you need to rethink your motives and your strategies, while recalibrating your perspectives to God-centered ones.

Call to Action

You should never jump over the process to get to the goal. It does not work that way. Here are a few helpful questions to help orient your thinking about the process of change, which can apply to anyone you’re helping to change.

  1. How are you creating a context of grace in your relationship that is conducive to the sanctification growth of the person?
  2. What resentment, bitterness, or unforgiveness are you still harboring against someone you want to see changed?
  3. In what ways have you demanded changes without entering into the complicated-ness of their world (Philippians 2:5-11)?
  4. If you have messed up the process, will you go to that person and repent? Let them see what change looks like by your humility (James 4:6).

A Guard Your Heart Moment: Even if you do it right, the result you hope for may not happen. You’ll know if your motives are tuned by the gospel if you try to do it right regardless of the outcome. You’re doing it for God’s fame more than any personal preferences that may be meaningful to you.

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