The Danger of Trying to Make Someone Change

Good desires for a relationship can cause us more problems than other temptations. We can want something so much that manipulating the other person to give it to us by sinning against them is easy to do.

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Biff is a passive husband. There are many reasons for this, none of which are necessary to delve into at this time. The bottom line for him is that he is a passive man. I am not justifying his passivity. I am merely revealing his longstanding sin pattern.

Mable, on the other hand, is anything but passive. She is bright, direct, knows what she wants, and takes the initiative. She used to like Biff. A lot. She does not like him any longer.

Biff’s slow and methodical nature was different from what Mable was used to, and she fell in love with him. She liked what she saw, and opposites do attract. He was irresistible.

Tall, dark, handsome, and different. It was a match made in heaven. She married him. It is ironic how some of the things we like in a person are adorable until we bring them home to live with us.

What we like on dates and what we have to live with, in a 24/7 context, are two different things. Biff’s slow and charming ways wore off after the honeymoon.

Dates can be “irresponsible fun” with no deadlines to meet or bills to pay. Being married is more like two people grunting it out in the grind of demanding schedules, imperfect children, and personal preferences.

The thing Mable previously loved about Biff is biting her in the rear end now. He has not moved from his live and let live, easy come, easy go lifestyle and it is getting in the way of Mable’s busy, get up and go, there is life happening, and you are not moving your blooming arse, way of thinking.

While she would like to spend her life in Margaritaville, that is not reality. When they came to counseling, she said his laissez-faire attitude infuriates her, and she would like to give him a swift kick in the pants.

To state it more accurately, she has been yelling at him to change. I noticed as she continued to talk how she was becoming more exasperated. I let her speak, assuming she would run out of steam eventually. She did. And when she did, she asked, “I’m not like him at all. Why can’t he change?”

Her question was interesting, which had several layers that I wanted to explore with her. Mable was not thinking through what she was asking. She wanted Biff to change, and Biff needed to change. But her desired kind of change was questionable, and her methodology for change was sinful.

I Am the Standard

Besides her questionable goal and sinful methodology, what I hoped Mable would see was how both of them are fundamentally the same kind of people. Biff and Mable are two peas in a pod as far as what controls their hearts.

The shaping influences that had shaped their unique personalities caused them to behave differently, but the more you peeled the onion back on their lives, the more you saw their similarity.

This kind of understanding would be key for Mable to grasp if she was going to be an agent of change in Biff’s life. She had to dial back her angry, self-righteous judgments of her husband so she could speak redemptively into his life.

You will not be able to help anyone if you do not see yourself as the same as everyone–sinners in need of God’s transformative gospel. It is somewhat ironic (and sad) when one person acts as though they are better than someone else.

Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. – Philippians 3:12

Some of the questions I hoped to pose to Mable were,

  1. Is it wise to think or say what another person should be according to your preferences?
  2. Are you and your ideas the standard you want others to emulate?
  3. Have you reached the high mark of Christlike perfection?

Whenever we look down on another person, as though we have arrived and they have not, we become unhooked from the moorings of sound theology. In such situations, the cross of Christ becomes diminutive, and our way becomes amplified. Paul attempted to level our thinking about how we viewed others when he said,

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? – 1 Corinthians 4:7

Whatever Mable has gained that has helped her to break from sinful Adamic tendencies came to her because of the grace of God. If she is acting less like Adam and more like Christ, it is only because of God’s grace, not because she is better than Biff.

I Am the Same

Mable’s same-ness to Biff is more layered than just two people standing in need of God’s grace. They are also the same in their core sin patterns. The same sin that has captured Biff’s heart has also captured Mable’s heart.

The reason Biff is passive is that he is afraid. He does not want to fail, experience rejection, or receive critique. Biff is a fearful person. If Mable repented of her anger and began to see Biff for who he was, she would not only see this, but she would be able to speak redemptively into his life.

Mable’s sinful anger is a manipulative tactic from a fearful heart that is afraid of not getting what it wants. Rather than trusting God, Mable resorts to her well-honed, self-reliant ways to satisfy her craving. In her case, she becomes angry at her husband

And her anger is backfiring on her. She is trying to force Biff to change through anti-Christlike methods. The more she yells, the more Biff retreats into his shell. The more Biff retreats into his shell, the louder Mable yells. Mable must address her fears.

  • She is afraid Biff will not change.
  • She is afraid her hopeless marriage will be her life.
  • She is afraid she will not be loved and protected by Biff.
  • She is afraid God will not come through for her by changing Biff.

These fears wrap up and tie down her heart, and the only way she knows how to work through them is to become angry, which is her personality. Her parents also modeled this manipulative tactic for her. Her fallenness trained her to be angry, and she learned anger from her parents.

The Kettle and the Pot

It is possible for Mable to get what she wants. It is possible for her to have a wonderful marriage. But before that can happen, she has to be able to see the real problems herself and prioritize them.

Her main problem is her fear. She feels stuck, and she is mad. She is taking her anger out on Biff. It is not that her desire for Biff to be all he should be is wrong, but her way of responding to this problem is wrong.

Sinful anger born out of a fearful heart is not God’s way to accomplish reasonable goals. Mable needs to repent to God and her husband. She needs to talk to God and her husband about how fear has gripped her heart.

She needs to come to terms with the bondage that has ensnared her. She needs to ask the Lord to break her from this habit. She needs to come down to Biff’s level, realizing she is ensnared by the same sin, though her sin of fear manifests differently.

Rather than standing on a pedestal, berating her husband for his incompetence, she needs to assume the role of a servant (Mark 10:45; Galatians 6:1). No doubt her husband is trapped in sin. And she is too.

Mable is asking her husband to become something she is unwilling to become. She is the proverbial pot calling the kettle black. I am not sure how much or to what degree her husband can change, but I do know Mable is hindering the process.

He more than likely will not change as long as she is responding in anger toward him. He might change in spite of her, but her situation is what you call a complicating problem in counseling. Anytime you are trying to help a person change, you want to eliminate all the ancillary issues that hinder the change process.

Removing the Complications

You can think of it this way. Imagine you are running on a track and your friend is throwing rocks at you while you are running. Your goal is to run well, but you have a complicating problem. Your friend is throwing rocks at you.

If you can eliminate the complicating problem, you will be able to focus on how to run well. This analogy reflects well to what is going on in Biff and Mable’s marriage. Biff needs to learn how to run well. Mable needs to stop throwing rocks at Biff.

He is regularly distracted by Mable’s anger. There are two key things Mable needs to do: (1) she needs to repent of her anger and (2) she needs to use her words to speak redemptively into Biff’s life (Ephesians 4:29).

I am not saying Biff is a victim or has no responsibility in the marriage. He needs to change regardless of what Mable does, and Mable needs to change regardless of what Biff does. But this case study is not about Biff, but about Mable. As with all marriage problems, many angles need resolution. I am only addressing one of those aspects here.

To repeat, Biff needs to change regardless of what Mable does with her rocks. None of us have an excuse for not biblically pursuing Christlikeness. Biff needs to put off his fears while learning how to put on a new kind of person, which is found in Christ (Ephesians 4:22-24).

Mable could be a key component in Biff’s sanctification. But it will require her to set aside what she wants–at the moment–for the greater good of what Biff needs. This worldview is the gospel–Christ setting aside what He enjoyed to enter into our world so we could be like Him. (See Philippians 2:5-11 and Hebrews 2:14-15). When Mable begins to see herself as the same as Biff, she will be able to function with more humility and grace.

Call to Action

Are you like Mable? If you are regularly impatient with someone, you may be caught (Galatians 6:1) in Mable’s sin. Impatience (1 Thessalonians 5:14) is a form of anger (James 4:1-3) that comes from a heart that looks down on another person (Luke 18:11).

Aren’t you easily tempted this way? Isn’t it easy to be impatient with people, especially those who are slow to change? The more you care, and the longer you try to help someone, the more tempted you will be to sin against them.

This problem is what makes our marriages and families the most challenging place to refrain from sinning against others. Those who love much will be tempted to sin much. Those who long for a better relationship with those closest to them will experience the most profound disappointment when those relationships do not meet expectations.

In such situations their patience will be lost, temptation will grip their hearts, and their tongues will unfurl and unleash unsavory words. It is at these moments when the gospel must govern their hearts. What they deserved and what they received are eternities apart.

Christians have been saved from hell and bound for heaven. We must not forget how our destinies have been irrevocably determined. We may not experience all our desires on earth, but the saying is true: we are doing much better than we deserve. The gospel should humble our hearts, and our first response should be gratitude.

  1. How is your heart today?
  2. Will you ask the Spirit to reveal to you how you need to change as you reflect on this chapter?
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