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Commitment to Growth
A successful marriage requires two people committed to self-growth. Self-growth is a way of life that includes regular reflection on how to close the gap between who you are and who you want to be (who God made you to be). But even when your partner does not share your enthusiasm for growth, it does not limit you in any way from growing. You can achieve success in life without having a successful marriage. If your partner is not participating this does not excuse you from continuing your own growth. This is confusing for many. Actually, when your partner is not participating, it is the perfect time to see how much you’ve grown. Of course, it is more difficult to be in a marriage when you are the only one wanting to improve the relationship. The trick is knowing what you are responsible for.
Some tasks require two people. Imagine you are working in your yard and there is a pile of rocks you want to move. Some rocks you can move by yourself; others are big enough to require two people. When you are working alone, how long should you try to move the two-person rocks? Would you think of yourself as a failure because you cannot move the two-person rocks and finish the job alone? If your partner is not with you, then no one, including God, expects you to finish the job. You are not responsible for the outcome. You are only responsible for what you can complete with the strength God provides. When your partner is helping, more is expected than when you are working alone.
Growing Together is a Choice
Couples who commit to growth choose to have a better marriage. As a counselor, I frequently hear couples tell me, “We have grown apart. We feel little for each other. We are like roommates who do not see each other much. The love is gone from our marriage.” It is an attempt to prove their marriage is dead and divorce is the only realistic option. This is nothing less than a decision to abandon a spouse for failure to grow. For these couples, there comes a time when someone says, “I cannot do this any longer.” Most of the time what is really being said is, “I choose to not do this any longer. The effort required to grow under these circumstances is not worth it to me.”
Growth is a constant need for all – all who are considered “among the living”. Growth keeps us alive. Those who are not growing are tired – their enthusiasm for life is fading. When both partners are truly growing then it is impossible to grow apart – instead they will be growing in mature love and it will keep them together. When a couple says they are “growing apart” can the couple really say they are growing? All they can say is they do not want to grow enough to stay married. If someone experiences complete satisfaction, there is no reason to seek more. And without seeking more, there is no growth. No one can say, “I’ve maxed out on growth”. But there are seasons to change. There are times in life when we have more energy and God’s grace to change. At other times we are weak and want only what is easiest.
Ladder of Acceptance
Seeking instant gratification profits little because the goals are so small. Seeking one’s own pleasure requires little if any discipline and sacrifice and does not result in lasting pleasure or hope. Eventually, it becomes tiresome. Making changes to stop living in the short-term requires determination and a high tolerance for postponing hunger for immediate satisfaction. For longer-lasting pleasure and hope, we must choose larger goals and desires that take more time and effort to reach fulfillment.
I call this process climbing the ladder of change. There are at least four rungs:
- I don’t want to change. I only want what will bring the most immediate satisfaction.
- I don’t want to change. But I am realizing seeking immediate gratification does not bring lasting satisfaction. Whatever I do to feel better wears off quickly and I am left with all the same problems. I would like to be less selfish, but I don’t know how to make that happen. So I continue seeking my pleasure to cover over the pain.
- My spouse soaks up any love I give and offers nothing in return. It is like I am giving to a black hole.
- I realize it is best to change. The Bible teaches I should look to others’ interests. More often than not, I continue to seek immediate satisfaction. Some of the time I am able to seek other’s best interest.
- I am excited about the idea of not just living for myself, but in giving of myself to others. Growth is satisfying. While at times I seek my own pleasure, I also regularly seek other’s best interest.
A Little More Every Day
Growth is essential for life. Growth is essential for a marriage. Growth cannot be rushed nor forced. We need a lifetime or more to get love right. Regardless of your place in life (married or single), develop a love for growth. Realizing your need for growth will keep you sober, and allow both you and your partner space to grow.
Notice the little changes your partner makes. Praise and encourage their efforts. Find your own way of coping when your partner is not available and cooperating. Remove dependence on your partner’s ability to change for your own happiness. When your partner cannot meet your needs, take care of yourself by finding legitimate ways to meet your needs without pressuring your partner. Then bring your new found growth back to share with your partner! How do we grow better at marriage? You will always come out ahead if you grow a little every day by God’s grace.
You will change when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of making a change.
It takes more effort to stop growing than to keep growing.
Men are anxious to improve their circumstances but are unwilling to improve themselves.
2 Peter 3:18
But grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.