I think there is a time for every marriage when you realize the person you met, fell in love with, and married is no longer the same person lying next to you in bed. This should not shock us.
But it does.
A teacher of mine once told me, the worst insult I could receive after someone had known me for ten years was to hear, “You haven’t changed a bit.” I have come to see how right he was.
Life changes us. It changes those we have committed our lives to. Jobs change. Parents grow older. WE grow older. Kids hit puberty. Health can decline. Faith is questioned.
That last point is closest to what I want to address, a change in shared values. What do you do when they change?
There is always the option of separation and divorce. It’s socially acceptable. But if you, like me, vowed to your spouse on your wedding day, “For better or for worse, in sickness and in health, ‘til death do us part…” then no socially acceptable separation will actually matter.
“So that’s it then, Thom? We’re stuck together?”
Well yes, but that’s actually good news, no great news, because it means you have to work at getting better than you are. Life is hard, people do change, life changes around us, and we can thrive in those changes. If we fall out of love (should there be such a thing), we can fall back into love. If we no longer think we should discipline our children the same way our spouse does, we can sort that out. And if one of you no longer wants to attend church any longer (or… heaven forbid, wants to start attending church), there is a way through.
Here are just three simple ideas that might unlock a values deadlock for you.
Strike Divorce from the Equation
I completely believe that divorce is justifiable in certain circumstances, however a difference in values is not one of them. (Unless one partner values infidelity… which is a bad value to have.) When Tara and I were in pre-marital counselling, we were told that no matter how tough our relationship got, we should never utter the word divorce. We should strike it from our brains.
There is no “get out of jail free card” in marriage. If there was, you would live like it. You wouldn’t try as hard as you have to in a successful marriage.
It’s just human nature.
So, if you have gone there, stop it. Like today. Go to your spouse and apologize and recommit to them that you meant what you said on your wedding day. Fight for your marriage!
Words have power and that word, “divorce,” is too often wielded to manipulate the other person into submission. Don’t do that.
Focus On Where You Agree
In every disagreement there will always be something you can agree on. Even if it’s simply that you disagree! Start there. If it helps, make it visual (even if it’s just in your personal journal). Take a blank page and write the issue on the top of the page.
“Disciplining the kids.”
“Praying before meals.”
“Spending our tax return.”
Then, on the left side write down what you want and what your spouse wants. This is the disagreement.
“I want to save the tax return; he wants to go to Disney World.” (No secret which side I’m on with this one.)
Next go to the right side of the page and write down what you agree on.
“We both agree that we spend money on what we value. The reason I value a family vacation is because it gets us out of our routine and makes memories for the kids. (Hopefully good ones.) The reason she wants to put it towards our debt is that she values financial freedom later in life so that we can go on trips like this.”
Now start writing compromises. There is always a good compromise! But a good compromise is one where love and humility are the rules of war. Humility says, “I know that he doesn’t just want to blow our tax return, he wants to do something special as a family, which is good.” Humility says, “I will joyfully let my spouse have their way.” Love says, “I will never allow a tax return to be the final nail in our coffin. Never.”
I know this is simplistic, but sometimes when we take things that feel overwhelmingly complex and simplify them we begin to imagine a way out. Nothing is worse that when you can no longer even imagine a way out. That’s called being stuck and that can overwhelm a person.
So don’t sweep disagreements under the carpet, acknowledge your difference of opinion, but then work from what you do agree on towards a resolution.
Develop Your Character
Here’s a shocker, you can’t change your partner. In fact, it turns out Grandma Friesen was right when she said, “The only person you can change is yourself.”
Every so often life gives us a gift. In this case, it is an excuse to develop your character. How could this look in a marriage with mis-matched values?
Learning to not speak your mind every time; even though you have read more books on parenting than your spouse.
Learning patience. Sometimes running the clock out on an argument is the best plan. If we jump in too often when, it usually sounds like we are being defensive.
Learning unconditional love. That means that when “love wears off” and you can no longer tolerate your spouse’s messy habits, you still love them!
Learning to see the other point of view.
Learning to give people the benefit of the doubt.
Side note: Changing our character doesn’t mean we have to become a passive doormat who allows people to take advantage of them. When you learn to hold your tongue, you become more powerful because you can used words where they will affect the greatest change! The same is true for the whole list!
Do you know who wins when you learn these lessons? Everyone. Your boss, your kids, your parents, your neighbours, your pastor, your spouse, your dog, your employees, your team… you get the point. And the biggest winner is likely you. Because good character makes for a much happier life.
Being married to someone who has grown to have different values than you doesn’t need to be the end of your happy marriage. At worst, it means there is hard work to do. Welcome to life. And at best, it could be a gift that leads to an even happier, even more fulfilled life.
Thom Van Dycke has worked with children and youth since 2001 and is a passionate advocate for healthy foster care. Together with his wife, since 2011, they have welcomed 30 foster children into their home. In 2017, Thom Van Dycke was trained as a Trust-Based Relational Intervention Practitioner.