The other night my (John’s) wife and I were watching part of a comedy show on television that we thought was funny. The scene was a forest meadow where an outdoor wedding was taking place.
There in the clearing were the bride and her attendant, and the best man alongside the bridegroom, who looked worried and out of place. The minister asked the bride to say her vows, which she had made up especially for this occasion. Unhesitatingly, she launched into goal after goal, commitment after commitment, and dream after dream she had for herself, her husband and their marriage. In fact, she went on so long night fell in the forest.
When she finally finished, the exhausted minister turned to the groom and asked him to repeat the vows he made up. Looking around nervously, his only words to the minister were, “Well, I hope this works out!”
His vows were not the kind of words that a new bride could build a secure future on. They were funny all right, but they did not provide the kind of security a wife needs to know that she had a special future ahead of her.
In a marriage, our mate needs to know that he or she is a special part of our future. What’s more, our spouse needs to know that the way we look at him or her today leaves room for positive change and growth in the future. Tod learned this lesson the hard way with his wife, Betty.
Betty was not the world’s best house cleaner. Her home was not what you would call neat and clean before they had children, and with three little ones running around, she had nearly given up on their home ever being clean. Like what happens in many marriages, her husband, Tod, had a different temperament. He was incredibly neat and clean. Tod even kept his workshop, where he spent time on his hobbies, so clean that a person could eat off the floor.
Tod was so frustrated with his wife’s sloppy ways, he spent much of his time berating her for being a poor house cleaner. She would always be messy and could never change. Tod told her stories about how, in the future, their house would become so dirty that their grandchildren would catch incurable diseases and the county health department would come out and shut them down.
Not only was Tod not placing high value on his wife, he was helping to see that the very thing he sought to change became a lasting part of their future! By painting a picture of his wife with no window of hope or door for change, he boxed her in to viewing herself as the “world’s messiest housekeeper” that he thought she was.
In a Sunday school class, Tod saw for the first time how his words of a negative future had hurt his wife, not helped her. He learned that he was effectively killing any motivation his wife did have to change. His words of a negative future were telling his wife that it was impossible for her ever to please him, so why should she bother trying?
Tod thought back on what he had said to his wife. The times she had tried to make a dent in the house cleaning chores, he had met her with a “Finally!” or a “Why can’t you keep things like that all the time?” But then he began to change.
Tod started to praise small things Betty did and to put aside the criticism of her poor performance. He even began to change his picture of her future and their house to a positive one. Change is always slow to take root, but it can grow 10 times faster in the soil of encouragement than in the hard, rocky soil of criticism.
By picturing a special future for his wife in this area and encouraging her for small accomplishments, a miracle began to happen. Even though the house is not up to Tod’s workshop standards, no longer does he have to fight his way through the laundry in the washroom or fear going into a shower that has things growing in it.
Whether it is the fear of entertaining, the need to go on a diet, failing to discipline the children promptly or keeping a messy house, we do not motivate our mate to change by picturing a negative future. Our mate needs to hear words that picture a special future in the same way our children do, positive words that provide our spouse the room to become all that God can help him or her to become.