Good morning friends,

We have just survived our first October snowstorm. Much of the area has been without power, many beautiful trees are ruined. Their branches couldn’t carry the load of snow and ice because their leaves hadn’t dropped. It is so sad to see the wreckage. I’ve included two pictures, one from the snow storm on Saturday, one from my front yard today– the snow has mostly melted, but the damage is still here.

This week’s blog is going to answer the question, how do we handle things about our spouse that we don’t like? They may be small things or fairly large things (at least in our own mind) but not necessarily deal breakers (if we don’t let them).

Today’s Question: I just found out my husband is smoking again. I can’t believe it. I hate smoking, and I made that very clear when we met. I knew he was a smoker but he told me he would try and quit. Obviously he hasn’t. He doesn’t smoke in the house or around me but I don’t want him to smoke at all. What can I do to get him to stop?

Answer: Every married person discovers qualities and habits in his/her spouse that he/she would love to change. It might be smoking, chronic messiness, forgetting to put the ATM receipts in the checkbook, or leaving the toilet seat up when you’ve asked him a million times to put it down.

Since you’ve felt frustrated trying to improve your spouse only to fail again and again, let me suggest another approach. Instead of trying to change him, change you. Let me explain. It’s easy to love someone when he does everything we want him to do. That’s idealized love, not mature love. Having a successful long-term relationship requires that we learn how to love our spouse when he doesn’t do everything we want him to do. This kind of love is much harder. It’s not the “feel in love” kind of love. It’s the “hard work” kind of love. One of the most powerful gifts of this kind of love is the gift of acceptance.

Learning to accept our spouse’s imperfections, weakness, and yes, sometimes even sins, doesn’t mean we like a fault we see nor does it mean that we simply resign ourselves to a hopeless situation. However, true acceptance understands reality–that we are all creatures in process and that God isn’t finished with any of us yet. Acceptance doesn’t simply mean that we acknowledge our spouse’s faults, but that we stop resenting them. We stop trying to change them. We learn to be emotionally content the way he is right now, all the while asking God to mature him (and us).

Here are three (3) things that you can work to change that will empower you to give the gift of acceptance to your spouse:

1. Stop playing Holy Spirit. We can learn how to be a better wife or husband but understand this: We will always make a lousy god. God himself teaches us acceptance and why it’s so important. He says, “Accept one another, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God” (Romans 15:7). The Lord is patient with our faults, and he wants us to learn to be like him. Instead of playing god, pray that your spouse would listen to and obey God in the areas God (not you) wants changed.

2. Remember you have faults too. It’s often our pride and perfectionist tendencies that make us so impatient with the flaws of other human beings. We say things like, “I can’t believe you did that.” Or “How could you be so stupid”. We seem surprised when our spouse acts imperfectly, stupidly, or differently, as if somehow he isn’t ever suppose to do such a thing. Humility helps us accept our spouses’ shortcomings because we’re well aware of our own. We know that sometimes we too can be difficult to love and live with graciously. The apostle Paul encourages us to “be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:2).

3. Focus on your mates good qualities. I often tell my clients who feel disgruntled in their marriage; no one gets all 52 cards in the deck. Every spouse has shortcomings, faults, and weaknesses. When we dwell on them continuously, we will feel angry, disappointed and gypped. If you don’t want to feel those negative emotions, then you will need to intentionally change your focus. Look for your spouse’s good qualities instead of always dwelling on his/her bad ones. Obviously he or she has them or you wouldn’t have fallen in love and married him/her in the first place. Let your mind dwell on these things, as the apostle Paul encourages in Philippians 4:8.

We’ve heard the saying God loves us just as we are, but it’s probably more accurate to say that God loves us in spite of who we are. God’s love is not a reward for good behavior, and it is not deserved or earned. Rather, his love is an extravagant gift. We too can learn to love this way even when it’s hard, because God has so loved us. It is God’s love that empowers us to love our spouse even in his or her imperfections, weaknesses and sins.

In the next few blogs, I’m going to cover other gifts of love that we can give our spouse even when we don’t feel very loving. As we’ve seen in this blog, there are times when our spouse’s behavior is so destructive to the stability of our marriage or our own safety that the gift of acceptance is not appropriate and a different gift of love is called for. In these serious situations, we may need to love our spouse enough to give him/her the gift of truth and/or the gift of consequences. I’ll cover these more in the following weeks.

Note: The gifts of love are explained in greater detail in Chapter 9 of my book, How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong. WaterBrook (2001)

7 Comments

  1. Anonymous on November 1, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    I feel for this woman deeply, for I too am repulsed by smoking (not smokers !).   My case is a little different from hers in that my husband directly deceived me when we were getting to know one another. He claimed he had "in his former life" been a smoker but gave it up at the time of his conversion two years before we met . I believed his testimony of dramatic "transformation and deliverence."  Didn't have any reason not to.  It is part of what attracted me to him. What I observed in him gave me every reason to believe  his former choices were indeed a thing of the past and that we shared the same spiritual values, convictions, and goals…We dated over a year. Then, once married, low and behold I discovered cigarettes one night and the smell of them on his breath.  I was shocked and devistated…  He explained it away and I accepted it as a little slip…   Fast forward 25 yrs….  It took many years of more painful moments and  sorrowful discoveries just like this one to finally come to the realization that my husband was actually living a double life – one that pretended  to be a devoted Christian to onlookers from the outside, the other, an emotionally destructive man comfortable being calloused and manipulative toward me.   Years of living this life (which I  eventually discoverd to not only involve resumed smoking and drinking but also pornography) encouraged more and more in him the development of a cold, calloused heart and full-blown attitude of entitlement .. To this day, there is no empathy or remorse on his part for having deceived me.

    From what I think I've come to know you believe, Leslie, I'm thinking this is not exactly what you had in mind when speaking to accepting faults.  I don't believe you are advocating acceptance of  deception, manipulation, and calloused indifference.
    I love all your books and writings and look forward each week with great anticipation to your weekly blogs.  They have all ministered to me deeply these last few years and have been a source of both much comfort as well as equipping knowledge on how to navigate emotionally unsafe relationships. But in all honesty and with utmost respect, may I say I am somewhat surprised by  your general take on the issue of smoking – in that you compare it to little annoyances like messiness or leaving up toilet seats.  To me, smoking is a bit more than a petty annoyance.   In my view, it falls more in line with choices like gambling, profanity, increasing use of alcohol, misleading business practices, etc… in other words choices that introduce spiritual confusion because they are seen as products of the flesh rather than of the Spirit and thus they deeply undermine the couple's spiritual unity which then affects the overall intimacy of the relationship… This disunity, in my case, affected our ability to be a team before the children. Our sons now have been left with many confusions, mixed messages, and negative influences including the view it is OK for husbands to show disregard for their wife's convictions or perspective.

    Unlike the little inconveniences brought about by dirty socks left on the floor, these kinds of choices seem to me to fall into a more serious category – a values category – one that defines the character of the family unit … and represents actions which hold potential for harm. 
    Should we really quietly accept these? While in agreement we should not try to be our spouse's Holy Spirit, I am not sure that means walking on the opposite end of the spectrum either…

    Hoping you will clarify a little more in the coming weeks. Thanks for all you do, Leslie.

    -A faithful reader and supporter.

    • Grace on March 12, 2022 at 10:31 am

      I feel your, hurt, pain, & frustrations.
      However lets not amplified a Sin.

      James 4:17
      Romans 6:23
      Romans 3:23
      1John 1:8-10
      Mark 7:20-23
      Galatians 5:19-21 & over 100 scriptures on forgiving sin…

      My husband also jumped into “my ring of perfection”!?
      I’m working on my self, a sin at a time. I have placed the frustrated wife on the shelf today!!

      Acceptance, obedient to God…..He forgives me…I must forgive my husband with his smoking (& I’m
      Buying them); that’s another acceptance on my part,
      Gods Blessing on forgiveness!!

    • Thursday on August 11, 2022 at 3:38 am

      I agree with you. I feel I personally do need to work on acceptance but my husband of three years started smoking again and lied about it and continues to avoid acknowledging it. He was almost two years “sober”. And now I don’t feel I trust him or can be intimate with him. Smoking repulses me. Not to mention it’s a known cancer causing substance so I’m witnessing him self-harm (or not because he hides it so how do I know if he’s had one while on a work trip or when I’m not around?). If a person was going to shoot heroin would you let them and just accept it? I’m so sorry that cigarettes are main streamed and legal when we KNOW the harm, even second hand, causes. Why should I kiss someone who’s mouth smells nasty and who lies to me to my face? What about HIS changes HE Needs to make? I’ve seen him pass multiple opportunities at the alter up and he won’t look me in the eye. I hate the devil so much. I told him when we got married I was allergic to smoking. It closes my throat and I get sick for a week or longer. He rags on me for spending, one day because I had bought two juices ( not joking) and now he has a new job traveling and smokes. I will not raise a family around lies and allow self harm to prevail. We definitely need marriage counseling but we need personal counseling too.

  2. Leslie on November 1, 2011 at 9:15 pm

    Thanks for your comments. You know if you've been following this blog for any time that I am strong supporter of healthy relationships and speaking up against issues such as manipulation, deceit and chronic indifference that break relationships apart.

    I specifically chose the issue of smoking – because it is a tougher issue for many people to accept and one that is controversial but honestly,this specific issue has come up in several of my marriage counseling cases.

    I agree wholeheartedly with you that repeated and chronic deceit is a deal breaker in marriage. Trust is broken and you do not know who the person is who you are married to. However I do believe that all of us struggle with things in our lives that we're not ready or able to change right now that may be unhealthy (like smoking or being overweight) that our spouse can choose to graciously accept (not like, but perhaps tolerate without resentment and repeated nagging).

    But as I said in the blog, acceptance is a gift. But let me ask you, what is the alternative? Is it to end a marriage because of a habit that you can't/won't accept? Or not end your marriage but make your marriage relationship more misrable because you are constantly trying to get your spouse to change somthing he or she is not willing, ready, or able to tackle yet? To me, the gift of acceptance is a better choice in many (not all) instances.

    But in my next few blogs I will talk about some of the other gifts, such as the gift of truth (speaking in love) and the gift of consequences (boundaries etc) that can also help wake our spouse up and be more willing to change destructive ways.

  3. God Still Loves Me on November 2, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    Thank you for another great article!

    This was a good reminder on dealing with annoyances I have in respect to my elderly mother living with us. Some things she continues to do that annoy me are mostly bad habits she developed and practiced over many, many years. To have peace, it is necessary for me to lower my standards and expectations and accept things. So sometimes I have to speak firmly out loud to myself and say, "JUST LET IT GO!" Something about hearing the words "just let it go" have more effect on me than just wishing or thinking them. Works for me!

  4. Shala Ohms on November 24, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    It is important for couples to accept their flaws and weaknesses to make their relationship last a lifetime. So if your husband still smokes, just accept it and love him for who he is. =)

  5. Grace on March 12, 2022 at 10:32 am

    I feel your, hurt, pain, & frustrations.
    However lets not amplified a Sin.

    James 4:17
    Romans 6:23
    Romans 3:23
    1John 1:8-10
    Mark 7:20-23
    Galatians 5:19-21 & over 100 scriptures on forgiving sin…

    My husband also jumped into “my ring of perfection”!?
    I’m working on my self, a sin at a time. I have placed the frustrated wife on the shelf today!!

    Acceptance, obedient to God…..He forgives me…I must forgive my husband with his smoking (& I’m
    Buying them); that’s another acceptance on my part,
    Gods Blessing on forgiveness!!

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