Can Marriage Change Difficult People?

Date: February 7, 2023

Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness. 2 Corinthians 6:14

Do you ever ask yourself, “Why do people end up marrying jerks?” I’m talking about a situation where a person has married someone who is totally undeserving of the other, someone who treats the other person disrespectfully, or is in no way an equal. It happens. Marry in haste and repent in leisure, goes the old saying.

I’m not talking about someone who is beautiful or handsome who marries a person who would never win a beauty pageant! That is not the issue. Beauty is as beauty does. Character and integrity are valuable qualities which go far beyond external appearance.

I’m thinking of the man who marries an alcoholic who can’t or won’t stop drinking, or the girl who marries a boyfriend who abuses her physically or emotionally. I’m thinking of the kind of a situation where kindness and love are met only with abuse and scorn. Individuals such as these marry, thinking that all of this will change after they are married. True–those kinds of marriages should never happen. But they do happen, and situations develop which are difficult to live with.

Sometimes people marry on the spur of the moment, not realistically assessing the character or background of the other. Sometimes people marry thinking that they can later change the other person. While it is true that research has proved that love is a powerful factor which can motivate a person to change his behavior, it is also true that people often end up losers when they think that the other will change after marriage. Only God’s Holy Spirit working in our lives really changes behavior. At other times, people marry beneath themselves because their self-image is so poor that they think they don’t deserve better. And, of course, some marry poorly thinking that they may never have another chance.

Regardless of why people marry, the fact remains that marriage doesn’t change people; it only brings out more of whatever is within. Allow me to put it the way that I often do when I counsel a couple before marriage. I tell them, “As now, so then but more so!” And what does that mean?

“As now”–how things are before marriage.

“So then”–that’s how they will be after you marry.

“But more so”–whatever a person is like now, he or she will only be more of that, no matter what it is. I’m thinking of the young woman who was engaged to be married. Wistfully she said, “I wish we could pray together, but my fiancée doesn’t like to pray out loud.” Marriage doesn’t change that.

If a person very reluctantly goes to church before marriage, he will go more reluctantly afterwards. If a person treats another with disrespect or abuse prior to a marriage, after the wedding that abuse will increase.

Of course, this truth works both ways. When a person is loving or kind before marriage, he or she will only show more of that kindness and care afterwards. Real love brings out the best in the one who shows care and thoughtfulness before marriage.

What can you do to avoid marrying a jerk? Realistically assess what you see now–not what you hope to see later. Look at the family of the one you are thinking of marrying. Ask, “Would I like to be treated as his dad treats his mother?” Realize heredity is a powerful force which isn’t negated by romance and marriage. And finally, perhaps more important than anything else, take your time asking God to clearly show you His will and to confirm–either negatively or positively–the tremendously important step you are about to take.   He will.

Resource reading: Colossians 3:5-14