Greg and I celebrated our fiftieth anniversary this year. After being married that long, we both realize that we aren’t the same people we were initially. Greg often says, “I’ve been married to five women, a different one each decade—and all have been Cathe!”

Greg’s humor always makes me laugh, but he makes a wise point. We have a wonderful marriage, but truth be told, it hasn’t always been smooth sailing. Like many couples, we came into marriage with our own personal expectations. At times we tried to change each other to fit our ideal, which led to disappointment when we came up short.

When it comes to marriage, nobody arrives ready. For a healthy marriage to grow, both people need to be committed to meet the other’s needs and that requires change. It isn’t easy, but through the years, here are five lessons I’ve learned that have helped me.


Check your heart. 

A good starting point is to examine my motives for wanting my husband to change. It’s good to hit pause and look for the “log in my own eye” before trying to “remove the speck out of his” (Matthew 7:3-5).

I need to ask the Holy Spirit to show me what fuels my desire to change him by examining my own heart through the light of God’s Word. So often, God will give me a filter to run things through before I go to Greg with an issue.


Choose a good time.

 If an issue needs to be addressed, Greg and I make the effort to wisely decide when to talk through the matter. We’ve learned not to attempt that conversation when we’re tired, in a hurry, in the heat of the moment…or hungry!

Save that important conversation for a time when emotions aren’t raging or tempers are frayed. Choose a better time to sit together and talk it through. Don’t avoid difficult conversations but step back and give space to think before you speak.


Choose your battles.

I will admit that I tend to be nitpicky about certain things that matter to me. I’m sure Greg can be as well—but the worst thing I can do is nag. That never helps! Neither does the silent treatment, verbal manipulation, or complaining.

After praying about the issue, calmly state what you need to say. Don’t expect your partner to read your mind. And then, for goodness sake, be willing to negotiate. Chances are, your partner has issues with you that they would like to see change. So show the same grace that you want to receive.


Allow for differences.

Greg’s family life was marked by multiple divorces and break-ups. My parents stayed married for a lifetime and loved each other—not perfectly—but they provided a very stable home life for us. In our family, we girls would passionately express ourselves—loudly! But we understood that no matter what, we were staying together.

Greg’s experience was quite different. Getting loud and expressing yourself passionately usually meant someone was leaving. So, it was crucial for us to understand how we communicated. I needed to be sensitive to his upbringing and speak in a way that would be effective for us both.


Pray—first and always.

When prayer is my default response, it keeps me dependent and cooperating with the Holy Spirit in my life and marriage. Greg is God’s man. He belongs first to God and it’s the Holy Spirit’s job to change Greg, not mine!


In the book of Proverbs, there is a grape farmer who neglects his field and it comes to ruin (Proverbs 24:30). Not overnight, but over time. In a similar way, marriage needs constant attention. Neglect in marriage can easily set in, and when it’s allowed to go unchecked things will eventually break down.

Whether you’ve been married for a few months or a few decades, I want to encourage you. Don’t fear change…embrace it. Both in yourself and in your spouse. A good marriage is like a fine wine that improves with age.