Richard Paul Evans is the No. 1 New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of more than 35 novels. He has received numerous awards for his books, as well as his humanitarian work to help abused and neglected children and teens.
Yet none of this helped him when his marriage began falling apart. The tension between Richard and his wife Keri had increased over time, growing steadily worse each year. Eventually, they were fighting so often that a peaceful relationship seemed virtually unattainable.
One day after another big fight over the phone, Richard had reached his limit. Overcome with confusion and pain, he found himself shouting at God for answers. He felt that he and his wife were both good people, and he couldn’t understand why they couldn’t get along. “Why had I married someone so different than me?” he writes. “Why wouldn’t she change?”
The response that welled up in his spirit was this: You can’t change her—you can only change yourself.
A commitment to change
After that, Richard’s outlook shifted. He began praying that God would change him, and he made a commitment to begin each day by asking his wife a simple question: “How can I make your day better?”
The first morning, Keri reacted with irritation, saying, “You want to do something? Go clean the kitchen.” So he did.
The next day, her eyes narrowed and she responded, “Clean the garage.” He was tempted to get angry, but instead spent two hours cleaning the garage.
When he asked the question on the third morning, she said, “You can’t do anything. Please stop saying that. Why are you doing this?”
He told her about the commitment he had made and explained that he did it because he cared about her and their marriage.
The walls began to crumble
Sometime during the second week, Keri broke down crying when Richard asked his daily question. She began to confess her part in the breakdown of their marriage and said she didn’t understand why Richard stayed with her. He reassured her that he loved her and was trying to show her how much she meant to him.
Richard stayed true to his commitment, and things began to change. Fights happened less and less often, and Keri began asking him how she could better meet his needs. “The walls between us fell,” he writes.
Richard and Keri have now been married for more than 30 years. He says they still have problems and still fight occasionally … “but the nature of our fights changed. We’d deprived them of oxygen. We just didn’t have it in us to hurt each other anymore.”
Before, their differences had driven them apart. But now, Richard reports, “Many of our differences have become strengths, and the others really don’t matter.”
What it means to love someone
He describes what he has come to understand about the nature of love. “Happily-ever-after doesn’t come from desire—at least not the kind portrayed in most pulp romances. Real love is not to desire a person, but to truly desire their happiness—sometimes, even, at the expense of our own happiness.”
But it’s not all duty and sacrifice, he explains. “I not only love my wife, I like her. I like being with her. And I need her. We’ve learned how to take care of each other and, more importantly, we’ve gained the desire to do so.”
Of course, every couple is different. And every hurting marriage is unique. Richard’s approach may not work for every struggling couple, but in many cases, it is a great place to start.
As he learned, we cannot change the other person; we can only change ourselves. And when we make a commitment to change our own negative speech or behavior, we create a safe environment for the other person to let their guard down.
“How can I make your day better?” It’s just a simple question, a kind gesture. But it just goes to show that sometimes, one simple gesture can change the course of a marriage.
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