The Secret to Changing Your Spouse

Lynn was weary of Tom’s chronic lateness in coming home from work. Because he owned his own business, he was often delayed at work. It seemed like such a little thing, but as time passed, Tom’s tardiness became a big problem. Lynn would arrange her day to have dinner and the kids ready on time, and she wanted Tom to be home on time as well.

Reminding, nagging, and cajoling Tom had been ineffective. Tom would either defend himself by saying, “You don’t appreciate the work I have to do to put food on the table,” or he would simply deny the problem altogether by saying, “It doesn’t happen that often; you’re overreacting.” Lynn ran out of strategies.

Finally, after thinking through the problem with some wise women friends, Lynn came up with a two-point plan. One night, as the couple climbed into bed, she told Tom, “Sweetheart, I want to apologize to you for my crummy attitude about dinnertime.” Tom almost fell out of bed. He was eager to hear her apology.

“I’ve been a complaining griper whenever you get home,” Lynn continued. “You probably feel you have to toss a few pounds of raw meat in the front door before it’s safe to enter. No wonder you’re late. Who would want to put up with that?”

“You’re right. I really don’t look forward to your resentment,” Tom responded, “and I’m sure it makes me avoid you. The other day, I was going to be ten minutes late. When I thought about facing your wrath, I figured I might as well make it thirty minutes, since I knew you’d be angry anyway. So, I ran few errands on the way home.”

Lynn nodded. “I’m going to try to be less angry, and more caring and approachable, even when you’re late. I may not do it well, and I’ll need your help here, but I really don’t want to be a shrew. Also, it’s not just my attitude that I’ll be changing. My actions will be changing, too. I love you, and I want you to be with me and the kids for dinner. But, if you can’t get here on time, I will have your dinner put away in the fridge. You can reheat it yourself whenever you get in.”

Tom didn’t like this last part. “Lynn, you know I hate to make my own dinner! After a ten-hour day, I want to sit down to a prepared meal.”

“I know you do, and I want that for you, too. But it won’t happen until you can rearrange things to get here when the rest of us eat.”

The next few days Tom ate a lot of microwaved dinners from Tupperware containers. Finally, he structured the end of his day to get home on time, and Lynn’s important family time became a reality. When Lynn asked Tom why he had changed, he said, “I guess it was your two-point plan. First, you were a lot nicer to me. I felt more like coming home. And second, I just hate reheating dinner.”

Lynn solved a small but chronic marriage problem by making an important shift in her attitude. She stopped trying to change Tom, and she started making changes in herself. Lynn moved from seeing the problem as Tom’s lateness to seeing it as her unhappiness with Tom’s lateness. This opened the door to things she could control. When you cease to blame your spouse and own the problem as yours, you are then empowered to make changes to solve your problem.

To do this, Lynn set a couple of limits on herself. First, she reined in her impulse to attack Tom for his tardiness. This was not easy, as she was clearly right and he was clearly wrong. She would have been justified in confronting him at every infraction.

But, she placed a boundary on her anger, since it wasn’t solving the problem. Second, Lynn set a limit on her enabling of Tom. She realized that she was making it easier for him to be irresponsible, so she said no to her desire to protect him from his dreaded dinner reheating. These two changes made a difference for both partners.

You cannot make your spouse grow up—that is between him and God. But, you can make it easier for him to experience the love and limits he needs. When he faces the consequences of his immaturity, he stands a better chance of changing than if he faces your nagging and hounding. Become truthful, not controlling.


If your marriage is struggling or you want to make a great marriage even better, Boundaries in Marriage has the answers. Learn how to:

  • Transform your relationship into a haven of mutual love, caring, and appreciation.
  • Protect your marriage from intruders, whether parents, affairs, or addictions.
  • Handle conflict effectively without losing your voice in the relationship.
  • Develop a sense of closeness and respect that you’ve never felt before.

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  1. Maria says

    I like the stories you post in Boundaries. During my last marriage I faced this situation throughout my marriage, and quite frankly my husband did not care to call to tell me he was late, he would sometimes eat before coming home late, or he simply did not care and just heated his food whenever he came, it did not face him. As a result we only ate dinner as family once or twice a week, primarily on the weekend!

  2. Mariette says

    What if being truthful is the problem? I’ve had to set up some serious boundaries within myself – yet every time I put a boundary in place, a new issue rears its ugly head… Putting food in the fridge, and containing my irritation is regarded as emotional abuse in my house.

    I suppose growing up really is a matter between one self and God.

  3. Aria says


    Labeling someone else’s healthy boundaries as abuse is a power grab/controlling behavior. If you are clear, truthful, positive and gracious, that is not abuse. Nor is it abuse to refuse to accept that label. It might be worth standing by your actions, saying that you don’t think you’re being abusive, just trying to grow into good boundaries, and offering to talk the issue through with a counselor and your spouse if they want to pursue that line of labeling any further. I should note that you need to not deny that you are hurt or irritated when you choose to be gracious. “Of course I am hurt, and I’m choosing to act like this. My feelings are my own and my actions are just about all I can control, so I am trying to make positive choices for me/us in what is a hard situation for me. I’m not putting your food in the fridge because I’m hurt, I’m doing that because you chose to miss dinner” is a hard thing to say, but worth it.

  4. tricia says

    love this. need to find ways to do this in so many areas of my life. i have no boundaries and feel as if i’m a constant doormat……..i fear of my own making. this was perfect and perfectly timed, thank you Jesus.

  5. Linda says

    When we change our script, the other players have to change theirs, too.

    The other thing is that people don’t like boundaries. When we set them, other people don’t like it. So be aware of that. I try not to let it stop me, but I know this going in. I figure if I set the boundary and leave it at that, I’ve done my part. If the other person wants to whine and rail about it, that’s their choice. Thing is, they will eventually come around. And if they don’t, I’ve taken care of my self and that’s all I can really do.

  6. Jen Schretter says

    This has been a situation in our home for many years. I enacted the same strategy a very long time ago, and he still comes home late and just reheats his dinner. ): I have just had to let go of this in order for our marriage to work. It’s not ideal but it is the reality. Just want folks to be prepared for the fact that boundaries don’t always achieve the desired result.

  7. Ana says

    Boundaries are good especially in marriage. Some people think that boundaries are for children not adults. My problem is with ex’s. My husband doesn’t think that keeping a friendship with an ex is any harm in that. Well the ex still has feelings for him. My husband thinks I am being jealous of their relationship. They have three children together but never married. I don’t know why he never married her. She acts like they are still together. In the story is just about a husband coming late to dinner but how do you set boundaries and how do you deal with a husband that thinks you are jealous.

  8. B says

    How do you set boundaries with a new husband that is jealous of your 2 grown children, 20 and 22 that are on their own and i rarely see and your 17 year old that lives with you? He is very insecure and worries something will take me away from him. He wants to start a new family with me but views any interaction with my older kids as a threat to him. As though I will leave at the first phone call o get that they need me… Although in the 7 months we’ve been married I’ve seen them only a few times. He said he has a hard time sharing me and that in order to have a family with him I have to let go of them more, but I hardly see them as it is. I love him and I keep trying to reassure him and pray for healing for us both. He gets angry and says mean things about my kids and it hurts me. He not picks me and them to death, yet says he never wants to lose me. He was so much fun when we were dating but has since become very clingy. I don’t know how to handle this. I hadn’t been married for 15 years waiting for the right man and I understand I can only be responsible for my own behavior and my own relationship with God.

  9. Frustrated and Desperate says

    The husband needing to re-heat his dinner if he is chronically home late is an easy consequence to enforce. The husband leaving the home for having an ongoing affair is also a given. But what about for tougher situations such as this:

    My creative husband for the past five plus years has been working on an invention (as of yet not forthcoming) and in the meantime takes random, sporadic contract work to make a few bucks here and there, but not enough to support a family. He refuses to discuss let alone obtain employment that is consistent in order to meet our family’s basic necessities of life such as providing a roof over our heads and paying utilities. He does provide food and will pay for the phone bill and internet for his business and my online schooling. I am left to work full time and must carry his load in order to have a home to live in. The home is even in my name, as he couldn’t provide one. I am more than happy to help ease his burden, but not carry his load like the book describes.

    So what is an appropriate consequence I could enforce for his refusal to provide adequately? Separation? No success kindly asking him for money. Can’t squeeze blood from a turnip. Or should I just allow the electricity to be turned off? Need help. Don’t want to be an enabler, but don’t want to lose my marriage. Frustrated and desperate and time seems to be running out. We’re middle aged!

    • says

      The word of God says; “If a man don’t work he does not deserve to eat”
      Thessalonians 3:10

      I commend you for owning you home and its in your name! thats wisdom.
      get on your face and PRAY!! sounds like he does not know what the bible says about a man not working?

      1Timothey 5:8 says…. “But if any man does not provide not for his own and specially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” I will be lifting you both up in prayer. Be encouraged

  10. Nikole says

    I have this book but I haven’t read it in years. I need to pick it up again. I’ve been growing more and more frustrated with my husband’s lack of follow-through. Knowing I can only control my response, I tend to not say anything. Last night, I came home from work and things were half done: Christmas lights taken off the deck, but left on the couch. Laundry brought upstairs, but dumped all over the bed. Our daughter picked up from school, but the backpack still in the car at bed time. I waited for three hours and then commented on the lights on the couch. After putting our daughter to bed, I went to get the lights and take them to the garage while getting the backpack, and noticed they were gone. His response was he threw them downstairs because he got yelled at. I’m very unsure how to put boundaries in place when things like this just don’t bother him.

  11. Cheryl says

    I don’t think it was necessary for the wife in this story to out herself down, call herself a shrew, etc. That doesn’t help. But I do get the point.

  12. SEA says

    To get some people to change the only thing that works is separating or threat of separation. But be sure you are actually ready to leave the relationship before you offer this as a consequence. And, repent of any idols in your life. I found that when I repented of making my marriage the idol in my life, keeping my husband was no longer more important than the life God had created me to live. I told my husband I loved him but lots of change would have to happen and lots of counseling or I was finished. True you can only change yourself. I did that repeatedly for 40 years -changed everything about myself in order to appease his life work desires etc.- After his revelation of affairs (the result of my past changing to appease and never being able to get him to grow up) I decided to change in a different way and restore myself. Facing the idea of life alone and divorce is the most important change that I made in myself. Only then was I able to tell him truthfully how unhappy I was and that he had to grow and change his behavior or I was finished. It’s amazing how his behavior change has led to heart change in him. And I can love him for the good in him now. And even more amazing the root of his abusiveness has been uncovered as traumatic events in his “perfect” childhood. Deceit of oneself is a terrible thing.

  13. Sharon says

    I am not married but I had lived with a man for 3 years . 2014 to 2017. He had a baby mother that he had initially told me that he had to stay with his son on his two day off and with his mom on a Friday evening. No sleep overs with his baby mom. Ad he said they were not together anymore even before the birth of his son. So I asked if he had tried after
    He said yes but it is the same as before. All of a sudden sleep over starts. The excuse that he gives is that no one is thee to take care of his son. Things got worse in September 2017 sleeping over becomes all week into 2 weeks. November December it got even worse. Fell sick. Spoke with my sister abroad. He called him and advice him to come home and have a discussion with me. I stead he came and moved all his things. Not even a note to say goodbye. I really loved him. I really want him back. We had plans from the beginning marriage house etc. I put my all in this relationship to make it work.

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