Jan 162018 8 Responses

If He’s a Zero, You Can’t Change Him

A healthy relationship is a simple multiplication problem. In good relationships, 1×1=1. While there are imperfections in the equation, this math problem is a strong representation of a healthy connection. Each person must bring the fullness of who they are into the equation. Without the totality of each of them, the outcome would be greatly changed.

Relationships are about multiplication, not addition. One man and one woman join together and become a new one while still maintaining the full identity of their individual oneness. 1×1=1. But a difficulty arises when we bring our whole 1 into the relationship and the other does not. Still desiring a good relationship, we attempt to make up for them. Unfortunately, relationships aren’t about addition.

If a good connection was simple addition, then 1+0=1. I would be totally in control of the outcome of the relationship. No matter what my partner did, I could make up for it. 2+(-1)=1 or 3+(-2)=1. The less they put into the relationship, the more I could add in order to ensure a healthy connection.

But it doesn’t work that way. (See: Your Spouse Matters–Choose Wisely)

Marriage is multiplication. No matter how much I change, improve, or work, if my spouse is a 0, my relationship will be a 0 as well.




Routinely, people, primarily women, will come to my office to discuss a broken relationship. He’s not interested. He does enough to keep them around, but he won’t fully commit. The relationship is struggling and she’s afraid it might end. Her plan is to get better. She tries to figure out what he wants and does everything in her power to provide it for him. Her hope is to salvage the connection. But it’s a pursuit that will not work. No matter how much she changes, she can’t change him.

If he’s a 0, the relationship will be a 0 as well. And there is nothing you can do about it. You can pray, hope, plead, and do everything in your power to provide a climate where he can change, but you can’t change him. Only he can choose to change. And more importantly, you can’t make up for whatever he refuses to do for the relationship. No matter how great you become, 10×0 is still 0.

Continually changing in order to keep a broken relationship is an endless treadmill. No matter what you do, they won’t do what is necessary to make the relationship healthy. You will continue to give, they will continue to take, and the relationship will stay in its exact spot. It doesn’t improve because the partner responds to your increased effort by giving even less. Why? Because they like where the relationship is. If they didn’t, they would do something about it.

Ironically, the more effort you make to improve things, the less effort they will give in order to keep things the same. They get what they want with even less effort while you wear yourself out for things to end up exactly where they’ve been.

It doesn’t start that way, but as a dating relationship turns serious, there comes a point where our options are binary. We are either in or we are out. We are either a 1 or a 0. When two people are both in (1), then the potential for them is endless. But for as long as one of them is still holding out (0), the relationship is certain to be a 0. (See: Five Stupid Ideas Men Have About Marriage)

If He (or She) Is a Zero

If the one you love is a 0, you don’t have many options.

1. Avoid denial. We want the relationship to work. We love the other person and we likely love the idea of being in love, so it’s easy to deceive ourselves. Find a friend or mentor who can speak truth into your life. Denial isn’t healthy in the long run.

2. Let them own it. There comes a moment in which the relationship cannot move forward unless both parties are willing to deepen their commitment. Give them that chance. Communicate your desire and allow them to choose to move forward or not. But recognize it’s their decision. There isn’t a moral right or wrong. They are free, like you, to be in a relationship with whomever they wish. Let them choose and honor their choice.

3. Be willing to walk away. Some relationships don’t make it. It’s not always easy to tell why. If you want a meaningful, life-long commitment to another person, you have to be willing to walk away from relationships that don’t meet that standard. For as long as you hang on to something less than what you want, you are guaranteed never to get what you desire.

Sometimes I wish relationships were addition. If that was the case, we would be fully in control of the outcomes. However, they aren’t and we aren’t. A healthy connection is like a multiplication problem. We control us, they control them, and together we determine the outcome.


8 Responses to If He’s a Zero, You Can’t Change Him
  1. Ashley Reply

    This is a terrific post. I’ve heard so much advice that says “if you just work on yourself, your marriage will be better,” and it’s just sickening after a while!

  2. Dawn Reply

    I left my marriage after 25 years because was so unhappy after giving my all and getting nowhere and even after I left my husband refused to take any responsibility for the outcome. It’s been hard but the right thing for my overall wellbeing. This post is very honest and refreshing to read, thankyou.

  3. Stephen Reply

    Wow this hits home.

    How often have I heard, “You work on you, I’ll work on me,” instead of working on our problems together. The tough part would be walking away though.

  4. Cathy Reply

    What if you don’t want a divorce but you know deep down you will never have the intimacy and connection you need to feel valued. 25 years of emotional abuse has left you scarred and weary. 3 years separated, the last year couples counseling 3 times a month…. thousands of dollars and really just a yard closer to behaviors that MAY show a less self centered heart. God hates divorce. Nobody cheated. I have felt God has used me to break the sins of the father… I see my daughters stronger now as I have picked up my mat to choose healthy boundaries and to get WELL. They have followed suit. They see the difference as a result of calling out poor behaviors and changing how I respond. Being firm, not caving and knowing that God will never leave me or forsake me. I want victory through all of these ashes. I’m waiting for the beauty in all of this!

    • Ashley Reply

      I know you weren’t asking me! But just because I can I’d like to chime in and say that it sounds like you certainly shouldn’t go back to him. You don’t have to divorce him to remain separated. And if he chooses to divorce you, then that’s on him.

    • Jo Reply

      Malachi 2:16 does say that God hates divorce. Look also at Malachi 2:14 which says, “…the Lord has been witness between you and the wife of your youth, with whom you have dealt treacherously; yet she is your companion and your wife by covenant.” Check out the rest of the verses in that section of Malachi. God does hate divorce, but he also hates it when marriage partners betray their partners and harm them. Perhaps the cheating is when your partner abandons the vows in other ways than unfaithfulness, such as ongoing abuse. Your final choice about your marriage is between you and God. You have much to consider and hard choices to make. I too have this kind of choice to make. Look up author and therapist Leslie Vernick online. She does adds much other Biblical information to think about in this kind of situation.

      • Kim Reply

        Thank you Jo for your post on Malachi. I have struggled with the God hates divorce verse…I will now read the rest. In my short 4 year marriage i have dealt with pain med addiction, now alcohol and all the while domestic violence and abuse. I have stayed because God hates divorce. Perhaps your comment has just helped set me free.

        • Jo Reply

          A wise Christian counselor has written that our first responsibility is to be available to serve God. If your spouse expects you to serve him/her above all, then you need to take corrective action. If your spouse’s behavior prevents you from serving God, then leaving the relationship may be necessary. Abuse takes away so much that you cannot be available to God or your chilren. Especially consider the harm done to your children growing up in an abusive home. I am so sad that my daughter has. I knew nothing about psychological/ emotional abuse until about 5 years ago.

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