Question (from Facebook community): “My husband has spent the past ten years hurting me emotionally, lying to me, calling me names, and trying to control me. I am trying to do the right things but it’s so hard when he keeps hurting me. Is there any hope for my husband after all the damage he’s done?”
The short but really hard-for-me-to-write answer is yes, there is hope for your husband.
I have little tolerance for men who treat their wives harshly. But I think I have erected an us vs. them wall in my heart. I have vilified abusers and I need to really work on this, because the husband who calls his wife names is no greater a sinner than anyone else, including me.
I think I am forgetting some major points here:
Every person is only human.
Every person is made in the image of God.
Every person is more than their failures (or successes, for that matter).
Every person is a sinner.
Every person can be saved by grace.
Every person can be forgiven.
Every person can have a second (and third and fourth) chance.
Every person can start over.
Every person can change.
I did something over ten years ago that I’m super ashamed of. My closest circle knows what that thing is as I did a whole lot of humble apologizing while I tried to fix my mistake. I almost never think of that thing anymore, which I’m so grateful for, but it occurred to me that what if that one mistake (albeit big) defined my life? What if I were known, still, as the girl who did such-and-such? I would hate that. I wouldn’t want to leave the house. I wouldn’t have the emotional energy to make better choices. “We cannot survive when our identity is defined by or limited to our worst behavior. Every human must be able to view the self as complex and multidimensional. How can we apologize for something we are, rather than something we did?? (Dr. Harriet Lerner)
Your husband could’ve just finished yelling at you and calling your horrible things. But that thing he just did five minutes ago does not define him. If it did, he would never have the courage to try to change. And it’s because this does not define him, he can change. There ishope. Dr. Lerner goes on to say, “For people to look squarely at their harmful actions and to become genuinely accountable they must have a platform of self-worth to stand on. Only from the vantage point of higher ground can people who commit harm gain perspective. Only from there can they apologize.”
So, what does this mean for you, sweet woman in a difficult marriage? It means three things.
First, you can pray for your husband in really specific ways. You can pray that he realize how much God loves him. You can pray for a heart that is open to his value and to how God sees him. You can pray for a heart that is softened to truth. You can pray that he wake up to the choices he’s making and the damage he’s doing. You can pray that you will begin to see and celebrate when good changes occur.
Secondly, be prepared with a few calming words you can recite silently when you’ve been hurt, or even in the midst of harsh words being flung at you. One of the phrases I used to say over and over again was, “I am precious and honored in your sight…” and that helped me to take those errant thoughts captive and attempt to block the lies from going too deep down into my heart.
And thirdly, you can change how you respond to your husband when he does something that hurts you. Don’t yell back. Don’t call him names back. Walk away if necessary. But here’s what I really want to say: don’t shame him. I know, he just shamed you. I know that an eye for an eye sounds really good right about now. But refrain. You can model for him that there’s hope for him if you don’t keep throwing it back in his face what he’s doing to you. Now, don’t get me wrong: I am NOT saying not to hold him accountable or to never mention what he’s done; I’m saying don’t do so in the moment, when you’re angry and hurt, because those words will never be constructive or heard well. But when you do so, try couching your difficult words between affirmations of his worth. You can partner with hope to possibly bring about change.
If this post helped you, I would encourage you to check out “Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage”, found here.