Question: “What if our marriage never changes, what if the bad things he’s doing aren’t just a phase, like people keep telling me?”

There was a period of a few months when I lived in the most emotionally uncomfortable place I’d ever been. I had woken up fully to my reality: my marriage was hard and not getting better. But I had just asked for help with one final plea and the team of people that surrounded us (so grateful for them) needed to see what I was seeing for themselves. This meant, I had to keep living in this deep pain, knowingly, while they surveyed the situation…like, for months. It was one thing to live in when I didn’t realize it was as bad as it was, when I thought our normal was everyone’s normal, but to do so while being completely aware of the dysfunction was one of the most emotionally tenuous stretches of my life.

Thankfully, the people surrounding me knew what they were looking for: they were looking for heart change and behavior change, not just the right words, from both of us.  Most of my wisdom on this subject comes from Henry Cloud’s amazing book entitled Necessary Endings. This book gave me the tools to know what I should be looking for, along with the courage to hold on long enough for time to pass and truth to reveal itself.

“Look at the past behavior in some areas that count: promises, commitments, and responsibility, and then seeing what the track record has been. That is important because the best predictor of the future is the past. What he has done in the past will be what he does in the future, unless there has been some big change.  When you ask yourself if you should have hope for this person to get better, the first diagnostic is to see what has been happening up to this point. Unless something changes, that is exactly what you can expect to happen in the future. The past does not lie. Of course, you might immediately ask, “Can’t someone do better than their past?” Of course!  If that were not true, we would all be hopeless. But the key is this: There had better be good reason to believe that someone is going to do better. Without any new information or actions, though, the past is the best predictor of the future.

Let’s say, for instance, that your spouse has a drug problem.  You’ve talked about it with him until you’re blue in the face.  He has told you a hundred times that he’s going to quit, or he’s even told you that he doesn’t have a problem and you’re being overdramatic.  He may have even had pills in his hand and looked you in the eye and told you that he wasn’t using.  But then let’s say one time, for whatever reason, he says he’s going to get help.  You are hopeful, though he’s said this before.  But you want to believe him (more than likely because a part of you still loves a part of him).  So he asks for three months to get his act together.  What do you look for during this time?

Initiative. Is he setting up treatment or counseling or accountability, or is he expecting you to do it, or just dragging his feet and not doing it at all?  True change absolutely must come from within himself. He must want it or it’s either not going to happen or not going to last.

Changes. Has the drug-using (or drinking or abuse or infidelity or whatever) stopped? Or is he still blatantly doing what he was doing before?

Truth. Is he telling you the truth? Has he been caught in any lies?

Openness. This one is key. Is he humble enough to understand that you have the right to ask him anything you need to ask him, and is he answering non-defensively?  If your desire is that, for example, every night he comes home, you want him to empty his pockets in front of you, or take a breathalyzer, or show you his cell phone, and he says no, then he’s not getting it.  If you ask him each night where he’s been during the day, and after a week, he says something like, “Don’t you trust me yet?”, he’s not there.  A truly repentant person who has betrayed you will understand that rebuilding deep trust takes time. The man who is truly changing will do anything to get you back, including the sometimes humiliating thing of answering uncomfortable questions, if it will make you feel better.

I’m just barely scratching the surface here. Begin with prayer…ask the Holy Spirit to make you smarter than you are, to help you know things you do not know, to reveal secret things to you. I remember one day begging Jesus to help me find just one receipt (“Just one receipt, Jesus, please…” I pleaded on repeat for an hour) to prove what I believed to be true (and to prove to our team of counselors what I believed to be true), and I found one.

I don’t think God wants us to be walking around clueless, constantly being deceived.  He wants to give us clear minds and wisdom.  This will all take time, but if you are walking with God, and you’ve got your emotional eyes wide open, I believe you can know one way or the other for certain if the person in your life is really changing for the better.

Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. Jeremiah 33:3

If this post helped you, I would encourage you to check out “Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage”, found here.