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 for themselves what I had been seeing. This meant, I had to keep living in this deep pain, knowingly, while they surveyed the situation…like, for months and months and 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 and abuse 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
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WONDERFUL post and so very, very true! I wish I would have posted these words around my house:
“Without any new information or actions, though, the past is the best predictor of the future.”
I heard countless promises to change many aspects of our marriage; I knew that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior, but didn’t have that whole quote, which gives such valuable additional information about what to look for.
I need to post this ENTIRE post inside my closet door. SO many great reminders!
I too pursued the Holy Spirit to allow me to catch him, where deceit could not cloud the light of truth- where there was no question…and I did. The part about the repentant heart is so very true. Trust His voice. I constantly prayed for discernment and wisdom, and they were given ten fold and faced without fear…this is true love where fear is driven out, truth prevails and He carries us on wings of eagles. I am blessed by the horrible truth of finding out about my husbands relapse into alcoholism. The truth is setting me free from a marriage of lies, anger and manipulation. I can do nothing to change him. I can and do pray, but there is an end. The Lord hates divorce and the pain that is caused, but He does not hate those who are divorced. No one signs up for this…may grace, mercy and love abound in all of our hearts.
Thanks for your wise words, Elisabeth. I shared this on facebook.
“…the courage to hold on long enough for time to pass and truth to reveal itself.” This is a great step of faith, IMO – of releasing the plan to our Lord and trusting Him to reveal truth. Excellent post.
I want to tell you that if you plead with God to reveal what needs to come to light He will reveal it!! I have lost count of the times He has done that for me since this nightmare began! He will be very clear in His answer too! I’m two years divorced, and when I read articles like this one it is confirmation to me that God did indeed deliver me out of that very unhealthy place. It also confirms for me that no change has taken place in my ex-husband’s life and that only God can transform his life. I genuinely want to see my former spouse healed and whole and living a full, productive life. But I’m not God and I can’t make that happen. As long as he denies his problem with porn addiction his path will only get rockier. It’s hard to watch someone you were married to for more than 20 years take such a downward spiral. I praise GOD for His deliverance and His faithfulness to answer my pleas when I was too confused and hurt to look for answers! CLING TO HIM LADIES!!! HE IS FAITHFUL!!
Amen, Amen and Amen!!!!!! Great post Elisabeth…and Yes, God is Faithful to His Word!!!! I, too, affirm Kim;s words of “CLING TO HIM LADIES!!!!! I have found for myself that it may be “going to hell and back”….but may we be known in hell, as strong women in Christ (Eph 6:10) …..
I started reading this. . . and it was ME. . . MY situation.. .MY pain. . . the only difference is I am
going this ALL ALONE! No One knows. . . We have no couples/people to be accountable to. . . .
I could not even finish it. . . I’ll try later. . . .
Peggy, you are NOT alone. I promise you this.
I have three resources to recommend:
Leslie Vernick’s The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, found here: http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0307731189?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creativeASIN=0307731189&linkCode=xm2&tag=eliskleicorc-20
My ebook, Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage, found here: http://www.elisabethklein.com/store
And I moderate a private Facebook group for women who are in difficult Christian marriages. If interested in some support, email me at Elisabeth@elisabethklein.com to let me know.
I really love the part about initiative, changes, truth. and openness. It’s very good advice. I was always an advocate of “MAKE THE MARRIAGE WORK NO MATTER WHAT” but there comes a time when enough is enough. If it’s been months and months or even YEARS AND YEARS and he’s not taking any initiave to make any changes, keeps going behind your back to do the things he shouldn’t, lying about it, and feeling no remorse… there isn’t a healthy relationship anymore and probably never will be until he makes a change. How long do you wait for him to make the change? You have to get out of there and get yourself safe with some peace of mind or you’ll go insane. It’s not healthy! I never had the guts to leave. I was always waiting for him to change for four years. He finally left me. He said he was doing it out of love and I didn’t understand it then but I think I understand it now. If he can’t or won’t change his behavior, the problems will never be resolved and we’ll be forever miserable trying to live together. But if you ask me, the BEST thing he could have done out of love would be to start by taking initiative to change.
The part above by Peggy breaks my heart. I wish you lived nearby, Peggy. I really need a friend to go through this with. I have literally no one either who is also going through what I’m going through and can physically hold me and tell me they understand and feel my pain.
Ask the Holy Spirit to make you smarter than you are….wow, what an excellent prayer!! 🙂
“I had woken up fully to my reality: my marriage was hard and not getting better.”
This is my reality…so thankful for women like Elisabeth and Leslie Vernick who are trying to wake up church leaders that this abuse is happening in churches and to “upstanding Christian families” everywhere!
I left my husband after years of him denying he had a drinking problem. Two years later, he still has a drinking problem. He has not changed. Now I am working with the Lord to heal my heart, soul, head and body.