Next week (April 12) I’m doing a free workshop on “How long do you keep waiting for change, and if changes are happening, how do you know they’re real?” I will be doing two live sessions, one at 12pm ET and one at 7:30pm ET. If you know someone who might benefit from this workshop or you’d like to attend, go to www.leslievernick.com/joinworkshop to register. You must register to attend.
In light of our upcoming workshop, I thought this person’s question would be helpful.
Question: My husband and I have been separated for a month now. He pushed me and I fell against the door jam and bruised my shoulder and arm. He’s been ugly before, but never physical. He says he’s changing, but what should I be looking for before he comes back home? We have children at home so it’s hard not having him here, but it’s easier in that we’re not fighting like we were before. My pastor thinks I shouldn’t wait too long or he may lose heart. My husband says forgiveness means believing him and trying again. What are your thoughts? I’m afraid to have the same cycle repeat and I’m not sure he gets the seriousness of his actions and attitudes.
Answer: First, give yourself some peace and accept that you are incapable of knowing the future. The best you can do today is make the wisest decision based on what you know right now. Two years from now you may have different facts, but today you don’t know those facts. All you know for sure is today and you know yesterday. Your marital history is important because the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. When someone tells you to forget the past and start with a clean slate, that’s nonsense. [Tweet “You can forgive the past but you must not forget.”] Remembering your history helps you be wise in making your next right choice.
Second, sad emotions from your husband don’t necessarily indicate repentance. Instead, they usually represent pain. Either the pain he is in or the pain he fears because of the consequences he’s experiencing. Sorrow isn’t repentance although it does trigger your compassion. Therefore please be wise when your spouse is crying and pleading for a second (or tenth) chance. Ask yourself what specific changes has he made in his actions and attitudes and are these changes consistent over time? In other words, is he building a new history with you of kindness, respect for your no and your boundaries? Or are you seeing his charm kicking into high gear to win you back? The only way you’ll know that is with time and testing.
Time means that you will give yourself enough time to watch what he does with his free time, his money, his children, his treatment of you, and his spiritual life. One month is not enough time to see a new pattern in these things. During this separation don’t ask him to go to counseling, don’t require him to listen or care or talk with or visit the kids. You want to see what is in his heart to do without your prodding or threatening. Is he seeking help? Is he making repairs and restitution for how he’s harmed you? Scared you? Hurt the children? Is he willing to be teachable and accountable? Is he developing different attitudes and actions or do you still see his underlying attitudes of entitlement and desire for control?
When working with abusive and destructive individuals a change of heart must precede a change of habit. As my friend and colleague, Chris Moles writes, “If we just cut off all the apples on an apple tree and duct tape bananas on it instead, sooner or later, the apples will come back and the bananas will fall off. That’s why you need time in order to see if the rotten apples grow back.
Testing means that you will set boundaries, say “no” to things you don’t want to do, stop over accommodating, or giving in to his requests, and see if he can respect you as a separate person who has different needs, desires, and feelings than he does. If not, then reconciliation is not appropriate. If so, continue to give it more time to see if he’s truly changing. Make sure you are saying no instead of giving in to accommodate. [Tweet “You can’t see if he respects your no if you never say no.”]
The following are three heart changes that you want to see evidence of because they form the foundation of the change of habit that must occur for reconciliation to be successful. You want to see:
- Humility rather than pride
- Willingness rather than willfulness
- Gratitude rather than entitlement
Finally, the Bible warns us: “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.”
Living in Pennsylvania I remember driving down my country road and seeing all the tares among the wheat field on my neighbor’s farm. It reminded me of the story Jesus told in Matthew 13: 24-30 about the tares growing right alongside the wheat. Evil isn’t only out there, but it is among us. It is in the church masquerading as the real thing, but it is not.
Jesus warns us, “By their fruit, you shall know them.” (Matthew 7:15)
Don’t be fooled by duct-taped bananas. Wait and see what fruit is growing on your spouse’s tree before you reconcile.
You will find my YouTube video on “How do You Know Someone is Truly Sorry” helpful.
Friends: When you have reconciled or chosen not to reconcile, what specific “fruit” and/or heart attitudes have you seen that helped you make that decision?
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