Morning friend,

I just finished answering a survey from a college student on what beliefs keep Christian women stuck in destructive/abusive marriages. I’d love for you to give your input on what beliefs have kept you stuck. Here’s one common belief I’ve found. “If I give up hope for my husband to change, I’m giving up on God.” Is this true?

Question: My husband has been “working on himself” for years without really changing. He’s had multiple affairs, attended recovery groups, and inpatient facilities and he still lies and cheats. I know God can do anything, but I don’t see God working. I’m afraid to give up hope because I’ll be giving up on what God can do.

How do I live with the hope that he might change, but still live in truth?

Answer: Your dilemma is fairly common. When working with women in destructive marriages I often see a lot of Biblical confusion because of their misunderstanding of God’s will and letting go of unrealistic hope for their spouse to repent and change. 

They usually say something like this: “I know God’s will is for our marriage to be restored. He can change my spouse and God hates divorce, so if I wait, and pray and have faith, can I hope that my spouse will change?” 

And after waiting and hoping and seeing no evidence of any change, they begin to ask, “If I give up, does that mean I don’t trust God? Nothing is changing.” 

A Biblical example that comes to mind around this issue is Elijah’s story found in 1 Kings 18 and 19. He was a great prophet called by God to do some amazing miracles. His most famous was when he prayed and fire came down from heaven and licked up the water and sacrifice, proving to the prophets of Baal that the God of Israel was the one true God. He hoped that as a result of what happened, King Ahab and Queen Jezebel would repent of their rebellion and lead the nation of Israel into repentance. But that didn’t happen and Elijah almost gave up. 

He ran away, fearful and despondent. He wanted to die. He said to God, “It is enough now. Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my father.” And he laid down and gave up. 

But God wasn’t done with Elijah. He cared for him. He gave him food to eat and allowed him to rest so that his mind, emotions, and body could heal. And as Elijah began to feel better, God spoke to him not to give up but rather to let go and surrender the outcome to Him. Things were not going to turn out the way Elijah had hoped but that didn’t mean that God was not still in charge. 

[Tweet “Giving up means I don’t trust what God is doing, letting go and surrendering to God means “Not my will but yours be done”.”] Jesus showed us this in the garden when he didn’t feel like going to the cross. It was painful, yet he trusted his Father and surrendered. 

There are times we do need to let go of our desired outcome by surrendering it to God. Jesus let go of the rich young ruler. He didn’t want to do things God’s way and Christ let him go, even though he loved him (Mark 10:21).

Jesus let Judas go, even knowing that he was up to no good. The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11 shows a loving father, letting his younger son go to live a sinful life. He didn’t beg him to stay or cling to him when the son wanted to leave. He let him go.

In the same way, you can be fully surrendered to God and still let go of your desired outcome. Perhaps what you need to let go of is your hope in what God will do in your husband. Henry Cloud has a chapter in his book, Necessary Endings, called Hoping Versus Wishing: The Difference Between What’s Worth Fixing and What Should End. 

Briefly, here are a few questions Cloud uses to discern whether someone should have hope or give up hope.

Do I want the same reality, frustration, or problems six months from now?

Do I want this same level of performance a year from now?

Do I want to be having these same conversations two years from now?

If the answer is no, then here are a few more of his questions.

What reason is there to have hope that tomorrow is going to be different? (The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior)

What in this picture is changing that I can believe in?

Cloud says, “The difference between hoping and wishing is that hope comes from real, objective reasons that the future is going to be different from the past. Anything other than that is simply a wish that comes from your desires.”

God calls his people to put their hope in him, not necessarily in what he will do, or what we think he should do. Elijah is a good example of a godly man with misplaced hope. He believed it was God’s will for King Ahab and Jezebel to repent and he was right. It was God’s will but that’s not what happened. Elijah felt so despondent at his “failure” that he wanted to give up. In his small story of hoping what God would do, he forgot who God was and God’s larger story. God was still God. He was still present. God was still good. God was still in control and God showed Elijah that his hope needed to be placed firmly in who He was, and not what Elijah hoped He would do. 

I don’t think Jesus hoped that Judas would change. 

I don’t think Abigail hoped that Nabal would change.

I don’t think that David hoped Saul would change after repeated lies and false promises.

Each of them lived in reality and truth, not in wishful thinking or false hope.

Work on being surrendered to God, putting all your hope in who He is, not what you think (or hope) He will do.

Friend, when have you gotten caught in feeling like giving up means not trusting God? In what ways did you learn to move beyond that thinking?

24 Comments

  1. Free on June 23, 2022 at 5:54 am

    I have never felt as the writer described. It is dangerous that we have adapted the term ,”God’s Will.” Is that in the Bible, anywhere? It seems more like contemporary Christian teachings than fact. We have a lot of choices in life. Everything is not “God will.” A study of is character is more productive. Get to know who he is and how loves his people. He does not need us or allow us to manipulate his “will.” When you accept that, abused women can see the facts, accept them and stop wishing they could manipulate God to change a situation or the character of your evil husband. Stop using the term God’s will, accept the here and now and make your decisions in the present. God is not a part of any evil. If you are living in and with evil, you are a fool not to escape from it. That, my friend, is biblical.

  2. Free on June 23, 2022 at 5:57 am

    I have never felt as the writer described. It is dangerous that we have adapted the term ,”God’s Will.” Is that in the Bible, anywhere? It seems more like contemporary Christian teachings than fact. We have a lot of choices in life. Everything is not “God will.” A study of is character is more productive. Get to know who he is and how loves his people. He does not need us or allow us to manipulate his “will.” When you accept that, abused women can see the facts, accept them and stop wishing they could manipulate God to change a situation or the character of your evil husband. Stop using the term God’s will, accept the here and now and make your decisions in the present. God is not a part of any evil. If you are living in and with evil, you are a fool not to escape from it. That, my friend, is biblical.

    I think the most common reason Christian women stay in destructive marriages is because the have children with the brut of a man they married, are being gaslighted by him and others, and are financially controlled without the chance of surviving independently.

    • Nancy on July 6, 2022 at 9:45 am

      Free,
      I like what you say about the language ‘God’s will’.

      Ya, how arrogant is it for anyone to claim to ‘know’ God’s will in their lives. We make our plans but it is God who directs our steps. The language sets us up for self deception and being trapped.

      The best I can do on any given day is to say ‘Lord what is my next step?’ and even then… have ‘normalized’ hearing from God? There was a period of about what??? 400 years where NO ONE heard from God!

      Why do we talk in such lofty / arrogant ways?

  3. Alana on June 23, 2022 at 8:23 am

    I have been stuck in this place of should I leave or stay. Is it better for me and my boys to stay with my husband, their father, or leave this relationship of not knowing who my husband/their father will be like on any given day?
    I’ve often thought of myself as Abigail married to a Nabal. Or thought of my husband as Saul whom the spirit of God has been removed from, with glimpses of sanity and peace, but tainted by unreasonableness and emotional attacks.

    • Free on June 23, 2022 at 10:48 pm

      Lundy Bancroft wrote just the book for you, entitled “Should I stay or Should I go?” Reading it might help you make a decision.

  4. Cherri on June 23, 2022 at 8:35 am

    I find it helpful to understand the difference between God being willing to change a person and His making it happen. God values free will so much that He will not force someone to change. He will allow consequences to that person that may “crowd them to Christ” but He wants hearts of true repentance. Instead of blaming God for supposedly not working in a person’s life, maybe we need to see that we are enabling them to not experience the consequences of their sin. Healthy boundaries and withdrawing from the relationship may be exactly what will wake the person up and can be used by God to bring them to brokenness. Or they may harden their hearts further, but that is not your responsibility.

    • JoAnn on June 23, 2022 at 1:32 pm

      Very good points, Cherri.

  5. MK on June 23, 2022 at 9:00 am

    I never really thought about the difference between hoping and wishing. But this is very true. The Bible talks a lot about hope, and where we should place our hope. It doesn’t tell us to wish! Our wishes are our own fleshly, often unrealistic desires!
    I guess I need to get back to firm boundaries, accountability and my CORE strength, and stop wishing for changes. Because the constant disappointment is exhausting. I will recommit my mind and guard my heart. Thank you for this message today!

    • JoAnn on June 23, 2022 at 1:29 pm

      Hope is in God and what He can do; wishing is wanting Him to do what I want Him to do. I like the point Leslie made about recognizing that past behavior predicts future behavior. Even when a person is touched by God, it takes time for a person to change his ways. Normal growth in life is not an instant thing.

  6. Dena on June 23, 2022 at 9:06 am

    Wow! This has been my exact thinking for almost 30 years in my marriage. I almost have no words because of how much this hits home in my situation and in my relationship. I am so grateful to have found Leslie on this season of my life.

  7. Susan on June 23, 2022 at 9:12 am

    So much powerful truth here.

  8. Melissa on June 23, 2022 at 9:35 am

    We can pray, hope, desire and trust God for someone to change their behavior and for God’s will with our whole heart BUT the other person may not want to truly change their behavior. God will NOT override their freewill choices. He has given us the freedom to make choices in what we do and dont do. We are not giving up on trusting God when we let go and walk away from that relationship. We are letting the other person reap the fruit of their choices and behavior. There is a big difference and maybe that person may finally make the changes needed in their choices and behavior but then again maybe they wont.

    • Heather on June 25, 2022 at 9:21 am

      I can so relate. This article has been so good for me. But Leslie never mentioned about the choice being left up to the person. A person that is a brick wall and not willing to change or can’t see they need change will not change. God can do anything but not with someone who is not willing. And for this reason I believe it is ok to let go as hard as that is and as scary as that looks like. Our hope must remain in Jesus no matter what, and not in the person. I have prayed ocer my husband many times and talked with him over the last two years to help him see the light and get help. He only went to counseling three times and wouldn’t go back because he didn’t want to hear what the Christian counselor had to say. He has made me his enemy through all of this instead of allowing me as his wife to encourage and help him toward a healthy path and and healthy marriage for us. It has been a long hard journey and I’ve now accept my reality. We are finalizing separation very soon. My kids deserve to see what a healthy marriage looks like and if they can’t have that then they don’t need to see anymore what an unhealthy marriage looks like. Gods got us!!!

  9. Ria on June 23, 2022 at 11:01 am

    This is exactly where I am. Inspite of all the hurt my spouse has caused me I still love him and have prayed so much; hoping that he would changed. I even found myself becoming just as angry in the midst of the situation.
    I left and now I often question myself whether I am not believing that for God nothing is impossible.
    This article has brought some clarity. I continue to pray to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

  10. Cuckoo on June 23, 2022 at 11:20 am

    Hi Leslie, thank you for this article that fits my situation right now. Please can you elaborate this part , Cloud says, “The difference between hoping and wishing is that hope comes from real, objective reasons that the future is going to be different from the past. Anything other than that is simply a wish that comes from your desires.”
    Also could you talk more on “giving up doesn’t mean you are not trusting God” Should I give up expecting my marriage will get better and just keep sailing through the abuse and turmoil and keep doing my best to live godly?

    • JoAnn on June 23, 2022 at 1:20 pm

      Cuckoo, you asked for Leslie to respond, but I do have a comment for you. When we hold onto a situation, like hoping and expecting God to do a miraculous work in someone, That means that we are the ones trying to make something happen. When we hand over the outcome to God (let go and let God), it means that we are taking our hands off the situation to let God do what He wants to do. We don’t always know what He wants to do, and sometimes our prayers can actually hinder Him from doing what He wants to do, or given that He knows what is possible, what He can do. There is a tremendous peace that comes from surrendering our will to the Father’s will. “OK Lord, you know what I would like You to do, but I am leaving the outcome of this to You. Please give me the grace to wait and watch.”

    • Leslie Vernick on June 23, 2022 at 9:12 pm

      Cuckoo, I do not recommend “keeps sailing through the abuse and turmoil” I don’t even know what that means to you, but what evidence do you have that change is happening in your husband? Is he seeking help? Does he listen to your feedback? His counselors feedback? Is he willing to go for help? Does he admit he needs help? So letting go is letting go of your expectation that he will do the above because there is no EVIDENCE at present that he is going to….and lots of evidence and past history that shows he is not going to. Therefore, letting go means facing tough reality. My husband is who has always been and not going to change. God is God, so what is God asking of me? Does he ask me to stay married to a man who dishonors you and treats you as if you are an object to use? Does God ask you to sacrifice your mental, emotional, spiritual, financial, sexual health to “stay married” to a man who does not honor you or his vows? This is where your own work comes in. As you let go of “fixing him, or changing him, and trust God to do what only God can do, then your focus shifts to what is God calling you to do to take care of you? To steward your one precious life? Your health and body and mind and finances and spirit? Perhaps asking those questions will clarify for you – you do not give up on God working, but you let go of hanging on to the hope that your husband is going to change.

  11. Dwight on June 23, 2022 at 11:36 am

    The dynamic of hope based upon what God states in His Word
    He is the Word and the true follower servant of Jesus places their hope in Him
    That which we can not see is what hope which is based upon our trust and obedience to God’s commands
    My wife chose to exit from the emotional physical & spiritual connection with me in 2015
    Three marriage counselors later I was served divorce papers in 2021
    I held on to hope for a marriage miracle healing up until 10/21
    God lovingly revealed to me that it would be best to let her go
    It devastated me but being a realist I accepted my wife’s choice
    My hope then changed
    I sent up a prayer request hoping that in time the Holy Spirit would touch her and encourage her to allow Jesus to truly be the Lord of her life
    Her choice/ reasons to exit from her marriage covenant with me along with her grounds for divorce were very weak
    I promised her to be the same loving man as her ex as I was as her husband

  12. Jennie on June 23, 2022 at 11:43 am

    It’s taken me way too many years to figure this out in my husband. Always thought he’d ‘see the light’ and get help. And that by praying, being a good wife and showing him ways to work on himself, he’d surely get good, consistent help to change. I can now see his narcissistic tendencies, and realize he probably won’t ever get help unless God does a huge work in him, IF that’s His will. Thanks for this blog post!

  13. Nadine on June 23, 2022 at 12:34 pm

    Dear Leslie,
    Thank you so much for taking the time to respond with such wisdom from a Godly perspective.
    As a Conqueror Sister for many years, married for over 40 years and newly divorced ( at my husband’s wanting out), it is finally time for me to come to the realization that I need to let go of the outcome of his behaviors and decisions and leave the outcome to God. This has been a very long and painful journey for me ….But God…
    is still in control…… But God…. keeps all His promises…. But God…. will meet all my needs in Christ Jesus.
    Recently I heard someone share these powerful truths; God’s love is perfect, God is infinite in His wisdom, God is sovereign and in control.
    Since He saved me by His grace and I trust Him for my eternity then I also need to trust Him for my future days ahead, however few or many there are. God is faithful and trustworthy.
    You did an excellent job in outlining a clear picture for those of us who have waited and hoped with a false hope. Thank you for once again bringing into the light the truth that is very painful to accept but necessary for us to be able to move forward as we surrender the outcome to God.
    I believe that God is pleased with you and your ministry Leslie. May God richly bless you!

  14. Melissa on June 23, 2022 at 3:15 pm

    Hello,

    I left an abusive husband (of 15 years) seven years ago. We still have four children together. He is a narcissist and an unbeliever which makes the co-parenting relationship very difficult at times. During the separation I read your book The Emotionally Destructive Relationship. It was an ENORMOUS eye opener! Thank you.

    • Jane on June 30, 2022 at 12:39 am

      I am so sorry the co parenting is so difficult. I can relate. Do you have any advice for a mom in the same situation? The effect of their fathers abuse is beginning to completely destroy my children.

  15. Heather on June 25, 2022 at 9:25 am

    I can so relate. This article has been so good for me. But Leslie never mentioned about the choice being left up to the person. A person that is a brick wall and not willing to change or can’t see they need change will not change. God can do anything but not with someone who is not willing. And for this reason I believe it is ok to let go as hard as that is and as scary as that looks like. Our hope must remain in Jesus no matter what, and not in the person. I have prayed over my husband many times and spoke truth to him over the last two years to help him see the light and get help. He only went to counseling three times and wouldn’t go back because he didn’t want to hear what the Christian counselor had to say. He has made me his enemy through all of this (discarded me pretty much) instead of allowing me as his wife to encourage and help him toward a healthy path and and healthy marriage for us. It has been a long hard journey and I’ve now accepted my reality. We are finalizing separation very soon. My kids deserve to see what a healthy marriage looks like and if they can’t have that then they don’t need to see anymore what an unhealthy marriage looks like. Gods got us!!!

  16. Robin on July 19, 2022 at 6:10 pm

    I pray BLESSINGS on your work! I am a people helper from Western NY and I have pointed many people to you. TY!!!

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