Morning friend,

I had a great time at the American Association of Christian Counselors conference last week in Dallas. It was hard work and emotionally and physically draining but I sensed an openness and willingness to listen as I have not before. Perhaps it’s been all the recent news stories about how the church has covered up abuse of many kinds for years that has created this window for pastors and church leaders to be more open and receptive, but I sensed it and was grateful. There were a number of pastors who stopped me and said “Thank you and that they are now doing things differently.” Yet we can’t stop. We still have a lot more work to do.

I am doing a free workshop on the topic of rebuilding broken trust in marriage. If you or someone you know needs help on How Long Do You Keep Trying and When Do You Know the Change is Real, please sign up here.

This week’s question is around this topic. Does she try again? Does she believe his words this time? Does she go back home? How will she know he means it this time?

Today’s Question: I left my husband again, for the 5th time in the past 12 yrs. I have been mostly unhappily in an emotionally destructive marriage for 45 years this Sept!!! (I don't want to celebrate all those years).

This May I moved 1300 miles to get clarity & safety from emotional and verbal abuse from my husband. We both are older and health issues are showing up. Now this time my husband says he truly wants to work on the marriage together and is willing to do whatever it takes to do his inner work. He claims to love me so much and wants to work on the marriage together, finally! 

I went from a destructive home life to a destructive marriage at 20, had 3 children by 26. I have sought Christian counseling 10 or more times since I was 18. My spouse has always refused to get help for his issues until now. 

My question is: at this point in life, my husband and I have shared so much history together, good and bad, 3 children, 4 grandkids, and financially we will be better off together. We both need helpmates going forward with our health issues. But how do I know if it's too late, too much damage and very little maintenance in the relationship? How do I make a healthier decision for myself going forward perhaps 15 years more together? I do love him and miss being together, traveling and sharing our faith in Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior.

I cannot forgive him of the past hurts and broken trust though he says he's open and willing to work on him. My daughter is strong, she dislikes her dad for all the abuse he did to me over the years, but especially during her childhood and insists she will hold me accountable if I go back to him again. 

I've been following you daily since March and have learned so very much! I have much better clarity of myself…areas I need to work on and my part in what went wrong in the relationship from day one until I chose to leave for the last time. Thank you, Leslie, for your mission to help empower myself and so many women in destructive marriages. I don't want to live another year with my daughters and her family, but I cannot afford to live on my own. I have no desire to ever start a new relationship with another man. 

I feel stuck and disappointed God has not answered my prayers over all these years, yet I am grateful for His provisions. I want dearly to live out my life serving God alongside my husband!

Answer: It is heartbreaking to read your story and I’m so sorry for what you’ve been through. You’ve been back and forth five times in the last 12 years, and nothing has changed each time you’ve gone back. The only thing different now is this time he finally says he’ll go for help. Has he gone for help in the past? To whom? For what? What exactly does he need help with? Has he apologized to you for the pain and suffering he’s caused you? Has he called your daughter to apologize for what she experienced in her childhood? In other words, since he told you he will go for help and now when you’re reading my response, has he shown any real action steps that indicate signs of true repentance by calling someone, telling someone the truth and going for help?

My guess is your answer will be no. He’s waiting for you to come back. Dear one, his behaviors towards you will never be fixed by you coming back or with marriage counseling. His attitudes and actions are not marriage problems, they cause marriage problems. You say you long to serve Christ together, but God is not mocked. This man (from what you’ve said) doesn’t believe the Bible nor does he listen to the Holy Spirit. If he did, he wouldn’t be acting this way for years and years and years with no conviction and no change. Someone who genuinely loves another person, does not treat that person with emotional and verbal abuse even when angry, nor do they continually break trust with someone they claim they love.

From what you’ve said, all these years together he has not been willing to put off his abusive destructive ways and put on the character of Christ. He’s not been willing to confess his sin. He’s not humbled himself and sought God’s help so that he doesn’t continue to harm the one he says he loves so much. Before you move home or even consider moving home, he needs to figure out why he’s acted this way your entire married life and learn how to be the man God calls him to be. This will take time to see if he means it or is just using words to give you false hope that things will be different. If he’s a true believer, why has he not seen the damage he’s caused his family – you and your daughter? Why has he been unwilling to humble himself and get help to change? Why hasn’t he confessed his sin to you, your daughter, your pastor? 

Words are easy, even words that are sincerely uttered are still a long way from consistent and faithful actions over time that produce changed character. If I were you, I’d hunker down at your daughter’s for another year. She does not want you to go back. I’d say to your husband, “Prove by the way you live that you’ve repented of your sin and turned to God.” And then I’d watch and wait to see what he does during this year.

Meanwhile, you have your own work to do. I’m glad you found our ministry and are educating yourself to get stronger and healthier. I’d encourage you to join CONQUER when it opens at the end of the month. It is not God’s will that you live in fear – fear of being alone, fear of being a burden to your daughter, fear of future health or financial issues and fear of your own emotional, physical, sexual, and spiritual safety if you move back home. Remember, you’ve left five times and I assume it’s been for good reasons. Therefore, just as your husband has his work to do, you do also. For example, how might you earn some extra money so you can live alone in an apartment? Have you talked with a lawyer and a financial planner to see what finances you have to work with, and what kind of part-time work you might have to do if you get divorced and want to live on your own? Have you considered living with another divorced, widowed, or single woman who needs a roommate? Sometimes our fears of what might happen grow bigger because we have not gotten the information that could help us think differently.

Do you have any special training or skills? What do you like to do? What are you good at? Are you outgoing? Can you be a greeter at Costco or Walmart? Can you do some part-time babysitting for your daughter’s children? Or do some part-time homeschooling or tutoring? Can you be a part-time caregiver to someone who can’t drive, or can you work part-time taking online surveys, trying samples, and other online ways of earning a living? Doing part-time work can often close that gap with several hundred extra dollars a month while not having to work full time or to have special skills. 

In addition to practical considerations, you are having a hard time letting go of your dream. Of what you wished your marriage was, of who you wished your husband was. You said you cannot forgive him. Perhaps that is something you can work on without having to trust him or live with him. Unforgiveness keeps you a prisoner of your pain.

You also said that you’re mad and disappointed with God, yet you know God wants your husband to repent and change. But God does not force anyone into obedience. That is always our choice. That’s why you must wait and watch to see what your husband actually does before you ever consider moving back home. You’ve moved back home five times and have had to leave again. Do not repeat that unhealthy pattern. God wants you to grow, get healthy, and strong. You can’t do that with your husband if he doesn’t change. God has provided you with a place to stay for now. Do your work and see if your husband does his. If you see real change over time, then you can reevaluate. If not, then you’ve done your own work so that the next steps forward do not feel quite as scary.

Friend, if you’ve been in this situation, what might be some of the signs you would look for to see that he’s really changing?

11 Comments

  1. Louise on September 15, 2022 at 10:24 am

    Hello,
    I was married to a man for 28 years and had 8 children. I understand what you are feeling and living, it is not an easy decision. The WAIT and WATCH is the best motto.
    I moved to communication via email only, no phone, no text, no face to face. If someone truly was changing they would understand and respect these conditions as appropriate considering what has transpired, even if it makes them sad. ( Getting mad is a sign that he is reacting to the loss of control over you and has not healed.)
    2. Watch for consistent attendance in therapy or a group counseling program …..if he keeps bringing up how well he is progressing and how much work he is doing. – he is not healing. If change is real, he will have to need to trumpet it to you. He will just be grateful that God is healing him and be glad about it for his own good. If he needs your approval, he is misguided. So just WATCH and WAIT , no response from you is required If that feels harsh, just send a 👍. Nothing else.
    3. See how he is making reparation with your children. If he us sharing his feelings about the break up with them and blaming you…..he is not healing. If he blames them for the problems……..do I really have to say it? Not healing.
    4. If he tries to get to you through others – not healing. That is a serious lack of boundaries and a definite lack of respect.
    5. If he refuses to provide financial support, he is not taking accountability for his actions. If he does support financially, it does not mean there is true healing on it’s own. All the points must be met for progress to be sustainable.
    6. When you set a boundary or make reasonable changes regarding child care- if the response is one of entitlement and playing the victim – not healed. A person can feel bad or sad, but must express those emotions without shaming or manipulating others.
    7. Is he at peace with the idea that it may be over and is willing to cooperate in navigating the challenges ahead? If he keeps reminding you of how you MUST reconcile because you made a promise before God- not healed.
    If he was sincere, he would pray and allow the Holy Spirit to do the work. When we believe that God is God, we can surrender even when we do not understand.
    What would need to happen before you even consider speaking to him or moving towards taking time to re-evaluate would be that all these points are in the positive- all the time. There would be an extended time of probation even then. Similarly to a person who has committed a crime, the consequence is that you have to spend a long time proving you are truly remorseful, responsible and ready to do the work asked of you and of your own initiative……how much more important is this is a covenant relationship between 3 persons: God, and the two spouses. It is BECAUSE the marriage covenant os so SACRED that this is so essential.
    We often think that spouses are bound to accept poor interactions from each other because, you know, you are married . But that is a lie, not from the Lord. Why would we expect more from work colleagues or business acquaintances than from the person we have pledged our love to?

    Staying and perpetuating a toxic cycle is not how we show love. Taking the space and time needed to become a person worthy of that covenant is.

    You will be busy doing your own self work in the Lord. Do not get distracted by his pestering. Focus on the task at hand. WATCH and WAIT is the best advice and often I have seen it run the full cycle just in one email…..so now we only use a secure app that professionals have access to- very important.
    God bless you

  2. CeCe on September 15, 2022 at 11:11 am

    I would wait to see if he seeks counsel on his own without me having to do it for him. I would watch to see if he is faithful to follow through with the counseling he seeks. I would give him time to complete his counseling and then ask to be included in the last few sessions. I would then date him for 1 year in order to observe that real , lasting, change has taken place before I ever considered moving back in. From someone who knows.

  3. Connie on September 15, 2022 at 1:02 pm

    Words are so cheap. Promises are meant to bait you and reel you in so he can use and abuse you again. I would tell him to show you the change by concentrating on his relationship with God, not you. No flowers or dates, or even communication with you. Go through intense counselling of your approval, not someone whom he can hoodwink. Be sure to say no to him several times, to see what happens. You have a wise daughter, I bet she’ll know when it’s safe, if ever.

    Leslie’s advice is the best. I would run with it if you don’t want your health issues to get far worse.

  4. Sandy on September 15, 2022 at 5:19 pm

    I really needed to hear this today. I recently left for the first time after years of prayer and “trying everything” while my husband would only change for a short time before reverting back to those abusive behaviors. Since I’ve been gone, he seems truly broken and is working on things with counseling, spirituality, and repentantness; however, I still signed a one-year lease on a home, because I know there’s a chance his new changes won’t last; I need to see long-sustaining changes in order to consider moving back together.

    I understand the practical issues are difficult (who to live with, finances, etc…), but we have to break these toxic and unhealthy cycles. I’m much more at peace alone right now than I was living with him because the abuse was destroying me. God has truly given me the peace that passes all understanding, and I believe it’s because I’ve bathed this in prayer for years and been obedient in leaving; I had thought I would be sinning and disappointing God if I left, but now I know it was the opposite–He was preparing my heart to leave.

    One of the biggest difference makers for me is having spiritual leaders in my life such as my fellow church members, my small group, and Christian friends had family who are daily giving me wisdom while also praying for me and my husband. All of this led had led to me growing deeper in my relationship with God. God is able to change your life, and taking Leslie’s workshops or classes is a wonderful way to start.

    I will add this sweet woman to my prayer list and anyone else who would like prayer, just let me know.

    • . Yariela Paschall on September 21, 2022 at 12:38 pm

      Thanks Sandy for sharing . Dr. Phil says that past behaviors are red flags to future behaviors.( or something like that).
      My second marriage came about after we met in a church training for middle age. Later found out he had a drinking problem that worsen after a back surgery and unbearable pain. Doctors refused to give him more pain medicine and alcohol took over. Triped one drunken day after a terrible fall, hit his head against the chimney floor, tried to stand up and fell on top of me. Compression back injury for me. This was 2 years ago and feel he has not said “I am sorry” enough times.
      Having problems healing, so I have seeked more and more for Christ’s love and support.

      • Sandy on September 24, 2022 at 9:27 pm

        Thank you for sharing, Yariela. I feel for you and for pray for you. It helps me to feel we aren’t alone.

  5. Gladis on September 15, 2022 at 6:48 pm

    I divorced after 36 yrs. Similar story as yours . I left 3yrs before d separated 20 mo and let home back. He manipulated me and new counselor that he changed. I was so hopeful yet I knew before he moved in it wasn’t a good idea . I can blame him for false change but I hadn’t done enough of my work and didn’t stay with my counselor or the 2 pastors that supported me. Never be desperate financially or emotionally to go back.
    I knew of Leslie but joined Conquer 8 mo after he moved back . Wow it all came together. As I got wiser and stronger, God allowed ex to believe he had lots of money which made it easier for him to give me much info the divorce. My blessing.
    I say God set me free!
    He had no intention of changing and I realized he had all the support and tools to be a great Husb and dad.
    God used Conquer to save my life.
    No regrets divorcing.🙏🌷

  6. Brenda on September 15, 2022 at 10:37 pm

    I wouldn’t want to guess if it’s “too late” for your marriage, but my opinion is that it’s “too early” to go back to the home. Definitely wait and watch and in the meantime build your relationship with the Lord and do your own work while you monitor the progress of him doing his work. Educate yourself on his personality type. If you haven’t already read all of Leslie’s stuff, start there. There are other good resources. Unfortunately, this type of person rarely changes, and plenty has been written about that.

    It’s definitely true that if your husband is truly repentant, he will not pressure you to make drastic changes right away. I do speak from experience. Four months ago, I left a marriage of 41 years. Ten years ago (2012), I separated from him, and we lived apart for 4 months. I agreed to move back for the same reasons you are contemplating: he said he had changed, he was committed to working on the marriage, he saw how he had mistreated me (emotional and verbal abuse), he loved me so much, we couldn’t work on our marriage if we didn’t live together, etc. The first couple of months back were okay, but he quickly gave up on counseling and reverted to his old ways. What followed were 10 years that were far worse than the 30 years prior to that. In addition to the abuse, he continually blamed me for my treachery in leaving him in the first place and repeatedly demanded that I apologize for abandoning him. When I said that we couldn’t go on living like we were, he said that our marriage was never going to get better until I changed to be a godly wife. He refused any suggestions I made to improve our relationship and cared only about his wants. If I pointed out his wrong treatment of me, he literally said I deserved it because I was such a horrible wife. The 10-year anniversary of our reconciliation was my final wake-up call. I knew nothing was going to change because there were no tools in my toolbox – he rejected everything. I also knew in the core of my being that if nothing changed, I probably wouldn’t last another 10 years. And I finally understood that God wasn’t calling me to stay and be abused. So, I’m starting over at age 61. And it was MUCH harder this time than it was 10 years ago. Never in a million years did I expect to be in this position at this time of my life, but I know it is right. I totally get where you are coming from on health issues, finances, grandchildren, etc. But abuse is a pretty high price to pay. Every day I am reminded that God is faithful and can be trusted.

    • Hope on September 20, 2022 at 12:09 pm

      Brenda, thank you so much for sharing your story. It really helps me. I’m starting over on my own at age 67 after 30+ years of marriage. Some days I’m full of faith and expectancy. Other times I’m scared out of my mind. It helps so much to hear from other women who have taken this hard step. Like you, I feel I know in my core that I can’t physically and emotionally stay without this way of living crushing me and erasing who I really am. Thank you again for the hope in your story! God is so good to us.

      • Brenda on September 20, 2022 at 10:13 pm

        There are so many people our age who are going through this.

        • brenda on September 21, 2022 at 12:51 pm

          Yes….. I did a Double Take – because my name, too, is Brenda, and I am caught in hard place of standing up for myself, and he continues with his controlling ways, without any consideration of the emotional and financial pain he has caused me and our 3 sons…
          He refuses to acknowledge the pain he has caused me.
          I feel totally financially trapped…..

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