Am I Judging Or Discerning?

Morning Friends,

It’s been a tough week. Thanks for your prayers. Two dear friends have COVID-19 and feeling pretty flu-ish. I tested negative (as I had been in contact with both of them) but have been staying home pretty much for the two-week period of waiting time, which is almost over. It’s raining A LOT and I could use some sunshine. Appreciate your prayers.  

This Week’s Question: For almost 19 years I’ve lived under a financial and emotionally destructive spouse. The mistreatment and humiliation towards me was practiced by my husband in many ways. During these almost 19 years I tried to get out of this destructive relationship three times in a very clear way, but he would always “show” to be repentant when I would take bold steps to get away from him.

The Christian community around us would always encourage me to give him a chance. I regretted the three times in the past I fell for it. It took me all these years to have a clear perspective of my situation and accept that I probably would have to go through a process of putting boundaries that would change everything, alone or with a lot of criticism around me. 

A month ago I finally was able to find a lawyer (a Christian) who heard my case and accepted me to pay him as I could for his services to file for divorce. Prior to my finding a lawyer my husband was behaving against me worse than ever. The abuse escalated to verbal and constant humiliation. All of these in front of our three daughters. When he found out I finally got a lawyer, he got very upset (furious). Then after a week of processing it, he again tried to show that this time my bolder step got him to realized how bad he has been living his life. For the first time, he actually called his sins by name, at least as much as I could confront him with. And asked for forgiveness to me and our daughters. 

The problem is, none of my daughters believe him. I’ve been hurt so much and for so long and fell for his apparent repentance before that, but now I am firm and will continue my decision until is over. He is now behaving as I always wanted him to behave but I don’t believe him. But yes sometimes a little bit of doubt comes to my heart: why is this time true?  

Am I judging him by not believing his recent repentance? I have also lost all feelings for him as the pain I endured covered my feelings for him as a husband. I was seeing him as an enemy that I had without knowing why he decided to be my enemy. I know I have always had good discernment. Many times I won’t listen to my discernment doubting myself and then regretted not listening.

But how can I know that I shouldn’t believe him this time because of my discernment or because of resentment? I simply don’t believe him and I am ready to start a new life where my daughters and I can find healing. I believe if he repented for real as he says this time crying and clearly under stress, he would accept the consequences of his actions. 

Am I judging or am I being correctly discerning?

Answer: Two things are really important here. One is that you are asking yourself important self-reflection questions. Am I judging or discerning? Am I wrong in not believing him? Is my resentment getting in the way?

Healthy people ask themselves those questions as part of discernment. Judgmental people don’t ask themselves questions, because they believe they are always right. Judgmental people condemn and judge as if they were always right. I don’t hear you doing that here.

I also hear you have believed his words of repentance before and the fruit of repentance never really followed.

So right now, you don’t know for sure where he is. Only God knows. All you know is your history with him which has shown a repeated pattern of destructive behaviors, humiliation, and financial abuse with no real change in spite of him being nice at times.

And this is where it’s important for any victim of abuse to be discerning. Most abusive people are not mean and nasty all of the time. They do know how to be nice (when they want to or when it serves them). Don’t confuse being nice with being repentant or changed. And….it seems to me the pattern is when he fears losing something – you, his family, his money through a divorce, repentance seems like a handy way to reel you back in so he doesn’t suffer.  

But that is not Biblical repentance. That is manipulation under a cloak of religious talk. Your gut is telling you if there is true repentance, he would be willing to accept the consequences of his abusive actions. You’re right. A repentant sinner says to God, “I deserve hell, thank you so much for forgiving me.” Not “I’m repentant so you better not send me to hell.”

A repentant person makes no demands on the one he or she has sinned against. A repentant person changes his or her sinful behaviors, makes amends to those he/she has harmed and is grateful that you forgive, without requirements to lessen or mitigate the consequences of their sin.  Click To Tweet

Therefore, I’d encourage you to suspend your decision on whether he is truly repentant or not. Simply say to him, “I truly hope you are this time, but the consequences of your past claims of repentance as well as your continued sinful behavior are that I don’t believe you and cannot trust you. Your repentance now is between you and God but I will see it come out in the way you handle yourself with our children and through our divorce.”  Then see what happens. The fruit will show itself pretty clearly when you don’t give in, and his idols of control over you and money are threatened.  

Stay strong and get support so that you and your daughters can heal and be safe.

Friends, what do you see as the difference between discerning and judging?


  1. Margaret Molloy on July 29, 2020 at 8:50 am

    Thank you for your ministry Leslie. I think it’s important for women to know that they do not need to have money for a lawyer to file for divorce. I did everything “pro se.” Your county civil proceedings court will offer free lawyer consults as well as the process on how to file a motion for separation and/or divorce. There will just be a filing fee. The employees will walk you through it. Of course if you can afford a lawyer, it’s best to have one to protect yourself but please don’t stay in a dangerous situation because you can not afford a lawyer.

  2. Lori on July 29, 2020 at 9:12 am

    I believe discernment is led by the Holy Spirit in truth and love for the best interests of all involved. It is compassionate and patient. Judgment is led by me. It is selfish, immediate and demanding, normally filled with my own expectations.

    • Kim on September 17, 2020 at 6:58 pm

      Lori, I’am in agreement with you on Judgement. Sad to own but I have been even my own worse enemy in my brokenness and judgements of myself especially before I was in a relationship with Yahweh.

      So are you saying discernment and judgement are the same ?

  3. Connie on July 29, 2020 at 10:42 am

    If it’s real, you can always remarry in a year or three. You not caving now is a great test to see if he can take NO for an answer graciously. Sorry I got caught is way different than sorry I was wrong.
    Dr. Phil says, “The best predictor of future behaviour is relevant past behaviour.” If your employee stole from your shop for many years , and asked for your forgiveness only on threat of being fired but never in between, would you believe them? These people are well-trained actors.

    • Connie on July 29, 2020 at 10:46 am

      PS: I think that we should send them all to Hollywood, put them on the same movie, and watch them out-gaslight each other. 🙂

  4. Barbara B on July 29, 2020 at 12:52 pm

    Judging is focused on the other person, wanting to tell him what to do and where to go and just exactly what kind of low life he is.

    Evaluating is focused on me. What do I need to do next based on the information I have? If my information tells me his behavior is not trustworthy and therefore I shouldn’t trust him, I am not judge-ing him, I am practicing good judge-ment in the situation.

    Even though I know this, sometimes it is still so hard to carry out in the midst of all the gaslighting. I used to feel frustrated with myself for losing confidence but Leslie’s post is helping me think differently about that. Questioning ourselves is actually a good sign of health, not a weakness.

  5. Brianna on July 29, 2020 at 12:56 pm

    My sister was in a destructive marriage and found out her husband was cheating on her. He treated her horribly until he realized she was done and finally ready to divorce him. Then, suddenly he repented, with tears! He finally became the husband she always wanted, but it was too late. Her love for him was gone and thankfully she continued on with the divorce. Those tears of repentance were just for show, and he went right back to treating her horribly again when he realized his manipulation didn’t work. When I learned more about narcissism and their tactics, one called “hoovering” I realized that’s what that was! They try to hoover you back into relationship with them, only to devalue and discard you afterwards.

  6. Mary on July 29, 2020 at 1:11 pm

    Wow does this ever sound like my 37 years in an abusive and controlling marriage before I decided to leave my husband. It was one of the hardest decisions I ever made, but I have not regretted it. We finally divorced 2 1/2 years later even after he had done counseling because he did not change. We then tried to get back together a couple of years after the divorce because he said he had changed and realized a lot of things he had done were wrong. I thought maybe he has changed so I decided one more time to give him another chance. However, once again there was no change.

    There were times of repentance during these years as well as some good times. They never lasted and there were bad than good times. We are on friendly terms to this day, but I will never go back to him. I hope this helps you in your decision.

    • Sunshine on July 30, 2020 at 1:43 pm

      I came to a similar conclusion. The state I live in allows lifetime separation for religious reasons. That arrangement worked for me. It allowed me to place a strong boundary with my abuser. I was willing to wait indefinitely for my husband to show that he was ready to be respectful and kind to me.

      We remained separated for my safety and I waited. Round and round the cycle went, love bombing, blanket apologies, bouts of coercive control, followed by flowery charm and , overly generosity. He made huge displays of his public and community service. He lost weight. He started hiking and traveling on religious cruises. Sending me pictures of his sojourn to Israel.

      Yet, his emails to me were laced with poisonous, wicked comments. He made deeming and demanding orders for me to obey as his wife. He stalked me in person and via my phone. He disobeyed the restraining orders, claiming he didn’t remember what it said.

      Thankfully, I went email contact only so all communication could be forwarded my lawyer and both my and his counselor. Dr. Jekyll made a stellar public display of remorse. Dr. Hyde became emboldened. His engaged in his sneaky, creepy, manipulative crazy talk and gas lighting all via email.

      Eventually, it became crystal clear to me I had to divorce him my husband to escape his cruelty. He still had power over me as a separated person and I had to make a complete and total break from him so he could latch on to a new target. Anyone, please, just stop targeting me!!

      My voice shook and my body quivered in fear as I met with the lawyer. The lawyer said he could see my fear through my body language. ( I am scared just writing this today.) My point is I just knew. I just knew, this man was putting on an act. His fluctuating emotional responses were a sign of sickness, not contrition.

      I didn’t think twice about whether I was judging or discerning. I listened to my long silenced gut responses, and ran for my life out of that relationship. It has been difficult, yet I would never put myself in a situation to be used and abused again.

      • Sunshine on August 1, 2020 at 5:59 pm

        I am sorry for posting this with so many grammatical errors. I hope the story was understandable despite my many mistakes while typing it.

        • Aly on August 2, 2020 at 11:45 am

          I’m sorry for what you have endured and what your went through in your process of breaking away (fully).
          I think your choices in your situation show your wisdom and you using good. Judgement!
          To many of us in these types of relationships have been wrongly shamed and accused of being judge mental- when all we are doing is using good judgement, there is a big difference.
          It is my opinion that people with patterns of abuse and those that protect these people, are often the first to feel judgement against themselves as a person rather than see that their behavior is what is judged! This is hard for them to separate.
          To me, this is another sign of someone who doesn’t have a healthy sense of self and worth. They vacillate between Minimum change and then the same old patterns!

  7. Nita on July 29, 2020 at 6:02 pm

    I am thinking you can always be the bigger person, behave well, separate, even divorce, and if he is truly changed in the future there is no reason not to remarry him.

  8. Sharon Lawhorne on July 29, 2020 at 9:54 pm

    These words brought such clarity to my thoughts I found my heart actually become calm and relaxed. I had been unable to put my finger on the reason I didn’t want to see my husband ever again. This made it so very clear. He has been sorry so many times. He has turned and proven he can be a man who shows concern for what is important to me. He has proven he doesn’t want to ever live without me. I have no doubt he believes that.. Yet his dismissal of me as a person would always return. If I was to need anything from him at the wrong time of day, or need comfort or time to grieve, or time to not be the mature strong one in the relationship. He would turn on me. He believed I talked in order to get him to change. But I talked in order to share what was a part of me. I realize my words had no real value to him. Why would I feel drawn to someone who has proven how little he cares about what makes me me. That would actually be one more time of me allowing this crazy cycle to continue. Yet I find myself waver, how crazy is that. I really don’t know what life could be like on my own. I’m choosing to live.

    • JoAnn on July 30, 2020 at 12:45 pm

      Once you break free, you will be able to enjoy discovering the person God created you to be. Without chains.

  9. Erin on July 30, 2020 at 10:24 am

    Oh my goodness! This post is a literal answer to prayer! I can’t even tell you! This story is almost word-for-word my story and what I have been wrestling with over the past two weeks. Thank you so much for your wisdom Leslie! Praying for the author of this question as she and I walk through this season with strength and peace.

    • Dina on August 25, 2020 at 10:09 am

      I feel the same way. I am exactly in the same position . I am also doubting if he is actually going to change from his seemingly real repentance, only after I filed for divorce. I have asked God to shed light on my doubts and I read this today . Thank you so much for posting this question and your answer Leslie and for the comment in the reply here showing me that here is my answer that I am not in this alone . This really helped!

  10. MosesAssitant on August 14, 2020 at 3:37 pm

    It sounds like you are dealing with a manipulative narcissist. This kind of person is particular difficult to deal with. He’s probably thinking he has you all figured out. It may take him a divorce to finally realize that people have limits.

  11. Ann on August 25, 2020 at 2:17 pm

    Great wording in perfect timing. I really like the way Leslie gives suggestions on how to speak to an abusive person. I plan to use this with my husband. I decided to reword Leslie’s response to make it palatable for my kids (check out Prov. 16:21-24 in the Amplified Bible). I’ve been praying that I’d learn to have winsome words that are like honey to my kids and ones that will help bring healing to their mind and body after a lifetime of abuse. My teen boys don’t like hearing me call dad abusive, so I took out all the “he’s” in Leslie’s article and made them a generic “they” as well as taking out other phrases that made the article about marriage issues. I plan to read Leslie’s response to my teens while asking questions that will help coach them on how to deal with being discerning with destructive individuals. I find that taking this approach works better than using abusive marriage examples with my kids. They love their pastor dad and are slowly learning that much of who he is does not line up with Christ-like behavior. It’s a tough journey to walking in grace and truth. Does anyone know of material that helps coach children of all ages on how to deal with an abusive parent? Leslie, would you ever consider doing a “Leslie Vernick Junior blog” for children coming out of abuse?

    • Leslie Vernick on September 4, 2020 at 5:10 pm

      Great idea Ann, but probably it won’t be me. My plate is full, but I’m sure God will raise someone up.

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