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?
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Change Your Story, Change Your Life: Moving from Breakdown to Breakthrough
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