How Hard Do I Push My Husband For Change?

Happy Wednesday friends,

At least I hope it’s happy for you. But if it’s not, can you embrace your pain without adding more suffering?  You see, many of us run from pain, avoid it like the plague.  And because we refuse to accept pain as a normal part of being a broken human being living with other broken human beings in a fallen world, we create more suffering. We tell ourselves things shouldn’t be this way, or it’s not fair, or God doesn’t care, or it’s all our fault, or we’re just a miserable failure for letting this happen. When we do this we only add more suffering to our pain and sometimes becomes more than we can bear.  So friends, listen to your self-talk when you’re in pain.  If you recognize some of the words I mentioned that signal resistance, stop.  Instead tell God you accept this pain in this moment and ask for the wisdom to know what to do with it.

Today’s Question:  Last year, I was trying to figure out how to approach my husband to ask for action for him to take responsibility for a frustration pattern in our marriage.

I tried to learn about consequences and boundaries through your blog; strengths I lacked and didn't understand well.  I had that conversation with my husband in October.  He agreed to do an anger course to look into the problem.  I was prepared for the flak and held my ground.  He said, ‘this isn't what I wanted in a wife.'

My counselor helped me nail the truth that this problem isn't what I wanted in a husband either.   He always wanted unconditional love in our marriage but towards the end of our conversation he said, “well, I guess if I robbed a bank, you wouldn't have to accept that” which was clear insight.

The problem was that he did some emotional withdrawal the whole week I was waiting for his answer.  Then he kept cool and more withdrawn for several months afterwards.  He didn't sign up for two months.  After one month, I asked him if he had, he said no he hadn't.  I told him I was disappointed (a verbal consequence).  I told him it was all I wanted for Christmas (which basically said, I'm not interested in anything else) and I'd be happy to go up to the little cabin up north once he had it done (a positive way of saying, I'm not interested this winter unless it is done).

He approached a friend to get the info on the course and his wife knew; she encouraged me to give him a little space in December to do it.  My friend is concerned because he did not get accountability along with doing it and I was not strong enough to keep asking for both things that week.

Do you have any thoughts on follow through?

I know it is a marathon not a sprint.  What do we do when we take one step but it is more of a process?  He did sign up and give me that certificate at Christmas.  I guess I'm letting my fear get the better of me on this. It isn't any fun to talk to him in this area or letting his emotional withdrawal win but I haven't been able to ask him if he's started.

After knowing how he's avoided this over the years, put off signing up, and uses work and being busy as an excuse in general, I'm doubting he's done much if any.  Now what?

Answer:  I see two problems here.  One is your husband’s resistance and the other is yours.  Let’s focus on yours first.  You seem apprehensive about being straightforward with your husband about what you need from him to feel safe and cared for in your relationship.

The example he cited of robbing a bank being unacceptable was spot-on and was a perfect opportunity for you to communicate clearly to him that his outbursts of anger (or whatever happens that scares you when he’s angry) are equally unacceptable to you and damage the long term stability of your relationship.

You’re also reluctant to ask if he’s followed up and actually attended the class although he presented you with a certificate at Christmas. Ask yourself what are you avoiding?  More anger? Withdrawal? Does he communicate with you non-verbally that if you ask the hard questions, he will retaliate against you?  If he does do those things, what does that mean for you?  How do you handle his immaturity, and sinfulness against you?  Do you shut down? Keep silent?  Lose yourself in the hopes of saving your marriage? Retaliate with anger of your own?   Is this how you want to be and respond?

When he gave you the certificate back at Christmas what was your response?  Did you show him that you were pleased that he took that step for you?  I know it’s tough to feel happy about his gift when you want so much more from him than a reluctant agreement to attend a class.  You want to see him be aware of how his anger has affected you and repentant for his behaviors. Sadly, to you it looked like the only reason he signed up to take the class was to please you, but were you pleased?

The reason I ask that is when a man does something for the sole reason to please his wife, especially if he didn’t want to do it in the first place, and she doesn’t act overly happy about it, he usually feels any more effort isn’t worth it.  On the other hand, if he sees that his efforts pleased you, that might give him more motivation to actually follow through.  And hopefully if he does follow through, his motivation might shift from pleasing you, to actually getting something useful for himself out of the class.

Your husband’s resistance is kicking in here too.  Most angry people also exhibit a good deal of pride and they don’t want to admit, especially in a room full of strangers that they have a problem.  A lot of men don’t want to ask someone else for help and so resist admitting weakness or failure. He avoids taking the class and says he’s too busy as well as withdraws from you so you don’t ask.

To face your resistance you must face your fear instead of allowing it to rule you. Name your fear out loud.  His anger?  His withdrawal?  His disapproval?  His refusal? If those things happen, think about how you will deal with it in a wise and godly way.  Walk yourself through it in your imagination, thinking about what you will say and how you will act.

My guess is your husband’s fear is kicking in too.  He may fear other things.  Fear of humiliation, fear of being wrong, fear of feeling stupid and fear of failure.  What if he goes to the class and still has problems with anger? Then what will happen?

So before you take the tough approach, (which may be necessary at some point), try first the soft approach.  Say something like, “I was so happy when you gave me that certificate for Christmas that you were going to take that anger class.  I want our marriage to be better and I just can’t feel close to you when you get so angry all the time.”  (Or whatever is specific to what you are feeling).  “But you haven’t mentioned it since Christmas and this is March and so I’m wondering if you started yet?”

If you’ve noticed his anger has been better lately and he did complete the course, then tell him.  You can say, “I’ve noticed that you’ve caught yourself lately and are trying hard not to blow up like you used to. I’m so glad you took the class.”

On the other hand, if you don’t notice any change at all and he took it, you can say something like, “I see you’re still struggling with your anger.  It must be discouraging after taking the class but I feel afraid when you act this way and I need you to get more help if the class wasn’t helpful to you.”  

Finally, when do you push for more and when do you let go?  I think that depends on you and the effect his anger has on you and the children and how destructive and dangerous his anger is becoming.  If you’ve been physically harmed by his outbursts – either directly by him hurting you or indirectly by him throwing things and you being injured, call the police. That is your best protection as he will be mandated into a batterer’s intervention group which is much more comprehensive than an anger management class. If his anger is contained to emotional battering, bullying, and bravado, develop a safety plan for you and your children to exit the house so that you are not victimized by his rages.  If he refuses to get help or change, your last resort is separation.  You can say, “I’ve asked and asked and asked you to deal with this problem and you’ve refused.  I will not continue to allow myself and the children to be a victim of your inability to manage your temper.  Your behavior is unacceptable to me, to God, and to anyone else who would witness it.  I will not live like this.  Until you get help for your problem, we will have to live separately.”

This is a strong step, not to be taken for trivial matters, but when used appropriately, it often wakes up a resistant, prideful, unmotivated person to get help in order to not lose his family.

Friends, how hard have you pushed, and what was the result?


  1. Dianna on March 19, 2014 at 4:37 pm

    It is soooo good to see this topic of dealing w/ anger fleshed out! I know that it has been too prevalent in my life since childhood and continues to be. I believe this is true in many relationships.

    Why is anger so prevalent? I believe that it is so easy. So harmful but such an easy way to deal w/ frustration of any sort in a relationship or just in a person’s own life.

    After grasping that my father’s anger was his problem and not mine, at the ripe age of forty-eight, I lost the urge to use it as a defense. Then I needed good defensive tools, when the need arose, and had none. I had no idea how to face and take a stand for the truth like Leslie has outlined so well. I grew up in a household that was not safe to face and stand up for truth.

    I became like my father, who I adored and thought was strong because of what I saw was strength in him. It was not strength but often pushing people away by his display of anger. I was a good student and did the same in hard situations.

    My husband came from a family where his parents verbally fought often. They were hardworking but his father was a high-functioning alcoholic. So, there were many problems from that disorder. Arguing that was often w/ no resolution was what my husband grew up in. That was often true in my home but, I hated it.

    So, we get married w/ a great deal of unresolved anger in our baggage pack and poor ways to deal w/ life’s problems. I had lost the ‘strength’ of anger to defend myself against what was bothering me. By the time I did stand up on some issue, I was too angry under the surface and he was adept at using anger to distance others.

    I wish I knew how to deal w/ anger, conflict in a godly, assertive way years ago. Trying to communicate effectively would have helped the various life and marriage issues that come along. I like the way that Leslie explains the means of consistency and taking gradual steps, as needed, to stand up in truth on touchy subjects.

    My marriage is over. I wish my husband and I had these tools long ago. I am not sure that he can trust, anyway, but we had many instances of progress along the way.

    Please take in Leslie’s techniques to help your marriage and perhaps have a hope, from as much as you can do, to reconciliation.

  2. Hoping on March 19, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    I have pushed HARD for change in my marriage–to the point that I was accused of being unsubmissive, disrespectful, critical, nagging, etc. . . . and none of it made any difference. I called 911 when my life was threatened. 4 years later, I told him that if he didn’t change, I would have to take the children and leave. He didn’t change and I had to follow through. When I did, I pointed out that I had made requests, had given other consequences previously, had given years of opportunities for change, and nothing had worked and this was the option I had left . . . . .

    That was 2 months ago. Now, I am trying to find my way through all the feelings–and I just found out that it is a very good possibility that he has Anti-Social Personality Disorder with a possible secondary being Narcissistic Personality Disorder. And, I have been reading about ‘having the humility to accept that I cannot change him’. How do I balance that with pushing? Knowing when to push for more and when to let go is a really big one! We are currently separated, but he is so interested in reconciliation, that there are still some of the same decisions to make and boundaries to set and maintain . . . . . . .

    • Mary on March 22, 2014 at 10:29 am

      Hoping be very careful in his attempt to reconciliation. I am divorced 2 months from a 23 year very emotionally, spiritually and verbal marriage. my ex husband was diagnosed with BPD and narcissist sociopathy. They will not change. Check out Lesley’s blog from 01/13 I believe on the narcissist in your life. It’ll come up. She explains clearly what you will be dealing with. They want you back because they can’t take care of themselves as they have no core. You are their core and YOU fill it from yourself! They don’t love you or anybody else as normal people do…they love you for loving them and they need you for their supply to live. When I left our “Christian” marriage last year and HE filled the divorce it’s because he felt I abandoned him. No I was making a stand on his abuse and for him to change only. He would not. He’s 63 and can’t. Lesley is this entry right on?
      Prayers to you Hoping

  3. Rosanne on March 19, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    You state: “Most angry people also exhibit a good deal of pride and they don’t want to admit, especially in a room full of strangers that they have a problem.” What is the connection of pride to angry people?

    • Leslie Vernick on March 20, 2014 at 1:09 pm

      Angry people think they’re right. Angry people want their way and use their anger as a tool to intimidate people into giving it to them. Angry people are unwilling to listen to other people’s perspective because they can only see their own. I see a lot of pride in those positions. Not all anger is directed that way but when someone is perpetually angry, there is a lot of pride fueling it.

  4. Elizabeth on March 20, 2014 at 1:05 pm

    I tried… I pushed, I led by example, spoke my truth in a kind way when I had a chance (I was seldom given a chance to talk I did a lot of listening), I tried to encourage the positive (he actually told me to stop blowing sunshine up his …). Very little that came from me seemed to make a difference. Other people or books seemed to have a temporary impact on him but he had very little respect for anything I would say or need. Unless, what I needed matched with what he thought I needed or what he was willing to supply.

    My husband only seems to learn through being destructive and causing pain to himself. Hurting me or the kids didn’t initiate any desire to change in him. When my efforts to effect change and reach him yielded little result, I would withdraw. After so many years of this cycle I decided I could not change him or inspire him to change. I started to live my life focused more on my faith and who I was meant to be. I let go of the burden of trying to make him better. I became numb and withdrawn in my marriage. I was still kind to him and supportive. I was still his friend. But he wanted all of me. The fantasy wife he could treat however he wanted and still have full access to my body and heart.

    I think sometimes that maybe if I had been a little stronger, held him accountable more often, understood the true root of the problem so I could encourage the right kind of counseling…but honestly I think that if I had pushed more he would have raged more. My failing was my weakness and willingness to accept his neglect. I should have asked him to separate a long time ago before he took things to a heart shattering level. If I had I wonder if I would have had more in me to give at that point. More of an interest in saving our marriage.

    If you are on that fence and struggling. If you still have a desire to save your marriage. Please, listen to Leslie’s advice. You might just be able to have an impact and effect some change in your marriage. Even if you can’t change your marriage, YOU will change for the better.

  5. Dana on March 20, 2014 at 8:07 pm

    At present I am living apart from my husband of 30 years due to repeated infidelity of one form or another. We just decided to try to work through issues( infidelity,he does ,as well as emotionally destructive.) and his problems that he can’t get past about meis my leaving him and telling my family and friends. As well as why he does what he does he says is because of my fault for various reasons) so my question is I would like to set the boundary of no other women while we’re working on that reasonable? And if he doesn’t agree to staying away from texting, seeing etc the current person as well as others I’d like to inform him that will be as it always has been a deal breaker and forget reconciling

    • Leslie Vernick on March 20, 2014 at 8:19 pm

      Dana, I think your boundary is too lenient. I think he needs to decide if he wants to be married to you. If he does, that means no other women period. Not just while you’re reconciling but not at all. It is not your fault he chooses to cheat. Yes, there may be some issue in your marriage that he’s unhappy with, but that doesn’t make a man cheat. He cheats because he chooses to. So he expects that he can cheat and be emotionally destructive and you’re suppose to just act like everything is all fine and not tell anyone or leave the relationship? He’s living i la la land and the sooner you help him see he is not married to fantasy wife but a real person, the better chance you will have of either truly reconciling this marriage or knowing that he’s really not in it for his change but to just get you to go back to the same old patterns. Don’t do it.

  6. Christine M. on March 21, 2014 at 10:18 am

    You seem to be having that problem with the comments not showing up again.

    • Leslie Vernick on March 22, 2014 at 1:23 pm

      I know, I don’t know why this keeps happening and the tech people don’t know either. They are working on it again.

  7. Kathy on March 22, 2014 at 9:09 pm

    This is great advice. This where I am @w/my husband. Implementing boundaries and consequences. Instead of dealing w/outbursts, now I am being ignored. It’s so frustrating and immature. I do not want to have to separate as we have 4 kids. Really praying that he will wake up by me not being available to him as I have been in the past..
    Thanks for your input

  8. Val on March 23, 2014 at 10:21 pm

    Thank you Leslie, this was a great subject to tackle this week. As I read through your answer I started feeling sick to my stomach and apprehensive and I realized that I have a lot of fear. Yes, fear about being straight forward. I avoid talking to my husband of 34 years about anything personal because he just shuts me down or walks away. A year ago he brought up something and I started telling him my thoughts, he said he wasn’t interested in hearing me. He “knew what I thought and wasn’t interested”. When I begged him to listen he just shut down. That was the last time any attempt was made to talk about what I thought or felt about anything. We don’t talk about anything personal, just the kids or other surfacy things like car upkeep or how interesting his day was. He is happiest declaring broad generalizations about people or issues. What am I avoiding? His passive aggressive anger, withdrawal-yes it is meant to punish, silent treatment, blame, retaliation in public and private, worse covert behavior and new ways to hide his behavior and monitor mine . I also fear the judgment from him and others in our conservative church. A godly wife submits to suffering, always is cheerful and affectionate and any anger or depression is sinful. He likes things the way they are now, he “appreciates that I don’t nag anymore” – the counselor we had 2 years ago said I shouldn’t bring up stuff that would make him resentful.
    We went to counseling for 1 ½ years, when we started he announced to me on the way to the first meeting that he was picking up a used sports car in the next few days. When I told the counselor this, the counselor suggested that time and money would be better spent on fixing our marriage. He smiled and agreed then told me after we left that he was still determined to get it, which he did. The counseling was me bringing up things him apologizing in front of the counselor and then moving on. No further discussion except “you have to forgive and forget” and “that was then, this is now”. No attempt at restoration except occasionally “going out for coffee”. I was expected by my husband and the counselor to be warm and affectionate. At the end of our counseling he again bought another sports car, saying the previous one (sitting un-drivable in the garage) was a “mistake” because it wasn’t what he wanted after all. I was trying to be co-operative so I suggested he sell the first one before purchasing the 2nd. He wasn’t going to do that. He still has both.
    For my part, I have given up hope, I sit on the couch every evening watching TV insulating myself. I mostly shut down emotionally around him, and I’m resentful of the things he does but feel powerless. I feel there is no hope and no escape and am trying to learn how to live in a way to have joy and purpose. What keeps me going is my kids and grandkids, my friends and my work. But I feel an oppressiveness that’s always in the background even when I’m doing ok. I feel broken.

    • Leslie Vernick on March 23, 2014 at 11:50 pm

      Val I don’t think God wants you to live broken just so that your husband doesn’t feel threatened or uncomfortable. How can you stop being a victim and start living like a survivor?

      • Val on March 24, 2014 at 1:33 am

        I don’t know the answer to that yet, that’s why I’m so glad I found your blog and website. I am capable in other areas of my life & my work but in the past I have bought into the “in order to be godly” you must be submissive and keep on smiling and keep on taking it or else you’re sinning -teaching that is so dominant in christian circles. After you’ve done everything to change your marriage, your attitude and behavior in the relationship and your spouse doesn’t change, it’s time to just suck it up and suffer. And it’s miserable here but I’m afraid leaving would be even more miserable, because then I would face judgment by my church family and some of my kids. Thankyou for caring and for providing insight and real help in developing CORE strength. I need it!

  9. Jenna on March 24, 2014 at 12:05 am

    This is a pertinent topic for me right now too. My husband has had a pornography addiction that I found out about two months after we were married. It’s been nearly 8 years since that first discovery. He is always emotionally withdrawn and completely indifferent towards me and our relationship. I’ve been the primary breadwinner and in many ways, have been a single parent. I believe it’s all connected to the pornography addiction. Anyway, here we are 8 years in and I’ve done everything I can think of to get him to get help. He refused my requests last week to get help asap and so I said it’s time to separate. This blog post has given me a few tips on how to talk to him more effectively. Thank you!

  10. Staci on March 24, 2014 at 8:28 am

    I don’t have any advice for the writer, but just wanted to say, “I get it”. I live in a similar situation. If I talk to my husband about his anger, lack of communication or living out his role as a “Christian” husband and father, he explodes, blames me and withdraws in silent rage. I’ve tried twice in our marriage to push for change and requested both times we attend Christian counseling. He reluctantly agreed both times, but at least he went. Unfortunately, this last attempt only produced more distance between us and the counselor releasing us.

    For now, I am choosing to see the self-imposed, in-house separation between my husband and I as my time to heal, as you encourage in The Emotionally, Destructive Marriage. I wish I could say that my husband misses me and is seeking me out to help restore our relationship, but instead I feel like his enemy–like I need to apologize for breathing some days. BUT, the fighting has stopped and I am learning to respond differently to his destructive habits instead of falling into my own silence. And I have opened up to praying, loving women who remind me of truth. My husband needs Christ to change him; I need Christ to change me. I can’t control my husband, but I can seek out God and his healing in the midst of suffering.

    Thank you, Leslie, for being a voice of truth that many of us don’t hear from our churches and counselors.

  11. carol on March 24, 2014 at 8:28 pm

    Thank you Leslie for having this question, it was very timely in my marriage. My husband has been very covert with verbal and emotional abuse for about 15 years now. He looks like the model husband and father outside of the home. I have thought like others that maybe I didn’t state my thoughts well, or maybe I did sound snippy, or maybe I didn’t state what i thought clearly….My husband always has a better answer, a “better way”, an explanation that was more correct. I have been through such mental turmoil and self doubt to the point were I couldn’t and didn’t want to make a decision. The blaming and accusations of spending money and using credit cards that I did not have was overwhelming, but he could justify his use of money.

    I took over 8 years to actually say anything back to him but when the credit card company start calling something had to change. He had 10 cards with his name on them and I had a card I never requested they totaled over 70,000. I was told that I spent money and I needed to figure out how to fix the problem.

    I have asked G

    • carol on March 24, 2014 at 8:40 pm

      I have asked God many time for wisdom for what to do.
      When they repeat over and over that they do not have a problem and state that they think the counseling isn’t working, is this when we need to come to the conclusion that they are not changing?

      I have confronted him multiply times in the last 8 years and it will get better for a while and then the cycle returns.

      I am thankful for your site and have listened when you are on Midday connection.

      Our older children have seen the attitude and verbal assaults. We do go to church and I have gone to our pastor with no result but “respond kind and try to appeal to your husband better.”

      I am so tired and my health is not lying about the stress.
      Again thanks for writing the books about this abuse.


      • Leslie Vernick on March 24, 2014 at 10:54 pm

        Carol, it sounds like you’re exhausted and need more support. Don’t lie anymore. Bring the CC evidence to your church and ask for protection and help. Jeff Crippen on his blog “A Cry For Justice” has an excellent letter to give to your pastor. Pastor to pastor, about how churches do not handle abuse well.

        • carol on March 25, 2014 at 8:55 am

          I have been to my pastor who has stated he is not a counselor. I have another church we go to that is more supportive. My husband and I attended a marriage retreat and during our discussion time of sharing about issues all I heard was his blaming others, accusing me and others, and blaming others and never taking responsibility for his words or actions. I never intended to say this there but I told him if he can not accept responsibility for what his says and does then we are going to have a hiatus from each other. To which he responds with he doesn’t understand, he has tried all he can, his done everything possible. He has cycled through this scene many times in the last 10 years. I see no change from the cycle and it grieves me to the point of being physically sick knowing that the marriage is headed for separation and possibly divorce.

          God has helped me and showed me things that went against church teachings in the last 4 years. When I got your book last year and read it this awesome feeling of knowing that God has guided my steps every so slowly because what God has showed me and the action that you and others have stated are in line. I have grown in my core and my husband does not like it. My eyes are on MY GOD not my marriage or my husband.

          thanks again carol

    • Robin on April 7, 2014 at 7:26 pm

      As I listen to many comments on this blog, I am reminded how much wives love their husbands and truly open their hearts to learn how to live with them and accept who they are. They desire to honor them and live together, harmoniously. But I have found a marriage in a destructive zone, cannot be so flexible, and it calls for greater measures. I lived with my destructive husband for 32 yrs. I truly loved him with all my heart. And no matter what I did, because I fought for our marriage for 32 long yrs, nothing worked anything permanently. I still remember the day, I had to be willing, to give up on the marriage and let the relationship die. That was not an easy thing for me to do at all. I filed for divorce 3 months ago, and I’m currently grieving the loss of the relationship. I wanted to share with those still struggling, that if the abuse is strong in your home, be careful not to tolerate it for yrs on end- having a false hope that things will change. I love Henry Cloud’s quote in his bk- Necessary Endings- look at his past, and you’ll have a good idea what your future with him will be like, unless there are some radical changes of the heart. Be careful not to be deceived. Tighten up those boundaries with great courage, embrace stronger limits in your relationship, be a warrior in the fight for your family. When I separated from my husband, I did so to stop enabling the abuse in our home. You must be brave and do the things you may not want to do- but are the things you will need to do, to protect yourself, your children, and even what is best for your spouse; to be accountable for his destructive behaviors!!

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