How Much Time Do I Give Him To Show Me?

Morning friend, I’ve just returned from a busy two weeks of speaking and traveling. I spoke to over 350 men and women at the American Association of Christian Counselors conference on rebuilding broken trust. This year, more than in previous years I felt an openness and acceptance that some marriages cannot be fixed. Not because God can’t heal but because people are not willing to do the work to truly get healthy. 

Thursday, October 5th, I will be doing a free workshop: If He Doesn’t Hit You…. is it still abuse? God Cares. During the workshop, our doors to CONQUER will open and if you’ve been waiting to join our amazing community of women, now is the time.

Today’s Question: After 27 years of marriage to the same man, I have recently realized he has been emotionally and verbally abusing our kids and me. The facing of this reality is so very humiliating. The epiphany came to me while he was away for a Men’s Intensive – a “breaking free” weekend.

Up until this weekend away, he had been impossible. A year ago, I told him I believed we needed to separate. The next day, he claimed to have seen the light and promised I would see how different he was going to be. He was better for a while, and then he was back to demanding selfishness and pride. Expecting sex every day and acting as though he was entitled to whatever he wanted. Getting angry when something doesn’t go all his way. Belittling, gaslighting, and just mean. 

A month ago, I told him again: I believe I need to separate from you. We have been in marriage counseling for 5-1/2 years! He just did not understand. And that lack of understanding was hurting us. 
While at the men’s intensive, he began texting me these powerful statements: I’m so sorry. I’ve been a jerk! God is opening my eyes and I’m so sick to my stomach realizing what I’ve done to you and the kids. A lot of texts. He told me he sobbed. He asked – when it was over – for permission to please come home and sleep in another room just so he could serve us and try to repair all the damage he says he’s caused. Wanting to serve us is definitely different from the past. 

After much prayer, I allowed him. He has been home 3 nights and so far, he’s a total servant. Cooked supper, washed dishes, won’t let me do any work after he gets home because he wants to serve me. Mowed our yard for our son. Asks me several times a day what he can do to help me. 

I’m committed to guarding my heart this time. I was prepared to file for divorce due to the abuse. My question is how long is it fair to hold out? He says he doesn’t want me to feel pressured at all and he is happy to sleep in another room for however long I need because he understands now that it’s what he deserves and that my heart needs to heal. 
Shocking. How long – if he continues this way – is long enough to let him back into my heart and bedroom?

Answer: I don’t know that I can specifically give you an answer to “how long” but if it’s alright with you, I’d like to share with you some of my thoughts and concerns as I read through your question. 

First: You said after 27 years, you finally realized what was going on had a name. Emotional abuse, and…. discovering that truth felt humiliating. Why do you think you were unable to see or name the truth earlier? You always knew something was wrong. You asked for a separation. For what reasons? And then you said “he saw the light and promised to change…” yet didn’t stay consistent. What “light” did he see?  

The reason I’m asking these questions is that I think it can be very helpful to put more specific language to what’s wrong, and what needs to change. “Seeing the light” or “woke up” or I’ve been a jerk God’s opening my eyes,” are starters to a much lengthier conversation that you and your husband still have not had.  

His new actions are a great start. He says he wants to serve. No strings attached. No demands. Super, …for 3 days so far. Here’s the thing. One of the attitudes you mentioned which was harmful in the marriage is his entitlement He felt entitled to get what he wanted, when he wanted, and entitled to punish you when you refused to comply (he would call it submit). This is a huge red flag indicating an abusive marriage and I’m not sure why, after 5 ½ years of counseling, this problem was never named by your counselor. You said, “your husband didn’t understand?” What specifically didn’t he understand? Did he not understand he felt entitled to demand you do what he wanted and felt entitled to punish you when you didn’t deliver? Did he not understand he was selfish and prideful and sinful and harmful to you, your kids, and your relationship? What didn’t he understand when you told him ouch, stop, you hurt me or you said no? What specifically didn’t he understand that he seems to understand now? Is he willing to explain that to you now? 

I’m not saying his repentance at this men’s conference isn’t genuine. It seems that it touched him deeply. Besides his new “servant-like” actions, what self-awareness and self-reflection did he get regarding the way he harmed his family by his beliefs, attitudes, and actions? I’d love for you to sit and listen to him share what God told him during this conference that finally got his attention. What specific areas did he realize he caused harm to those he said he loved? The more he can use specific language for what was sinfully wrong in his treatment and attitude toward you and the kids, the more likely he will be responsible for not repeating or excusing it in the future. 

Second: what do you think was going on with you that made it hard for you to face the ugly hard truth of what he was doing? And, when you finally found words for it, you felt humiliated by it? He felt entitled to demand and abuse you when he was unhappy or didn’t get what he wanted. But what was going on with you when he did that? Did you think this was normal? Did you feel you had no choice? Did you believe God wanted you to submit, even when it included abuse of your kids and you? Have you explored that a bit? Right now, do you feel like a fully mature adult who has her voice and choice including your “no” when you don’t want to do something he wants you to, like having sex?  

From reading through your question, I don’t think your first area of focus should be your marriage or opening your heart or having a sexual relationship. Rather, I believe it would be more fruitful for you both to work on understanding your individual mindsets and beliefs that got you where you were, as well what impact his long-term abusive behaviors have had on your mind, soul, body, and heart. 

When someone is unhealthy or toxic, that person cannot create a healthy relationship. When two people are unhealthy (even when in different ways) you cannot create a healthy marriage. 

I hear you. He wants to stay married. He wants you to give him a chance to prove to you he’s changed. You’re not so sure. I’d say give it at least 6 months to see if this change is sticky or temporary. His change should be because he is sick of the man he was and wants to be different, not to get you to change your mind and take him back. You’ll only learn that if you give it time to play out. 

The pathway toward creating the possibility of a strong, healthy marriage is for you both to do some of your own individual work to understand yourselves better. Is that happening? Then you will have greater clarity on what you want and don’t want going forward and can articulate it with words to see if that is possible.

Friend, when you have been asked to give it “time” to prove that repentance is genuine, what kind of things have you done to #do your own work to get healthier and stronger?

17 Comments

  1. Kay on September 28, 2023 at 8:18 am

    The test will come when this husband feels he’s put in enough time but doesn’t get what he thinks he deserves. Will he rage and yell, or will he grapple with that and humbly accept that his gift of service to you didn’t end as he hoped.

    • Connie on September 28, 2023 at 2:35 pm

      Exactly.

  2. Elizabeth on September 28, 2023 at 8:28 am

    Very timely, thank you. And thank you for the incisive questions.

    My husband said something yesterday that made me think…maybe.

    But, I am afraid to have that big conversation. Which tells me something.

    Especially when three days ago, he displayed that same entitlement to treat me a certain way.

    All very good questions.

  3. Michelle on September 28, 2023 at 10:08 am

    I wonder what happened during 5 and 1/2 years of marriage counseling. I agree with Leslie that you need your own path to recovery and your own counselor may be a start. Marriage is based on trust and reciprocity. It is nice that your spouse is realizing this for the first time that you are not a slave to him. However, you need to establish your “own” boundaries and what your expectations are going forward. It sounds like you have one foot out the door already and may feel this is temporary until he reverts to his old patterns. I know that I prayed something like a turnaround would have happened with my spouse. Sadly, it did not happen. I reluctantly filed for divorce as there was no change. His emotional abuse escalated during the divorce. He went on a major damage control and created a narrative that painted me as a menopausal crazy person. So having a therapist will help you navigate the tumultuous waters that you start to navigate. I wish I had resources like Leslie back then. I learn much about my life patterns that were established in childhood. I have learned so much in 10 years. I pray that you find the resolution that you need.

  4. Cindy in Pville on September 28, 2023 at 10:16 am

    As loving woman we desperately want things to be all better…that’s where we make our mistake and believe they want the same things. Great questions to reflect upon…I’ve asked myself how long is long enough…almost to jump right back in the dysfunctional cycle. I’ve been married 37 years and it’s been a cycle of be good-do bad- confront- be good- do bad- confront. You get the idea. I will not do that anymore. It’s taken its toll. At least 6 months is excellent advice. He needs to make it a pattern in his life, and that takes time.

  5. Christina Dolle on September 28, 2023 at 10:26 am

    This ladies story is my current situation, only during counseling when my husband was confronted with not speaking godly words to his wife. He became angry. We left that counseling session and now things are worse than before. He said I won and that he is a beaten man. Not sure what I won, this is not a competition. He is cold and indifferent now , avoids even walking near my path. He blames me for everything wrong with our marriage, and he refuses to change or go to counseling anymore. I live in a state of sadness.

    • Beth McMillan on September 29, 2023 at 12:21 am

      You don’t deserve to be treated that way . I learned the hard way that marriage counseling with an abusive man always makes things worse. It never helps.

      I suggest you go to your own woman Counselor and try to get stronger so you can leave the relationship. You don’t deserve emotional abuse , I know it hurts to leave someone you thought really loved you , it is painful , but it’s painful already what u are going thru .
      I’m 10 months separated , out of a 29 yr marriage.I filed for divorce after 6 mo as he continued to be abusive to me .
      We went to a Counseling one last time before I left for me to tell the counselor that I cannot live with him anymore as he was escalating to scary levels when I said no, and he would not leave the home, so I had to leave the home.
      My life is much more peaceful. I’ve made new friends, I can sleep at night and not be bothered that he’s gonna be angry and rageful at me because I didn’t have sex with him. It was craziness , but my counselor said I married my father , because we do what is familiar to us even if it’s unhealthy. Wow . God is so good , He rescued me from a terribly controlling marriage and He has provided for my every need and my daughters understood why I left and we have a better relationship then we did at home , they are young adults now . Blessings to you !

  6. Ruth on September 28, 2023 at 10:53 am

    I am a member of Leslie’s private Conquer group. I have been in there for several years. I’ve seen numerous women write that their husbands would behave badly- never ever apologize, rage for long periods at night so she couldn’t sleep, manipulate her to have sex so that she knew there’d be hell to pay if she didn’t cave in- including repercussions that hurt innocent children and grocery money withheld. But within days of her separating or filing, he would magically have an epiphany. He now understood that he was the problem and he wanted another chance! Now, she would be conflicted and wanted to believe this was finally the answer to her prayers. But dear sisters, no. This is a of Behavior Pattern. This is a Hail Mary on his part. Love bombing. Now, I guess some realizations even by abusers can be REAL. One time after my husband found my journal. He gave this awkward apology: “I’m sorry for how I hurt you but I don’t like to think about it”. He couldn’t deal with his shame so this reality check wasn’t gonna help him or us for long. He would go back to his old ways very soon. His old ways meant propping up his fragile inner ego / inner child by having a superior, narcissistic outer protector. This means vulnerability and intimacy with him is not possible. I would venture to guess that is the path the husband the writer of this week’s question will eventually go down also. Sadly, many men are scared of vulnerability. It’s painful. Our society still does not nurture boys and the evangelical church praises toxic masculinity = so, here we are. Men have shame on top of shame – especially if they’ve lived a whole marriage abusing their wife. It’s much easier for these guys to jump behind the mask and hide behind their work.
    Also, what if there’s too much damage done to this precious woman? She’s given so much to this man. She needs time to heal without him bothering her.
    He needs individual therapy.

  7. Deborah Smith on September 28, 2023 at 10:58 am

    I’m sorry for your suffering. I agree with others here he really must do his own work and it will take time. My now “was-band” ( ex husband) refused marriages counseling, and when he did see a therapist briefly he surmised he was like righteous poor misunderstood Job in the Bible.. We separated after 20 years of marriage, with him refusing to get real counsel, so I went to great counselor but also to a mentor group who unknowingly misused scripture in a way that kept me primed to accept abuse. We reunited after a year of separation, and he was “sorry” but more like a puppy that missed me. He never changed but went more covert in his abuse. He simply changed his tactics.

    For 18 more years just got worse, so I got counseling again, and joined Conquer and faced truth head on, worked on my core of God’s calling in me, learned God’s heart for me and him and marriage. A year later I asked his church elder to meet with us and “gently demand” him to leave and start getting healthy. I gave him 4 years of separation to get good counsel and do the work. He even had the blessing of church pay for him to begin the Chris Moles program! He just would not face truth. He lost everything, his business, his health, his friends, his family, his community, his marriage, and me. Now we are divorced after 38 years of marriage and maybe, just maybe he’s starting to get it.

    I think the number one problem at the root of why we accept abuse and why they abuse is out a lack of deeply knowing and receiving Jesus love for us and the “fear” of God instead of people pleasing. I took Leslie’s course on “Moving Beyond People Pleasing” which was a game changer for me!

  8. Pamela Reinhardt on September 28, 2023 at 11:05 am

    I agree that fixing the marriage is not top priority. I believe that your own emotional work is. It’s all nice that he’s putting in some effort, but your own childhood patterns are also driving the boat of allowing the abuse for 27 years. I would invest 100% time in that, with or without him. I would not even think about a time when he can return to the bedroom!!!!

  9. Alice on September 28, 2023 at 11:23 am

    My situation was somewhat similar. My entire marriage was full of abuse, physical, emotional, and verbal. My now ex husband had an change of heart also and started doing things that had never been done for 22 years, cleaning, fixing supper, leaving me notes with chocolate and even taking responsibility for my poor choices. I was very skeptical of these changes. I knew I had a lot of work to do on myself and I kept telling him that’s what I wanted to focus on. He could keep it together for about a week at a time then would get frustrated with me for not moving forward with him quickly enough and not accepting his new self as what the future would look like. In time he proved to me nothing underneath had changed, he really was still the same person doing things differently on the external. Underneath he still wanted what he wanted and not what was best for me. My story is not your story but I think I learned time and sticking to what you know you need and not giving in to pressure to accept his changes at face value lead me to know nothing of any true change had happened. I am still on my road to healing and I pray whatever direction your life takes you can find your healing as well.

  10. Connie on September 28, 2023 at 2:33 pm

    First, he is not committing to ongoing mentoring. That means he’s totally looking to your responses for validation. Way too much of an emotional burden on you.
    Second, he is still in control. Doing good works of his own ideas. Has he asked you what you need from him? I think he’s trying to put you on a guilt trip. One day the “After all I’ve done for you!!” will come out. I get rounds of this all the time. Serving in physical ways but not to and from the heart. I still don’t have a voice.
    Have you been able to sit down and dump all your pain to him, without any defensiveness or excuses on his part? I would want that to happen before living in the same house again. His walk with the Lord should be pretty solid before even his walk with you.
    Can you say no to him?
    These are a few things that pop into my mind. Bottom line is, what is Jesus telling you?

  11. Kathy on September 28, 2023 at 6:27 pm

    And why do your son’s chores for him …? I guess the discipline to get him (your son ) to regularly show up for the mowing is likely not always easy …and to be encouraged ,not taken off him …
    (Hope that’s not to harsh …just speaking from experience :)..

  12. Carmen on September 29, 2023 at 4:18 pm

    I speak from experience as well. Would it not be MOST helpful to contribute to godly parenting and encourage your son to mow the law, be a hard worker and do it cheerfully and I’m proud of you/well done. (I speak from experience too–that parenting is hard work, and for a selfish person who wants to look good or impress, it is much easier to mow the lawn than to parent cheerfully and follow through.)
    In my case, I have had to start saying regularly enough, please let him take care of the lawn; you can remind/encourage him, but don’t do it for him. (Our son would only be too happy to play more video games– but that would make him really appreciate dad!– a bonus for him, of course [Dad’s so cool, doing the lawn so I can play more video games!])

  13. Dorena on September 29, 2023 at 10:20 pm

    Ladies, this came at the perfect moment. Thank you to each of you who have taken the time to share. When it comes to verifying change do what you would at an orchard. If the sign tells you it’s an apple tree and yet, depending on the season, you see leaves, bark and fruit that say other wise, do you question yourself or the sign? You would think the sign wouldn’t be a posted lie, but just because it is written or said over and over doesn’t mean it is true. How about verifying from a safe distance and then as the evidence is substantiated, move closer for a better look. If you don’t trust that it is good fruit, then don’t take a bite, only eat if you’re sure, there’s no hurry. Real love is patient, kind, gentle, and easy to be entreated, that’s real fruit. That’s the stuff that makes you know you are safe, safe enough to eat and not wonder if you should or shouldn’t eat because it just might be poisoned. You have children who are watching and learning how to discern from you. How are you teaching them? How am I teaching mine? When I get all confused I look around me and see my kids and how they are responding to our situation. Are they hungry to receive the fruit their father is producing? Am I paying more attention to the “sign” than the evidence? Yep, I have. I wanted to believe hard enough to make it a reality, but that is not what makes reality. When the fruit is real, we can gain nourishment from it. Jesus said that the truth would set me free and that He is the way, the truth and the life. That means, I can turn to Him, trust Him and follow Him and I will be free. I like Psalms 23. It reminds me that the paths of righteousness are through the valley of death. Just because it is hard, very hard, does not mean you are doing something wrong. Remember how God chastised Job’s three friends who told Job he must have done something wrong to deserve what happened to him? Job didn’t do anything wrong, he was chosen by God, and even though Job was tried he didn’t deny God. I believe that’s how God inspects our fruit. He’s a fruit inspector too. I can learn from that. God bless each of you and thank you again for speaking into my life and heart. You have encouraged me greatly.

  14. heather on October 1, 2023 at 9:55 pm

    Thank you ladies and especially Leslie for the wise words. I’m preparing for a new individual counselor so I can heal my mind, soul, body and heart. everything is sick and hurts. I’m in a 30 year marriage because I didn’t get it 23 years ago, nor 7 years before that. Thankfully I have amazing children now but they are suffering because of our dysfunction too. He will twist this and blame me which will confuse them and impair all of our relationships. The marriage counseling starts this week with his main issue being ‘intimacy’. He hasn’t looked up from his laptop in 17 years and he wonders why we don’t know each other or have sex. I’m grateful he’s finally going to counseling but the marriage/forgiveness/sex is not my priority. Sex with him sounds like a severe punishment. I need to know what beliefs I have that got me here and work to replace them with healthy ones. I have no illusions. He’s just getting worse and thinks I’m not aware of cheating and doesn’t care that I know about pornography. I’ve been fooled countless times by this boy/man imposter. My Dad told me he was sorry he ruined my life before he died because he didn’t tell me not to marry him. Thank you God that your Word teaches us that reconciliation is through turning and repentance. Thank you Leslie for the permission to expose the abuser.

  15. Cheryl Ralston on October 4, 2023 at 12:28 pm

    Things I have done to do my own work and get stronger:
    ~Counseling to help me heal and realize that I can move on in life if he refuses to do his own work.
    ~Firm boundaries to protect me from continued emotional abuse on his part, and following through when he busts through them.
    ~Identifying the lies that I’ve beleived that have resulting in allowing his abusive behavior for so long. I can take the time to heal and stand my ground to act authentically with him, rather than allowing my voice to be shut down out of a desire for peace.

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