Is He Manipulating Me?


Morning friends,

I’ve got a question for all of you. What book, or television series or movie have you watched or read during this COVID isolation time that you loved? I’m reading a few right now. We watched Anne with an E (Anne of Green Gables) Netflix series – excellent – we all loved it. Little Women TV series was also good – with grandkids.  I’d love to hear your suggestions as it’s getting hotter and harder to go outside. I just read The Yellow Wallpaper (a short fascinating story about a benevolent controlling husband who drove his wife mad), Inspector Garmach Murder series, #1 by Louise Penny (okay), Recovering From Biblical Manhood & Womanhood by Aimee Byrd, (fascinating and I’m not done yet). Unfollow by Megan Phelps-Roper – excellent, a personal memoir of her leaving her very toxic family church system, Westboro Baptist Church, and their controlling patriarchal system. I’m also listening to White Fragility, quite an eye-opener. I’m learning a lot. I haven’t watched any note-worthy films but I’m open to recommendations.

How about you?


Today’s Question. I’ve been married 37 years to a verbally abusive husband. He has cheated several times and shared about his girlfriends to his sister, my daughters, and everyone while I was separated from him. Now that I want to divorce him and I have stood firm in my decision (1 year separated), he is saying all the right things, and even realizing he wasn’t saved by God then. Should I continue the divorce? Is he manipulating again or is this time real? I don’t know if he is fully repenting or is it the same act?

Answer: You don’t know. You won’t know without watching his behaviors, over time. He’s such a good liar and long-term manipulator how could you know? That is one of the serious consequences of your husband’s 37-year track record. Don’t beat yourself for this. This is what happens when people repeatedly lie and sin. We don’t believe or trust them.  

Here are a few ways to begin the process of “deciding.” If he truly IS repentant now and has gotten saved and come to Christ, he will show his repentance for his past behaviors, including intimidating you, manipulating you, cheating on you, maligning you to others, and verbally abusing you by stopping these behaviors.  

If he truly is repentant, his actions now would demonstrate that he understands he has damaged your marriage and your trust and would not have any expectations for instant reconciliation. Therefore, if he tells you that you should stop the divorce proceedings, or makes any demands for anything from you, this would show you that his heart is not for Christ and his glory but for himself and his comfort and security.  

When someone truly comes to Christ, they are sorry for the pain they have caused. Both to Christ and to others. They are willing and eager to make restitution to the one they have harmed. Click To Tweet 

Take a look at Zacchaeus in Luke 19. Notice his recognizable and immediate response when he came to Christ. No one had to tell him what to do, he knew what he had to do. He didn’t make excuses or demands.  He didn’t expect amnesty or instant trust from those he had financially harmed. This is what he said and did. (his actions matched his words). Zacchaeus told Jesus, “I will give half of my wealth to the poor. Lord, and if I have cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much!” Jesus didn’t stop Zacchaeus from making amends and restitution to those he had harmed. He welcomed it. Salvation and grace do not excuse someone from also making amends to those they have harmed where possible.  

We don’t know how long it took for Zacchaeus to restore his relationships or make new ones but nowhere in Scripture does it say it happened immediately.  

A manipulator’s tactics are to do or say what is necessary to get what he or she wants. If he can get what he wants by being harsh and cruel and verbally intimidating, then that’s what he does. If she can get what she wants by sweet-talking you and making promises she has no intention of keeping, that’s what she does. Therefore, here’s the thing we must all pay attention to. When one tactic the manipulator uses doesn’t work anymore –for example, his verbal threats don’t scare you, his guilt trips don’t intimidate you, his sad and sorry face doesn’t get you to back down, maybe claiming salvation and repentance will. So here’s where you must stand strong and not get fooled by smooth talk. (see Psalm 12:2; 55:21).

What if you said to your husband something like, “I’m delighted that you’ve come to Christ. What does that mean for you?” And then stop and listen. He might say something like, “I’m going to be a new man, I’m going to be a good husband, change my ways.” If so, you can respond kindly, “That’s wonderful, I wish I could believe you, but I hope it’s true for your sake and for our children’s sake.” Then STOP. No promises of reconciliation or dropping the divorce. If he is truly repentant, he will understand why you wouldn’t believe him right now, with no added pressure or guilt trip.  

However, if he’s claiming salvation in order to “get you to do something, or change your mind” that will start to come out of his mouth. His tactics will change back to pressure, guilt trips, and even verbal abuse like, “What kind of Christian are you that you won’t forgive me.” Or, “God hates divorce and you’re disobeying God if you through with this.”

If you see version 1, humility, accepting consequences, and a willingness to rebuild your trust over time, then if you choose, reconciliation might be possible to consider in the future.  

However, if you see version 2, false humility covering over layers of entitlement and arrogance, RUN. Nothing is permanently changing other than his tactics and vocabulary.

Friends, when you hear the words “I’m different now” or “I got saved” or “I’m repentant or sorry,” how do you tell if there is genuine heart change or just words? 


  1. Linda Mullin on July 15, 2020 at 8:41 am

    This COVID has allowed me time to establish and allow God to minister to me. Actually taking time for me. It has been a beautiful time. God still working on me but I know I am not alone.

  2. Annie on July 15, 2020 at 11:39 am

    Makes me think of all the stories on this website of Christian men who are committing adultery anyways. You don’t know if him becoming a Christian will change any of his behaviours. There are no guarantees. Most new Christians don’t become perfect instantly! I would favour that you continue on your plans. You deserve time to heal, to discover who you are. “You are obligated to forgive me” is a poor understanding of forgiveness. Forgiveness and reconciliation are two different things, Patrick Doyle has two very good Dove TV videos on this, which expand on Leslie’s comment ‘no promises of reconciliation’.

  3. Lori on July 15, 2020 at 11:42 am

    I imagine it will hit me like a ton of bricks, so easy to accept and be hard to miss since he will be filled with God’s grace. Grace is the key. The look on his face, the tone of his voice and his body language will be so different from what I have seen, heard and felt for years. It will be free of the pride and manipulation I am so used to guarding my heart from. I will be introduced to a man I don’t think I have ever met.

    • Annie on July 15, 2020 at 12:19 pm

      And that change must persist, it cannot be a one time ‘ton of bricks’. Try saying ‘no’ to this ‘man you have never met’ and see what happens.

      • Lori on July 15, 2020 at 1:49 pm

        That’s why the key is grace. He will not be able to truly change without it. He will only be saying or doing what he thinks he needs to and it will not last if he is relying solely on himself. His tongue will reveal what secrets are in his heart. He will not be able to persevere without the Holy Spirit which we receive through God’s grace and the love which drives us to seek Him and glorify Him in everything we do and say. That’s why it will be shocking because it will be truth and it will be a blessing which only God can give.

        • Sue Glee on July 15, 2020 at 2:27 pm

          I agree. It will be unmistakable. He would be a man you never knew before. Only God can bring about that kind of transformation.

      • Suzanne on July 16, 2020 at 1:26 pm

        INDEED: saying no to something they expect you to say “yes” to can be a very good clue as to what, if any, change has occured. My h is trying by being pleasant and amicable. Still I get clues from time to time that his heart isn’t in it and it’s an act to achieve his personal goal of getting his maid, cook and sex partner back. Just this morning he asked me if I wanted to go on a bike ride together. I told him I was on my way to run errands but could in the afternoon. The cold stare in his eyes and the immediate vacuum of energy that got sucked out of the room at that moment was palpable. He still has rage inside of him, his heart is not softer and he’s still not a believer much less a repentent man. It was just a moment in time but it reminded me of just what a good actor he can be when he wants to be. He’s been home 2 months after leaving for almost five months. The effort to keep his controlling, raging, bitter self down is wearing on him. I wonder how long he’ll be able to keep up the “nice guy” act?

        • JoAnn on July 16, 2020 at 5:29 pm

          Suzanne, if he is just suppressing his rage, then please be careful, because when he “blows” you could get seriously hurt. Be sure to have a safe exit plan: keep your car well fueled and extra keys hidden, a suitcase with essentials, a friend you can go to, an extra bank account with only your name on it, etc. This man sounds dangerous to me. Please be carful.

  4. Catherine on July 15, 2020 at 1:30 pm

    Hi Leslie! Great article! Thank you. And, I’m loving Heartland on Netflix. A great series about a family that is set in a beautiful ranch just outside of Banff. And, as my sister says, it’s Hallmark (not sure it really is), so you don’t have to worry that things won’t all work out in the end. 🙂

    • Deena Wilson on July 16, 2020 at 2:51 pm

      Another great summer read is The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek about the Packhorse Librarians in the 1930s who brought books to the isolated Appalachian families of Kentucky. Loved it!

  5. Connie on July 15, 2020 at 1:31 pm

    I’m wondering what he is losing if you divorce him. Comfort? A maid and cook? Reputation? House? Money, as in spousal support? What is motivating this change? If you continue with your plan, will be still be ‘saved’ ? You can always remarry down the road if he is truly sincere. Can you say no to him? Just some thoughts I had reading this.

    As far as movies we’ve watched recently, the new series of “The Chosen” is so good! You can still watch them on YouTube, I think, or order t from VidAngel. I usually don’t like movies about Jesus, but really enjoyed these.

  6. Becky on July 15, 2020 at 1:39 pm

    Thank you Leslie for posting this blog today. I really needed this, it is a good reminder for me as to what to look for in my h’s actions and words. He wants me to come back home, and I know it is pretty much for his own comfort. From what our counselor (whom we are seeing separately) has told me recently, there seems to have been a couple of small insights for h lately, but it is far too early to tell if he will truly grow in those areas. I know I am not ready to go back home at this time, if ever…..please pray for me to keep growing stronger emotionally, spiritually, and mentally so I can hear God clearly and make wise decisions for my future.

  7. Erin Frazier on July 15, 2020 at 1:58 pm

    This is word-for-word almost my exact situation and question that I have been planning on asking this very week. We have been separated for a month and my husband has been making all of the changes that I have prayed and hoped for after years of emotional abuse and unsuccessful boundaries in the past. I finally came to a place where I’m at peace with moving forward in potential divorce and finally feel the freest and most emotionally the healthiest. I told myself the last time that I gave him another chance that there wouldn’t be a “next time” and now here I am conflicted and wrestling with what to do. As the advice above says; he has been what truly seems repentant, acknowledged the ways he’s hurt me and our daughter, sought counseling on his own, and even joined a men’s Bible study on his own for what he says he needed. It sounds terrible, but I find myself wishing he wasn’t doing all of this because it’s making what I thought my decision should be hard and I’m really struggling. He’s said and done these things in the past (except for the counseling) only to fall back in the pattern later on again. I’m scared that’s going to happen again, but I also don’t want to miss a chance to show grace and mercy to someone who truly has repented.

    • Autumn on July 15, 2020 at 8:26 pm

      The most important thing I read in your post is that he has an established pattern and a history of returning to abusive behavior. That makes him pathological and his behavior, cyclical. Stick to your guns and make your “yes”, yes and your “No”, no. See if he can maintain behavior utilizing a one to three ratio.

      By this I mean if you were together six years, give it at least two years before you consider reexamining his behavior. Stand by your word. Zero tolerance is Zero tolerance. You look like a push over, if you fall for his claims of changing after only a month. No one changes that fast.

      Yup, you are being manipulated. He is doing damage control to guard his public image, worrying about potential alimony payments or splitting his wealth with you, while losing his obligated sex partner, and not wanting to have to put in the work to con a new woman. He is throwing a “Hail Mary” pass to get you back under his control. Don’t buy into his nonsense.

    • JoAnn on July 15, 2020 at 9:55 pm

      Erin, if, after a couple of years, you see a real change, you can always remarry, IF YOU WANT TO. But Autumn’s response here is worth paying attention to. Most abusers just want their housekeeper, cook, and sex partner, without the obligatory loving care and respect. Maybe he will change enough to get involved with someone else, but I suspect you will enjoy your freedom so much that you won’t want to go back to him. That’s OK. Sometimes showing grace and mercy is requiring him to pay the price for his behavior. Forgiveness doesn’t require reconciliation.

      • Aly on July 16, 2020 at 8:09 am

        JoAnn, Erin,
        JoAnn, you posted this and it really made me pause! “ Sometimes showing grace and mercy is requiring him to pay the price for his behavior. Forgiveness doesn’t require reconciliation.”
        Requiring him to pay the price for his behavior is the thing that I think many manipulative people Don’t get! In our Christian education, many of us are taught that Jesus paid the price for our sins and therefore it’s difficult for these individuals to think& agree & be held accountable that their patterned behavior has a real consequence.
        Anyone can claim behavior change or be on good behavior, it’s true character growth and development that follow lasting change and greater maturity.
        This character growth can open the door for the possibility of reconciliation.
        I hope this is helpful, but when my husband was immersing himself into health and growth I was involved in the process as ‘giving my side or experience’ to his men’s group, professional counselor, pastoral mentor.
        Also, he knew that one of his behavior consequences was that he didn’t just get to slowly return to his old (no accountability ways-driving his own bus) until I felt there had been enough character development and that I was experiencing a safe partner.
        A man surrendered to Christ first has a very different posture of growth and healing.

        • JoAnn on July 16, 2020 at 1:01 pm

          Aly, perhaps I should have worded it this way: showing mercy may be in the form of requiring him to bear the consequences of his behavior. Yes, the Lord did “pay the price” for us to be forgiven, but He still allows us to deal with the consequences. When Erin said, “no more chances,” she meant it, and for her to go back on her word now, means that she has no more leverage in this relationship. He won’t believe anything she says.

          • kristi2holl on July 20, 2020 at 10:38 am

            Do listen to all the advice here. I sooo wish I had. One time I had my young pastor tell me, “The official position of the church is that divorce is only permissible for adultery–and you had to catch him in the act itself to have sufficient proof–and desertion (which was out because I couldn’t get him to leave, and it was a house I had bought!)” But the pastor looked so troubled and compassionate when telling me this, and finally he looked me in the eye hard and said, “I can’t recommend this, but IF you go ahead with the divorce, you could always remarry in a couple of years if you saw honest, long-term change.” I always appreciated his wise words, and his little nudge to go through with it finally (after going back twice) probably saved my life, and certainly my sanity.

          • Aly on July 20, 2020 at 9:54 pm

            Where in the scripture does it says you must witness the act of adultery? Is this what a pastor said to you?

    • Leslie Vernick on July 15, 2020 at 10:05 pm

      Erin, you can show grace and mercy and STILL have good boundaries and ask for a time period for you to see his changes last and to rebuild broken trust.

    • Marian on July 16, 2020 at 12:39 pm

      Hold on to your plan and move forward. Years of behaviour needs evidence of extended period of time of consistent changed behaviour. Most of us can keep something up to get what we want and then it’s. Tendency to change into the old behaviour. You can give grace and mercy in forgiving, which also frees you but grace and mercy doesn’t mean you need to put yourself in harms way. It takes courage and a lot of work to free yourself.

    • Erin on July 16, 2020 at 1:55 pm

      Thank you all so much for being kind and taking the time to reply. I have really been wrestling with this. I can’t even tell you what a complete 180 turn/change he’s reflecting and I’m terrified of making the wrong choice. My counselor isn’t available again until the end of August, so I didn’t know where to turn. You are all such a blessing!

      • JoAnn on July 16, 2020 at 5:22 pm

        Erin, what is your REAL concern here? Is it that you love him but can’t endure the abuse? If he is abusive, then why do you love him? Is it the divorce itself that bothers you? Please note: the divorce papers are simply a legal declaration that the marriage covenant is broken. Not signing the papers will not repair the breech of contract (i.e. broken marriage covenant ). It takes two people to make and keep a covenant. What is it that you are confused about? You say you don’t want to do the wrong thing, but it seems to me that he is the one who is doing the wrong thing, by abusing you. Give him time to prove himself, and then see if you love him enough to take a chance with him again, but you can do that after a divorce….remarry him. Meanwhile, you will be safe and have time to heal and begin to see things more clearly. Right now, you are still in a fog, so give it time. The Lord has all the time He needs, but the devil is always in a hurry.

        • Janice D on July 17, 2020 at 6:38 am

          JoAnn,I have been thinking about your comment”The Lord has all the time He needs,but the devil is always in a hurry”. I am reminded of several scripture passages about time such as a day is like a 1000 years and a 1000 years is like a day to God and also how Satan is angry because he knows his time is short.God is sovereign over time and that is a very comforting truth.So many of us give witness in our stories of how Gods intervention and guidance was truly timely and miraculous as we navigated our way through the fog of our husbands destructive choices and behaviors.Thank you for this great reminder…evil will one day be completely eliminated and Jesus will wipe away all tears from our eyes.This is our promised future from our loving Heavenly Father!

  8. Julianne Richardson on July 15, 2020 at 4:16 pm

    Thank you for another informative blog, I always learn from them. I’m glad you mentioned books too, you recommended some a month or so ago, I have read and enjoyed American Dirt and I Am Pilgrim (you warned that this might not be the time to read it, so of course I needed to read in immediately :P). I recommend In Five Years.

  9. Gladis on July 15, 2020 at 6:00 pm

    Time tells truth I was told but I didn’t realize
    it can be a lot of time. And when they fall to same abuse they own it without being told.

  10. Barbara B on July 15, 2020 at 7:30 pm

    This question reminded me of Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know” so I had to go watch a YouTube video of her singing some advice. Great song but not so helpful in real life since “just trust your feelings” is probably what got most of us in the pickle we are in now. I think the crucial litmus test is to watch and see if the previously untrustworthy person begins to voluntarily give up power. This test only works if we refrain from giving that person a to-do list, because the key word is “voluntary.” It has to be a spontaneous gesture from the person’s heart. If he/she is just checking off a list we wrote then how can we know whether it is authentic or manipulative?

  11. Patricia Kelp on July 15, 2020 at 8:23 pm

    I put my divorce on hold because my husband and I were trying to reconcile. He said he had changed. But after a couple months the old person was back. He tried to make me feel guilty when I told him I didn’t trust him. He was back to his old tactics again. So, he wasn’t changed oh, he was still manipulating me. I called the lawyer and told him to go forward with the divorce. Everything you say is true. We just need to pay attention. Thank you for your knowledge and wisdom. God bless you!/”

  12. SS on July 16, 2020 at 9:39 am

    I think we Christian women have been taught to think that a man can be abusive and destructive, but if he repents we are obligated to give him another chance. And our trauma bonds with our abusive husband cause us to hope and wish for reconciliation. And the people around us can put pressure on us to keep trying.
    But realistically, if a person has a pattern of destroying the person they claim to love, those habits will not just go away. I had to come to the conclusion with my own husband that even if he repented, the best I could expect was an amicable divorce.
    I think a good test of his repentance would be how he handles divorce proceedings. If he is generous in alimony and dividing assets, making reparations in a material way, then MAYBE his repentance is true. But why would you entrust yourself to someone who has already treated you badly?

  13. Free on July 16, 2020 at 3:51 pm

    The best book I have read this year was “Crisis in the Red Zone” by Richard Preston. It is the true account of the Ebola outbreak in western Africa. I read this before the Covid pandemic, which turned out to be fortuitus! The parallels in the political struggles and medical treatment of both the Ebola virus and the Covid virus are many.

    My favorite book of all time is “The Survivors Club” by Ben Sherwood. This non fiction book tells the stories of people who survived horrendous situations and lived to talk about it. As a survivor of abuse, I enjoy the science behind what saved others lives and feel like one of their comrades.

  14. Annie on July 16, 2020 at 8:59 pm

    I like what SS mentioned. ‘A good test would be how he treats you during the divorce proceedings’. Go ahead with your plans and see his reactions. Accusing/selfish/vindictive that he does not get his way, or generous, kind, understanding of why you are choosing this and wanting the best for you regardless of your choice. Divorce usually takes some time, so if he gives you an amazing divorce you have time to change your mind. Or at least a chance to be amicable ex’s.

  15. Adrienne on July 17, 2020 at 8:23 am

    Thank you Leslie, you spoke directly to me with the truth you shared!💗 I needed it!
    God uses you to answer my prayers 🙏☺️
    I was very inspired by the documentary Harriet Tubman “they called her Moses on Amazon Prime…you might enjoy it! I’ve also been reading your book Finding selfless joy in a me first world” I especially enjoy how you show that Jesus was absolutely committed to the will and provision of His Father, all glory he gave to Him! I can also be totally trusting and depedant on my Heavenly Father’s plan and provision for me, I dare not trust my own way if Jesus didn’t! It’s convicting and comforting in the truest sense. Life transforming truth…thank you for being faithful to what God’s called you to. 💗 A

  16. Kathy on July 18, 2020 at 10:42 am

    Our family enjoyed watching A Series of Unfortunate Events on Netflix.

  17. Betsy Schwinck on July 18, 2020 at 1:46 pm

    The Chosen is a wonderful TV series on the life of Christ. I’ve watched the 8 episodes twice now. Free to watch on you tube or their free app. Directed by Dallas Jenkins. (beware of other similar titles that are dark and unpleasant.)

    Thank you for your wise answer to her question. Excellent and very helpful.. how the manipulator may just change his tactics from anger or sweet-talking to proclaiming salvation. You don’t know if it’s real, you have to watch. Appreciate the questions you suggest to ask him, like: “What does that mean to you?” And that there’s no obligation to reconcile.

  18. Susan on July 19, 2020 at 11:05 pm

    I like the idea that Annie suggested. It seems if you had a strong inclination From God to divorce then proceeding would be acceptable. It seems you might know rather quickly if you are dealing with real change – not begging and pleasing, etc. But if you wait, and 3-6 months later Mr Hyde returns, you have wasted more precious time. 37 Yrs will Soon become 38 and you may be right back where you started.

    • Moonbeam on July 20, 2020 at 7:00 pm

      I like that you wrote a strong inclination from God to divorce. I was walking and talking with a missionary friend recently. She said to me that there is biblical reasons for divorce, it is remarriage that is prohibited. I never thought of it that way, however she was right.

      I have to be careful that I don’t miss Dr. Jekyll. Dr. Jekyll was a pretty wonderful guy. My mentally disturbed and abusive spouse had/has a dual personality. Mr. Hyde was his real personality, Dr. Jekyll was the public persona he wore as a mask. I know this, yet I mourn the loss of Jekyll. It was that guy, I thought I married.

      • JoAnn on July 21, 2020 at 11:18 am

        Moonbeam, that is so sad. Yes, you can mourn the person you fell in love with, but knowing that he wasn’t the real person is painful. You couldn’t have known. These guys are so good at putting on a face that everyone will love, and the deception is so hurtful. I’m sorry.

  19. Pam Nutsugah on August 26, 2020 at 12:07 pm

    Happened on “Beyond the Blackboard” – based on a true story and beautiful. Inspiring. 🙂

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