For me, Christmas is the season for quiet. For stillness. For reflection on the reality of “Emmanuel, God with us”
Pray for me that I would know that God is in this place. So many places the Bible reminds us that the person didn’t realize that God was present when he was.
How would your life be different if you lived in the reality that God is with you? Always with you?
Today’s Question: I read your book, really helpful, especially backing separation up Biblically and the practical parts of waiting to see change. I knew my husband 5 months before we got engaged and got married 5 months later.
That was 6 years ago. I am unhappily married now for about four years. Separated 9 months ago. My husband is a doctor and was a pastor (stepped down last year). He has a temper, verbally is abusive. We have been in counseling for a few years.
Last year, I felt unsafe and prayed and spoke to the counselors and we separated. It is hard as people say just get divorced you cannot stay separated forever he might never change, you are young you can start over etc. He says I’m deserting him and suggests it is grounds for divorce.
He is very frustrated as he said he thought it would be over now. I am fortunate to have a counselor who supports me in prayer, over email and the phone. She loves God, the Bible and she and her husband worked with us as a couple for a long time so she has seen the truth.
Here is my dilemma. I struggle to keep hope alive as nothing seems to change and my family are concerned for my safety and don't quite understand why I’m still in this. Please comment on how to keep hope alive if no change is evident.
I know to pray and read Bible, but am emotionally finding it harder and harder to be positive.
Answer: I’m sure you do struggle to keep hope alive in the face of mounting evidence that your husband is not changing. I also don’t hear anything in your question that says he is aware he needs to change. As the saying goes, you can’t change something unless you see it needs to change.
Let me ask you a question. Why do you need to keep hope alive? What’s the pressure to stay positive about your marriage or about him? Isn’t it more Biblical to be truthful than to be falsely positive?
Are you hoping that God will miraculously make your husband humble himself and admit his sinful ways so that he can repent?
I don’t know anywhere in Scripture where God forces someone to repent. That is always a person’s choice. Even when God orchestrates painful circumstances like he did for Israel in the Old Testament or Pharaoh when he wanted him to let the Jews leave Egypt, their change was not permanent. It only lasted long enough until the painful consequences subsided.
Also you mentioned that he’s accusing you of desertion, which he claims is grounds for divorce. It seems like he has no concept of the pain and fear he’s caused you. It appears that he believes that you owe him unconditional devotion as a wife, regardless of how he behaves. Is that true?
But you are not alone. I often see a lot of confusion among women in destructive marriages because they continue to cling to the hope that their spouse will change, even when it’s time to let go of that hope.
Protesting, they usually say something like, “I know God’s will is for our marriage to be restored. He can change my spouse and God hates divorce. So I will wait, and pray and believe and hope that my spouse will change someday.”
Then they wait and wait and wait. That’s where you are at now. And after waiting and hoping and seeing no evidence of any change, they begin to ask, “If I give up hope, does that mean I don’t trust God?”
It sounds to me that you are afraid of that too. You fear that if you let go of hope, you are giving up. That’s not true.
Giving up means you don’t trust what God is doing. Letting go and surrendering to God means “Not my will but yours be done.” Jesus showed us this in the garden when he didn’t feel like going to the cross, it was painful, yet he trusted his Father and surrendered.
There are times we do need to let go of our own desired outcome (such as a repentant spouse/ restored marriage) by surrendering it to God. Jesus let go of the rich young ruler. The young man didn’t want to do things God’s way and Christ let him go, even though he loved him (Mark 10:21).
Jesus let Judas go, even knowing that he was up to no good. The story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11 shows a loving father, letting his younger son go to live a sinful life. He didn’t beg him to stay or cling to him when the son wanted to leave. He let him go.
Perhaps what you need to let go of is your hope in what God will do in your husband. Henry Cloud has a chapter in his book Necessary Endings called Hoping Versus Wishing: The Difference Between What’s Worth Fixing and What Should End.
Briefly, here are a few questions Cloud uses to discern whether someone should have hope or let go of hope.
Do I want the same reality, frustration, or problems six months from now?
Do I want this same level of performance a year from now?
Do I want to be having these same conversations two years from now?
If the answer is no, then here are a few more of Cloud’s questions.
What reason is there to have hope that tomorrow is going to be different? (The best predictor of future behavior is past behavior)
What in this picture is changing that I can believe in?
Cloud says, “The difference between hoping and wishing is that hope comes from real, objective reasons that the future is going to be different from the past. Anything other than that is simply a wish that comes from your desires.”
God calls his people to put their hope in him, not necessarily in what he will do, or what we think he should do. Elijah is a good example of a godly man with misplaced hope. He believed it was God’s will for King Ahab and Jezebel to repent and he was right. It was God’s perfect will, but that’s not what happened.
Elijah became so despondent at his “failure” that he wanted to give up. In his small story of hoping what God would do, he forgot who God was and God’s larger story. God was still present. God was still good. God was still in control and God showed Elijah that his hope needed to be placed firmly in who God was, not what Elijah hoped he would do (1 Kings 18,19).
I don’t think Jesus hoped that Judas would change. He lived in truth and reality and knew he would not change (John 13:27).
I don’t think Abigail hoped that Nabal would change. She knew who her husband was and lived in that truth to protect her family from David’s outrage at Nabal’s foolishness (1 Samuel 25)
I don’t think that David hoped Saul would change after repeated lies and false promises. David knew that Saul was out to kill him despite promising change (1 Samuel 24,26)
Each of them lived in reality and truth, not in wishful thinking or false hope.
Proverbs reminds us, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life” (Proverbs 13:12). In other words, when you hope and hope and hope and your hope is continually dashed, it makes you sick inside. It sounds like that’s where you are at right now. But if what you hope for is showing some movement, then your hope grows and flourishes into a tree of life (nourishing and alive).
The first component of CORE strength is to live in truth and to stop pretending. I don’t have hope that God will enable me to fly if I jump out of the window.
Could God perform a miracle and enable me to fly? Yes he could, but will he defy his own laws of gravity? He might, but it’s not something I am going to hope for or test. That would not be living in the truth of what I know and how God acts.
In the same way, there is no evidence in Scripture that God changes people without their consent and cooperation. Therefore to hope that he will, is not living wisely. But to hope that God will work in you through the painful process of letting go is living in truth. From that place you can regain your energy and stay positive for God promises he will cause all things to work together for OUR GOOD, which is to be conformed to the likeness of Christ (Romans 8:28,29), and we can hope in that truth.
Friend: What helped you to let go of hope without giving up that God was still good and still at work, even if the outcome didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to?
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Hi, I was a guy somewhat like your husband though maybe a little lesser in some areas than what you say. My advice
Stop listening to all your friends and fellow church members, no one knows your complete story and while they might mean well, they usually wind up making you either confused or feeling guilty. Work with the Holy Spirit or your counselor.
Secondly, give your husband a time table , say by next summer if you are not willing to go to counseling, if I don’t see changes for the positive in you , were done. He needs an endpoint and a prodding, if he doesn’t do anything than he doesn’t care. To me your free to move on.
Either he values this marriage or not and if he doesn’t , why carry on . If you were to divorce him, he always has the option, if you so desire to win you back by being that changed person. He needs to feel some heat and loneliness.
I think the woman may be surprised at how many of us guys are reading these blogs and seeing ourselves and learning empathy.
Hi Matt, I do like to occasionally get on her when a question grabs my attention. I usually don’t respond unless I feel that I can really contribute based on who I was in the past and and similarities in problem behavior of the man being the man being discussed in the topic. I have learned a lot about how women feel
in certain and hope to learn from others mistakes and circumstances.
Matt, Chuck, others, I think it’s so great that you both are willing to understand and it seems have a teachable heart towards essential parts of a healthy relationship-empathy.
I find that many unsafe and destructive people are very low or missing empathy.
This is for all sorts of relationships. Jesus modeled this best for us all.
My h spent years learning why -he didn’t have empathy, why it was a core issue in our marriage and what he needed to do about it.
I like what you say, Chuck, except the timetable part. It seems this husband has already been “prodded” and has shown his intent is not to take responsibility for his abusive behavior. (He’s still blame-shifting.) Walking in reality and truth is painful, but so much better than the struggle and confusion of false hope. I so appreciate Leslie’s wise, though sobering, response to this sister.
One take-away for me is from the lesson Leslie points to in God’s interaction with Pharaoh: “Change was not permanent. It only lasted long enough until the painful consequences subsided.”
We can be strung along when our “timetables” and “endpoints” lead to temporarily changed behaviors, for the very reason that perceived change gives rise to more false hope.
We can be drawn back in over and over, not recognizing that our relief and renewed “hope” are responses to the re-grooming phase of an abuse cycle. Sadly, each trip through the abuse cycle brings us further harm.
Hi Dee, the timetable was sort of arbitrary, each person has to decide when enough is enough, as a guy I would want to stay till I reached the point that I felt that I did everything possible so I would not have any regrets looking back down the road. I do agree 100 percent can be drawn along with false hopes that allow abuse to continue.
Such wise comments. Our hope is to be in such a caring and kind God. I like Leslie’s book on How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong. I am starting to read it over again. What I like is how Leslie says that these people who we are challenged with in relationships is actually teaching us all something good. Namely to be more like Christ. Rather than recap all she says, it would be great for each of us to “study” her book. She also, towards the second half of the book, gives us great tips on how to do the right thing… I think the Lord was over her shoulder while she was writing it… It is very hard for us to focus on what our part is. I am in a difficult marriage. What I have yet to learn is what to say and how to inform my h that what he does is hurtful when he does not see and is not capable to see or not willing to see what he does is like another “poke in the eye.” Numbers 33:55 He mentally has a mirror on his forehead and says that it is just what I am doing… so really, lately, I just do not mention specifically to him what I desire him to do differently(more ammo to not do so and thus hope to give me more pain or disappointment, to show he is in control I believe)…… I am mostly staying away from him though we are living in the same house. It is quite an interesting dance especially with our adult son living with us and some adult children come home on a weekend or home for the summer. I am healing and seeing myself getting stronger and speaking up when each instance comes up. I am choosing not to fear him or to have dread when he comes home. To stand boldly, look strong… believe my thoughts to be true… and choose to let him have his ideas and I have mine… I do not always “win” but I do speak up and say when there is an untruth here. Another book that seems to be very helpful is “Verbal Judo” It is the “gentle art” of persuasion. I need lots of time to digest this. It does help us to verbally dance with difficult people. Empathy was a major tool used in this book which links right into what Leslie is teaching us. It is not written by a Christian, I believe, but a policeman and a professor all in the same. Yes, CORE is key. Love hearing what you all are wrestling with. Praying we all grow with the rich fruit of Wisdom. (James 3:17)
You are being trained to not give feedback or have a voice -based on the mirror tactic you posted above.
Hmm. sounds like projection…. attribution of one’s own behaviors to the other…. just one tactic in an arsenal of weapons of abusive and/or toxic individuals.
Wow… would like to have the words to respond to that tactic. Perhaps Leslie has a video… Thank you for that splash of cool water of realization.
Yes Leslie, I love your response. I also counsel abuse victims who keep hoping beyond hope that their partners will change. It keeps them stuck, and often affects their relationship with God. They keep asking why God doesn’t answer their prayers, and eventually lose faith in Him.
Thank you for this very insightful answer Leslie!
Being a problem solver, somewhat of a people pleaser I have always taken our/ his issues upon myself. While yet hanging onto hope I blamed myself for not having enough of Christ- like love. Consequently I became resentful which has blocked my real personality. Feeling bitter and anger I decided to get some counseling and started listening and reading your publications. Through your Biblical counsel I have learned so much. My eyes and heart have been opened and I am beginning to learn to live from a place of CORE strength. My hope is in the Lord, His will in my life; and hopefully “stay” (still in a 41 yr marriage) well! God Bless you for sharing your wisdom.
Doing our own work is critical to holding the irresponsible person, responsible. I thnk sometimes it’s tempting to see being ‘over responsible’ for the relationship as somewhat of a badge of honour.
When I get reàl about my own motives for not holding him responsible it comes down to me not wanting to do my own growth work. Sometimes that involves delving into what kind of pay off I get from being a people pleaser, often times I’m running from the hard work of feeling my own negative feelings.
Dr. Cloud says that it takes a lot of effor5 to keep an addict addicted. That effort is put in by the one who fails to allow the consequences to fall where the6 should.
Another way to look at this is to allow yourself to grieve. If you continue to be invested in the outcome you will not fully grieve the relationship.
Grief is hard work and it can be scary. Cling to The Lord
When alerted to a problem, healthy people try to rectify their actions and cooperatively seek mutually beneficial solutions. Problems large and small are effectively managed that way..One destructive action, one time, is enough of an alert to stimulate modify the behavior of a mature individual immediately. Anything less than immediately, shows a lack of desire, understanding and conviction.
Sadly, I think the blogger has the answer to her question. Her partner is not changing, and has no interest in changing. It is time to accept the reality of her destructive partnership and allow the consequences to fall upon the shoulders of the one who harbors the problematic behavior.
Meanwhile, protect and value yourself. Accept the reality of your present situation. As we read above, past behavior is the best predictor or future behavior. That applies to you too.
I want to ask this writer, “do you love him?” and If you think that you love him, then why? As Leslie said, “Why do you need to keep hope alive?” Eventually, When a man is abusive, it’s pretty hard to continue to love, isn’t it? He is certainly not loving you according to the scriptures.
I think she doesn’t want to betray her beliefs. I think she is conflicted because if she gives up on the hope of him changing, she thinks she will be a hypocrite. She probably believes God rules the world and can do anything he desires if it is in his will for man. To leave her abuser would feel like she didn’t believe in those teachings. I understand her confusion.
Well said. For me what cuts through this confusion is knowing that our God is respectful. He will never force himself on anyone, or make anyone accept Him. He continually invites, He continually woos and allows consequences for our choices, but will NEVER cross the line into disrespecting a person’s freedom to choose Him, or not.
When I think about Hell, it’s simply the natural consequence of our God respecting a person’s choice to be separated from Him.
His RESPECT for me is what won me ❤️. He is indeed the perfect gentleman.
I do agree this is such an important aspect to the tentacles of these destructive relationships.I think your specific comments would made for a great discussion here that can help many of us who struggle with a process of finding our way through.
I think the hypocrite comment and the idea of letting go of someone ‘changing’ is the ULTIMATE in spiritual abuse dynamics. Even if it’s taught in well meaning circles or families. Basically a person can be accused of turning from God because they decide to believe the behavior happening by the person – who clearly needs to make some character changes.
So I guess it’s that if we give up on a person changing;we are taught that ‘God is all powerful’, then we are giving up on His ways and His power, or we just don’t have enough faith ….Again this puts the responsibility back on the person -desiring change and not on the person needing to do the changing.
Another layer of the disproportionate places of these dynamics.
God, is all powerful and many amazing people still pass away when we don’t want them to and God doesn’t always intervene (for our personal hopes) against cancer or other illnesses that take life.
I agree that the confusion is in believing that the Lord will change another person if only I pray harder, or wait longer, or…. The psalmist said, “who can know the mind of the Lord, or who has been His counselor?” We can’t always understand His ways, but we can be assured of His heart of love for His children, and that, yes, He is a gentleman. He doesn’t violate man’s will. He doesn’t force His will on us, but He does give us opportunities to deny the self and follow Him. Sometimes it is after we release our hold on another person that the Lord can finally do what He needs to do in order for the other person to want to change.
It is nice to read that your family is concerned for your safety. So often, the abusive spouse is a manipulator and isolates their prey from their own family. If you still have a loving family, run towards them.
It all boils down to trust. I don’t mean in my desires or wishes but in the character of God. WE have to switch our thought process from trusting in what we hope he will do into trusting he will cover us, restore us and give us a new hope when he does not fulfill our wishes that the other person will change. It scares us to think about all the logistics that go into that type of life changing situation so we hold on longer than we should, it takes us farther than we ever would want to go and the damage to our health is greater than we can imagine.