When Do I Give Up Hope He Will Change?

Morning friends,

I have had a crazy and hard week. Pray for me to use my time wisely and to take good care of myself. Lots to do, not enough time to do it well. So pray I know what to say No to so that I am free to say Yes to the important.

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, and is verbally abusive. We have been in counseling since 2014. 

Last year, I felt unsafe and prayed and spoke to the counselors and we separated. It is hard as people tell me, “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 is 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 the Bible, but I 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 letter that says he is aware he needs to change. In this blog and other places I’ve repeatedly said, 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? Where is the pressure to stay positive about your marriage or about him coming from? From you? From him? From your counselors? Wouldn’t it be more Biblical to be truthful than to be falsely positive?  

Let me ask you a question. What are you hoping for? 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 or even to see what he will not see. That is always a person’s choice. Jesus couldn’t get Judas or the Pharisees to repent. Even when God orchestrates painful circumstances in someone’s life 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 awareness of the pain and fear he’s caused you. It appears that he believes that you owe him unconditional devotion and loyalty 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 that it is Gods will 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 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. I don’t hear that in your question. Letting go and surrendering to God is different than giving up. Letting go says, “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 great 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 remind 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. Click To Tweet

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's 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.

Friends, what helped you to let go of hope without giving up that God was good and still at work, even if the outcome didn’t turn out the way you wanted it to?


  1. Billie Sue on January 15, 2020 at 10:13 am

    Amazing Leslie!! I have friends struggling right now with this exact thing!!

  2. Barbara on January 15, 2020 at 12:43 pm

    Well said. Would you say these wise words also apply to one’s own grown children who live apart when the situation is similar?

    • JoAnn on January 15, 2020 at 3:33 pm

      Barbara, our adult children must be “released” to find their own way in life. We have done our best, according to the strength and life of God in us, to raise them to make good choices and to live as adults, but the time comes when they must make their own decisions, bear the consequences of those decisions, and answer to God for them. We pray for them, offer counsel when they ask for it, but otherwise, we allow them to live their life. A marriage is different, because it is based on a covenant between two people. When one person does not hold the covenant, then it is time to let go of that person. We never “give up” on our kids; we always love them and pray for them, while allowing them to live their lives. But an abusive spouse who refuses to maintain the covenant should be allowed to leave (or forced to).

      • Barbara on January 17, 2020 at 11:18 am

        Beautifully stated. I can apply this in my life. Do you have any words of comfort I can share for a friend whose bi-polar adult son moved out of the country and disappeared for 6 years? I am comforted by your advice but can it apply to her too?

        • JoAnn on January 18, 2020 at 2:55 pm

          Barbara, I am sorry for what your friend is going through. Our son disappeared for 13 years before we learned that he had been killed shortly after the last time we saw him. All the time that he was missing, I expected to have him one day show up with a wife and kids in tow, either that or a visit from a sheriff. I got the latter.. However, all that time, I knew that he was in the Lord’s hands, more than he ever was in mine. That was my comfort. The Lord has him; he doesn’t belong to me anymore.
          Has your friend filed a missing person report? That could help. But as with all our children, the Lord gives them to us for a while; after they grow up, we turn them over to Him, and they are in His hands.
          Blessings to you and your friend.

      • Rebecca on November 17, 2023 at 3:36 pm

        Leslie, Can you elaborate on what it looks luke for one spuse to not “hold the covenant “?

        • Leslie Vernick on November 17, 2023 at 6:46 pm

          Can you be more specific in what you are looking for on this topic?

  3. sarah on January 15, 2020 at 12:46 pm

    Thanks for addressing this issue, super helpful. Praise Jesus, our savior and refuge, for providing you insight into these oh so painful place He has asked us to walk.

  4. Mary on January 15, 2020 at 1:21 pm

    I think it may be different because our adult children are not our marriage partners. They are our children who we have to raise and then let them go, to be who they choose to be. Marriage is a holy oneness and a covenant with God.
    I had to let go of a marriage after 25 years and later (now) see how God saved me!!! I look at all the circumstances and wow God saved me from a more disastrous future. And….He restored so much beauty from the ashes!!!

    I pray for my adult children and keep boundaries if their behavior isn’t kind and loving toward me. But since they too live in different states I can choose when and how often I see or talk to them. The most loving thing I can do is pray for them to want their hearts to be totally surrendered to God.

  5. Refocus-Reclaim on January 15, 2020 at 1:50 pm

    I like the way you differentiate between giving up and letting go. I too fought this battle, and I think it was probably because down deep I did feel that giving up meant I didn’t trust God to fix this – after all, his timing is not ours… if I only had the faith of a mustard seed…

    Here’s where that hoping, waiting can get a gal in trouble… this is just the beginning. If a spouse (or friend) won’t accept loving correction and ignores the damage that it is doing to the relationship, that changes the dynamic. If it isn’t stopped, it will continue to escalate… until you’re living in total terror most of the time – because you’ve taught them you will stay no matter how you’re treated. Stopping it includes leaving. I waited & hoped & prayed so long for a miracle that I nearly waited to death. Things became very violent, and it got to a point where leaving – even thought I desperately wanted to – would have been as dangerous as staying was. Don’t wait that long.

    What we lose sight of is that “thing” God blessed (or cursed) us all with – the freedom to choose. When we choose badly, it affects those around us. Some people don’t see that as a problem – or don’t care – and when confronted with the fact that there is a problem will not see a need to make a change. That’s not a healthy or God-pleasing relationship. God made each of us to fulfill a purpose only we were made for, and allowing someone else to dictate that – even our spouse – is not what God wants.

    • Mattysmom on February 4, 2020 at 8:46 am

      I love that you said “If a spouse won’t accept loving correction and ignores damage…” I think about my own marriage in which I have asked my husband for 3 years to go to counseling, etc. to no avail. I finally had to leave the emotionally and verbally abusive marriage. We were in separate rooms for a couple of months before I left. I’ve been gone almost 7 months and we are in counseling, he is in counseling, I am in counseling, but yet he continues to exhibit the same behavior. He refuses to accept that what he is doing is damaging to me. This article and these replies have been very helpful and reassuring. I finally told my husband no, I do not want to work on the marriage anymore. I love me more. Thanks so much Ladies. God bless.

      • Barbara on February 4, 2020 at 1:40 pm

        Marriage is a relationship for mature people. I’ve heard it said you have to heal the individual to create two healthy individuals who can heal a marriage.

  6. Heidi on January 15, 2020 at 2:47 pm

    These words gave me lot of comfort and reassurance today.Thank you Leslie.

  7. Free on January 15, 2020 at 6:37 pm

    I am thinking about flipping the question back on ourselves. If someone tells you that your behavior is hurtful how long does it take you to change? I am guessing you say sorry immediately and try to remedy the situation. I imagine you ask for clarification, consult wise friends, pray and then to act differently when you are in the same circumstance again. Right?

    So, when I think, how long should one wait, I think change should occur in 24hours. Get a night to sleep on it maybe, but better yet ” do not let the sun go down on your rath” and repent.

    I think we wait much, much too long. I think you have your answer. No, he doesn’t want to change, if he wanted to change he would have done it by now.

  8. Vero on January 15, 2020 at 6:39 pm

    Oh goodness! She sounds like me. I became a born again Christian and he approached me in church a couple of months afterwards saying he had being praying for a wife and he thought by me coming to church was Gods way of answering his prayer. We dated for 2 months and got engaged and married at 3 months after. He insisted God had a plan for us as a couple and read the bible to me stories about how couples had met and in a short period got married. I was a new believer and didn’t know any better. Sad thing is that it all came apart a few weeks after we got married and I was so ashamed for believing in him so I kept it all in and didn’t tell anyone. I prayed he would change as he bacame a Pastor himself and we started our own church. I prayed and read my Bible but never said a word to anyone about what was happening. I kept it all to myself for 20 years praying and hoping this would change but it never did. I had to do something in desperation I started listening to other Pastors and what they had to say about divorce and I came across a handful that spoke about emotional abuse. I realized that was me and that it was abuse and not as many called it, “too ensitive to his words”. I became more informed and I made the decision to get out. So I did. It became a nightmare because no one believed me, not even my own family. But even in this conditions I know it was the best decision I made and don’t regret it. Of course it has been hard but I thought I was going crazy the past months, every time I tried talking to him about us he would always turn it around and made me think I was the problem. He’d say things and then say he didn’t say them or that he didn’t mean them the way I understood them. It was so cruel of his part to make me feel like a cornered puppy that’s been abused and is so scared because it has no where to go and no one to turn to. My parents still don’t accept it and I just lost my job but I wouldn’t go back to where I was. I do get upset sometimes and have many questions but all in all I’ll take it over what I was put through by staying with him. I saw him a couple of weeks ago. He stood in front of my vehicle and would not move. It was scary. He said he just wanted to know how I was doing so I said I was doing fine, but in reality what i wanted to say was, ” Why do care, you never did.” I know it’s going to be a process and I’m not always going to feel as happy as a bee but I have nothing to look back to that would make me regret my decision.

    • JoAnn on January 16, 2020 at 12:17 pm

      Velo, I’m so glad you made the move. Good for you! And praise God! When you can tell some one ,”I would have died if I had stayed in that marriage,” then that’s serious. I’m sorry your family doesn’t support your decision. Please find a counselor who can help you let go of your past and its baggage and build a new life for yourself.

      • JoAnn on January 16, 2020 at 12:27 pm

        Vero, I’m sorry for misspelling your name. Autocorrect just had other ideas.

    • Regina on January 29, 2020 at 7:20 am

      Vero, your story sounds a LOT like mine! You are my hero for being able to get out. My family just recently experienced first hand his lies and “gas lighting” and they are encouraging me to leave. I couldn’t imagine doing what you did with no support! Keep your eyes on Jesus! ❤️ I hope I can get out too.

  9. Autumn on January 15, 2020 at 6:50 pm

    I would add that one can forget about hoping for change if your abuser gives a blanket, generalized apology. Convicted people know every little thing they did wrong and they apologize with specifics. Behavioral change follows immediately and consistently. There is no wishy washy backsliding with true change. That kind of behavior reveals a forced behavioral adaptation to the uncomfortable situation rather than repentence. Contrition should follow repentence. If you don’t see this immediately, accept reality and give up hope.

    You be the judge of any changes, don’t let someone tell you they are trying. Trying is lying, denying and buying time for more avoidance.

    • Kim on January 23, 2020 at 1:53 pm

      Absolutely true. An ‘apology’ can be just more words to hide behind to avoid taking responsibility. Especially a martyr apology like ‘I’m sorry I’m such a horrible person’ (subtext- I have no choice in my actions, this is just who I am and you should feel sorry for me)

  10. Kathy on January 15, 2020 at 8:17 pm

    This is so helpful. Over a year ago, I passed out and my husband did not pursue medical help. I woke up on the couch two hours later. This opened my eyes to the many ways I allowed myself to accept emotional abuse during our 39 year marriage. I told him to leave. I do keep hope alive. Even though he is seeing a therapist, there have been only two or three data points to suggest that he is changing. When my hopes are dashed, it destroys me.
    Thank you for this realistic and sound article.

    • Nina on January 16, 2020 at 12:33 am

      Kathy I’m sorry that your husband didn’t take care of you. It reminded me of when I went to the ER hemorrhaging. For some reason the nurses left me in a room for hours, bleeding profusely. I lost so much blood that my blood pressure dropped very low and I almost died. He never said a word to anyone that I was literally bleeding to death. This and so many other matters just never were right. He is gone now and said he is going to seek a divorce. I am sick about being divorced and everything seems so hard to define. What could I have done better? I still pray that God will help him repent and become a caring father and husband. I will surrender him to God.

      • JoAnn on January 16, 2020 at 12:24 pm

        Nina, you said, “I am sick about being divorced.” How about changing that to “I am now free to heal and build a new life for myself.” What you had was not a marriage with love and mutual caring. Don’t think of divorce as a failure or stigma. The failure was on his part.

  11. Tamara Monoskie on January 16, 2020 at 1:44 am

    Spot on as always. I needed this reminder today. I am separating from my husband of 14 years. I don’t want to, but there is no change. I know that it is likely there will be no change either.

    • Theresa on February 4, 2020 at 1:37 pm

      I have drawn some boundaries. The abusive words and bedroom antics have ceased. We both came from parents who suffered much WORSE abuse, much to our detriment. I am growing, seeking help, and struggling to maintain hope. I no longer am hoping for him to change, so I grieve. Because he cannot apologize or listen to My Heart’s cry, I feel no closer or safer with him. As he refuses any discussions that are not relating to his interests, we live as ships passing in the night. I am exploring my own relationship with God and my own interests, but struggle with “faking marriage.” I join you ladies in continued placement of hope in my heavenly Father as delivering His best into our lives.

  12. SaraGillie on January 16, 2020 at 3:32 am

    I just read Necessary Endings this weekend! There was a lot of good stuff in it. It helped me clarify a lot of things in my own mind and provided a way to structure some of my thoughts.

  13. Moonbeam on January 16, 2020 at 9:44 pm

    I keep thinking about the concept of mandatory reporters. Health care systems now have questions about abuse on elective surgery admission forms. Providers are required to complete abuse screenings on every patient. Why is that? Because people like us get stuck in denial and hope long after it is wise to do so. As a protective measure, a responsible level headed adult with in the healthcare community will notify authorities for you. They know that living with an abusive person extremely dangerous on many levels. Providers believe that one can not live at your optimum health level in an abusive home. Why do we continue to hide and sent our situations? Misplaced hope is one possibility.

  14. Moonbeam on January 16, 2020 at 9:47 pm

    Continue to hide and deny our situations

  15. Christa on January 17, 2020 at 12:05 am

    Leslie you asked what is it that helped me to let go of hope and accept the truth…I would have to say that after repeated times of telling my husband what hurts my heart, why it hurts me-going back to childhood unmet needs and my greatest fears- and his refusal to do anything to correct it (despite going to multiple (6) biblically based counseling as well as secular) was what allowed me to realize nothing was going to change. I asked for a legal separation so I could get my daughter in an emotionally healthy environment but my husband said separation “was not an option” for him so I filed for divorce and he signed the papers and that was that. I do not regret my decision as I know it was the right thing to do at the time. Did I want the divorce, no, of course not. I do love him and I really love his children. But seeing he didn’t care enough to make necessary changes, I knew divorce was what I had to do. I remember the moment that I realized that I trusted God, I just couldn’t trust my husband to love me as a godly husband should. Since our divorce, his actions prove that he does not care and that he is capable of vindictiveness even when it hurts the children.
    I know that God is good because He revealed the truths I needed to see to know that I was in an emotionally abusive marriage. I know that God is good because my step children know that I love them and they see the truth as well. I know that God is good because my daughter is no longer waking on egg shells every day and doesn’t feel ignored or unloved. I know God is good because I am ok despite the grief of losing my marriage. My hope is in God, who proves that He will indeed allow me to make mistakes but still provide the truth so I can do the next right thing. My hope is in the future. Whether or not my now ex husband makes any changes is between him and God. It is out of my control and I needed to get out of God’s way. I still waste too much time thinking about how I could have married a man who professed to be a godly man yet his actions are far from it. But it’s getting better. I was deceived and believed words over actions. But God delivered me out of my mistake and I am rebuilding my life and making it walking each day in truth and light. No, it’s not what I wanted. But staying was worse for my daughter and I am responsible for her. God knows my heart. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks, the lies he has told or who believes him and who sees the truth. I continue to work through forgiveness when I see how his own past influences who he is today. I pray for him often and for the children a lot! I fight the urge to allow my flesh to bite back and have found deleting Facebook to be beneficial and gives me more time to spend w God. I still get sad when I miss the kids. But I no longer cry at night over it because I trust God to be my defender and for Him to protect all the kids. My smile is back and my close friends and family can see I am better. I hope others can be helped as a result of all I have endured.

  16. Sarah on January 20, 2020 at 9:37 am

    This blog and all of you are beautiful! Thank you for your honest words and humble hearts, I have been reading for a while and am amazed by all of your strength!
    think my marriage just keeps getting worse because our communication is so poor. There has never been healthy communication. When we started dating I just poured out my heart and soul and he listened…for hours. We married 5 years later and Never learned to communicate with Each Other. Never conflict resolution, never discussion, never apologies or seeing the others’ point of view, Never. We were in counseling 2 years into the marriage that ended in finger pointing. For the past 20 years I have just talked at him, with little to no response, I would get so frustrated that there was nothing that I would blow up and felt like I would loose my mind…I was literally talking to a wall. I felt like I was crazy! Begging and pleading and crying for him to just talk with me and care about our family. He has rarely sat his family down and had a family discussion about what rules are or what we need to work on as a family. Nothing, it’s always me in his ear TELLING him whats going on in our life, if its big enough (like son reckless driving) then he will come in like a bull and then leave, never follow up. Im raising my kids alone, no involvement, nothing. He thinks sitting on the couch watching tv with little ones is parenting. Over the past year I just slowly stopped talking to him, no more secretary report about his family. And the funny thing is, my life hasn’t changed at all!! The sad part, he has not even sought out me or the kids to see whats going on in our lives. He has been home more than not, no thats not a reason. After much prayer, I have chosen to separate in our home. Through this blog and all of your stories I realize I can no longer be used for intimate purposes while being completely ignored on a daily basis. It has been the most freeing thing I have ever done in my marriage. I am able to step back and think for a moment without being sucked into another mental game. We tried church counceling but they said he doesn’t hear anything they said…so here I am. Is there hope if communication can be restored? Are there any resources about communication from the basics up? Is this even possible after 20 years? Am i crazy to think if we learned to communicate that our marriage can be saved?

    • Barbara on January 20, 2020 at 2:13 pm

      Sarah, my comments were for you and anyone else interested. They just didn’t get placed with your thoughts.

    • Beatrice on January 24, 2020 at 8:32 am

      Hi Sarah,

      When I read your post I gasped because it was so similar to my own reality – even down to the description of your husband watching tv with little ones (Andy Griffith, Gomer Pyle around here). We have 7 children that are now 24-10 years old. I don’t really have any answers but I wanted to share with you because maybe you won’t waste as much time as I have. I, too, decided to separate from my husband in house. It has now been almost 3 years since we have had any physical contact AT ALL and 2 1/2 years since we have shared a bed. Unfortunately our home is large enough that he can sleep in the basement or bonus room (both unfinished without heat or AC). I say “unfortunately” because I think it has contributed to not dealing with the situation we’re in. We tried to hide it from the kids at first but for the last 2 years they all know. It has become “normal” to them. My husband is a good provider so I have continued to homeschool 2 children and the other 2 are in private school. I like this life I have lived as a mom – being home and focusing on my family. BUT, this emotionally abusive environment has had some pretty devastating consequences. Every day I ask myself how long I will live this lie of a happy family at the expense of my sanity and self-worth. I’m convinced my husband would continue to live this way until he dies rather than dig deep and truly deal his Trauma and our mess. So Sarah, I hope your story ends differently than mine – I know mine is not over… But just be prepared that even the in-house separation may not render the results you’re hoping for – and then what?? That’s where I’ve been living the last couple of years. None of the “answers” are easy. Leslie and the ladies that contribute here have been very helpful!

      • Regina on January 29, 2020 at 7:39 am

        Beatrice, I’m with you! Your story is like mine. In our marriage we have gone more than 2 years with no physical contact. If I begin to protest how things are and threaten to leave he will repent and become Prince Charming again- but then he will return to old patterns and tell me things to convince me we were never “reconciled”- like “we’ve never had a kiss and make up moment”- this stuns me because both times we “reconciled” we spent hours – HOURS talking through things. Confessing. He would confess his withdrawal and neglect and I would confess my emotional outbursts and depression. Both times we have done this we end up separated in the same home although still in the same bedroom. This time I moved into the toy room. Still no word from him. He seems content and business as usual. It hurts so bad that he doesn’t even miss me. He even told the kids to go look in “Moms room”. Very few outside of our house know what is going on. I am also thankful to have found Leslie although I am still desiring someone to do one on one counseling with me that would understand. Many blessings to you.

        • Mary on January 31, 2020 at 2:08 am

          Hi Regina, I have been talking with Daisy Daniel over the phone. She has helped me tremendously

  17. Barbara on January 20, 2020 at 2:10 pm

    Your life matches mine. My Christian counselor said, if you want to know what the next 20 years looks like, look at the past 20 years. She said she couldn’t change anyone as they had to do that themselves. It was her job to expose the truth which she did! After months of resistance and apathy from my husband toward her advice, she asked me how I wanted to live. I told her I wanted to live loved. My husband immediately replied that he “wanted me to live loved, by someone else, it wouldn’t be him”. We then switched to divorce counseling with the divorce six months later ending 21 years of bewilderment. I take that back, I am still befuddled by the 8dea that a human can have that degree of apathy and lack of empathy but I no longer accumulate memories of it. Instead I’m replacing the numbness I had to acquire to survive, with new emotions like daily joy.

    Thank you for sharing and articulating so well what it’s like to be in that kind of relationship where the other nullifies the vows they took. Your eyes are open to the truth and you are on the right track. If he cares he will change, if he doesn’t care you can’t keep absorbing his callous heart by living like it’s not there. Henry Cloud says wise people learn from others, fools need consequences to learn from their bad behavior and evil people resist everything so you have to protect yourself. Remember if he wanted to be kind he would search the world looking for ways to do better. He doesn’t so you are free to guard your heart and mind with what you are doing. Brava for seeking the truth and acting upon it. You’re doing great!

    • Sarah on January 20, 2020 at 10:00 pm

      Oh thank you Barbara for your words. They are true kindness to my heart that has for so long been misunderstood. I am sorry you walked a road similar. And yes, I do need to ask what the next 20 will look like… it’s funny, once I stopped begging for my h to love me, I found the love of my life standing next to me, Jesus, He was always there, my vision was just blurred because I was looking at him through my husband. I thought I knew God’s love, but once I turned towards Him it was beautiful! I don’t know what the future holds, but I will walk it with Jesus every step of the way. My h will have to choose Jesus first and then his family for there to be any reconciliation. I will continue.to wait on the Lord, for Him to move and guide me. I pray for all you sisters out there to choose Jesus above All♥️

      • Nancy on January 22, 2020 at 7:11 am

        Hi Sarah,

        In your post above you said you thought it was a communication issue. From what you’ve described it’s not- this is a heart issue. When I began to APPLY proverbs 4:23 to my life, that’s when the Lord really began to turn my world upside-down (to join Him in His upside-down kingdom!)

        I can so relate to your tendency to pour out your heart. As you’ve discovered, you cannot do his part for him. I thank God that you have woken up to the reality that this is not a marriage (as God defines). Yes, the love of your life is right beside you. Depend on Him and He will make your path straight. Stick around here and you’ll receive encouragement and wise counsel from others who have gone before you.

        The outcomes are not all the same, but the process is. Trust God, ask Him to help you see reality (denial and distortion can be deeply embedded in those who live in abuse), and He will guide you through. Jesus operates in reality, not in false hope or in wishful thinking. Our emotions are very helpful in leading us into reality – begin to feel them and name them. This was huge for me.

        • JoAnn on January 22, 2020 at 3:16 pm

          Nancy, thank you for your loving and wise response. I always enjoy your wise counsel here. We haven’t heard from you as much as formerly, and I hope things are well for you. (We haven’t heard from Aly in a long time; I hope she’s ok.)

          • Nancy on January 22, 2020 at 7:04 pm

            thank you for your kind and encouraging words, JoAnn. Yes things are well over here. As you know we are in a new chapter. I have to be aware of my heart when I come on this site. My tendency to blame is always tempting and something I have to watch carefully. If I’m here because I’m not taking responsibility for something in my life, then the words here might fuel that unhealthy heart posture. So I read and respond more carefully than I used to….I hope that makes sense.

    • Autumn on January 23, 2020 at 7:19 am

      Thanks for the quote from Dr. Cloud. It is a good one.

    • Regina on January 29, 2020 at 7:46 am

      Barbara, thank you. I want to go from numbness to joy. I have not been allowed to have feelings in my marriage. I am just recognizing this and you put it into words for me. The next 21 years will not look like the last 21 for me. Your encouragement was spot on for me! Thank you.

  18. Leslie on January 23, 2020 at 7:41 pm

    After being married for 8 years, the last question/statement I said to myself before deciding to leave was, “He hasn’t changed in 8 years. I have no evidence that anything is going to be different. I wish there was, but there isn’t. I can leave in peace.”

    • Moonbeam on January 24, 2020 at 9:26 am

      My husband changed after the consequences of a restraining order and separation. He tried to modify his behavior. I reunited with him and little by little he couldn’t maintain the “change” as it was a forced act. After a few months all his previous behaviors returned. He said he couldn’t let me win anymore. The “change” was not a personality change or a change of the heart. It was his self determined mind control to try to think differently. Eventually he just couldn’t do it. He acknowledged his Narcissistic Personality Disorder and decided to find ways to embrace it and enjoy his I’ll personality.

      The religious life was a great place to hide his illness. Teachings like being a new man in Christ and being born again really worked for his ego. He says he is like Job. In his mind he suffered so much when I made him accountable for his evil behavior, which he feels he can’t help.

      He has found another woman now who’s previous husband was abusive. She thinks he is transformed. He is laying on the charm and running amuck with manipulation, entitlement and grandiose behaviors in his personal life and professional life. If she complies to his objectification and manipulation he probably won’t need to get violent. If she obeys and puts his needs above hers she can probably live a relatively peaceful life.

      I on the other hand don’t like sexual, financial, emotional, physical and sleep deprivation styles of abuse. I am not interested in enabling evil and choose to worship God rather than my mentally ill husband.

  19. Sea Breeze on January 25, 2020 at 10:18 pm

    So, help me out with this one, how about when they say they HAVE changed. You, meanwhile see no signs of any change. In fact what you really see is a sly new victim, passive, sly disposition. They say, you just want to live in the past. All the while working a public campaign telling everyone that you just won’t accept the new man. What do you do then?

    I guess realize we can’t change everyone else’s perceptive. That would be futile, exhausting, and a poor use of our energy. I guess we just tell the truth when the opportunity arises and wait for his real behaviors to catch up with him. Any suggestions?

    • JoAnn on January 27, 2020 at 5:24 pm

      Sea Breeze, as Moonbeam shared so well from her experience, a really changed person doesn’t need to convince anyone; the change is evident in new behaviors and an attitude of contrition and respect. A person who’s trying to get what he wants will ask for a list of behavior changes, but then he can’t keep it up. You tell them they need a new heart, but without a genuine interaction with the Lord, that change won’t happen. It has been said here before, time will tell. If you wait 6-12 months, while separated and watching for real evidence of change, you’ll be able to tell if the change is real. Some of these abusive men just want their own housekeeper and sex partner, and when they don’t get what they want, they respond with anger, among other things. Be careful, and not so quick to believe their promises.

      • Lois on February 25, 2020 at 3:57 pm

        This is for Regina: Please forgive my late entering in this blog. I am just getting into this community and learning so much from all of you. If I may, I would name a book that is made by a pastor and his wife who know of these abusive men and they hide so well in their churches. The title of the book is: Unholy Charades. It is so disturbing to say the least to hear of the actual heart and thought processes of some of these men. It all sums up, in my mind and theirs that it is pure evil. Their hearts are seared. There really… really…really is hardly a microbe of hope that any of these humans would ever change. Ever… ! Of course we all need to be discerning. Leslie V. I believe is helping us see the truth as it is. So what I would share is my own wake-up of truth that it is of no use to hope for change. This is my gripping of my probable reality of being married for over 42 years. The difficulty is grieving the death of a hope that may be actually more of an expectation because we are both born again believers, but still due to my not having strong enough boundaries, have lived with an exhausting and emotionally toxic husband. I say this in fear (which I know the Lord says to not to fear evil), but I have gotten to the point of saying to my Christian husband that I am choosing to just be a “friend” since he is his best to friends and not to his wife. Some how a resolve has developed… but it all began with deciding that he will not ever change… no longer waiting for that. So much is there in my story, but for now I have said enough… I feel your pain dear sister.

    • Karin on January 27, 2020 at 6:42 pm

      Hi, Sea Breeze

      This week’s column has tackled the question “when do i give up hope he will change?” There’s is no distinct rule for you to make that decision, and it’s going to be different for everyone. You ask “how about when they say they HAVE changed…..meanwhile, see no signs of any change.” As JoAnn wisely wrote, the changed person doesn’t need to convince anyone that change has happened. it will be self evident.

      The important piece here, Sea Breeze, is that YOU SEE positive change, sustained over time:
      – YOU SEE (with your own eyes, ears, & experience you will notice if the abusive person has begun to behave differently, speak to you respectfully, have a fresh new mindset that leaves abusive entitlement behind and takes responsibility for the damage they have done)
      – positive change (not just a change in tactics, or targets, or becoming sly instead of in-your-face abusive, but actual positive, respectful change that builds you up, instead of tearing you down)
      – sustained over time (not for a few days or weeks or even a couple of months, not just until the restraining order is lifted, or the counselling appointments have concluded, not just to ‘tick the boxes’, but for robust, enduring change that doesn’t slide back into old behaviours the moment ‘the heat’ is off!!!)

      Until you can see positive change sustained over time, don’t be fooled into accepting someone has changed for the good just because he says so. or because his mom says so. or his friends say so. or because your church says he’s repented and so you should bless that he is changed. LOOK FOR POSITIVE CHANGE SUSTAINED OVER TIME, and be satisfied with nothing less.

      Hope this is helpful

      • One step at a time on January 28, 2020 at 12:41 pm

        This is so true — that change must be sustained over time. My husband was served separation papers over four months ago. He will tell me he has done nothing wrong in our marriage and that I should not be doing this. He will say he is “changing” but then he’ll point the finger at me and tell me I need to change (which I am very well aware of, without his help). I asked him not to because we don’t have the finances for it, but he decided to contest everything about the separation and try to force me to drop it (even telling the kids he was going to make me stop). He will tell me and the kids that church leadership agrees with him that I should not be doing this (however, many of them don’t, he just doesn’t know that). He filed a bunch of lies against me with the courts as well and when I pointed out to him that they were lies, he denied it. He’s refused to leave our home, so we are still living in the same house. Like someone else mentioned above, I feel just sick over the idea that this is heading towards divorce. I never wanted this for me or my children or my marriage. I never wanted them to have to go between two homes and have their parents living separately. I wish he could just be the person that others think he is–and the person I married–rather than a completely different individual in the same body. But this relationship is toxic and I know I cannot keep going for the next X number of years like this.

  20. Regina on January 29, 2020 at 7:10 am

    I have been married 21 years. It has just come to my attention that I have been emotionally abused. I literally didn’t know. I don’t relate to much of the narcissist angry outbursts (although they happen, just not often- mainly because I don’t challenge him)- I have spent 21 years depressed, confused, hating myself and feeling like a failure. I cannot wait for him to “repent” because when I have threatened to leave, he repents, and becomes the man I married again- but within two years we are back where we were (all my fault because I have “emotional issues” is what I’m told) Both times we have “reconciled” he also denies we ever reconciled and he will say things like “you’ve never told me you were sorry for anything you have ever done” That’s not true. Right now we live in separate bedrooms and our speaking is merely functional. I am convinced this is how he likes life. The story is so much longer… I need a counselor that understands. I went to one and she is sweet but I need someone to speak boldly into my life. She keeps talking about marriage counseling- when he is in front of others he is humble, gentle, caring, concerned and he is smarter than me! He will make me look guilty and twist everything. It’s not an option until I am stronger. I have not been allowed basically to have feelings or react to anything hurtful- and when I have I’m told I have emotional issues. He didn’t even cry at his parents funeral! How do I find someone? Does Leslie do counseling? I’ve tried to look on the website for something and I can’t find anything- but I am not techno-saavy. I can’t stay, but I don’t know how to leave. My 18 year old told me yesterday that “divorce is sinful”- so my husband may be talking to them (another pattern of his behavior) I have zero income- and I work full time at our family business and still homeschooling our children. Just understanding that I’m not crazy has helped so much- so many things make sense in the light of what I am learning. I feel more free and hopeful than I have in a long time. I just need to talk to someone who would understand, guide me through whether what I believe is true and help me make a plan for the rest of my life (and do it in a way that brings glory to God and helps me keep the heart of my children who are being taught, like I was, that separation and divorce is sinful no matter what)
    Thanks for any feedback you may have.

    • Refocus-Reclaim on January 29, 2020 at 12:05 pm

      Regina, I know a fantastic one in Wisconsin, so if you’re in WI, let me know.

      • Regina on January 29, 2020 at 9:35 pm

        Thank you- but I am in Deep South Louisiana!

        • Karin on January 31, 2020 at 4:33 pm

          Hi, Regina

          Check with Focus on the Family’s Christian Counselor Network ( http://www.focusonthefamily.com/get-help/counseling-services-and-referrals/ ) to identify professionally trained and qualified, licensed counsellors or psychologists (who are Christians) in your state. These are folks who would be on the same level as Leslie Vernick is. Ask a prospective counsellor if they are aware of The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, and are willing to work with it or similar material with you. If you live near a state boundary, check the list for the neighbouring region, too. Hope this is helpful!!! Blessings.

  21. lafbwad on January 30, 2020 at 11:57 am

    Just a quick ask here. Maybe the site designer could move the comment form to the top of all the comments or add a collapsing feature to the comments. I almost didn’t find the form. It’s a lot of scrolling once so many great comments are added. I scrolled back to the top and looked for a login to cause the form to appear etc. Not the I don’t want to read them all but… It’s a lot of scrolling just to leave a quick comment and I almost missed it.

    Anyway, I wanted to add by perpetuating our false hopes or idealized dreams, we offer our narcissistic companions material to continue to exploit us by, ideologies they can use to toy with us, to assure themselves they’re likely doing enough to keep us around rather than just walking faithfully before the Lord as they and we are called to do.

    Thanks for a great blog post.

    • Barbara on January 30, 2020 at 7:49 pm

      That was profound! We work our tails off to survive, overcompensating in multiple ways for what they don’t do, and they think we’re staying because they must be doing enough! That makes incredible sense of a nonsensical situation. Thank you for that deep insight into a narcissistic mind!

  22. Jim on February 28, 2020 at 12:09 pm

    What about us husbands who are willing to change and it’s not just words. That the 5cs are a big part of maintaining the change. It’s not easy?’c but I truly love my wife and I’m working on my change. Seeing a separate counselor, accepting full responsibility to the community for my behavior.
    I’ve been working on this for over a month. My sons can see the change. Without prompt my oldest stated to his counselor that he sees the change. He can see me trying.
    What prayer do I pray to God to help my wife see that I’m changing. It won’t be over night but there will be change. In front of this group I admit fault, blame and hold myself accountable to God for my past treatment of my wife. I did not love her, cherish her, and Stacy for her as I’m called to do by God. I see that she was trying to tell me for years. I was either too busy to listen or didn’t bother to listen. Either way I am accountable.
    How do I win my wife’s heart?

    • Refocus-Reclaim on February 28, 2020 at 2:02 pm

      Kudos to you for admitting your part and pursuing change. That is not an easy thing. It’s encouraging when others see the effects of the change we are trying to effect. However, from your wife’s viewpoint, it has only been a month. If you truly want to win her heart back (and that may not be a given depending on the situation), you need to keep working on you and be patient. Broken trust takes a long time to regain, and it is a very delicate thing. Pray for patience, for the strength to stick to your commitment to change yourself, and above all, pray that God’s will be done – in both your lives. You can only control you – not anyone else.

      • Jim on February 29, 2020 at 10:07 am

        Thank you. I know it will take time. Patience has not been a strong suit. Thank you for the encouragement. I live my wife. I know her heart won’t change over night. There’s so much hurt, anger and disappointment in her heart that it’s hardened. I only pray that God is working on her heart at the same time he is working on me. No manipulation, just a sense of calming and peace. That’s where it will begin. I know I’m broken, and only God will heal me. And in time I hope he heals the marriage as well.

  23. Sheena on March 14, 2020 at 9:42 am

    I’ve been married for 10 excruciating years. We have tried marriage programs, marriage counseling for a year and a half, psychiatry for three years. Not to mention we’ve both had EMDR Therapy, but he says he feels like he had no control so he stopped and I kept going. I will admit I have over functioned and lashed out in anger and resentment. I confessed and repented of this. I’ve done individual counseling for 3 years and my counselor said I’ve responded well and made the changes. He’s been in and out of counseling for 5 years. He stops going when things are going “good” despite me stating otherwise. Although, I don’t have any proof that he’s still doing pornography, dating sites, and engaging in sexually explicit behavior on social media the lying, compromising sites, dismissing my emotions, sexual objectification of my body, and blaming still occurs frequently. I’m deeply troubled. There have been some changes like he finally started paying bills and tickets he gets. He has maintained employment for nearly 3 years which is twice as long as the 12-13 jobs he’s had in our marriage. I keep going because we have three small children and I don’t want them ruined by divorce. The separation was excruciating for them. But I just can’t live like this for another 10 days let alone another 10 years. The violent dreams are returning, I get physically ill just being in his presence. I just wish it was easier to cut ties.

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