I am in count down mode. Four weeks from now, all of our worldly goods will be loaded into a pod and our car and we will be moving down to the Phoenix, Arizona area. I’m having some moments of overwhelm. We’ve sold a good deal of our things. Yet there is still so much left. What do I throw away? What do I take with me? What do I really need? What do I really love? These questions take time to answer and with so much “stuff” to sort through, I’m afraid I’m not doing a very good job. Twenty-seven years in one house has a lot of memories and a lot of stuff.
One minute I tell myself, “I don’t need this” and put it in the discard pile. Then while I’m packing, I wonder, “I might use this” and then pull it back out. The good news is that most of this kind of stuff is easily replaceable if needed, so not sure why it is taking me so much time to figure out. And if figuring out these minor choices takes so much time and energy, imagine how hard it is to make life- altering choices such as whether to stay in a destructive marriage, or whether to go. Sometimes it can feel like there are no good choices.
This week’s Wednesday FB Live, Chris Moles, a pastor and Batterer Intervention Specialist in West Virginia will be discussing the question, Can a Destructive Person really Change? We start at 7:30 pm ET. Simply go to https://www.facebook.com/LeslieVernickFanPage/
Today’s Question: What should my response be when the responses I receive to sharing with my spouse how I feel about our marriage are all the classic responses from your article “How to Know When Someone is Truly Sorry“?
I can ask for behavior changes, but what is really desired/needed are heart changes which I'm powerless over.
Answer: Actually, you’re under a bit of a delusion if you think you even have any control over someone else’s behavior changes. You are not. The only person you are in any control over (and sometimes it even feels like we don’t have that) is our own self.
Please don’t dismiss behavior changes as inconsequential. Sometimes a change in behaviors can make the difference as to whether you can stay well or not. For example, if your husband stops yelling, or throwing things, or stops driving like a maniac, or stops spending recklessly, those behavior changes could make a huge difference in the entire atmosphere in the house. He still may not be as humble or grateful or teachable or loving as you might want, but changes on the outside can make an improvement for everyone at home.
In addition, behavior changes can lead to more heart changes over time. For example, when I told my children that they would be donating some of their time and money to help less fortunate families over the holidays, they weren’t exactly excited about it (heart). But as they did it (behavior), they began to experience the joy of giving and not just getting. Their hearts began to change. Same with cleaning up their rooms. What kid loves to clean their room? But when forced to do it, the results of a neater, more organized room, may make some kids want to keep it cleaner on their own.
And what woman hasn’t forced herself to do something she didn’t really want to do? Whether it was driving her child to the movie or mall, or watching something boring on television with the family, or playing a board game she wasn’t too thrilled about, but after starting, her heart turned around too.
Therefore, if your husband demonstrates that he is sorry by making some behavior changes, I would welcome that and thank him and not force the heart issue at this time. Be careful of your own heart attitude during this time. Sometimes a wife is so angry by the time she confronts her spouse, that attempts that her spouse makes are met with cynicism and contempt, which kills good will in any marriage.
I think consistent behavior changes can rank much higher than profuse apologies with promises to change, and no change.
Some people have a hard time putting their repentance into words. However, if their repentance shows up in changed behaviors, I think that counts. John the Baptist said to the religious leaders, who were very good with words, “Prove by the way you live (behavior changes) that you have repented of your sin and turned to God” (Luke 3:8).
However, what I think you might be getting at is that your husband is making excuses for his behavior, not really owning it or apologizing for it. We all could find a million excuses for why we do what we do or say what we say. Some of those excuses (or reasons) might even sound legitimate.
For example, if you forget to pick something up at the store that was important to your husband, he might justify lashing out at you. It’s your fault because if you had not forgotten, he wouldn’t have acted that way. So in his mind, he’s not “wrong” or abusive for the way he spoke to you. You were wrong to forget what was important to him. Sadly many abused women identify with this thinking and believe that if they could only try harder not to “make him mad” then somehow his abusive behavior would stop. That’s not true.
Hear me: Wives will disappoint their husbands and husbands will disappoint their wives and abuse isn’t the outcome (Click to tweet).
As fallible human beings we will let each other down at times, we will miss the mark, fail to meet needs, or forget to do something important. This is an opportunity for apology, forgiveness, and constructive conversation not a verbal tongue-lashing, a rage attack or worse.
When you share with your spouse about how you feel about the state of your marriage and you are getting nowhere, stop sharing. Instead, ask some simple questions.“Does it matter to you that I’m feeling ______ ? Do you want our marriage to work?” If he says, “Yes” then your next question is, “What do you think you need to change to make our relationship better for me?”
He will probably deflect and say, “Well what are you going to do to make it better for me?” If he does that, just say, “I’m happy to talk about what you’re not happy about in a bit, but right now I’m telling you that the way our marriage is right now is not working for me and I’m not feeling loved or safe or protected or (whatever word fits your situation). What are you willing to change to make it better for me?”
Don’t spell out the behavior changes or the heart changes you’d like to see or they can become a checklist that he does just to get you to shut up. If he comes up with a suggestion like, “Have more sexual intimacy,” ask yourself whether that change will make a big difference in the way you feel. If not, you can say, “That’s a nice idea and generally if our relationship was better I would love to have sex more often, but the way our relationship is right now, I don't feel ______, so more sex won’t solve that for me. Any other ideas?”
Your goal here is to invite more mutuality and reciprocity by asking him to come up with solutions to the marital problems as well as take ownership for the changes he is willing to make in order to make your relationship better. If he doesn’t want to make it better, or doesn’t care to do the work, then you have different decisions to make.
Friends: Have you seen behavior changes lead to deeper more permanent heart changes from your spouse? When you’ve had this kind of conversation, what has been the outcome?