I’m in San Diego getting ready to speak at the American Association of Christian Counselors Marriage America Conference. Please pray for me that I am able to communicate wisely with the counselors and pastors who are attending. I will be presenting all day Thursday at a preconference on Domestic Violence and then giving a keynote address for Saturday’s luncheon on The Three Common Mistakes Marriage Counselors Make working with People in Destructive Marriages.
In last week’s blog I answered a woman’s question about her fears about premature reconciliation. One of the responses that followed that blog asked what to look for in order to make a wise choice about when to reconcile, so let’s look at some basic criteria about how to make that decision to reconcile or not reconcile.
First I think we must come to accept that we are incapable of knowing the future so the best we can do is make a wise decision based on what we know are the facts right now. Two years from now you may have different facts, but today you don’t know those facts. All you know is today and you know yesterday. Your marital history is important because the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Therefore when someone tells you to forget the past and start with a clean slate, that’s nonsense. You can forgive the past but you must not forget. Remembering your history helps you to be wise.
Second, strong emotions don’t necessarily indicate repentance. They usually represent pain, either the pain he is in or the pain he fears because of the consequences he’s experiencing. Sorrow isn’t repentance although it does trigger our compassion, therefore we must be wise when someone is crying and pleading for a second chance. Ask yourself what specific changes have they made in their actions and attitudes and are these changes consistent over time? In other words, are they building a new history with you, or is his charm kicking into high gear to win you back? The only way you’ll know that is with time and testing.
Time means that you will give yourself enough time to watch what he does with is free time, his money, his children, his treatment of you and his spiritual life. You will not ask him to do things or require him to do things. You want to see what is in his heart to do without you prodding or threatening. Is he seeking help? Is he making repairs and restitution to those he’s harmed? Is he willing to be teachable and accountable? Is he developing different attitudes and actions or are there still those underlying attitudes of entitlement and power over you?
When working with abusive and destructive individuals a change of heart must precede a change of habit. As my friend and colleague Chris Moles writes, “If we just cut off all the apples on an apple tree and duct tape bananas on it instead, sooner or later, the apples will come back and the banana’s will fall off. That’s why you need time in order to see if the rotten apples grow back.
Testing means that you will set boundaries, say “no” to things you don’t want to do, stop over-accommodating, or giving in to his requests. See if he can respect you as a separate person who has different needs, desires and feelings than he does. If not, then reconciliation is not appropriate. If so, continue to give it time to see if he’s truly changing.
The following are three heart changes that you must see evidence of because they form the foundation of the change of habit that must occur for reconciliation to be successful. You want to see:
Humility rather than pride
Willingness rather than willfulness
Gratitude rather than entitlement
Finally, the Bible warns us: “Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” (Hebrews 5:13)
Recently, I was driving down my country road and noticed all the tares among the wheat field in my neighbor’s farm. It reminded me of the story Jesus told in Matthew 13:24-30 about the tares growing right along side the wheat. That reminded me that evil isn’t only out there, but it is among us. It is in the church masquerading as the real thing, but it is not.
Jesus says, “By their fruit you shall know them.” (Matthew 7:15)
Don’t be fooled by duct taped bananas. Wait and see what fruit is growing on your spouse’s tree before you reconcile.
You will find my You Tube video on “How do You Know Someone is Truly Sorry” helpful.
Friends: When you have reconciled or chosen not to reconcile, what specific things have you looked for?