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?