I leave in a few days for the long drive home to PA. I’d appreciate your prayers that we have safe travels and no car problems. We’ve had such a great time with our granddaughters. I hate to leave them, yet I am ready to get back to my own bed, my own shower, my own house.
Don't forget I am hosting a free webinar named “Can Your Destructive Marriage be Healed? ” on April 14th. CLICK HERE to register. If you can't make it live, as long as you register, we will send you the replay the next day.
I hope you’ve enjoyed hearing from Chris Moles the past two weeks. He’s given us helpful things to look for in assessing change in the hearts and habits of the destructive person in our life.
Today’s question goes along with this idea of seeing change, but not enough change. What is a wife to do?
Question: You’ve helped me understand boundaries and consequences these past few years and I’ve taken steps. I realized I’m stuck facing a new step. My husband has had ongoing problems with narcissistic behavior, anger, conflict issues, and avoidance. He’s taken small steps here and there but has not taken responsibility for the roots, patterns, impact, or addressed some strained relationships. It is not an open subject.
I want him to address this seriously. The past few years, I keep feeling like I want some separation. I don’t want to bear all the responsibility for addressing this. It is hard. He has avoided knowing and seeing over the years. I wonder about the distinction between me being specific, and him taking responsibility to go after this. I don't want to be passive, neither do I want to be burdened by this and not trust God.
I feel like I currently have a window of opportunity and if I miss it, things will just slide on.
If I tell him this is serious, we need some separation, I need to see specific acknowledgment and action before we move on…what does a step like that look like? How do I prepare? I don't know what else to do to break through the avoidance. If the decision is to separate, we could not communicate toward a good resolution. I’m not sure how to navigate this? Do we have an in-house separation or one of us living elsewhere? Or, if there is another step that I am missing before that? I feel unsure of this step. Can you help me with clarity?
Answer: I hear you asking two different questions in your question so let me break them down for clarity.
- Your husband avoids “seeing” himself truthfully. That is his pattern over the years. He doesn’t want to hear from you, yet you want him to work harder to change his selfishness, anger, and avoidance of conflict. Yes, there have been some small steps but from your perspective, it has not been enough. You wonder what is your role here. Do your push for more? Is that your place? You don't want to be passive but you don’t want to take God’s place to wake him up or make him change.
- You don't like the way things are between the two of you. You can’t talk to your husband about your feelings. He doesn’t want to hear it. He avoids conflict like the plague yet you don’t want to pretend anymore. You don't want him to think that just because you don’t talk about the elephant in the room that it isn’t there. It’s a big deal for you even if it’s not a big deal for him. You don’t want to do a pretend “marriage” if he doesn't take ownership of his stuff and work to change it. How do you approach the topic of separation and when you do, what does that look like?
Let me start by answering your first question. Your God given role and responsibility in your husband’s life is to be his most trusted friend and advisor – his helpmate. That involves telling him the truth, not just stroking his ego. I know that goes against some Christian teaching that encourages wives to be encouraging and uplifting to their husbands (which is a good thing). However, this same teaching says when their husband is doing something wrong or dishonorable, a wife is to keep quiet and pray God will show him his mistake or sin. I disagree.
I think of the children’s story The Emperor’s New Clothes where the king was fooled by some fast talking tailors into believing his newly woven robe was made from special threads that only the “wise” could see. Not wanting to look dumb, the king refused to see what he saw – that he was naked. All his trusted advisors did the same. They told him his new royal robe rocked, while they all saw his nakedness. They were too afraid to speak the truth to him. It took the honesty of a child to wake people up to know what they knew and to speak the truth.
Now it’s important that in our truth-telling we are not harsh, demeaning, or shaming. Truth without love is like a noisy gong or clashing cymbal (1 Corinthians 13:1). Truth is always given in love if we have our spouse’s best interests in mind. Just as you might whisper to your husband that his zipper is down or that his breath is bad so that that he could quickly make corrections, it’s important that you do him good by helping him see himself more accurately. Hebrews 3:13 reminds us that we all are prone to the deceitfulness of sin and therefore we all need truth tellers in our lives.
That said, the book of Proverbs tells us the difference between a wise person and a fool. One of the most distinguishing features is that a wise person learns from his or her mistakes and listens to instruction and feedback from God and from wise others. A fool refuses instruction, mocks those who try to give him feedback, and does not learn from his or her mistakes. When you are married to someone who consistently refuses to value your input or feedback, does not self-correct when he gets negative feedback from others, or does not learn from his mistakes, there comes a time when you have to face the truth. You are married to a fool who does not want to change. That takes us to your second question. Now what?
Separation may be the next step for you. The mechanics of how you do it is something you will have to decide based on your financial picture and whether or not you have children living in the home. But what I think you might have to say to your husband is something like this:
“I accept that you don’t want to hear what I have to say. You don't want to change or deal with the issues that have troubled me in our marriage. I am no longer going to beg you to look at these things. If you are comfortable with the man you are and you don't want to change anything I have no choice but to accept that even if I don’t like it.
But what that means for me is that I will no longer pretend we have a good marriage. I am not willing to function as husband and wife in a fake way when we cannot even have an honest or constructive conversation about the issues between us. I’m going to separate myself from you (and then you say what you’re going to do – move into another bedroom, or move out of the house) so that I am not continuously subjected to hurt and frustration by the way you treat me and our marriage. This is not done to punish you, it’s done because I cannot live with you in a good way and I have to accept that you do not want to change it.”
You must be ready to take that specific action once you say these words. These are not threats. They are the consequences of his choices not to receive your feedback or learn from his mistakes. Let him feel what it feels like to have you removed from his life. It may be just fine with him and that’s where your own grief work will need to take place. You will need to let go of the dream that your marriage will change, the hope that in the end he does love you and cares that his behaviors have hurt you.
But as I’ve said again and again, as painful as truth and reality are sometimes, healthy people live in truth and reality and not in fantasy (tweet that).
Once you accept that he doesn’t want to change, you are more clearly able to make good choices for yourself.
Friends, sometimes it takes more courage and faith to let go, than to continue to hang on. What helped you finally let go of your hope for change?