How Can I Get My Husband To Change?
by Leslie Vernick
Women in destructive marriages are pretty clear on one thing: “If my husband could just see his sin and repent, everything would be better.”
And so they’ll spend all their time and energy to that end… talking, pleading, buying books, finding counselors. And, when nothing changes, they try harder. Sometimes they get angry. Blow up. And start becoming destructive themselves.
So, how do you get your spouse down the road of repentance and change?
Friend, please hear me: You. Can’t. You can’t!
It is not yours or even your counselor’s job to get your husband to take the steps of true repentance. It is only the job of the Holy Spirit to convict someone. Then it is up to them whether they will respond to that conviction and repent.
Not even Jesus coerced people into repentance. For example, in John 13, at the Last Supper, Jesus showed all of his disciples the full extent of his love. He knew Judas was about to betray him. He even told Judas he knew it. But Judas didn’t repent. Jesus didn’t go chasing after him, begging, waving a book in his face or dragging a counselor along to talk sense into him. No. Judas had the freedom to choose.
Now, Zacchaeus, in Luke 19, is an example of someone who did choose to repent. He was the chief tax collector and money was his god. He was very rich from extorting money from his fellow Jews.
But something changed in Zacchaeus’ heart when Jesus came to his house. We know because he told Jesus, “I will give half my wealth to the poor and if I’ve cheated people on their taxes, I will give them back four times as much.” He now loved Jesus more than money and he was willing to make restitution for his sin.
True repentance cannot be coerced or taught. You can implement consequences or boundaries that God can use to wake him up. But the real “heart work” of genuine repentance only comes from the Holy Spirit.
So how do you know if your husband is genuinely repentant and not just full of empty words?
Paul talks about this in Ephesians 4. He says, “throw off your old sinful nature and former way of life. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God – truly righteous and holy.” Then he gives specific situations. For example,
If you’re a thief, quit stealing. That is the first evidence of a change. The sin hurting you and the relationship STOPS.
Second, Paul says, “Use your hands for good, hard work.” This demonstrates the thief is now taking responsibility for meeting his own needs.
And, then, Paul adds something else. He says, “Then, give generously to others in need.” This deals with inward character. The heart. The thief is transformed inwardly from a taker to a giver.
Apply this to your husband:
You first want to see sinful behavior stopped. Then, he needs to take responsibility for himself – his feelings and actions, and, finally, you want to see an inner heart transformation as he begins to develop new outward behaviors and attitudes. He's doing this to honor God, not to get back home.
Now, this won’t happen overnight. It’s a process. But this could be evidence that it’s happening:
First, your husband grows in self-awareness. He starts owning his sin instead of blaming others for it.
Second, he’s willing to receive feedback from others, especially when he’s slipping back into old behaviors… and that will happen from time to time.
Third, he’s willing to be accountable to a small group of trusted men… men who will do the work of holding him accountable. Major life change never happens without accountability and support.
There is no exact list but you do want to see this kind of progression both internally and externally so that you are seeing the FRUIT of genuine repentance.