Marriage Missions International

What If He Won’t Change?

I write this with an admission of frustration. I can talk with people at great length about the ways to find personal and relational happiness, but I am limited in my ability to make it happen in the lives of the people hearing me. Often, wives will bring their husbands into counseling with the thought, “Maybe this guy can be the one to get through to my husband. Maybe he can make him see the light, and we’ll have a better life.” They are hoping that my power will be just the thing to create the harmony they so desperately desire.

Honestly, I wish I were such a miracle worker. When talking with men about being more responsive to their wives’ needs, I’ll give it everything I’ve got. We will go about the business of identifying nonproductive patterns of behavior and communications. We will explore the reasons why their emotions and behaviors are slanted as they are. We will discuss the need for delicate understanding of the wife’s very different feelings. We will spell out alternatives.

When it is all said and done, though, the rest of the change process is determined by a solitary factor: How powerfully does the husband want to change?

I genuinely hope that your attempts to understand your own needs and how they developed, as well as your husband’s behaviors and how they developed, will result in improved camaraderie. But if you feel as frustrated as many women do, and as I do when my efforts with clients end in incomplete outcomes, you still have options. Don’t give up on yourself!

In your search for marital improvement, have you given it your best so far? Here’s a little quiz to help answer that question. Check those statements that pertain to you.

____ 1. My attempts to bring about an improved marriage have been accompanied by prayer.

____ 2. While I can identify the areas my spouse should improve,I have also become aware of my own contributions that damage our relating.

____ 3. For the most part, I try to communicate my needs and feelings without pressing too hard or becoming accusing or coercive.

____ 4. I realize my well-being cannot revolve around only one person. I have developed a good support system.

____ 5. I have developed a better sense of timing when it comes to opening a discussion of a sensitive subject.

____ 6. Even when I’m strongly disappointed, I tend to be an encourager. I am known for my willing spirit.

____ 7. I realize that self-pity doesn’t help a bit. Although I cannot suppress my own needs and desires, I also understand that brooding and complaining won’t do any good.

____ 8. When I’m with friends and relatives, I try to avoid speaking poorly about my spouse.

____ 9. I’m what is called an eager learner. I enjoy the stimulation of provocative reading and discussion.

____ 10. I try to remain approachable, and I am open to any feedback my spouse might offer regarding our relationship.

____ 11. I genuinely desire for my mate to express himself freely, even if it feels uncomfortable to him or to me.

____ 12. I have been making strong efforts to understand why my spouse thinks and feels as he does.

Chances are, you cannot check every item. If you did, you’d be nearly perfect, which is very difficult when you’re locked in a disappointing relationship that has a way of exposing your own weaknesses. Nonetheless, the more items you are able to check, the better you can hold your head high in the realization that you’re coping as well as you know how. Carefully rethink the items you did not check. Can you work some improvement there as well?

When I talk to people who have concluded that, short of a miracle, their efforts are going to avail little or nothing, I suggest several key concepts that can bring personal improvement. Let’s take a look at several of them.

Think About Your Emotional Growth in Singular Terms

In counseling, when I see that a wife is pressing too hard to find marital harmony, I say something that at first glance seems odd to her. “Don’t make increased marital harmony your primary goal.” But then, as she looks at me as if I just defected to the enemy, I add, “Instead, make personal healthiness your primary goal. Then, if marital improvement happens, it will be a welcome by-product of your efforts.”

Understand I’m not suggesting to these women that they should assume a selfish, me-first mentality. That would be going too far to the other extreme. Instead, I’m operating on the belief that the husband will not change unless he wants to. If improvement comes, it will be the result of his desire, not the wife’s coercion.

Certainly, it’s unrealistic to have zero expectations, but keeping expectations minimal decreases the wife’s frustration and bitterness. I encourage any woman to make the contribution she wants to a successful married life regardless of his efforts or lack of them.

The husband is half the team, true. But the wife ought not to get so sidetracked in trying to make him look good that she forgets her own goals.

Keep Balance When Publicly Disclosing Your Pain

If you are in a marriage that is not producing the satisfaction, let alone bliss, that you had once anticipated, will you feel hurt? Disillusioned? Angry? Of course you will! You are human, and you cannot force yourself to dismiss these emotions.

When women experience the pain of a less-than-wonderful relationship, they are often caught in a dilemma. How honest should they be with themselves and others regarding what they are experiencing emotionally? Most of these wives float between one of two extremes. Either they assume they should say little or nothing about their problems as they attempt to keep up a good front, or they talk too much to anyone who will listen. Either extreme needs to be avoided.

And then there is the great middle ground. These are the friends and acquaintances whom you know fairly well. With them, you don’t want to lie, saying how wonderful life is if is not, but neither need you go into elaborate and ugly detail.

You Needn’t Always Run Interference for Your Husband

That includes making your man out to be something he is not or cushioning him or others from himself.

Distant or evasive husbands particularly can invite protective behavior. They seem to invite opportunities. For instance:

• Your husband is not attuned to your daughter’s feelings, so you constantly try to reinterpret his actions, hoping the daughter will be less hurt by the apparent snubs or callousness.

• The extended family doesn’t know how to take your husband’s moods, so they bring their complaints to you, and you excuse the behavior away with various explanations

• You dislike his treatment of certain friends and feel free to mend bridges by privately providing the friends with explanations for his behaviors.

Some suggestions:

• Get out of the middle. [The following is an example.] When Ruth’s mother-in-law called with her complaint, Ruth would not have been out of line to say, simply, “Gary and you are adults. You’re going to have to discuss this between you.”

• Toss the ball back into the other court. Emma makes her complaint. Ruth responds with, “What will you do about it, Emma?”

• Make it clear that you will take care of your own emotions and relationships and others must tend to theirs. Then stick to it.

Guard Against Your Vulnerability to Other Men

Most women enter marriage expecting to be consistently affirmed, and that is as it should be. Affirmation is immensely important to every human being. When that necessary affirmation does not come from the husband, the woman is vulnerable to receiving it from outside the union. If the affirming person is male instead of female, she becomes spectacularly vulnerable.

Temptation can grip even more tightly if the woman grew up with many of the insecurities and emotional deficiencies discussed in earlier chapters. An evasive, distant husband who possesses his own insecurities and emotional deficiencies can’t help the woman grow much.

The vast majority of women who find themselves in an extramarital affair are more shocked and surprised by the turn of events than are any of their friends.

  • “How could this happen to me?”
  • “Believe me, neither of us intended for this to happen!”
  • “I’m a sensible Christian woman. I assumed I was immune.”

No one is immune. No one. Let me shout that to the skies: No one is immune! The moment you assume immunity, you’re letting your guard down. The moment you assume you’re too sensible to make so foolish a mistake, you’re letting your guard down.

I suggest four means of minimizing temptation. One is to never let your guard down. Keep an eye out for red flags. The second is to discuss intimate matters only with a trusted female friend or professional counselor. Sharing deep personal matters brings about bonding that can lead to deeper connections than are safe. The third is to avoid situations that could escalate. The fourth is to seek accountability.

I’ve learned another thing from my years of counseling with thousands of couples: No matter how empty the woman feels, an affair does not fill the emotional holes. Period. Never. For a brief time in the beginning, it seems that it does. Here is the answer to this woman’s pain, loneliness, and dearth of communication. But deception and manipulation take their toll. Suicidal ideation is a surprisingly frequent fruit of an extramarital affair, particularly if the affair becomes common knowledge among her friends.

Know When to Forgive

Forgiveness is not:

  • Giving in. It is recognition of the stalemate.
  • An admission of defeat. By no means are you planning to just throw in the towel
  • Condoning or even accepting. Those are other issues, other matters.
  • Abandoning your convictions. You still know what you want.
  • Evidence of an “Aw, who cares?” attitude. You care deeply!

Forgiveness is:

  • Recognition of your inability to control his nature and opinions.
  • Part of a commitment to your own peace of mind, not his.
  • Your choice to set aside anger, not because anger is wrong but because it’s not doing any good
  • A willingness to let God take over, perhaps to exact discipline, where your efforts have fallen short. Be Very Cautious About Considering Separation or Divorce.

I am not naïve. I know that divorce is a common outcome in marriages typified by extreme evasiveness. And there are times, as when severe problems of abuse, addiction, or adultery exist, when the decision to separate is regrettably a better option than is staying in a dangerous and completely fractured relationship.

From this point on, let us assume that I am not talking about those cases where the woman’s life and safety are in danger. And incidentally, longitudinal studies show that when the husband philanders, the wife is at much higher risk for reproductive system problems in addition to the obvious-infection by a venereal disease. Other infections, even cancers, occur at higher rates in chaste women whose husbands play around.

From now on, I am talking about the husband and wife where evasiveness and distancing are the primary problems. We are automatically excepting extreme cases such as physical abuse.

If you are at the point of contemplating separation or divorce, rather than asking, “How can I do this and maintain a good reputation?” ask instead, “Have I given my best effort to make the marriage work, or is there more I could do?”

You want an end to this pain. That’s understandable. But, would divorce be the end of your pain or the beginning of a new kind of pain? Unless the circumstances are quite extreme, nearly every woman who divorces sooner or later claims, “I have traded one set of problems for a new set.”

Why? Because you cannot automatically assume that a change in external circumstances will solve your emotional pain. A divorcee told me, “When I divorced, I thought I’d finally find relief for my misery. But my second marriage isn’t meeting expectations any better than the first. Now I see that I was really mixed up and emotionally very needy before I ever married, and I was putting too much stock in the hope that my husband would fix everything.”

Can her situation be fixed, as she put it? It probably cannot be made perfect, but it can be vastly improved. Quite probably, so can yours.

Certainly, never ever consider separation until you’ve thoroughly explored professional counseling. Counseling can help you explore needs and feelings that keep you stuck in harmful patterns of behavior. Counseling can reveal blind spots in your own makeup that need to be seen for what they are.

If your husband joins you in this, wonderful! But keep in mind that counseling is for your benefit. Embrace it not as half a team, if the other half refuses to take part, but as a person who needs help. You can learn to manage the life you have now.

Accept the challenge to be the healthiest individual you can be. As you know that you are in a persistent pattern of growth and maturation, you will be most likely to respond best to whatever your husband does.

The above edited article came from the great book, Distant Partner by Dr Les Carter, published by Thomas Nelson Publishers. The subtitle for the book is: “How to tear down emotional walls and communicate with your husband.” We can’t recommend this book highly enough in helping wives do just that.

There are so many other things that Dr Carter had to add to what was stated here, including case examples from people’s lives he’s counseled with that better illustrates and makes the points easier to understand. Because of space (and to inspire you to obtain the book yourself) we’ve had to edit some of those examples out. For that reason we recommend highly that you obtain the book to get a fuller understanding of what Dr Carter is explaining.

As he says in the beginning of the book, “I have written this book primarily for answer-seeking wives— I want you to understand why some husbands act evasively and maintain a certain distance from you. Most particularly, I want to show you what you can do to improve your emotional reactions to your husband.”

The way we see it is, obtaining this book would be a very inexpensive way to start on a road to better understanding and working through issues that pertain to your husband that could greatly improve your relationship. It doesn’t substitute counseling but it could shorten the work you’d need to do with a counselor. Also, if you want to read this book along with your spouse (if he desires to do so) Dr Les Carter explains in the preface of the book the best way to be able to do this.

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Comments

11 Responses to “What If He Won’t Change?”
  1. Angie says:

    (USA)  Wow….this article is another eye opener….but what about divorce? I have no words to describe my frustration about this. I’ve been thinking about leaving my husband, and I’ve tried three times but in the end I always come back more frustrated than before, ’cause my husband is more concerned with his need for control, and I need to get myself together before I do anything else, especially in the financial area. This is nevertheless very refreshing and I am grateful I have found it. My utmost sincere thanks for whoever wrote this. I will seek counseling of some sort, although I have no medical insurance ’cause I am unemployed.. :D

    Any ideas about counseling, anyone?

  2. Tony says:

    (USA)  I have a problem with this article. Is it realistic to expect bliss? Seems the first part of the article focuses on those sorts of things. It seems it’s about “happy” and not much “holy”

    Then later in the article, I think we have a real gem.

    “Why? Because you cannot automatically assume that a change in external circumstances will solve your emotional pain. A divorcee told me, “When I divorced, I thought I’d finally find relief for my misery. But my second marriage isn’t meeting expectations any better than the first. Now I see that I was really mixed up and emotionally very needy before I ever married, and I was putting too much stock in the hope that my husband would fix everything.”

    Folks are sold the idea of the perfect marriage will complete them, and are disappointed that they have to find completion in Christ, not their husband.

    • Elle says:

      (CANADA)  No – people need to find completion in themselves. Only then can they learn to have healthy relationships including a relationship with the Lord.

  3. Greatful says:

    (SA)  I really loved this article I believe it’s telling the truth. Its also very practical. I’m in a not so good marriage. I have an abusive husband not physically, but emotionally. A while ago I decided that I was just so tired of being unhappy, so I visited my old diary and looked at the goals I had for myself before I got married. I have to say today I’m chasing those goals, I’m studying, doing my best at work and I have found true happiness in myself. I’m not neglecting my problems I’m just not putting my life on hold for my Hubby.

  4. Elle says:

    (CANADA)  I have been married for about 5 years now and am ready to leave my husband for various reasons. I pay all the bills and am supposed to act grateful when he hands me $300 per month towards the bills. He is lazy -for example household repairs and general maintenance is always on the back burner or I have to do it. I have tried to have adult talks with him about money, about supporting each other but we have nothing in common and at the end of the day, he still doesn’t take his eyes off the hockey game when I speak to him.

    I went to marriage counseling alone after he said he would go. Blah blah blah… I am done. The only thing holding me back is guilt. Because I know he won’t be able to afford much, due to his bad money management. But at the end of the day, I need my life and sanity back so I need this marriage to be over.

    If you expect your husband to change, he will not. That was my problem -thinking he would try things I like or thinking he would change in some way. You are kidding yourself. I have a separate life from my husband now. I see him about 10 minutes per day but I am glad I am back doing what I love doing because I gave it up for so long to please him and live his lifestyle – which is constantly horizontal with a bag of Doritos. Life is for living, not supressing. I choose to live.

    • Erin says:

      (UK) You are so right, they will not change. I have been married for 18 years and tried to get divorce for the last 3 years I always back down, because of worries of money and kids not having what I want them to have. But it’s time I thought of myself and the person I am as living with my husband made my personality change. I have been on antidepressants, I am insomniac and my hair fell out a lot. I know now it is because I am still with him. The stress of him telling me what is wrong with me this time is just too much. He comes home from work, dinner on the table and the goes to do his hobbies. I went to counseling on my own a few years ago, he called me fruitcake and apparently I need brain surgery as whatever is going on is my fault.

      He came to counseling before Christmas and it all seemed that the problem is in me… lol. We were given suggestions of what I wanted and he should do- if he wanted (taking me out, sitting together watching TV, going out for walks and just chatting). He has not done any of it. I have reminded him a few times, but all I ever hear is yes, I know, but I’m not that kind of man! Well, I didn`t want this kind of man. Before we got married he took me out all the time we talked, but after we tied the knot things got different, just to what he obviously has been like when he lived on his own. I need to get out of this to retain my sanity and do it quick. The reason why I am still here is because I am scared of his anger when things don’t go his way, but I waited so much time now, waiting for nothing. Everyone should finish marriage like this especially if they have children as they suffer during this a lot, pretending that nothing is going on, but they do know.

  5. Shirley says:

    (USA) I made the mistake of filling the emptyness with an affair. It ended my marriage and after several years I remarried. I thought this man I am married to now would be a life partner. It started out good, he shared thoughts, concerns, interest. Within a year of marriage: he does not acknowledge holidays, birthdays, anniversaries to the point he even has our marriage anniversary date wrong… from the first year to now.

    What has brought this to a head is that my grandson was beat up (5 years old). My husband did everything to avoid my cry for helping my little grandbaby. He actually worked against it causing my grandson to be returned to the physical abuse of a battered woman’s home. My husband outwardly voiced he was not going to help because of being strapped with 2 boys to raise from his first marriage. He resented my daughter and my grandson’s well being. I was devastated.

    Two years later, I’m still that way. My health is now severly affected. I’m isolated, and my daughter will have nothing to do with me because she blames me for interfering in her relationship with the boyfriend that beat up her son. She was raised by my husband and in turn has found not only an unemotional distant partner, but an abusive one. I’m at a total loss by it all.

    I only want distance from this husband who could care less. He did tell me that he doesn’t want to be the head of our household, and for me to stop nagging. In other words, I’m on my own. I’ve tried counseling, which he lies to the counselor. He told the counselor he is concerned that I have been thru so much caused by my daughter and I’m alienated from my family (he refused to add that his actions created any of it). I feel a storm inside me grow when we are even in the same room now.

    Before I married this man 12 years ago, I had a family, my own home, a daughter that was college bound and a horse. Now I have a home in foreclosure, my horse was destroyed, my daughter is a stripper and has cut me out of her life, and grandchildren I don’t even know. My husband blames everyone but himself for all of it. So, what now?

  6. Mary says:

    (USA) After reading this I am in more pain than before. I have been married 8 years with three children. My husband is lazy and refuses to change anything he does to assist us with making our lives better. I work full time and he stays home with my son (2 years old). I come home and have to catch up on everything in the house that wasn’t done during the day, kids homework, cook dinner, and get the kids on the bed. I feel like a single parent with 4 children. I have talked to him and asked what I could do to help. His response is “we have been doing this for 8 years and you know I have tried. But I can’t.” I have tried counseling for myself. He will not attend. When do I draw the line and call it quits? I don’t want to give up on us but I feel I am starting to despise him. I don’t want to hate him. Could really use some advice. Thank you.

  7. Lupe says:

    (USA) My dear sisters in the Lord, I know your frustration and pain. Sometimes we cant change our surroundings but our eyes should be continuously on JESUS and what a beautiful faithful awesome King and Savior we have. JESUS has been my Rock and fortress and strong tower in times of pain, frustration, agony, and loneliness. Only the Holy Ghost can internally empower us to have a sound mind, and strength every minute and second of our lives, in whatever we encounter. No matter How hard life is, our eyes should be on pleasing GOD the Father, Lord JESUS, and Holy Ghost, and on our eternal salvation in Christ. Every step we make should be in consideration of Holy sound biblical Doctrine in what ever way we react and choose to respond.

    Are we Hidden in Christ, in Constant Prayer without ceasing, seeking the presence of GOD, and asking HIM to operate through us? It is the only way GOD will continuously cleanse us of any root of bitterness, unforgiveness, anger, hate, frustration, fear, loneliness etc. We are in a spiritual battle. Satan is trying to destroy us spiritually, as well as our families. We cannot change another persons will, but we can take care of our salvation with fear and trembling before a loving GOD that gave us His most wonderful SON, Our Lord JESUS. Think eternally, think of living with Christ in a righteous beautiful holy Kingdom, where all our Holy desires will be given unto the children of GOD. No more crying, or sorrow or death, all peace. Think of your children being led By God and being taught by Him directly. Oh how wonderful.

    JESUS said, in this life we would have tribulations, He said we would even be persecuted or even within our own homes. Why do we shock at our temporary suffering. Let the Holy Ghost change us more into the image of Christ. Always desiring to be Christ like, and worthy of Him. Always seeking the Kingdom of GOD first and His righteousness. I am certainly not perfect but I serve a perfect savior, that wants to take me home, and He is in control of everything. Stephen looked up as he was being stoned to death for the witness of Christ and said, I see JESUS seated at the right hand of GOD and said Father Hold not this sin against them. Our Lord JESUS said, Father why hast thou forsaken me. HE also said, Father forgive them for they know not what they do. Our Lord JESUS felt alone on that cross, but the Father had everything under control. JESUS conquered death, sin, everything on that Cross, and because HE lives, we can live, and because He overcame, we can overcome. Now the life that we live is crucifying our old selfish sinful nature with Christ and living the life that we now have in His Resurrection and power of His Spirit.

    If it hadn’t been for the Lord I would have given up a long time ago. JESUS is our only HOPE. Lets pray that GOD helps us to forgive, turn the cheek, suffer long and be kind, overcome evil with good, not render evil for evil, walk in integrity and truth, pray for those who despitefully use us and abuse us. I pray GOD’s strength upon all you ladies that are hurting, because I hurt with you and understand what you go through. 15 Years married and 4 babies, I can do all things through CHRIST that strengthens me! We can do all things through Christ that strengthens us. Whatever we do women of GOD, Lets seek to be humble, Godly in conduct and word, and be Holy. Love your Husbands weather you have to separate or stay in the home. DO NOT SEEK Divorce or adultery or remarriage. If you separate Live holy consecrated and dedicated to the Lord and pray for your husband. Take care of your daily cares, such as our babies, homes, employment, etc.

    Avoid Christian churches that teach things that sound pleasing to our flesh and wont teach repentance or Holiness, that is dangerous, and unfortunately there are many churches like this. Seek a church that will teach you to live for Christ, not this world or self. Seek a church that will teach you to depend on the Holy Spirit to live, breath, think, and move every minute and second of your life, till JESUS comes back. Smile JESUS ROSE and He loves you! In Christ alone you will find Joy, contentment, truth, peace even in pain. Peace that surpasses all understanding. Believe me I have hurt and pained in this life where I felt I could not possibly hurt any more, where I wanted to be with JESUS already, But I’m here because of His mercy and breath in Me. The mercy of GOD sustains me to live another day, because He lives we can live. Look up, if you believe JESUS is the Messiah and Son of GOD, and are living for Him by His strength and power in you, smile. Your redemption is drawing near. Your pain will end soon, at His coming or when He chooses to take us Home. Blessings. Your sister in Christ.

    • Barbara says:

      (USA) Thank you thank you for the encouragement. I really, really needed to hear what you said. I am in the process of trying to win back my husband. 10 years ago he left me and has lived with 2 different women… had a son with one of them. 3 months ago he moved in with his parents. (I live next door.) I had not seen him in 10 years. So the stress has been unbelievable. At first he was nice to me and seemed glad to see me and spent time with me. But the last while he acts cold and like he would rather not see me. It hurts and i am not sure what to do.

      Is it from the guilt of what he has done or is he still seeing another woman? He has not apologized for anything he has done. I try to do things for him to let him know I’m committed to this marriage, no matter what. I want what God wants and I know it’s His will that we be reconciled. So I will do what is right and leave the results up to God and see what He will do. Prayers needed… A sister in Christ

      • Cathy from United States says:

        Please don’t try to “win back” your husband. If you have to make such an attempt, you never had him in the first place. The fact that he’s already been seeing other women should be a very LOUD statement about his heart and his character. He will NOT stop doing this. I’ve been married to my (not first marriage) husband for over 21 yrs, and dated him for over 4 yrs before marrying. I’m kicking myself now for not seeing the red flags before. What I’ve had to learn, VERY painfully, is that I was dependent on him for my happiness, and I find myself still getting into arguments with him about his unchanged behavior. I end up in self-loathing afterward, because I realize I’m still looking to him for my happiness.

        I will say that we all crave and desire human love, and what I’m seeking isn’t unnatural… but trying to get someone to fit a role they don’t want to fit, or are incapable of fitting, is just going to burn you in the end. I’ve been through divorce and it does have its own kind of pain, but staying with someone who continually hurts you, lies to you, cheats on you, etc… well, that’s a completely unnecessary kind of pain in my opinion.

        Since I have health problems and haven’t been working in a while, I’m currently dependent on my husband, financially. Though he says he loves me and apologizes, quite frequently, he continues to go on with his habits. Don’t listen to what a man SAYS to you. Watch him… watch him for a long time… preferably from a distance… he’ll show his true colors.

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