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.
• 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!
- 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.