By Dr. David B. Hawkins, Crosswalk.com
You’ve separated from him out of sheer desperation. You’ve experienced ‘divorce by a thousand cuts’ and now he wants back into the marriage. The ‘divorce by a thousand cuts’ has included emotional abuse, betrayal of trust in numerous ways and behavior that overshadowed all the love you have for him.
Cindy is in such a situation. Married to her husband JJ for only five years, with one small child and Christian values, leaving him was painful and incredibly challenging.
“JJ is the life of any gathering,” Cindy told me. “He is fun, outgoing, unbelievably talented and that is why I was attracted to him. That is why I married him. But, there were too many lies, too many times when he did what he wanted to do instead of being sensitive to my needs.”
“Is that why you left him?” I asked during a recent counseling session.
“Yes, and so much more,” she said sadly. “It’s hard to explain to people how difficult it was living with him. It took everything I had to leave, and I feel terrible separating from him and possibly ending our marriage. I want to believe that he is changing, but he’s made promises before. How can I really know that anything will be different?”
“I think there are ways to know, Cindy,” I said. “I think you can step back, use wisdom and good, sound reasoning, and know with some certainly whether his changes are superficial or whether there has been a ‘heart change.’”
Cindy and I talked at length about the difference between superficial, desperate pleadings for reconciliation and peering into one’s heart to know if a person has done the emotional and spiritual work that leads to depth change.
I reminded Cindy of the words of the Lord to Samuel when referencing his search for a new king:
“Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
“I don’t really know how that is done,” Cindy lamented. “He always sounds so sincere about change, but then his behavior goes right back to the way it was before.”
I nodded in understanding as she continued.
“He is able to change for a short time, but then he slips back. It’s like he hasn’t ever really changed. I’d love to believe that this time is real. But, I am afraid.”
“I understand Cindy, but there really ARE ways to know if he has really changed. Consider this test and discern for yourself if he has changed.”
Here are several ideas for discerning if he has really changed:
One, has he taken responsibility for his behavior? It is one thing to say he is sorry for what he has done to lead up to this separation. It is something else for him to show you and share with you that he has fully considered, and taken responsibility for, the ripple effect of his actions.
Taking responsibility for something means we have spent time reflecting on the significant impact of our behavior. We have empathized with those we have hurt, deeply considering the full ramifications of our actions. He will be able to talk clearly about the broken trust, the extensive hurt and the changes you will need to see in order to heal. Has he done that work?
Two, has he shown commitment to the change process? I’ve written extensively on our need for depth change that comes from depth personal and spiritual work. A little change leads to great disappointment. Involvement in a depth change process means he will have entered into personal counseling, sought spiritual guidance and perhaps even entered into some support process such as Celebrate Recovery. Has he accessed rigorous, depth guidance?
Three, has he been fully attentive and appreciative of your requests? Has he listened to your concerns and reflected that he understands them? Has he sat patiently and allowed you the time to share your feelings and concerns, or has he been impatient and talked more about his feelings and needs? Has he shown that he has listened by validating your concerns, honoring them and used them as a path toward change?
Four, has he shown patience with the process? There are no short-cuts to personal and spiritual growth. Since he has violated your trust and hurt you in deep ways, and thus recognizes and accepts that healing the relationship will take time. He accepts that learning to trust him again will also take time. No only does he accept this process, and appreciation for the time it will take to reconcile, but exhibits a heart of openness and understanding—not a begrudged resignation.
Finally, has he made changes to his life? Internal changes lead to external changes. If he has changed internally—a heart change—you will see evidence in his actions. You will see external evidence of ‘house cleaning.’ He may change his friendships, his lifestyle and the way he talks to you. You will see and experience his changes.
“By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:16).
“So,” I said to Cindy. “It isn’t a guessing game in determining if JJ has really changed. You can prayerfully reflect and with discernment gauge how much he has really changed. You can make a good decision based on good information. If he has fallen short, you can determine if he is open to hearing about the change process you require for reconciliation.”
If you would like to learn more about healthy relating, please go to our website, www.marriagerecoverycenter.com and discover more information about this topic, watching my video series, 30 Days to Relational Fitness. Pay close attention to the article, Therapeutic Healing Session, a useful tool for saving your marriage. Please send responses to me at [email protected] and also read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website. You’ll find videos and podcasts on sexual addiction, emotionally destructive marriages, codependency and affair-proofing your marriage.
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Dr. David Hawkins, MBA, MSW, MA, PhD, is a clinical psychologist who has helped bring healing to thousands of marriages and individuals since he began his work in 1976. Dr. Hawkins is passionate about working with couples in crisis and offering them ways of healing their wounds and finding their way back to being passionately in love with each other.
Over the past ten years, Dr. Hawkins has become a leader in the field of treatment for narcissism and emotional abuse within relationships. He has developed several programs for treatment of men dealing with these issues and the women who love them. Dr. Hawkins is also a speaker & trainer for the American Association of Christian Counselors and writes for Crosswalk.com, CBN.org, and iBelieve.com. He is a weekly guest on Moody Radio and Faith Radio and is a best-selling author of over thirty books.