Christian resources for your marriage, all free online at! Find Christian based information on situations that arise in any relationship between husband and wife. Learn about how we should treat our spouses according to the word of the Bible and Jesus. Other helpful resource topics include: Christian singles, parenting, finances and debt. Dr David Christian Marriage Advice

How to Identify Harmful Patterns of Behavior in Marriage

  • Dr. David B. Hawkins The Marriage Recovery Center
  • 2015 21 Jul
How to Identify Harmful Patterns of Behavior in Marriage

Derek, a thirty-nine year old, burley man, an electrician by trade, sat perplexed in front of me. His wife had left him several months earlier and he was still reeling from the blow.

“My wife made me leave our home six months ago and told me she couldn’t live with me anymore. She is willing to throw away fifteen years of marriage and leave our children wondering what is going on.”

“Why did she leave, Derek?” I asked.

“Well, it’s stuff you write about. I guess I was hard-headed. I run my business and I guess I tried to run the home the same way. I really don’t know. You’d have to ask her.”

“Now Derek,” I said a bit more firmly. “You have to have more of an idea than that. She has to have given you some clues along the way.”

SEE ALSO: How Badly Do You Want to Change Your Marriage?

“Well, she has complained about a lot of things,” he said. “But none of them amount to a reason to leave a marriage. There is no excuse for that in my mind.”

Derek seemed to notice the stunned look on my face.

“Do you think a woman should kick a man out of his house?” he asked.

“The way you are phrasing the question doesn’t work for me, Derek,” I said. “I never advocate a woman ‘kicking her husband out,’ but under certain conditions I can understand why a woman might feel a need to gain some space to think.”

SEE ALSO: Can I Ever Make My Spouse Like Me Again?

“For what?” he asked defiantly.

“I don’t know you very well, Derek,” I said, “but I can list some reasons women feel harmed by men and feel a need for space. When a woman feels harmed, again and again, it begins to take a toll on her. While many don’t recognize that harm, it is nonetheless occurring. Can I share some types of harm men inflict on their wives to see if any fit you?”

“Of course,” he said. “I need to figure this out if my wife is ever going to come back to me.”

“That was wisely said, Derek. Many men remain defiant, unyielding and prideful and never seek to fully understand their mate. Many use patterns of thinking—called denial—to avoid seeing themselves as they are and owning their hurtful actions. Let’s walk through some of the forms of passive violence that many men use against women. Please understand that any ONE of these can cause severe pain.”

SEE ALSO: How to Show Respect for Your Spouse's Feelings

  • Powering Over: This has also been called “Power Play,” when one forces their will on another;
  • Scapegoating: Putting the burden of responsibility onto an innocent person and placing themselves in the favorable light;
  • Minimizing: Treating another as a lesser individual or treating actions as less severe than they are;
  • Playing the Victim: Making it seem as if the perpetrator is the one being wronged instead of the real victim;
  • Blameshifting: Taking the onus off the perpetrator of harm and putting it onto the victim;
  • Rage Reactions: Erupting in overt or covert anger—this could take the form of passive aggressive actions or outright rage;
  • Stonewalling: Retreating into silence;
  • Shunning: Intentionally discontinuing contact with a person because of dislike for their justifiable actions;
  • Justification: Offering a “reasonable” excuse for inexcusable actions;
  • Rewriting History: Disavowing knowledge for having done a harmful action they have done;
  • Deception: Lying about an action to place themselves in a more favorable light.

Derek and I reviewed the above sampling of behaviors often used by men to avoid taking responsibility for their actions.

“Well, I’ve got to say I’ve done some of all of those,” he said sheepishly. “I hate to admit it, but when you point out those things, I see myself. No wonder she wants away from me.”

Together we planned a course of action to correct his behavior. It is impossible to change behavior we do not see (denial!) and we often need another set of eyes to see what we cannot see.

First, get professional help. Since these behaviors are outside our awareness, we need a professional set of eyes to see what we cannot and may not want to see. Get the best professional help you can afford and get to work. Seek specific and unflinching feedback from your mate.

Second, understand motivations for using denial. We use denial for a reason—to see ourselves in the most favorable light and maintain a false impression of our personality. It is painful to see ourselves as we really are, yet this must be done if we are going to change. Be honest about your use of these patterns of denial.

Third, outline and take responsibility for harmful behavior. Change does not come easily or all in one fell swoop. Be prepared for hard work to change ingrained patterns of denial and harmful behavior. List the patterns of behavior you use and develop a strategy, along with your mate, to “catch these behaviors taking place.” Grieve the damage you have done to your mate. Cultivate empathy for your mate for having been harmed by you.

Fourth, develop a plan of action for taking responsibility on an ongoing basis. As you “catch” these behaviors, replace them with fiercely taking responsibility for your actions. You must make “living amends” where you repent of harmful behavior and replace it will healing actions. This will require ongoing, prayerful reflection as well as professional help.

Finally, memorize Scripture that allows God to renew your mind. Our minds do not renew themselves! We must subject our thinking to the power of God and the changing power of the Word (Romans 12:2). Immerse yourself in Scripture that pertains to the thinking errors you use to avoid taking responsibility for your actions.

Derek and I spent weeks exploring and identifying his harmful behavior patterns. We then began writing a very detailed apology letter where he took full responsibility for his harmful patterns of behavior. He is well on the way to healing and is now able to more effectively be in relationship with her as that opportunity arises.

added for clarityDo you really want to be healed? Are you ready to give up harmful actions? If you would like our professional support, please go to our website, 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.

Publication date: July 21, 2015