Editor's Note: Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family? Dr. David Hawkins, director of the Marriage Recovery Center, will address questions from Crosswalk readers in his weekly column. Submit your question to TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com.
"I've been trying to get Jerry into counseling for years," a thirty-year old woman named Caroline shared with me recently. "We've been married ten years, and I've been unhappy for many of them."
"What are the issues?" I asked. "Why have you been so unhappy?"
"He is controlling, manipulative and demanding. Things always have to be his way. I felt like I was dying in the marriage. But, I wanted to do the right thing and so stayed with him, hoping he would change."
"And what did you do to insist on change?"
"I've scolded him, yelled at him, even tried to bribe him. Nothing worked," she said.
"That's got to have been incredibly frustrating," I said.
"Frustrated doesn't even begin to explain how I feel," Caroline shared. "I own more self-help books than the local bookstore. My friends call me for counseling advice. But, I've never been able to get Jerry to take the step."
"So, are you still together?" I asked, unaware of her recent action.
"No," she said solemnly. "I finally couldn't take it any more, and told him he had to leave or get help. He refused and so, after a lot of tears and prayer, I told him he had to go."
"Okay….." I said, pausing to see what she would say next.
"So, we've been separated for three months and now he wants to come back home. He's been going to counseling, and I think he's really changing. But, I'm still so angry with him. Why did it take so long for him to go to counseling, and why am I so angry?"
"I'm not sure Caroline," I said.
"And do I have to forgive him now that he's finally decided to change? What about all the years I've suffered? Do I have to just let go of all that?"
"Great questions Caroline," I said. "Let's sort this thing out together.
Caroline and I spent the next several sessions exploring her feelings and the possibilities for her and her marriage. Like others in her circumstances, she felt incredibly confused and really appreciated a listening ear and the chance to sort through her mixed feelings.
Here are some of the ideas we explored.
First, it is natural to feel confused. When someone refuses to change for years, and then suddenly, when their back is against the wall, seeks help, it is reasonable to question it. Are they serious about change? Are they changing just to get you back? These questions and more are natural responses to sudden change.
Second, it is natural to feel angry. It is perfectly understandable to feel angry about abusive behavior. You have requested, begged and pleaded for change, to no avail. Now, when you have created a crisis, he changes. You have wished he would change because years ago because he recognized the need for change. But, he changes only after you are pushed to your limit. This must be infuriating.
Third, it will take time to move through her feelings to a place of forgiveness. Because you have experienced such degrading behaviors, it will take time to learn to trust your husband, and must witness and experience what has been called living amends—where he shows, over time, that he has experienced a transformation. As you experience this change, you will likely reach a place of forgiveness.
Fourth, your husband will need to be patient as you heal. Just as it has taken a long time for your husband to recognize his need for change, he must now understand it will take time for you to heal. There is no time-table for how long this will take, or the exact process. What is true, however, is that he cannot demand forgiveness. He cannot insist on reconciliation. He must work on his life and leave the rest to you and God.
Fifth, seek wise counsel as you consider reconciliation. It has taken a long time to reach a decision to separate from your husband. Now that he is in counseling, there is hope for your marriage. However, coming back together will be challenging, requiring healing with both of you. Seek expert counsel as you explore ways of talking about the wounds you have both experienced in your marriage, and how to ensure such wounding doesn't recur.
Finally, both of you need God's healing touch. Emotional wounds leading to separation can be deep and painful, requiring the healing work of the Holy Spirit. I encourage you to pray for both you and your husband's healing and ultimate restoration.
Please share your thoughts on this topic marital separation. What helped you reach the point of seeking change? How did you learn to trust and love again?
Originally posted February 9, 2010.
Dr. David Hawkins is the director of the Marriage Recover Center where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including Dealing With the CrazyMakers in Your Life, 90 Days to a Fantastic Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.
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