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Dr David Christian Marriage Advice

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How to Tell if Your Spouse Has Really Changed

How to Tell if Your Spouse Has Really Changed

Kathleen felt paralyzed. She shared with me that she lived in a world between hope and fear, possibilities and skepticism.

Kathleen had left her husband of only two years several months earlier, completely disappointed by the chasm between her hope of a wonderful marriage and the realities that had ensued. 

“I waited several years between the ending of my first marriage and marrying Phil,” she said during the initial phone consultation. “I spent time evaluating myself, my first marriage and exactly what I wanted in my next relationship.” 

“So, tell me what has happened Kathleen,” I said.

“It’s a disaster,” she said. “I’m completely confused. My friends tell me to get away, that Phil is not safe. But, he has entered counseling and seems to be taking the issues seriously. I don’t know what to do.” 

“Let’s unpack the situation,” I said to her. 

“I’m really confused,” she said again. “I still love Phil but he’s not good for me, at least the way he is now.” 

“Why is that?” I asked. 

“Phil is not safe for me,” she continued. “He cares more about his two kids than he does about me. He cares more about his business and making money. I come in a distant third and I won’t live like that.” 

She paused. 

“I left my first husband because he had an affair,” she said. “Phil hasn’t had an affair, but it feels the same. He is selfish. He cares more about his money, his business, his friends, his kids than he does about me. I said I was a distant third place. I actually don’t even think I’m on the list.” 

“He sounds very self-involved Kathleen,” I said. 

“So, what are the chances he will change?” she said. “My friends tell me he won’t change. My pastor says to have faith he can change. My heart is completely confused. It took so much for me to separate from him and now he wants me back. He’s promising the moon. What should I do?” 

“I’m not going to give you a simple answer, Kathleen,” I said. “It’s complicated. There are several things evaluate. Let’s go through them step by step and when we’re done I believe you will have at least the beginning answer.”

With that we went through the following analysis: 

First, evaluate the damage that has been done. We cannot determine what must be changed without assessing the impact of the damage done to us. Though typically very uncomfortable and even painful, we must consider our lives. We must think about our relationships and how we have been changed by them. We must consider our mate and how he has harmed us. If there has been emotional abuse, we must name that abuse. We can’t ask for change unless we identify and specifically name the problems.

Second, consider the changes that must be made. After we have taken a fearless inventory, sitting with our pain, we must delineate exactly what must be different. This becomes tricky because he will likely tell you that you are exaggerating the problems. He may tell you that it is all in your head and even blame you for the problems. Does he blame you for problems or does he fully accept responsibility for them? Is he remorseful and dedicated to complete change? Step back, find a healthy friend who can offer clarity and a balanced perspective.

Third, reflect upon what changes have been tried and their impact. As you step back, consider what interventions have been tried and their impact. Have you confronted him? Have you told him exactly what needs to be changed and has it been safe to do so? (In some instances he will flip the criticism back onto you, blame-shifting, rewriting history, minimizing the problems, etc.) His ability to listen to you, validate your concerns and empathize with your pain is vital aspect of the prognosis for change and intervention needed.  

Fourth, what new interventions can be implemented. When considering what level of intervention is needed, consider what you’ve tried and the impact. You will need to step up the intervention to whatever level is necessary to bring about desired results. Do you need more intensive therapy? Do you need couples plus individual counseling? Is he willing to do whatever is necessary to bring about lasting change? Does he need a specialized program? He needs whatever level of therapy to bring about change.

Fifth, take time to determine how you will measure change and accountability for change. It is the nature of all things to revert back into chaos. If you don’t establish a clear plan of change and accountability for change, you will be disappointed. Someone has said it takes 40 days to establish a new pattern of behavior, however it takes accountability to maintain the change process. Stay in counseling, stick to your Bible study plan, continue reading good self-help books. Stick with it and hold him accountable for change. Watch to see if he sticks with the change process. You will know in time if he is serious about growth.

Finally, be patient with each other in the change process. Know that change takes an honest appraisal of the situation, a clear plan for change as well as accountability for change. Then, catch each other doing things well and be patient with setbacks. With these pieces of the puzzle in place, change has a great possibility of occurring. 

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6)  


Do you really want change? Do you find yourself sabotaging growth? If you would like further help, we are here for you. Please send responses to me at and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on our website and learn about our Personal and Marriage Intensives as well as our newly formed Subscription Group for women struggling with emotional abuse. 

Publication credit: ©Thinkstock/Grinvalds

Publication date: March 28, 2017