Be sure to visit my home page and watch this week’s video describing the difference between a difficult, disappointing and destructive marriage. Each week on Monday I will post something new.
I just received some advanced copies of my new book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your Hope. They are not for sale, they are not mistake proof, but if you are a ministry leader, pastor, or counselor and you’d like to preview this book I’d be happy to send you one. In return, I would ask you to blog, tweet, and otherwise let your social network know about this important new resource. E-mail me at email@example.com with your name, address, ministry position and I will get you out a copy this week.
Today’s Question: I’ve separated but he hasn’t changed. Now what?
In January I left my husband of 35 years. His behavior had become so destructive that our adult children were trying to figure out how to see me without him. I presented my concerns to him but got nowhere.
It was like a trip down the road to insanity. I felt that leaving was the last resort, but it became the only one I had and the only thing that would get his attention. That has proven to be true. He was “devastated”, “never saw it coming”, and willing to do anything to fix it. Thus began several months of whining, begging, complaining and feeling sorry for himself.
He started seeing a counselor but after about 6 weeks quit and started seeing a family friend who happens to be a counselor. I asked him to work on the relationships with our 5 children, become responsible financially, look at why it is ok to lie, break promises, make major decisions independently and lie about them etc. He agreed those were “bad behaviors” and says they will not be repeated.
He tells me he has changed and will only do what I want from now on. Now, after 6 months apart I feel like things have changed very little. There is no real plan in place to make amends for financial issues, if anything the relationships with the kids are worse, he still makes excuses and gives himself credit for ” sticking with me through this”.
Really? We have been seeing each other a few times a week for the last month or so and I feel like I am going back to being frustrated, confused and preoccupied with trying to fix him when I know I cannot.
The counseling seems to be doing very little. I am wondering if he should be continuing to go without me as working on communication seems to be so far from what is really at the root of the matter. I’m wondering if you have any advice. It feels rather hopeless. I get that it will take time but I feel like unless we are doing the right things during this separation, we will not end up where we want to be. I want so badly to do what is “right” before God. I am struggling to determine what that is. We have gone through many difficulties, including the deaths of 2 children, things we had no control or choice about.
This entire situation is frustrating and maddening…..it didn’t have to be this way. He is still attending our church so I do not….consequently I feel isolated and like I’m the “wrong” one. It feels like nothing is the way it should be…Forgive my ramblings. Thanks for listening.
Answer: I left your question in tact because it describes the craziness so many people live with but the essence of your question was: “You’re wondering if he should continue to go to counseling without you, as working on communication seems to be so far from really is at the root of the matter.”
Difficulty communicating is not his or your marriages main problem. He communicates just fine. The problem is that what he communicates is deceitful and hurtful. The problem is that he’s indifferent to your concerns, feelings, and needs. The problem is he makes and breaks promises to you and the children and shows little awareness how that breaks trust. The problem is he’s put your family finances in a mess and there is no plan to remedy that. The question you may need to ask his counselor is whether or not his personal counseling is addressing his problems? If not, then what is he working on in counseling? If it is just a venting session about you that will not help him address his problems.
When a couple separates and one or both individuals are in personal counseling, I highly recommend having a release of information signed so that you can speak to his counselor about what you see are problems in the marriage and obstacles to reconciliation. Otherwise, his counselor is only hearing from his point of view. In addition, if you’re both in counseling, the counselors find it very beneficial if they can speak to one another about the issues they are seeing in order to compare notes and help you both obtain the help you need.
From your letter, you are not seeing any progress in your husband tackling the problems that caused you to separate from him. Talking with his counselor will give you a better idea on whether or not his counselor is actually working with your husband on these issues or not, and if he is, what progress he feels your husband is making or capable of making.
If your husband refuses to sign a release of information for you to talk with his counselor, then that says a lot. He says he’s not interested in accountability and transparency. It says he still may be lying to you as to whether or not he’s even attending counseling or what he’s actually working on. It says very clearly that you are not far enough along in the process for you to even consider reconciliation.
That brings me to your problem. Your problem is that you felt crazy in the marriage with your husband’s behavior. Your problem was your adult children didn’t want to see you with your husband, their father. Your problem is your financial future is in jeopardy and if he doesn’t do something to fix the problem, the consequences of his choices will also fall on your head. Your solution to your problem was to separate after trying for years to communicate with him the effects his actions were having on you and the children. He seemed remorseful but that remorse has not really resulted in the changes you were hoping for or the changes he promised. Now what?
I wish I could tell you to hang in there and that there is hope. But honestly, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. Without a serious effort to do things differently as well as structured accountability in place (that your husband invites and welcomes), it is not likely that anything will change on his end. He’s had six months to do something and he’s done nothing. He’s expecting that you will grow tired of the separation, perhaps feel lonely and take him back. But if you do, understand that nothing has changed. The question you have to ask yourself is do you want to continue to live this way?
In marriage, we bind ourselves together to another person. When that person continues to jump into the fire of foolishness and destruction, it’s time to loosen the tie if you don’t want to continue to get burned. You’ve done that by separating. Only you know whether or not you need to take the next step in order to stay safe and sane.