This blog is not written for women in abusive marriages. The advice offered in these posts will challenge both husbands and wives, but the advice could be counter-productive if it is applied in an abusive relationship.
I’ve found men are most motivated to change during two times in a romantic relationship:
- Prior to the wedding (to get the woman to agree to marry them) and
- When a wife files for divorce.
Those are the easiest times to get a man to reconsider and reform long-standing bad habits.
If you’re single, you don’t want to ever imagine the second scenario—it’s a nightmare to play the divorce card to get your husband to listen and I’m certainly not recommending it. The first scenario, however, is one that single women (and men, in the same way) need to take very seriously.
Let me put it like this:
Women, if he won’t change to get you, he won’t change to keep you.
If there’s something in your romantic partner’s life that really bugs you—he’s drinking too much, he has a worrisome temper, excessive spending, porn use, he’s lukewarm about church, etc., and it comes up in premarital counseling but still doesn’t change, it won’t change after you’re married.
During engagement, you’re with a man when he is most motivated to change. If he figures out he has a “pass” while you’re engaged, he will reasonably assume he’ll also have a pass in marriage. While it’s embarrassing and expensive to call off an engagement, it’s devastating to go through a divorce. If you didn’t take the first option (calling off the wedding), you’re likely to put up with even more before pursuing the second (filing for divorce).
If you want him to be more serious about his earning potential; if you want him to be the one encouraging the two of you to go to church (instead of you having to remind him), bring it up and see what he does. If the answer is nothing or very little, then you can be reasonably certain he’s not going to be any more motivated to address his job situation after marriage. In fact, he’ll probably be less so. He won’t take a sudden interest in church, either. In fact, he’s far more likely to attend less.
My friend, marriage and family therapist Dr. Steve Wilke, reminds me of a key principle: the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. If a man isn’t motivated enough by the thought that you might not marry him if he acts out, he won’t be motivated enough by the thought that you might divorce him if he acts out. Most Christian women don’t want to even mention the word divorce, and biblically, there are very few scenarios where, in good conscience, they can even pursue that option.
Please understand: motivation is so important in marriage. Husband A carries on controlling behavior for a decade, by his own admission, until his wife files for divorce. He changes almost immediately. Husband B has 101 reasons why he can’t “yet” find a job, and after 12 years of this ongoing behavior, the wife files for divorce. Husband B has a new job within 30 days of his wife filing.
These aren’t coincidences.
It’s all about motivation.
And if your guy isn’t motivated to please you as a fiancé, he won’t be motivated to please you as a husband.
The most frustrating circumstances for me in pastoral counseling are when one spouse is obviously distraught over his/her spouse’s behavior, and the other spouse seems mildly apathetic, at best. How someone can be unmoved by a spouse who feels like she is drowning is beyond me but it’s not all that uncommon.
Marry a man (and men, marry a woman) who will be motivated to change out of reverence for God and empathy for you. Something may not be forbidden by God, but if it hurts my wife, that’s all the reason I need to let it go. How can I love my wife if I’m hurting her?
Engagement is the time to test your potential spouse’s motivation. Bring up the issue. Make sure he/she knows it really matters to you. If that’s not enough to send them (on their own initiative) to a counselor, a recovery group, or to stop entirely on the spot (if it’s the kind of behavior that can be stopped), then you have two choices: go ahead and get married, essentially agreeing to live with this character defect for the rest of your life, or find someone else who loves you enough to address character issues that cause you pain.
I recommend you seriously consider the latter option.