February 27, 2016

What You Need to Change When Your Spouse Doesn’t

Gary Thomas — 

What You Need to Change When Your Spouse Doesn't

In my last post I talked about “functional fixedness,” addressing the question, “What if your husband isn’t motivated by your pain? What if he’s only motivated by his?” We addressed the spiritual issues behind this attitude. You can read that post Why Men Don’t Change.

In this post, we’re going to address some of the practical things wives (or husbands—just reverse the gender) can do if they spot this in their marriage.

Remember that Dr. Melody Rhode helped us understand that men don’t normally change if what they’ve been doing appears to work for them. If you want things to change, your response has to change.

Even more, you have to change first. This is step one. When I wrote about functional fixedness in Sacred Influence, it followed a long discussion about women growing deeper in the Lord. Men respond to strength. Men listen best to the people they respect most. You need to feel and be strong in Christ. That’s the best, most secure platform out of which you can influence your husband. Don’t think of these strategies apart from that context. Sometimes you have to lay the groundwork for wise action.

Fear Keeps Failure Alive

Some women fall into the trap of failing to speak up for fear of losing their man; they don’t want to “rock the boat” even though it appears that the boat is headed toward an iceberg.  Such passive acceptance makes it more likely that the husband will keep straying; he won’t respect his wife for putting up with his poor behavior, and this attitude will only reinforce his disrespectful behavior.  I’ve seen it time and again, when a poorly behaving husband “gets away” with something and therefore acts even worse. Sadly, many women think their husband’s anger is the great enemy of their security, but in fact, weakness and accommodation can pose a far more potent threat to their marriage.

When a husband loses his respect for his wife, bad things usually follow. You can’t make your husband respect you, but you need to at least respect yourself. This is where your identity in Christ needs to rise to the forefront. You need to live from the foundation that your standing before God, not your marital status, defines who you are.

When a strong, godly woman remains true to herself and is clear about the bottom line, men are more likely to respond. If you fear most of all that your man will leave you—if your marital status rather than God defines your life—you’ve just given up one of the greatest tools God has given you to influence your husband. But if you can stand strong and secure in your identity and relationship with Christ, courageously making it clear about how you will and will not be treated, it may amaze you how the respect you show for yourself will rub off onto your husband.

I’m not suggesting you dangle the “d” word (divorce) as a threat. Some men will have an automatic, “Fine, let’s do it” response, either calling your bluff or leading to the destruction of your marriage. Be very careful about uttering that word, and never use it if you don’t think it’s a real possibility that you are being forced to consider.

What I’m talking about is more internal—how you view yourself. A drug and alcohol addict once told me that if he thought there had been a one percent chance that his wife was lying when she told him, “One more slip and you’ll lose me and your daughter forever,” he would have tested it. If there was just a one percent chance that he could have his family and his alcohol abuse, he’d have gone for it. But his wife made it abundantly clear that there was a zero percent chance—none—that she’d allow him to stay if he didn’t stop. She had reached her end. He respects his wife for taking that stance now, knowing that anything less wouldn’t have been sufficient to make him put in the work necessary to repent and recover.

The scary part, of course, is what if a wife has to follow through on her ultimatum? That’s why ultimatums shouldn’t ever be uttered lightly and never without counsel.

How Serious is It?

I hope it’s clear that what I’m talking about rises to the level of a serious threat to your family, your husband’s integrity, your marriage, and your home’s stability. It is evil and proud to demand that your husband change simply because he annoys you. It is holy and pure to demand that he change because what he is doing is destructive to himself, to your marriage, to your children, and possibly to his relationship with God.

Please don’t apply “functional fixedness” to a husband who eats with his mouth open, plays golf once a week when you think the money and time could be better spent, or even when he is earnestly struggling and occasionally failing. I’m talking about issues where he could be arrested; where you could biblically divorce him; where the situation is demonstrably unhealthy for you as a person and/or your children. This isn’t about manipulation or making you a little less annoyed. It’s about something that, if left unchecked, simply cannot and should not be tolerated.

Things Must ChangeDivorce: couple back to back

As a wife, you probably have more power over your husband than you realize. When you are a woman of respect, the last thing your husband wants is to lose you.  Your reactions and opinions matter greatly—far more than you probably realize. When a woman stands up and says, “This will affect our relationship and my view of you,” most men will at least start listening. Many of the wives whose stories I tell in Sacred Influence who managed to move their husbands toward holiness all came to a point in time when they decided that things could not and would not stay the same.  They stopped “playing the game” and made it clear to their husbands that they were determined to stand strong—by themselves, if need be—in the Lord.

So, the next step in dealing with “functional fixedness” is no longer talking about your pain but rather your expectations. As we discussed earlier, too many women have given up this power to influence their husbands because they fear being left alone. “If I say ‘No more,’ what if he leaves me?”

Consider this: if you have to compromise your morals, your faith in God, and your self-respect to “keep the peace,” does the threat of being left alone really sound so bad? Remember, your God will supply all your needs. If you follow his plan and still your husband becomes one of the few who rebels, God’s provision and strength will help you face the consequences. God won’t leave you alone, regardless of what happens. God, not your marital status, defines your life.

Embrace this freedom and the glory of being a strong woman alive to God. God has given you the power to influence your man. But even if your man should leave, God will give you the grace and power to cope. Once you fully understand your status before God, you need never live at the mercy of a man’s approval. Understand the power you have, and utilize that famous “mystery of a man with a woman.”

In fact, Dr. Rhode sees the threat of losing his wife as perhaps the greatest possible motivator for a husband.  Of course, we have to put this within the context of a covenant committed marriage.  The Bible is very specific and very limiting regarding what constitutes an acceptable divorce.  Discontentment, seeming incompatibility, or mere displeasure don’t qualify.  Dr. Rhode points out, “a woman’s power needs to be surrendered to God and used for his purposes, not our own.”

Increasing His Pain

If a husband is motivated by his pain and not yours, then you’ve got to think through how to help him experience that pain—pain not caused by you, but as a consequence of his actions. This is such a crucial distinction: you are not to intentionally cause him pain; rather, you’re stopping your previous practice of rescuing him from the painful consequences of the foolish choices he is making.

If your husband is unrepentantly engaging in porn use, you don’t have to “share” him with a website. If he’s returning from a bachelor party that stopped off at a strip club, you needn’t feel like it’s your “wifely” duty to be an “outlet” for lust that was generated miles away. You can say, “I want to have a fantastic sexual relationship with you, even one that will wear you out, but I won’t share you. Once it’s clear that you’re dealing with this other issue, we can begin rebuilding our sexual relationship. But I will never share you. You’ve broken our trust, you’ve dishonored our marriage, and now we have to put the relationship back together before we can be sexually intimate.”

The way Jesus talked about adultery makes it clear he doesn’t expect wives to just “stay put” in the face of sexual betrayal. If a husband is fighting occasional porn use, that’s one thing (as long as he doesn’t let “I’m fighting it” become a half-hearted excuse to occasionally indulge—this is a matter of the heart that may require pastoral attention). But when he’s not dealing with it except when he’s caught, you have standing to say, “You can have me or you can have porn (or strip clubs, etc.), but you can’t have both. You decide.”

Don’t let him quote 1 Corinthians 7 to you, as if you’re sinning against him by not making yourself available. You are making yourself “available.” You’re also saying that this is how he makes himself available to you—by keeping a pure heart and true eyes. It’s his actions, not yours, bringing sexual intimacy to a stop. Don’t let him turn the table on you.

If the issue is anger or verbal abuse, remove yourself from the situation: “I can’t talk to you or listen to you when I’m being yelled at. If you want to communicate with me, then you have to do it in a way that doesn’t feel verbally violent.” (The chapter on Jo in Sacred Influence tells the entire story of how she worked with her husband on his anger issues over a long period of time.)

If he’s spending money on selfish things, you can fix Top Ramen for his next couple of meals: “I’m just trying to help us meet the budget.” You can cancel cable or satellite television. “Honey, we agreed to live debt free. When you drop $300 on a new golf club, I’ve got to do whatever I can to make it up so we can pay our bills and not fall farther behind.”

You will have to guard yourself prayerfully to make sure you are not acting out of spite or enjoying his pain as a pay-back. You’re simply letting your husband feel the pain of his choices, and that’s the principle behind properly addressing functional fixedness, since his pain is the only thing that will motivate him. If he can’t have sex with you; if he can’t voice his frustration because he’s doing it inappropriately; if he can’t watch what he wants because he’s spent too much money somewhere else, he’s going to wake up to the reality of what he’s putting you through. His pain will wake him up.

Some husbands may give up and even walk out. I’m not pretending this is a cure-all or a guaranteed strategy. But when the issue is something you can’t or shouldn’t live with, it may be your only resort.

Here’s my final word: It would be beyond foolish to do something drastic because you read a 2000 word blog post that speaks generally. Please talk this over with a trusted, mature friend—the kind who won’t simply “take your side” because they’re your friend, but rather the kind that is willing to be truthful and honest before God. Even better, I’d recommend a trained counselor, as you may need someone to help you with the aftermath.

Remember: this is a slightly dangerous strategy and it needs to be treated as such. It should never be done to get your way or to pay your spouse back, but rather to protect your family and help your spouse grow.

And then, don’t forget the main point of the first post: this is a spiritual issue of the heart. Don’t apply this post without first praying through that perspective. You want to cooperate with God to bring your husband to repentance and spiritual maturity. Any other motivation is selfish and manipulative.


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.

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35 responses to What You Need to Change When Your Spouse Doesn’t

  1. hewantedseparation December 10, 2016 at 4:06 pm

    I can see my own situation pretty clearly in the first post. My husband is just as you described. He is a church Minister, just like some other comment-ers.
    But the outcome was different to any other described here.

    My husband announced he no longer wanted to be married to me.
    It was AFTER that statement that he told me things that he hadn’t. We were married 15½ years, and when we married he’s known he hadn’t actually loved me. He wanted me to change. I was so shocked – there was not even a hint of that in our extensive pre-marriage counselling. I said “but you could never have made me change”. His response – “well I know that NOW. No-one could make YOU change”. Thankfully, I kept my emotions in check as I said, “no, I meant that no-one can never expect another person to change to become what THEY want them to be. Change comes from within”.
    Later he came back to it. he applied a different understanding and it was very hurtful. he said, I only wanted you to change to become who I hoped you could become (he gave a positive sense). And I have tried. And you have changed. But in totally the wrong direction, so I can’t do it anymore”.

    After a month of discussion in counselling he committed to 10 focused sessions where we would explore fundamental communication issues. In week 2 I suddenly felt prompted to inquire if he believed I was a good person.
    He was unable to answer.
    Then just as I gave up, realising that was the answer (a ‘no’), he said this gem – “I think you try”.

    That was the turning point for me.

    He desired separation with a view to divorce.
    I felt (and feel) so betrayed by his lack of communication.
    When I recognised his lack of respect for me, and his lack of desire to know who I truly am, I made my own decision – that I no longer want to be married to him.

    Almost a year later I can say this:
    * I can do it on my own
    * I still feel betrayed
    * I grieve for my “family”
    * I grieve the lack of decisions I truly had.

    Most of all, I hate that my husband doesn’t care about the pain he his unilateral decision has caused – not just for me.
    But for our children. They are just 9 & 12.
    I haven’t talked about my pain of being separated from them for a week at a time. Or their pain at their previously stable and loving family being SPLIT. With no warning.
    It is truly horrendous.

    Avoiding acknowledging another’s pain is a very very powerful thing.
    And very disempowering on the other side.

    And yes, after 2 months break (paid), he is in a new church, as their Senior Minister.
    Our kids will not go anywhere near a church, such is their pain. (They have counselling support).
    But the church has offered the children and I no support at all.
    15½ years in ministry… Abandoned in a flash.
    It’s tough.
    It’s life, and like it or not, time to create a new one.

    God bless anyone who is dealing with anything similar.

    • Oh my God be with you and heal your heart and children.

    • It sounds like you have a smart outlook on it and the most important thing which I commend you on is that you love yourself. You loved yourself enough to have boundaries of how people will treat you and what you expect. No one does a favor to another hoping the other person will change. In my opinion, he lacks integrity and virtue as he was not honest in how he entered the marriage and loving a person for who they are. A minister should know that is one of the most important commandments. We aren’t asked to love someone if they change, if you can get them to change, or if they become better.

      I believe he loved you and his heart has been deceived, whether by satan, or I don’t know who. But the father of lies can confuse someone into believing they never loved someone, or get them to focus on only the negative, and forget their previous feelings.

      My heart goes out to you and to your children. The most important thing they have is a mother who loves them no matter what and for them to know their Heavenly Father loves them. I pray that you have found, or will find, a loving church and a wonderful, good loving friend there. And genuine friends for your kids. You seem like a strong woman!! Keep that strength and don’t let yourself fall into the pit of a victim-you’re a fighter!

  2. Any recommendations on how to help my husband “feel the pain” of his drinking? It is around 3 drinks a night so not crazy excessive but we have both struggled with addiction and excessive drinking in past. I decided about 6 months ago to get my own drinking in check and have expressed to him repeatedly how his nightly drinking affects my own strength / determination etc. to limit drinking and he is loving and responsive in the moment but doesn’t change behaviour. We love each other very much and I’m not interested in pursuing separation but I do need to ensure, for my own mental health and addiction recovery, that my environment supports my choice rather than being regressive. I’ve expressed this all to him but the drinking doesn’t change.

    Appreciate any insight, friends!

  3. We have been together for 16 1/2 years. Married for 14 1/2. My husband is addicted to porn. I was in denial over it for years. Then when I found evidence of it I talked to him about it and he first denied it, then as the years went on and more evidence, he admitted it and said he would stop. However our marriage continues to go down and finally I said if you do not get help I am leaving. I am getting help for being codependent as well. I pray that we can build a good relationship after we each get help
    for ourselves I will not live in this situation as it has been ….

  4. My husband is not outright mean and does not get angry. He can be thoughtful and kind. In the early years of our marriage, though, we did not have much of a sex life. This bothered me, and I began to bring it up with him. He said it was because of how he felt about himself. He insisted he was attracted to me, loved me, etc. Years went on, though, and the lack of physical intimacy continued. I began to feel as though it had to be me and that there was something wrong with me. I talked with him many times, communicating how I felt, even explaining that I felt very vulnerable and that, although I don’t think I ever would, I was not sure I’d be able to refuse if a man was interested in me. This was not an attempt at manipulation, but an honest assessment of how I felt. Still, time passed. Then, we began to grow further apart emotionally. I felt I couldn’t trust him because he kept apologizing and saying things would change, he really did care, etc., but then would continue to make no effort. I asked if we could go to counseling. Things started to improve because, while seeing the counselor, we would take a half hour to talk two or three nights a week (we have four children). I felt closer to him emotionally. However, as soon as we stopped going to counseling, he stopped asking to talk. I brought it up every few weeks, and he insisted he wanted to, but it never did happen. So, last year, I talked with him. I told him that I couldn’t deal with him telling me one thing, but then not following through with his actions. I asked to go back to counseling and also asked if we could start talking again. I asked him to make the counseling appointment and also to initiate talking. I was clear that these both needed to happen quickly and, if not, I would know where he stood. He still didn’t do it, until I basically told him I was going to separate, several months later. In the meantime, I got into an emotional affair and began to care for another man, who seemed to enjoy talking with me, encouraged me, etc. I think now he was mainly physically attracted to me. So, now I feel rejected by my husband, rejected by this other man, feel incredibly guilty, and basically hate who I have become. I know in my head my worth comes from God, not man. But I am tired of being a lonely wife. I handled everything so poorly and am so disappointed in myself and confused by my husband.

  5. I’ve been reading your blogs for some time and those lead me to buy the book Sacred Influence. I have read through chapter 9, will start chapter 10 today. Let me say, it has been insightful, and I feel I have a better understanding of how my husband mind may work, although “we” started on a track about 2 years ago, (been empty nesters for over 3 yrs. now) realizing we had drifted apart in our relationship, no communication, no intimacy for years (+ years), no connection, nothing to bind us together whatsoever, in order to save our marriage we attended a Christian counselor at a local state Baptist ministry center, he attended 3 sessions I continue on by myself for several more sessions, while I was getting worthy help, I stop attending, felt that it was one sided since my husband wasn’t growing in the same direction. I’ve been reading Gary Chapman’s daily devotional Love Language minute couples devotional, on the second year of reading it daily and applying it somewhat. I attempted to share it with my husband one night, asking if he would read it with me, he did, that one time, an argument was created and I’ve not asked him to read it with me again. I continue to read it each morning, he sees me reading it, on the mornings that he wakes up early.

    Sacred Influence has slap me in many areas, I’ve strived to the wife as instructed in 1 Peter 3:1-5, in fact I have it printed out with notes that I read almost daily to remind me of my calling. I’ve even prayed Proverbs 5:19 for my husband to loved me in such a way. I have a great church family, which he attends Sunday School & worship with me, he was saved as a teenager, I was a young adult, age 26 when I was saved. We have very little conversations of spirituality, prayer consist of meal time blessing, when we eat out, at home he eats in the den, I eat at the kitchen bar, and a lot times we eat at different times. He is self-consume, he works a good job, one which gives him lots of flexibility although his job at times has stressful demands, I’m accountant for a manufacturer, at times its stressful. I am physically active, run, attend workout classes, he doesn’t mind anything I do. He spends his time at home, at the couch watching TV, and on his cell phone, texting, on Facebook, internet googling gun stuff, he’s into gun trade/sell , and saids he gets a sense of accomplishment in being to express his gun knowledge to others and trading up guns for little investment. I’m good with that, however, he spends several hours at night, on his cell phone on the couch, as he flips the tv channels, it has caused many fights, he stays up till 11:00 sometimes after midnight scrolling FaceBook and watching TV. I lay awake most nights, as I can’t always fall asleep b/c I’m aggravated that he chooses to connect with social media than me, our conversations, are those of hallway or reporter type talk. We have had some meaningful talks since we started trying to build our marriage up, but those are few & far between; in those talks he will admit he is selfish, he finally agree that he could see where the FB could be addictive and agreed to not be on it when I sit on the couch with him, so when I go to bed he gets busy, problem is he never signs off FB, he looks at it, makes comments on people pages from the time he gets up in the morning until he finally goes to bed, he says he has problems sleeping, and it helps him to escape and relax to help him sleep, however he takes multiple naps on the couch during the day when he’s home, if he gets home from work at 3 pm he lays on the couch, watch tv, surf his phone and takes a nap, on the weekend if he’s not golfing, cutting grass or other chores, he literally lays on the couch all day long, napping and on until the evening hours. He gets up on the weekend, eats b’fast, lay on couch and takes a nap and gets mad with me for doing chores which is disruptive to him while he’s trying to rest. He gets aggravated very easily, and admits he is a hard core person, who sees it his way and that’s the only way. Currently he isn’t talking to me, he slept on the couch one night, one night he came to bed really late, and last night he slept in a spare bedroom, but was up until after midnight, see I wake up many times a night- hot flashes, thirsty or bathroom calls; I had a bad night Sunday night, in which I tossed, turned, flipped, flopped all was well, until he came to bed around 12:00 pm, after an hour I guess I disturb him, and he asked if he needed to go elsewhere, I said no, he went to the couch to sleep. He doesn’t get up in the morning until after I leave for work. When I got home from work on Monday, he wasn’t home, no note, no nothing, he came in as I was finishing cooking, took shower, came straight pass me & stonewalled me, never look at me, or came in the kitchen, went to the couch and got on his phone. I made his plate of supper, put it in the microwave, went to laundry room to do laundry, he then went to the kitchen in which I step in to tell him his plate was in the microwave, he ate while scrolling his phone, no words, my heart said to just leave- as I have complain about his stonewalling.. he ignores, avoids and doesn’t talk to me when he’s mad can last for a week or so and then when he’s done stewing he acts like nothing has ever happen. Usually its seems from an argument or something I said that he didn’t like – or it hurt his feelings. Monday he came to bed late, last night I got up around midnight to get a sip of water, there he sat on the couch in the dark w/ tv on and scrolling his phone, when I got up this morning he was asleep in a spare bedroom.
    He has asked me many times to leave him be when he clams up, to let him deal with his stewing and when he’s done, all is well, I’ve asked him to at least tell me he is bothered and need some space so that I don’t feel he’s leaving the marriage, as it causes me to feel insecure, but he said no that I knew him well enough to sense when he’s mad or aggravated therefore no need to tell me such. I even told him its fine to take a little time to evaluate the situation and be still, quite as we seek our thoughts out, but there must be a time of resolution, that if he wanted to have his time to get over his aggravation, then afterwards we need to discuss it and resolve it, otherwise the elephant is still in the room and it will cycle around again. Plus I told him while he is stonewalling, he could at least acknowledge me, by speaking to me, noticing me when he comes/goes, etc but no he refuses that too, I tell him one can ponder their thoughts and still be kind and love well, but when you choose to not speak, to ignore the other, then insecurity sets in and I’m expecting to come home at anytime and he be gone…its threating in that way…feeling unloved, and not valued. But he refuses to do so, he says I know he is mad, so leave him alone, well this time I’ve done that, when he didn’t speak to me Monday night, and he wouldn’t even look my way or be in the same room at the same time as I, I thought he asked to leave him be during this times, so give it to him, so yes, I left him alone, stayed away and have not attempted to speak to him. I know this is acting negatively toward his negative behavior and it spells disaster, but I gave him what he has asked for many times, in the mean time, he has spent his evenings as he normally does watching tv and surfing/scrolling social media, and or internet… while I live in the fear of not knowing what to expect as my heart cries out in brokenness.

    We are 48 years old, married 28 years, have 2 God loving daughters, oldest is 26 married, with a son and expecting another child and the youngest is 22, a senior in college. He adores his girls and his grandsons. Our children have seen their dad fight addiction from smoking to dipping tobacco to alcohol, they see and feel the dysfunction of his relationship with his mother and within our own home, they know he can be very difficult to just have a normal conversation and usually avoids asking his opinion b/c he can’t opening discuss anything rather he gives his opinion and if you have any remarks or attempt to discuss your thoughts that are different than his, he becomes very straight forward harsh tone and direct in his comments pointing out why you are wrong, making you feel stupid and like your thoughts/feelings have no place or value. He has a very corporate philosophy mindset one which doesn’t allow for feelings, its to the core, give no thought or feelings, just do it this way and not worry if it offends another, it must be done this way attitude.

    I know I’ve made changes in my walk with Christ, I’ve gotten stronger in the way I think, in the way I see things has change, my mindset is rested in Christ, I seek to continue growing to be who God’s calls me to be as mother, wife, friend, servant and I refused to go back to the person I was before, I’m happy with who God is changing me to be. I really strive to do the things as you mention in the book Scared Influence, it had been years like 5 + years that we had intimacy, I initiated it a couple years ago and have continued to initiate it, he turns me down some, and I even told him I wanted to please him so I was available at anytime, he has approach me maybe 10 times this year and I have always submitted. I speak kind, saying thank you, I seek his thoughts, I could care less about TV,(he knows I don’t care about tv ) but I’ve started sitting on the couch to watch TV w/ him at least 30 minutes or a couple hours at night, while lays on the couch cover in a blanket…I sit there, there is sometimes a few words spoken b/w us about the TV show sometimes I just make up a question to ask about the show just to get him to speak to me, I will rub/massage his feet while sitting there, he likes that and he had said I was spoiling him b/c he really like it, I don’t do that as much anymore, b/c sometimes when I go sit down, he draws his legs/feet up toward himself instead of leaving them next to me.

    I know you can’t counsel me online, and I don’t expect such, and I know at this point it’s a one sided story- my story only. I’m just to the point that I keep striving to do what is right and I keep thinking I am influencing and good will come, but I keep getting knock down either from my own negative attitude of waiting without any change or from such stonewall behaviors as I am currently facing. My question is- at what point do I demonstrate tough love and say I can’t continue working on this relationship by my self, you either in or its done for? My pastor once told me that I can’t control another’s appetite for Christ, but I could live a life in a manner that they see God, and want to consume more of God their self (results of influence) He also told me that whatever pressure touches it kills, and that I shouldn’t apply pressure to my relationship. SO that makes me re think tough love. I will be honest when I speak honestly to him, it may not be in the best of showing my love, its not perceived as love. I keep thinking if he loved Christ more, he wouldn’t behave the way he does, he would be striving in his personal relationship in Christ thus, striving to improve his marriage. Funny we have done a few married seminars and took some married bible studies at church- just wasn’t applied for the long haul.

    Where to go from here?

  6. Nina, I’ve tried to sign up using two different email addresses and it won’t take either of them. Suggestion?

  7. Thank you for this blog post (and the previous one). It really opened my eyes to why my husband does not respond to my pain. We have been married for almost 24 years now and we have ALWAYS had the same problem – he show no affection and most recently, we do not have sex. We do not have any kind of relationship other than being polite with each other. Without going into too much detail, I would like to ask how to apply boundaries to this kind of behavior? He doesn’t have any destructive habits like drinking, drugs, extra marital affairs etc. but neither does he commit to his responsibilities as a husband. My husband just doesn’t seem to care about the condition of our marriage. He basically sits and waits for me to address it. And when I do, he’ll agree with everything and says he will change his behavior but it never happens. It feels like I am the only one who wants things to change. We are both Christians but I am the stronger one (pursuing a relationship with God). We have two teenage children and I am basically financially dependent on him. I pray a lot about this and trust God with my life but I also know that our marriage and family life are not bringing Him any glory. Please will you help me by giving me more practical ways to apply the boundaries in my situation?

    • Frustrated and Alone September 16, 2016 at 1:03 am

      Exactly the same situation as you, Nina, but my children are small. It’s still awful even if it’s not “abuse.” Looking for help, Lord!

  8. HeartbrokenMother March 16, 2016 at 7:10 pm

    Thank you so much for this. I am ordering your book, and I need lots of prayer as I address the emotional abuse in my life and try to be a good influence on my husband. I have become convinced over the years that I am worthless and undeserving of love, and the only thing keeping me afloat is that little voice in the background telling me that that may not be true after all. If God loves me, surely I am not worthless and undeserving, right? Anyway, it’s been awful, and yet I feel like I am the only one suffering the consequences of a bad decision. We’ll be married nine years next week, but I don’t even want to celebrate. I just want out, but at the same time I don’t. It’s maddening. Thanks again for this post. Please pray I have the strength to do what is right and the power through our God to influence my spouse.


    Those prayers for God’s comfort and his peace for my heart and mind to rest in him during this time mean more than you can fathom. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

    I’ve most definitely done the same as you with reconciliation…too soon. Though I didn’t realize it at the time, I now know it was selfish of me to push for ‘things to be okay/be back to normal’, because I was making it about my desire to move past that ugly part, rather than recognizing the fact that not reconciling right away might be best and needed for them to truly recognize their behavior was wrong, and for God to speak to them (rather than reconciling quickly and them not needing to do any real soul searching because ‘everything was all good/back to normal’ again).

    ??? But goodness is it just me that struggles with how ‘biblical reconciliation’ can feel like such a thin/confusing line to walk?! To know what it’s supposed to look like in action to ‘show grace and forgiveness’ to someone when they’ve wronged you- vs.- When to ‘stand your ground’ (and what exactly does doing that look like?…)

    For me, in the past, it should have been to implement boundaries, let some real distance happen, like I am now. Had I done so then, maybe I wouldn’t be having to go so drastic at this point because it might would have helped give enough time and space for them to recognize what they did and make a decision for real change or not (and would also give God the time to work on them/their hearts that he needed). Whereas by my not doing so then, like you said, they never really had to own responsibility for what they did.

    I may not have done what I should before, but I am now. It’s so awful and painful to have no idea what the future holds in regards to our relationship and even any contact for the rest of time!

    But I remind myself that in the long run, this distance I’m creating is and will continue to strengthen me (because I was definitely co-dependent to a depth I could have never imagined.) We both were together at one time but that changed along the way for them and I was in denial of the extent of that.

    What I do know and have been coming to terms with lately is that no matter how badly I want things to be ‘better’, and long for that normalcy between us, it just cannot be under the circumstances of their ‘functional fixedness’. And I cannot accept their destructive/hurtful choices in any context of a relationship with them. As I told them- I have standards, and I’m done lowering the bar for them simply because they choose not to step up where they know they should.

    If the relationship isn’t already too far gone for repair (and it may very well be, that’s the worst part), but if it isn’t, I know that the only chance the we stand to ever have genuine reconciliation and healing is this distance I’ve created and time for God to do whatever his will is in their heart and mind…

    Thank you again for those precious prayers… ♥God bless

  10. I am unsure if this is relatedi but I am experiencing something with my husband that is troubling me, and he knows it and will not do anything about it. My husband is a cancer survivor, and thank the Lord it is now in remission. His treatment involved him being isolated at the hospital for over a month. Recently he was put in the hospital for a week as a precautionary measure for a common cold by his doctor, which irritated him. He has never liked hospitals, and really dislikes them now. Because I was his caretaker during cancer battle I let myself become run down, and am now taking care of myself again….something that I have always done and that he supports. I thought he was begnning to understand that cared his sickness deeply hurt me, until this past 10 days where he contracted something else, and now he will not eat. At first it made him sick and I understand that, but now he is making unwise decisions and lying to me. For example today he asked for something that I knew would upset his stomack and when it did he tried to sneak and throw it away. His excuse….I’ve made foolish decisions before…which means I should just live with it. He will not shower, he will not eat, and all he wants to do is sit in a room alone. The other night he asked me to stay in the room with him, even though I did not sleep. His not getting any nourishment by not eating greatly concerns me and I have expressed this to him, but he will not even try. I asked that he eat one bite of food, but he refuses to eat what the doctor has ordered. He will not open up to anyone as he is a very proud man. He is not doing any of his usual activities, and all I am trying to do is help and be a good wife and care for him. Because we live away from his family he can easily hide this, but he will not answer his calls even from the children. I say this because he knows how hurt I am, as I do not want him to get sick again. But he is super strong -willed and does not care about my pain. My husband has lied/deceived me in the past, and in our first year of marriage he had an affair (that’s another story and I have moved on for my sake). Where I have failed is that I told him that if this keeps up I am taking him to the doctor….but he just sits there. I have decided to leave him alone, to give him his scheduled meds, and when he is good and ready to eat he will, especially since he defies my attempts to help him. I have clearly expressed my dislike of his behavior but he does not care. So I leave him in the hands of our Father, Who is the only once that can work on our hearts….including mine. I have decided that I will go on with taking care of myself. What is germaine to this is that he cares less about how this is hurting me. I do not want my husband sick, and have expressed this to him. Maybe I should have kept this to myself.

  11. ………
    Or do any other readers here have thoughts/suggestions to my question above as to how to handle a non-marriage relationship where this ‘functional fixedness’ is taking place?
    Would very much appreciate any insight/help.

    • ContentinChrist March 9, 2016 at 1:30 pm

      Be as honest as you can about where you are and how you are seeing things. Sometimes, the response of the other person will be an immediate clue as to what step to take next. i.e., If this person genuinely cares about you and the way you are feeling, they will move toward you and toward either clearing up understanding or repairing the relationship….if they defend in anger and retaliate against your respectfully stated feelings….then you have your answer as to whether to continue to try to build a relationship. You can’t have real relationship with only one side willing to work on it.

      • ConteninChrist,
        Thank you very much for taking the time to respond.
        You’re right….it really comes down to how they respond to my expressing how what they do makes me feel.
        I’ve done so many times, but one of two things happens: they either get defensive, disregard what I feel and what I say and won’t admit things at all. Or they eventually recognize and admit and say their shallow applogy (I say shallow because nothing ever really changes), which is how I was led to this article about functional fixedness.
        I feel like I’ve done all I can. I’ve been a great friend to them.
        I can’t do the work for two and as heartbreaking as it is…I’m coming to terms with the apparent truth that they just don’t care. Not on the same level I do for sure.
        Too much imbalance. It’s so unhealthy for me. I’ve been taking steps to kind of…let the peices fall as they may? Really hard, but its the outcome of THEIR choices. Not mine.

        Thank you again for responding to me. Helps give me more confirmation I’ve made the right decision for myself.

        • ***P.S.*****
          I did go to them after learning of / reading about this new concept of ‘functional fixedness’; wrote an extensive letter (because I express myself much better through writing, and they know that).

          Took awhile to hear back but they eventually said they read the letter, three times (which is pretty impressive because it was 12 pages typed!), They let me know that they are ashamed of themselves and have been prayerfully considering every word I wrote.

          So I can certainly appreciate that they gave my letter the time and attention it deserves to really be processed.
          However…? I don’t really know what that last part means…prayerfully considering every word I wrote…?

          Anyway, wanted to be sure and mention that aspect but I just don’t know that I trust the depth of it because of their past patterns…

          • I will say that I have learned after too many years of trying to be what I thought was a peacemaker that I should not have forced reconciliation as quickly as I did at times. I was so hungry for normalcy or “peace”, that I did not require the other party (my husband) to truly take responsibility for his actions. I realize that I robbed him of needed growth in his life and really just delayed some things that eventually needed to happen in our relationship.

            So, I would say it sounds like you are in a good place (albeit painful) and that the burden rests on them at this point.

            Praying that you will feel God’s comfort and care during this time and rest in His plan and timing.

  12. I have been married 32 years to a pastor. My heart is broken over what has happened to our family and our relationship because the ministry has taken priority. I have tried to deal with this alone for almost 25 years. So many times I went to pick up the phone to call Focus on the Family but hung up in fear of how it would devastate my husband. The last 10 years were really bad but the last 7 have gotten worse with verbal and emotional abuse. Now it happens on a daily basis. I have learned to accept him not saying “I love you” and not wanting to spend time with me or touch me but the name calling and false accusations are unbearable. I’m losing my hair slowly, I feel I have been in a depression for the last year or so. I know behind his name calling and accusations is a man with deep insecurities. I have begged him for us to go to counseling. He gets angry each time I ask, so I don’t ask very often. He seems so content sweeping it under the rug for a season until it blows over but for the last year, it has become a daily battle. I love him and I don’t want to divorce him. I want our marriage and our familly restored. Being a pastor’s wife, I’m sure you can understand that I have no one to confide in. Just this past year I have noticed my hair is slowly falling out and I am fearful for my own health because of the daily stress. Over the last month, I have soaked in everything I could read and listen to on FOF. It has helped. That is how I came upon your ministry. I was on one of the iQuestion pages of FOF and I listened to a 2 minute talk you gave on the man spiritually leading the home. My husband is a great pastor but he is not the spiritual leader of our home. We have never even prayed or read the Bible together. We tried to read a couples devotional together but he couldn’t make it past a week. I am quite sure he has intimacy problems, sharing his feelings, etc. A few months back, I felt so desperate so I decided to take a chance and tell his doctor of my concerns. I also told his best friend, who is in the ministry, hoping they could talk some sense into him. Yes, I feared what he would do when he found I told someone what was going on behind closed doors but I also feared that they would not believe me. Because he truly is a good man. I don’t think either helped. I never heard if his friend told him of our conversation but I know his doctor spoke to him but it only moved him to more anger. For so many years, I have been waiting to hear someone express the pain of a pastor’s wife with a dominating husband. It was not until recently, that I read a book Married…but Lonely. It gave me hope that maybe someone does understand that I’m not out to leave my husband or complain about petty issues but that I truly am desperate to have a relationship with him that goes beyond justing serving God together in a local church. I then read your book Sacred Marriage. My heart found hope in my situation. The things I was reading confirmed what I had known and felt in my heart for so long. It didn’t confirm just my feelings but how I thought I needed to respond. I have ordered your other book, Sacred Influence and am eager to start reading it. This article is further confirmation for what I know I need to do. A few days ago, I did give him an ultimatum (but not for divorce) that I would pursue a educator position further away and anticipate commuting. I will give him until the end of that year to seek counseling and try to work with me on mending our marriage. I then told him if by the end of next year, he still chooses not to work with me on this, then I will move to that city but I have no intention of divorcing him. It will be a separation of sorts. His reply was not what I wanted, of course. Angrily, he said we’re divorcing but I know he wants me to do it. I will not. If it comes to that, he will have to make that choice. I have also told him that last Sunday was my last day to attend his church. That I will attend church as I did prior to meeting him, but it will not be his church. I can’t bear to continue living this lie with our precious church people. Just the other day the Lord brought to mind a dear friend, whom I had forgotten about, who is a pastor’s wife. I was able for the first time in all these years, share my burden. I can’t tell you what how the weight was lifted off my spirit after doing this. I haven’t felt this free in years. Your book Sacred Marriage, reaffirmed that I need to refocus on my walk with the Lord and not continue to be obsessed with my loveless marriage. I am praying that by my regaining my strength to be the Christian woman I am called to be, will open my husband’s eyes. I don’t want you to think I’m making this choice based on this article. But it is more confirmation. Please pray for us and for all the pastors wives who are silent sufferers, who truly love the Lord and their husbands. Thank you for allowing the Lord to use you in my family’s lives. Because truly, by me making this turning point in my heart, I hope for a better future, if not for my marriage, at least for me and my adult children and their children.

    • How can he be a great pastor and a good man if he is treating you this way? Short answer: he can’t. He is a Pharisee, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a liar, a hypocrite, and God will spit him out. The elders of the church need to know that the pastor is NOT a man of God. Theologian, maybe, but not a repentant man of God. He is hurting the church in the long run with his ego.

      And telling the truth doesn’t mean you are destroying him. He is the one doing destruction. You are just stating the facts. Start standing up for yourself. Set boundaries. Don’t tolerate his abuse. You can’t make him love you, but you can insist he doesn’t abuse you.

      Pastors wives need to stop thinking they have no voice. Speak up. And keep speaking up. Keep records of the abuse. Record if you have to. Get help. Tell your doctor you are losing your hair and health because of the stress of spousal abuse and neglect. Get help!

      You don’t have to divorce, but you may need to separate. I believe that even your husband’s salvation is on the line.

  13. Gary, thank you for these awesome posts. Like many others, this explaining of functional fixedness brought clarity to painfu pattern behavior I have not been able to understand its continuing for a long time.

    I have a question, though. What do you do/how to handle what seems to be functional fixedness in a friendship and or in a dating relationship?

    Do you feel the same Exact principles apply? Or would you say there is some sway in how to deal w thise types of non marriage relationships and for how long one should put up with the pain and the apparent lack of remorse, whether as a friend or whether someone dating?

    Thank you for your help and praying continued blessings for your ministry as well as prayers of strength, COURAGE, and peace to all those who are affected by this awful functional fixedness?

  14. Sounds like a very reasoned approach Nina. Thanks for sharing

  15. Hello Gary,

    Thank you for sharing wonderful posts on marriage. I have read almost all articles you have written on marriage. The thing I couldn’t relate to was If all these things happen just after one month of your marriage. It’s almost 1.5 years of my marriage. I am a believer but my husband is an unbeliever.
    We live in two different countries. And from the moment I am married I have never felt like anything even close to be married. Why even I don’t know. He has never taken any interest in keeping me with him or even tried to get my visa or made an effort to live together. I live with my parents now.
    When we are not together I never hear from him no text no call nothing. It’s so silent. He in front of me has confessed recently that he is happy alone and don’t want to be with me. But I have not given him any reply as in yes or no. As I’m praying about it.
    There is lot to the story. Would really appreciate to hear from you. Your suggestion.

    • I’m so, so sorry. He has essentially abandoned you. Given that he’s an unbeliever who wants out, and abandonment is certainly at play, I believe you are biblically qualified to pursue a divorce (1Cor 7)

  16. I have been waiting for this blog. Thank you for giving women hope in what they feel is a hopeless situation. There are many biblical counselors/pastors who do not agree that viewing porn is a biblical reason for separation or divorce. For a wife to be told she must endure her husband infidelity, pray and wait for change is devastating to her soul. But I also agree whole heartedly that every effort must be made to stand firm and change yourself first before you go to the “S” or “D” word. Hope is what keeps the spirt alive in the Lord. Without hope you are bitter and tormented within yourself, because you are out from under the love and sanctification of the Lord.

  17. This article, and the previous one, are very eye-opening for me. I see now that I have let things go too far for way too long, when I should have been making a stand. My husband is very, very much one of the men described in these articles. And I let him continue in his selfish ways for so many years, I let him walk all over me and cause me great pain for so many years. I am at least partially to blame for the current misery I am in, because I could have demanded change many years ago, but I didn’t.

    I feel very much now that I no longer want to “play the game.” Where to start though? He acts selfishly in every area of life, cares only about his own pain or pleasure in every area of life. Do I address the pornography issue? Or the harsh, rude and contemptuous treatment of me? His crude remarks at the supper table? Do I address his marijuana addiction? The ruination of his health due to his cigarette and junk food addiction? His excessive tv watching that causes him to neglect his family? The lies and broken promises? I am fed up with all of this, but do I need to pick one issue and create boundaries around it?

    Also, the idea of making a stand is not only confusing, but terrifying…my husband is my sole financial support. I have nowhere to go but a woman’s shelter should it come to that. One time in the past, I told him to choose between me and drugs…he said with a smirk, “Fine, I CHOOSE DRUGS then.” And I didn’t leave because I had no where to go. I am afraid of making my children homeless. We live on a farm and they love their home. I am terrified of creating misery for my children. I guess my husband has known all along that he has me right where he wants me, which is why he has felt no need to change. I need to get stronger.

    • It certainly sounds like total disrespect. Edith, you’re going to need some counseling help to confront this in a systematic way. Especially since it’s been going on so long.

      • Thank you for your response, Gary. I have been to two counselors (one secular, one Christian) and they both had no interest in helping me deal with these issues – they both wanted to advise me only on how to leave my husband, and told me where the woman’s shelter is. It seems to me that many counselors take the idea that we can only control our own behaviour to an extreme, and believe that if your spouse’s behaviour is truly awful and they don’t want to change, the only possible option is to leave them, since trying to get them to change their behaviour is somehow wrong.

        Because of this experience, your advice in these articles is a breath of fresh air. You are telling me there are things I can do that might possibly encourage my hard-hearted husband to change. I understand that sometimes separation is truly necessary, but I want to make sure I’ve done everything possible before I go down that road, especially since I have no money or job and likely would indeed end up at the women’s shelter. I guess I am going to have to figure out on my own (well, with God’s help) how to systematically confront this problem. Now that I understand the concept that he is only motivated by his OWN pain, and no by mine or even by his children’s, I have a chance.

        Thank you very much for making this information available to those of us struggling.

        • @Edith, I hope things have improved for you. I don’t know everything, but I’m a strong believer in a woman always making sure she is in a position to take care of herself if needed. While you are using these new strategies to motivate your husband to change, could you also simultaneously be getting some new skills and training to be able to financially support yourself one day? Night classes, online classes, volunteer work etc. are great ways to get marketable skills and create professional networks. One of the greatest liberators of women was when they started getting educated and skilled enough to being financially independent. Never stop learning and growing your own skills. I know I don’t know your situation or what challenges you face to do what I’m suggesting. But that’s just my 2 cents.

  18. Thank you! God used this mightily today to restore a very depressed woman. My husband did leave. It’s not over yet and God’s not finished……stay tuned………?

  19. So true! First thank you Mr Thomas for not telling us to just live with it, love more, and he will eventually come to Christ because of you. That advice has hurt many women, myself included, and is so unbiblical – and yet thats what caring but uninformed people say.

    Second thank you for explaining the peace and wisdom available to anyone when we mature and know Christ personally. That He is with us and for us – and that no one can stand against us when we are walking with the Lord. Jesus is still working on earth.

    And lastly, thank you for acknowleding that functional fixedness is a real problem. That it is many women’s reality. And we get so confused by all the other well known books that most Bible study groups use. Love and Respect doesnt work if one spouse has an addiction that he keeps hidden from everyone.

  20. Where do you see emotional affairs and porn use here? For 3 years, I’ve been begging, pleading, praying for my husband to live me again after his emotional affair that included two dates and sexually explicit texts. He has yet to show remorse. He has broken every promise he made since then. He hasn’t proven himself trustworthy. He doesn’t love me or care about the pain he caused. But I am trapped because he didn’t physically have sex with her. I don’t know what to do, but this marriage is destroying me from the inside out.