February 6, 2016

Why Men Don’t Change

Gary Thomas — 


Why Men Don'tChange

What if your husband isn’t motivated by your pain?

What if he’s only motivated by his?

Many wives live with great frustration because they keep telling their husbands that something he is doing (or not doing) is causing them great pain, but the husband never changes. This confuses the wife. She thinks, “If I knew I was doing something that was really hurting him, I’d stop it as soon as I found out. Why won’t he?”

The answer, according to my friend Dr. Melody Rhode (a gifted marriage and family therapist), is “functional fixedness.” This phrase describes a man who will never be motivated by his wife’s pain; he’s only motivated by his pain. For change to occur, he has to feel his own discomfort. He doesn’t like hearing you tell him you’re not happy; in fact, it probably irritates him. But if the pain necessary for him to change is greater than the pain of putting up with your occasional expressed frustration, he simply endures the verbal outbursts as “the cost of being married” and will put the entire episode out of his mind as soon as it’s over.


Because it’s painful for him to remember the conversation and he wants to avoid pain at all costs!

(For the men reading this post, it’s certainly true that women as well as men can fall prey to functional fixedness. The reason I’m describing husbands here is because I first broached the issue in my book Sacred Influence and have since had women write to me for more clarification. So don’t be insulted. Just flip the gender and the principles will be roughly the same.)

According to Dr. Rhode, men don’t normally change if what they’ve been doing appears to work for them. For example, when a woman allows her husband to treat her with disrespect, he has no motivation to change—and so it’s unlikely he ever will.

“There’s a simple question I ask wounded women who seek help to endure belittling or degrading treatment from their man: ‘Why does your husband treat you badly? Answer: because he can.’”

This is not, in any way, to blame a woman for the abuse, but to develop a new understanding in order to map out a different future.

Melody continues, “If what he’s doing is working for him, why change? He needs a compelling reason to change and it needs to be more compelling than your unhappiness or private misery with the situation.”

A God-fearing man would be motivated to change simply by understanding that his actions or inactions hurt you. But you may be married to a man who doesn’t care if his actions hurt you, so long as he gets what he wants. In such cases, allowing the behavior while complaining about it won’t change anything so long as the husband keeps getting his way. Remember, with such men it’s not your pain that motivates him, it’s his pain.  You have to be willing to create an environment in which the status quo becomes more painful than positive change (we’ll discuss suggestions for doing this in the next blog post; this post is focused on the spiritual dynamics behind the problem).

Here’s what’s going on spiritually. Melody points out that “functional fixedness” in men is rooted in the fall–our remaining selfishness and sin nature. Many men never connect their spiritual conversion with how they relate to their wives. “For the most part men do not experience a conversion, transformation, a renewing of the mind, in their relationship to Jesus and the Holy Spirit that changes the way they see their wives and themselves in relationship to their wives. In the old nature men are desensitized to their wives, clued into their own natures and the fallen bent toward wanting their own way. This could mean simply ignoring their wives or being unresponsive to their wives’ feelings and needs, or it could expand to the extreme of dominance, oppression, and abuse.Untitled design

“Functional fixedness might be equivalent to what the Bible calls being ‘stiff necked’ people or ‘darkened in their own thinking,’ even ‘hard hearted.’ Having eyes, they don’t see the woman in front of them except in relation to their own feelings and needs (i.e. is she sexy or fat?). Having ears, they don’t hear the woman they are married to except as it pertains to them (is she nagging or affirming me? Saying something I want to hear or something I want to shut out?). The real problem here is that women can’t change this. The problem lies with the man. It is his uncircumcised heart and unrenewed mind that sees his wife as a ‘self-object’ and her pain as something to be avoided, silenced, ignored, or even harshly treated.”

Do you understand what Melody is saying? You’re thinking, “How can I get my husband to be more sensitive?” while your husband is thinking, “How can I end this conversation that is causing me pain?” He doesn’t want your pain to stop; he wants his pain to stop. This is because his heart hasn’t been renewed. He is a stranger to agape love. Putting someone else’s needs above his own doesn’t even occur to him because he does not have a sacrificial heart or mindset. Your call for him to sacrifice simply because something he is doing hurts you is like asking a soldier to fire a weapon he doesn’t possess.

If your husband is mired in functional fixedness, any appeal to empathy is futile. He is spiritually incapable of empathy. Again, he will be motivated by his pain, not yours.

Here’s what Melody says needs to happen spiritually: “Christ calls us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds, which means to take on the suffering of others, particularly wives who we are told are members of our own body. We see very clearly the depth to which Jesus Christ has taken residence in a man by the sensitivity he develops towards his wife who is different than him and has a whole world of pain and feeling that he is naturally unresponsive to. This whole interface reflects how thin or superficial many Christian men’s relationship with their savior is. I think it is a cry for help we women are sounding to herald the need for flaming revival in the hearts and minds of our men.”

Men, let me talk to you for a second here: let’s take Melody’s words to heart. The depth of God’s work in our souls is demonstrated by the level of compassion, concern and care we have for our wives and their pain. To be hard-hearted toward our wives reveals a hard-heartedness toward God.

I agree one hundred percent with Melody that the problem isn’t marital; it’s spiritual. The husband’s conversion hasn’t affected the way he looks at himself or his wife. He is still motivated by selfishness.

What can a woman do? Melody (who has specialized in working with women who are married to narcissists) suggests the following: “Women need to quit being bent to their husbands for their worth and validation; that’s the female result of the fall.  They need to be helped to know God as their husband, provider, and protector and not to be expecting this from their husbands. If they believe in the Kingdom of God, they need to pray blessings on their spouses and that God will captivate them, wrestle them down by the brain to transform them from being selfish peacocks or thugs to love the Lord and then demonstrate that love by being kind, gentle, sensitive and compassionate to their women.”

To the men reading this, we can construct a helpful grid. How close are you to God? How godly are you? We can measure it by asking how kind are you to your wife? How gentle are you with her? How sensitive and compassionate are you at home? These are the markers of God’s Spirit in a man’s soul. To receive Christ is to receive the spirit of the suffering servant who puts others’ needs above his own. To not care about another’s suffering or to increase another’s suffering isn’t the work of Christ; it’s the mark of his enemy.

For women, this spiritual reality means that you need to adopt a long-term view of change that will be internal and spiritual before it is external and marital.  More than simply praying for a change in the way your husband treats you, pray for a change in his heart toward God. In the end, that’s the most effective way for him to change the way he treats you and looks at you. He’s spiritually bent, so that needs to be your focus before God. Instead of trying to “fix your marriage,” ask God to overwhelm your husband’s soul with the presence of the Suffering Servant, Jesus.

Take your focus off yourself for just a moment and place your energy and efforts on how you can you influence your husband to go deeper in the Lord. Can you encourage him to get involved in a circle of men who will challenge him? Can you help him find a local church that impacts him? Are you just attending the church you like, or is it a church where he feels at home, where he can connect with the teachers, where he comes alive spiritually? That might mean changing churches.

Can you ask him to read a Christian book that will kindle the fire in his soul, promising him something special in return? Maybe he won’t read a book—will he occasionally read a blog with you, as long as you find a way to make it interesting? He may not be seeking spiritual inspiration, so you may have to do it for him.

There are so many gifted teachers today online. If you can’t find one in your hometown who motivates your husband, go to the digital world and see if there is one with whom your husband can “connect.” Personally, I listen to about three to five sermons on any given week. You don’t, as a couple, have to put God “aside” when you get home from church on Sunday afternoon. As you’re driving, doing the dishes together, and just sitting having a cup of coffee on Saturday morning, take 35 to 40 minutes (most sermons last no longer than that) and get a special “boost” from God’s word.

If your husband won’t do any of this, then you have to keep praying (not as a last resort—I’m recommending praying as a first response, too) for God to soften his heart. Join with other women to plead with God to bring a revival amongst the men in your community.

Also accept some responsibility. When you marry a man with a hard heart, it might take a long time for the heart to soften, but don’t forget—you chose this man. It won’t serve you at all to accuse God for choosing this man for you. I’ve addressed this in other blog posts. (God Didn’t (and Won’t) Tell You to Marry Your Spouse)  You need God on your side as an encouragement; nothing will be gained by becoming His accuser.

Settle in and take the long-term view. In Sacred Influence, I tell the story of a woman who was married to an unbeliever for over two decades before he became a Christian. In some cases, a husband’s heart may never soften. Choices—including the choice of who we marry—have consequences.

I sincerely hope that offering such a stark description of the spiritual heart of a man won’t discourage you; in reality, nothing is as discouraging as empty promises designed to sell books and tickle ears. “Hope deferred makes the heart sick.” Trying to get a dead or luke-warm spiritual heart to be white hot requires a deep spiritual transformation. If a man is infatuated and the sexual chemistry is high, he’ll change. But it will last only as long as the infatuation and sexual chemistry does. Many of you have witnessed this firsthand (and often the change is superficial, lasting only as long as it takes to get married).

Having said this, there are a few practical things you can do in your marriage to help address functional fixedness while you wait for a spiritual transformation. That will be the subject of my next blog post. For this one, I just want to statesacred-influence the problem and emphasize that it’s spiritual. Until you understand what’s really going on, you won’t be able to address it in an effective way. Put your effort into pursuing a spiritual change for your husband (or your wife). That’s where you need to start.

I know there’s a lot of pain out there. Before God, I pray that these words will bring a little bit of healing at least in the way of understanding what’s going on, even though they will not resolve the problem.

In the meantime, if you’re into books and want a longer discussion of this issue, check out Sacred Influence: How God Uses Wives to Shape the Souls of their Husbands

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39 responses to Why Men Don’t Change

  1. Respect is not given to me which is what’s triggering me. I have lovingly asked for what i need and he goes out of his way to find what causes me anxt and goes for it until I crack. I do respect him on so many levels, and have faked it till I make it and have ended up with a monster. Aspergers is part of is, and our abuse history is part of it… I am cracking.

  2. Wow. This speaks volumes. I am in a crazy situation. Lied to,back stabbed, financially left with two kids. Went for a divorce and then coerced me to stop it, pretended to love me to continue to lie and cheat behind my back. The worst part is lie to my children and hurt them. I was becoming free and there was no reason to pull me back down. I want to best for me and my kids and I know God has my back. It’s sad that there is so many stories of men who just don’t do the right thing for their families.

  3. Wow…great inside from Gary Thomas. I share the same sentiments as Vicki. I’m curious about how she put up boundaries. The last outburst from my husband found when I came home to all of our wedding pics thrown in the floor of the spare bedroom. He said that he does not want to be reminded of his mistake in marrying me & we should put up all the ugly things in our marriage since that is more representative of our marriage. This is only one of hundreds of things he has done. It’s been 13 years of heart ache. Dr Thomas I tried to read Sacred Influence but couldn’t get a good understanding. Maybe I’ll try again soon

  4. Dear precious ladies,
    I am a pastors’ wife, married for 32 years, and for about 25 years, have felt the pain of doing all that one can to keep a marriage afloat for God’s glory and for your family’s sake. The church and the pulpit became my husband’s first love and priority. It wasn’t always that way but somehow pride and arrogance creeped into our family life. I had always prayed that the Lord would use our family for His glory so you can imagine how shocked I was when I woke up one day and it was far from that. Imagine being verbally and emotionally abused and having absolutely no one to turn to, except the Lord. Though he has not had an affair, to my knowledge, unfaithfulness comes in all shapes and sizes. I felt abandoned and still do but I am working through this with a different attitude. I knew what the Bible said about the importance of marriage and it’s representation of Christ’s love for the church but my husband just could not “connect” that to his own personal life. For years I was made to feel there was something wrong with me, my Christian walk. I expressed by needs and feelings off and on for years only to be accused even more. To this day, he still has not accepted responsibility. He is in denial. So yes, it is difficult for a man to change. Only through the power of submitting to the Holy Spirit will it happen. Knowing and acknowledging this is very humbling. I have learned just how powerful the stronghold and sin of Pride really is. Of course, I could go into detail of my own experiences and your jaw would drop. But more importantly, I want to share with all of you and especially women who are married to pastors, what is has helped me and is helping me make it through. I don’t profess to know all the answers or found the magic recipe because I am still going through this vicious cycle and still harbor feelings of resentment and hurt so deep. It is a daily cleansing that has brought me to the place where I even feel I have words of encouragement to offer anyone. No one needs to tell us it’s a spiritual battle, we know that yet it doesn’t take away the sting of pain. Anyway,here are some things that have made a difference for me: 1. Spending more time in prayer, seeking God’s truth for me, specifically, and not my marriage (prayer really is the key) (I know better than anyone how difficult it is to pray when you’re going through something like this. But make yourself do it. It will be easier.) 2. Not being obsessed with how horrible my marriage is and the possibility that it may not get better, BUT refocusing on my own walk with the Lord (sometimes our circumstances weigh so heavy on us, that we lose our focus) 3. Pray for the Lord to send you a “kindred spirit”. A “sister” who will listen to your heart but love you and your husband through it all. (Don’t lose heart. It took 25 years but I finally found someone. She was there all the while. I just didn’t know it.) Sharing a burden you have harbored for years will free you! 4. Don’t be afraid of what other Christians will think. As a pastor’s wife, this guilt was huge, not wanting others to know, thinking they would judge or couldn’t handle it or worse would stumble. If they are mature Christians they will understand. I must confess, I haven’t made it known to our church family yet but I fear it is coming. (I am just at the point where if he doesn’t change and my church finds out, then so be it.) I can’t go on this way. It’s his choice to make. Your spiritual and physical health and well-being is more important. Besides your children and your grandchildren need you. 5. This goes without saying, Don’t lose faith. I remind myself every day that the Lord knows what I am going through and He will hear my cries. I have not given up on the Lord. I have not given up on my husband. But I am at peace knowing that now, I am working on being the best “me” I can be for Christ, again!
    It is my prayer that my marriage be healed but if it doesn’t happen, I realize that God is still in control and I am a stronger not only because of what I have gone through but because I have gotten my focus back on track and realize once again, my identity is in Christ and not my marriage!

  5. This reads like men are children and it is the wife’s problem to make them be a grown-up. my husband isn’t abusive, he is just emotionally detached. I can’t make him change so I need to figure out how to live with the situation. If he decides he is tired of living without emotional intimacy, maybe he will do something. Honestly, thought, I think he is glad I don’t try to connect with him anymore, and that’s what’s hard to get over.

    • My husband is about 14. It’s just the facts. At 47 he’s 14. He goes into a rage if anything around here needs done. He wants physical intimacy but then goes into a rage and drives his own car to church, town, a drive to the mountains to blast his music at top level. He takes his own vacations. He doesn’t attend the kids school and sport functions. He has ruined every birthday and Christmas with a rage and an outburst so he’s not obligated to give someone else attention and a special day without being the center of attention. I’m sorry you are so alone. Alone is just how I feel too.

  6. When will part 2 be out? I’m so grateful I saw this & read it! This is my husband on so many levels & more! But if only he were a true Christian!

    He has hurt me so deeply & far too many times. I’m afraid I’m to the point of no return. He constantly disrespects me. He has done nothing but habitually & pathologically lie to me, keep & maintain many secrets, block me from accounts out of retaliation for wrongs HE committed and was caught and had no real excuse and to this day still has not told me the complete truth (honestly, I don’t think he knows what the truth is or is too afraid to divulge it) and he always deceives me!

    In 1991 we were building our own house. I was working 2 part time jobs in addition to raising a grade school daughter, getting her to & from school, trying to do household stuff which was impossible as working on the new house was all consuming, but I was busting my butt. It was never acknowledged nor appreciated all i did nor the sacrifices I made! Nope! I had to hear tho about how I didn’t appreciate him tho! But for about 2 weeks was HE the one to cook dinner then drive to the house at night with NO PHONE NO PLUMBING & paint ALONE all thru the night while he & our daughter were both home sleeping comfortably snug & sound while I was here in a spooky over 1900sq ft house putting on at least 2 coats of paint & didn’t come home exhausted until they were waking up in time to fix breakfast, pack lunches, get daughter off to school, pick up, go to work. In addition I had multiple trips to get lumber for house, had to unload it myself or with help of friend, multiple trips to many stores for: building supplies, electrical, plumbing, hardware, order windows, doors, countless trips to electrical store with “descriptions” of items & they would have to figure out what he meant @ 1st they asked me & I had no idea & I had to go there so many times all the guys knew me by 1st name! Then the multiple trips to the bank to get checks for the self build to pay our sub contractors! He went to work came home worked on the house. I worked on the house too. I put up insulation, vapor barrier, helped with outlet boxes, fireplace brick. I did other things. That gave him NO RIGHT TO RESPOND TO A FIGHT, WEVE HAD FIGHTS BEFORE, BY TAKING OFF, ABANDONING US & NOT TELLING ME WHERE HE WAS GOING OR WHO WITH & I KNOW HE HAD A PLAN. He was gone all night, I was pacing the floor! He didn’t bring his sorry butt home until 5:00 am the next day! Over 12hrs he was gone! His greetings were “I don’t feel we have a marriage anymore” & “I don’t love you”. I should have really had the courage to really dig into the real meaning of those words then at that time to know that those are the true words of a cheater that wants out of a marriage. He was looking for a way out because he did in fact cheat that night. He went out with an old friend of his who could never commit, and this friend took a girlfriend along. They went barhopping. Well last call is at 2:00 am. But he knew i would not have approved of him out barhopping. And him gone for a good 12 hrs?? Drink with friends like that? Your only as good as the company you keep! Immoral people & booze don’t mix. But like an idiot I worked on saving the marriage. He sure didn’t. Then 7 yrs later my pap smear is abnormal! ,

    We are not partners in anything! He harbours long-standing grudges and resentment and keeps record of wrongs. Hes been this way from day 1! But he’s done far, far worse to me! I’ve been verbally/emotionally/sexually abused. He psychologically manipulates me, an emotional abuse, anger, refuses to listen to me, dismissive, gaslighting; when he employs any of these tactics as well as many others of the past I feel fear & that I can’t trust him.

    I know he’s cheated. It’s too obvious. Too many signs. Plus he’s a liar & deceiver. Hes yet to tell the truth. Hes never made me feel accepted for who I really am! I’ve been made to live up to certain “standards & ideals” & if I don’t fully “serve him or fulfill him” he goes looking elsewhere for sex or an outside relationship! I found a text on his cell last year just a few days shy of our 33rd Anniversary, as he was texting away lying in bed right next to me with a scumbag about how he was going to look up a “hot ex GF of his on FB & how he regretted breaking up with her & marrying me instead” blah, blah, blah & this was before my FORCED trip to Arizona! Yes, he bullied me! He had started bullying me to go on Oct-Nov 2014! So I tried to cancel this trip but he told me “no way, your getting on this plane if I have to bodily carry you on!” So I’m gone 30 days, having a horrible time! He “claims” he did this for my “health”. Bologna! He did this solely for himself! If he didn’t hookup with HER he got with some chick! He cheated on me with somebody! But then he turns around & says his texting was ” Innocent ” “meant nothing” was “boys talk” I made too much out of it! What?? If I had done THAT to him that would have been the final straw I’m sure! But after I actually looked on his phone the day I got back, his scumbag friend texted me to do so & I saw the gut stabbing words myself I was beyond hurt & angry. Betrayed & dissolutioned. I laid into him the next morning! Of course that night when he got home from work he called the cellphone company & told the CSR Rep right in front of me to block my access to the account, deny my rights to anything, lock me out & he told them his “calls & texts were PRIVATE & sensitive” & then he changed the password so for once in over 22-25 yrs had NO control or acess even to my own cellphone! BUT IF HE DID NO WRONG WHY WAS HE LOCKING ME OUT?? MOSTLY IN RETALIATION! He CLAIMS it’s because I “changed” the rate plan! But the last time a rate plan was changed was the last time he went to Arizona which was maybe 2012-13 or was it 2014? I had sent him a copy of the email! Anythime there is an overage in minutes a text alert is sent to the primary ph#. He would call the CSR & a rep would tell him he’d have the option of changing the plan up to the next one to avoid the overage charges or else it goes call by call text by text until the next billing cycle, which is horridly expensive as opposed to a rate plan change. So the plan would change. A couple of times he’d be in the basement, he’d have me call, or I’d look up the info online then relay the info down the stairs to him. I remember VIVIDLY looking down the stairs at him relaying this rate plan change to AVOID overages & that he APPROVED IT! Is it MY fault he forgets stuff all the time??

    Not quite 2yrs ago he misplaced his iPod (he misplaces a lot of stuff & has done so over the years, but this stands out due to the length & anger) & I have 1 just like it but I have iHeart Radio app downloaded on mine. I don’t dare install apps on a device for 1 that doesn’t belong to me so that there should have been a big clue #1, but again from day #1 I’ve always been treated as a liar 1st & foremost, guilty until proven guilty! He stands up for others, never me. He believes in others, never me! Well I had plugged in my iPod on iHeart Radio, thinking nothing of it & played it for a while. When it was time to shut it off& disconnected it he couldn’t find his & he accused me of stealing his! I was floored! Why would I steal his when I had my own! Well I must have lost mine & took his to replace mine! Really?! I’d never do such a thing! I was subjected to non stop intense insane belligerent hateful interrogation by him! We went all over in the places his stupid retarded iPod could be! I then counter accused him of taking it to someone’s house & leaving it or forgetting it & just conviently blaming me for stealing it! I was so sick of this whole thing, hurt & angry to be accused of something again I didn’t & would NEVER do that I took off my protective case I had just put back on & tried multiple times to just give the darn thing to him to shut him up & get his hateful accusing mean person off my back so I could get the heck away from him & have some peace. At that point I was so sick & tired of the meanness, being unnecessarily hurt & just wanted 1 of us to leave & have some peace & quiet. I was willing to just leave & never come back. To fight over a stupid retarded iPod was senseless. To be accused of stealing, taking it in the 1st place just made no sense! After a couple hourse of this psycho dance of his he put me thru, he finally found it in his Ford Mustang! Did I ever get an apology? Heck no! Apologys don’t exist around here! I’m expected to apologize to him left, right, up, down until the end of time! I very rarely if ever might count on 1 hand in almost 34 yrs the apologies I’ve ever gotten! He was raised he’s never wrong, never apologize, never consider anyone elses feelings/needs/wants/desires & do as you darn well please as rules are for other people, Monogamy is for weak people not for him!

  7. PLEASE hurry with part 2… I need to know what to do.

  8. I, too, am waiting for the next post. :-\

  9. Will there be another blog post? Really looking forward to part 2 info.

  10. “Having said this, there are a few practical things you can do in your marriage to help address functional fixedness while you wait for a spiritual transformation. That will be the subject of my next blog post.”

    I continue to check for the next blog, but it’s been a couple of weeks. When can we expect it?