I’m frustrated! I am always approaching my husband with my sin, asking for his forgiveness, but he seems never to see his need to ask me for forgiveness. Many times he won’t even bother to forgive me. What am I to do?
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There is always a smell of death to our hard questions because to walk well with God in His world we are called to die to ourselves (Mark 8:34). This truth is not always complicated in some areas of our lives, but it can be quite involved in other areas. Most of the tough spots where dying to yourself is hard are in our most meaningful relationships.
Inequity in relationships is part of what it means to live in a fallen world. Everybody is at a different place. Each person has a unique way of seeing and responding to life. Parenting is one of those testing grounds where one child is progressing well while the other one is not. Marriage is another testing ground where being different can cause all kinds of conflict.
Thinking biblically about our differences, while learning how to respond like Jesus to those who are different, is well worth our consideration. Here are three thoughts about your husband, and I will share four other things I trust will help you walk in the steps of Jesus (1 Peter 1:21).
Is He Illuminated?
While I’m sure you’ve considered the condition of his soul, I would like for you to think about the reasons behind his lack of asking you for forgiveness. What do you think it means? Perhaps you live in a Christianized community, or you all are part of a local church.
There can be a world of difference between doing Christian things and being a Christian (James 1:22; Philippians 2:12-13). If he is not a Christian, there is no way he can ask you for forgiveness, and it is effectual or consistent (1 Corinthians 2:14). To know you’ve sinned and to be motivated to remove your sin is a Spirit-led, Spirit-illuminated, and Spirit-empowered gift (John 16:13; 1 John 1:7-10).
Two important areas to think about the authenticity of his Christian experience are (1) those spontaneous moments in his life and (2) how he lives outside public scrutiny. We all can preconceive and act out choreographed responses. With time to think, plan, and implement strategies, a person could maintain control of his words and actions–as well as his reputation.
It is in those spontaneous times when you have to reflex quickly without thinking that your more authentic self will be known. To keep in step with the Spirit means, in part, to be controlled by Him each moment of the day (Galatians 5:16). This essential element is why nobody ever caught Jesus off-guard. He was under the influence of the Spirit rather than fleshly desires (Romans 8:6).
There is also a difference between our public and private lives. When the world is not watching, we are tempted to let down our guards. We relax. We become who we are. There is no craving for opinions, desires to impress, or fears of rejection.
- How do you know he is a Christian?
- What is he like in those private moments when it’s just you and him?
- How does he respond when surprised? What are some of the first things that come out of his mouth?
- What are his sensitivity levels of morality? Has his conscience been growing harder or softer throughout your marriage?
Is He Ignorant?
The Ethiopian in Phillip’s day did not understand God’s Word (Acts 8:31). He needed guidance (John 17:17). We all need direction, which is why the Lord talked so much about teachers (Ephesians 4:12-14; James 3:1). We can’t know what we don’t. Maybe the “light” of the Spirit is on in his soul, but he does not know how to repent, or nobody ever taught him the importance of confession and forgiveness (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Practicing the skill of repentance is not universal within the Christian community. Thirty minutes on Facebook would support this claim. So-called Christians are regularly saying unkind things to each other on Facebook, while never returning to ask for forgiveness.
I have discovered that most of the Christian couples I have counseled do not know how to practice repentance. When I ask them to walk me through what repentance looks like in their marriage, nearly all of them return blank stares, or they stumble through some apology process that has no redemptive force.
- Will he say, “I’m sorry” for things he does wrong and leaves it at that?
- Does he know how to ask for forgiveness?
- Has he ever asked someone else to forgive him?
- Can he walk you through the process of repentance?
1O Ways to Bless or Kill Your Marriage
Is He Insecure?
Fear of man is real (Proverbs 29:25). And it is at its most acute around people you know best. It is easier to be transparent and honest with strangers. People you may never see again are typically risk-free relationships. Online communities are like this, which is one reason why a person could have more communication in a community like Facebook than in-person relationships.
Shame, guilt, vulnerability, honesty, and transparency are part of the human complexity that needs continued mortification to have redemptive relationships (Romans 8:13), which applies to both males and females. Men may appear to have a tougher looking facade, and they may know how to present hardness, but we’re all jars of clay (Genesis 2:7; 2 Corinthians 4:7).
Eve did not get more shame, guilt, or fear than Adam. Sin came upon all people equally and without measure (Romans 3:23, 5:12). Your husband’s inner person has been penetrated, permeated and conquered by Adam. Don’t be fooled by the exterior of the clay pot.
- In what ways have you observed his insecurity?
- What does he do to appear stronger, more fabulous, or better than others?
- How does he think about and guard his reputation?
- What areas have you seen where he has been humble, open, and vulnerable?
Now, For the Hard Questions
Are You Doing What You Can?
If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. – Romans 12:18
I call Paul’s verse the fifty-percent verse. He is asking us to do everything we can and what is biblically expected of us when it comes to conflict resolution. You can’t do everything for your husband and you should not, but you must do as much as depends on you.
Reaching out to others is one of those things that can be helpful when stuck in relational conflict. Our journey was never meant to be an isolated one (Genesis 2:18). Don’t hold back from seeking help. If you have followed Matthew’s template for restoring someone (Matthew 18:15-17) and he is not changing, pray about where you can find help.
No wife is biblically bound to submit to a sinful husband in every way. You are not called to be a doormat to him, and you’re not called to be his authority. Those two extremes do not leave you without options. You may need to go outside his authority to find a biblical authority that can help you guys.
- Are you doing all you can?
- How do you know?
- What hinders you from seeking outside help?
- Do you have a close friend who can offer wise and courageous biblical perspectives about you guys?
Are You Assessing Yourself?
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. – 1 Timothy 1:15
Paul never got over the fact of his total depravity. Though he did not stay in his depravity by practicing a “woe is me” worldview, there was no inhibition reminding himself of what he used to be. Having a sober self-assessment about your non-redeemed past is essential when thinking about helping difficult people (Galatians 6:1-2).
You hear this in Paul’s language to the Corinthians. He carried them in his heart as he continually thanked God for them. Though they may have been the most difficult Christians in his life, you felt his love for them. (Read 1 Corinthians 1:1-9)
I’m not sure what your husband has done as far as his sin list–heart and behavioral–is concerned. What I do know is that he put Christ on the tree, and here is the ground-leveling truth: So did you. The cross of Christ is the human equalizer where all of our badness (and our goodness–Isaiah 64:6) means nothing when compared to what we did to Christ.
- How does your attitude objectively and daily reflect that you are for your husband?
- From your perspective, do you consider him a bigger sinner? (Your day-to-day thoughts, attitudes, words, and behaviors is where you’ll find the answer to this question.)
- Describe your prayers for him. Does he feel your affection for him?
- Does Christ’s work in your life have more control over you than your husband’s behaviors?
Are You Practicing God’s Kindness?
Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance. – Romans 2:4
God gave us what we did not deserve. Rather than heaping wrath on our lives (Romans 1:18), He motivated us by His kindness to change. It was a mercy that drew us out of darkness (Psalm 34:6). The Lord heaped riches upon riches on us, and He has not stopped since the first time we repented (Romans 10:9, 13).
Paul gives us a short list of God’s riches that are used to help people change: kindness, forbearance, and patience. Read 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 and Galatians 5:22-23 for a few more. God desires to encourage us rather than critique us to the point of deflation.
You should overlook his sin. I have already made a case for identifying your husband’s problems and made an appeal for you to find outside help. The issue I have in view here is not finding fault in him but is a means of grace that encourages him toward change, which is why one of my earlier questions was about whether or not you’re for him.
- What does he experience the most from you–your encouragement or discouragement?
- Are you quicker to see what he does wrong or does right?
- When was the last time you encouraged him? Explicitly, what did you say to him?
- Have you gossiped about him or said any other unkind thing to others about him?
Are You Waiting For the Gift?
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. – 2 Timothy 2:24-25
I have occasionally thought about what it would be like to have the ability to make people change, but I always come back to the wisdom in accepting my finitude. The power that is in repentance needs to rest in the hands of someone a bit more omniscient than I am. And more loving too. At times I fail in knowledge and love.
Though I’m okay with not being able to grant repentance, I do struggle with submitting my expectations to God. Specifically, when I expect people to be a certain way and they do not meet my expectations, my response at that moment will tell you what controls me.
Whatever controls you will be your functional god. Jesus tied our hearts to our treasures in Matthew 6:21. One of the most effective ways to find out what your treasure is will come in the moments of your disappointments–especially your recurring ones.
When a lack of change in someone conflicts with your desires for a better kind of response from them, you’ll have to decide what will have the most power over you. That kind of tug-o-war of the heart is what was going on with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:24).
- Whose will has the most power over you? Your husband’s? Yours? Or the Lord’s?
- Do you know how to appropriate God’s grace in your life as you wait for his hopeful repentance?
- What are some of the things you’ve learned about your faith through this marriage disappointment?
- How are you fortifying your soul for the potential of a lack of change in your husband’s life?
Call to Action
I have given you several questions to work through in this article. Will you take all of them to the Lord and be brutally honest about yourself with Him? Afterward, will you share your thoughts and questions with a true friend, while appealing to your friend to be compassionately and brutally honest with you?
Your husband may never change, but you must. Your leading statement was about frustration. While it would be great to categorize it as righteous anger, you know that would not be the whole truth. You cannot stay where you are. Perchance he never changes, you need help, so your walk with Christ is not negatively affected by his lack of change.
Also published on Medium.