“A truly repentant person does not negotiate the consequences of his actions.” 1
Scene: an abused wife has followed Biblical principles and the couple is now separated. One day, her unrepentant husband shows up at the door with her favourite flowers. He says he’s had time to think about their relationship. He’s sorry, it won’t happen again and he wants to get back together. He needs her.
God’s way IS reconciliation (I Corinthians 7:11) and no one is advocating hard-heartedness, but she will be “out of the frying pan into the fire” if she does not have convincing evidence first, proving that “godly sorrow” has brought repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10) and genuine change.
A Changed Heart – Not An Apology
“In the center of the narcissistic apology is the offender saying, “I am hurting because of this.” The real apology says, “You are hurting because of this.”
A real apology admits the validity of the victim’s perspective. . . . A part of us knows that we have not been heard or valued. The burden on us has somehow become greater . . . Yet, we are not supposed to continue feeling anything negative because the offender has ‘apologized’ . . . (he) moves your attention to your confusion or anger or pain or guilt . . . and away from the offender.
“Will you forgive me?” sounds a lot like, “There, I said it, now can we be done with this?” If you say “yes”, then everything is supposed to be back the way it was. If you say “no”, you are the bad guy.
The purpose of the narcissistic apology is not to admit the offense and lessen your pain. The purpose is to get you to shut up.” 2
Give It Time
Living with an angry, controlling person takes its toll on a woman’s mental, emotional, spiritual and physical health. She feels flattened out and her life energy and her soul song disappear. She loses personhood and becomes an object whose sole purpose is to meet the needs, wishes, fantasies and demands of her husband. She needs time to heal before she can deal with her abuser again.4
No one changes overnight or never messes up again. Change only begins when he takes responsibility for his destructive behaviours – no more blaming, no more excuses, even if provoked.6
Indicators That He is Not Genuinely Interested in Changing:
- He denies, minimizes and justifies his abusive behaviour.
- He tries to get sympathy from her, family and friends.
- He still lies/deceives.
- He plays ‘victim’.
- He thinks one apology resolves everything.
- He is sorry only for the consequences, not the pain he caused.
- He uses his charms in an attempt to make her forget the abuse.
- He is still blaming her and angry, diverting attention away from his sin.
- He claims they can not work out the problem if they are not together.
- He refuses counselling or does not stick with it.
- He starts counselling, then claims she has to take him back.
- He cries and begs in public, making her appear cold-hearted to others.
- He sabotages her efforts to make it on her own.
- He admits to lesser evils, avoiding the real issue.
- He harasses, threatens and stalks.
- He ignores her legal right to half of the assets.
- He continues to behave as if he is superior.
- He puts his wants before hers.
- He feels sorry for himself.3
- He claims she is the abusive one.
- He pressures her to go to couples’ counselling.
- He claims his intentions were always good. He was just too dedicated, focused or something else.
- He’s afraid he’s going to lose her so he “complies” to win her back.
- He demands that she move back or he will divorce her.
She Needs to See …
– humility expressed through listening
– patience with the impact of sin
– willingness to involve external accountability
– not re-framing needed change as grovelling 5
John the Baptist told the religious leaders to prove by the way they lived that they had repented. (Luke 3:8).
God said He would reconcile with Israel if they changed their actions (Jeremiah 7:5-7).
The abuser’s changes are real when he keeps God’s commandments (1 John 2:3).
When the abuser is truly repentant, he will:
- Take responsibility: acknowledge the hurt he’s caused others
- Make amends: this is Biblical evidence of true repentance; work hard to rebuild trust; not expect instant restitution
Willingness verses willfulness: has humbled himself before God and others; willing to have others hold him accountable; willing to put in the necessary hard work
Forgiveness v. Reconciliation
We know Joseph (Genesis 37-49) forgave his wicked brothers because he was kind to them. But instead of reconciling with them straight away, he watched them. It was only after Joseph saw their changed behaviours that he trusted them enough to offer reconciliation. 6
Destructive individuals expect amnesty once they say they’re sorry. They assume no more consequences, no extra effort, and that no one will talk about it any more. They believe their ‘sorry’ automatically restores trust and repairs wounds. But words are not enough. Words can be deceptive (Jeremiah 7:4).
Ask These Vital Questions:
1. Does he have self-awareness so that when he starts to slip back, he sees it, stops it or self-corrects?
2. Is he willing to receive feedback so that when she notices he’s slipping into old behaviours, she can tell him and he’s grateful, rather than angry or resentful?
3. Is he willing to be accountable to a small group of trusted men to keep him moving forward toward becoming the man God calls him to?7
1 Jim Berg
5 http://www.bradhambrick.com/selfcenteredspouse – whole series on how to recognize true change
6 LeslieVernick.com – How Do I Know My Spouse’s Changes Are Genuine? Posted on: September 2nd, 2013
7 The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, chap. 12 by Leslie Vernick