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Marriage 911

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Dr. David Hawkins is the director of The Marriage Recovery Center and has been helping couples in crisis restore and revitalize their relationships for more than 30 years.

At The Marriage Recovery Center, Dr. Hawkins promotes '3 Days To a New Marriage, Guaranteed!' Contact TMRC for a free 20-minute consultation.

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Tired of Trying to Fix Your Spouse?


I recently worked intensively with a young couple, Stu and Carrie, who are separated and trying to repair their marriage. After years of conflict, with little resolution, Carrie decided she finally had to leave Stu. I listened as she shared why she had left.  Stu sat quietly, appearing sad and withdrawn as she told her story.

“I’m exhausted from living with Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde,” she said coldly. “I never know who I’m going to meet when I come home from work at night, and just couldn’t take it anymore. So I left.”

“Do you know what she’s talking about?” I said to Stu.

He shook his head, looking blankly at me, and then back at Carrie. Carrie responded by shrugging her shoulders in obvious disgust.

“The smallest thing can set him off,” Carrie continued. “A few weeks ago he flew into a rage because he couldn’t find his car keys. He started swearing, accusing me of taking his keys. It’s crazy and I can’t take it. Why does he treat me this way? I’d never think of treating my worst enemy this way.”

Stu sat quietly for a few more moments, staring at Carrie as she stared back. I pressed in.

“Why do you treat her that way, Stu? She says you become angry over the smallest things, and then blame her for anything. What’s up with that?”

Still Stu sat silent. He seemed to not have a ready answer for our piercing questions. I decided to see if I could help him.

“We’ve talked before Stu, about how you are like your father was when you were growing up, living what you learned. As you described him, he sounds a lot like you. When something goes wrong, blow up. When you are frustrated, find someone to attack. Instead of taking responsibility, blame problems on someone else. Does this sound familiar?”

Carrie nodded her head vigorously.
 
“It’s always someone else’s fault,” Carrie said. Then she turned to me, appearing sad and discouraged. “But why did I stay so long, letting him abuse me? That’s not right.”

“It can be like the frog in the kettle,” I explained, “where you’re always hoping things will get better, but they don’t and you boil to death. You tell yourself you can fix things, but you can’t. We delude ourselves in many ways.”

“I want to stick and fix things,” Carrie said. “Yeah, that’s it. I want to stick it out and try to fix things. I’m naturally a fixer, and it’s killing me.”

Carrie was like so many other women I’ve worked with over the years. Bright, energetic, enthusiastic, always wanting to make things work. Her story was similar to an email I received recently. 

Dear Dr. David,

I’m married to a wonderful man, but someone who can turn on me in a minute. His moods are killing me. I walk on eggshells around him. I never know when he’s going to go into one of his moods, and I do everything—and I mean everything, to make sure everything runs smoothly around the house. In the meantime, I wonder what’s happening to me. And, he’s not getting any better. What should I do when he loses his temper? What should I do when he blames me for problems? Aren’t I supposed to love him unconditionally? What should a good Christian woman do when her husband isn’t acting like a good Christian man? Please help. 

Both these women have been caught up in what one describes as stick and fix—meaning, they’re entire married life is taken up with sticking out a troubling situation and doing everything they can possibly do to fix things. Carrie decided she could no longer live this way, and doing so would be unfair to herself, the children and even her husband.

What are the issues needing consideration?

First, be careful not to enable wrong behavior. Often we believe we’re doing good when in fact we’re enabling troubling behavior. God never intended for us to suffer needlessly. He is a God of order and of consequences. Scripture tells us that “we reap what we sow.” (Galatians 6: 7-8) To stick and fix is a recipe for disaster, enabling very destructive behavior.

Second, not only is destructive behavior enabled, but growth cannot occur in these circumstances. When we enable destructive behavior, we also effectively limit growth. In both of these cases, the men have never had to face the consequences of their controlling, angry temperament. They’ve never had to grow up and learn to treat their mates with dignity and respect.

Third, within this codependent relationship, your growth is also stifled. By tiptoeing you don’t learn to speak your truth. By guarding yourself and maintaining your focus on your husband, you don’t learn to listen for ways God wants you to grow and change.

Fourth, by keeping a focus on your husband you maintain the illusion that you can fix him, when you can’t. You live in a fantasy world of grandiosity. His problems are beyond your ability to change, and your denial about this stifles your growth.

Finally, allowing him to face the consequences of your actions, (a separation) you open yourself to an opportunity for growth. Sometimes it takes creating a crisis for change. Change rarely comes in times of peace and contentment, but rather in struggle and challenge. Taking definite steps of actions against indignity and disrespect offers the opportunity of real change and saving your marriage.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Share your feedback or send a confidential note to me at therelationshipdoctor@gmail.com and read more about The Marriage Recovery Center on my Web site, www.marriagerecoverycenter.com and yourrelationshipdoctor.com. You’ll find videos and podcasts on saving a troubled marriage, codependency, rejection by your mate, and affair-proofing your marriage.

Print      Email to a Friend    posted on Tuesday, January 05, 2010 5:25 PM

Comments on this post

# RE: Tired of Trying to Fix Your Spouse?

This sounds almost exactly like my situation, except my husband left - with some minor prompting from me.
But I was trying to fix something that I have now come to realize that only God can fix; and goes way beyond our marriage.
I too love my husband and am willing to take him back after he has a heart, mind, and spirit change.
I do not deserve to be disrespected or treated like less then a faithful and loving wife and until he realizes this - we will be seperated.
It is good to know the last four (4) points that you made in this article, because they allow room for forgivness.
I walk in unconditional love for my husband, but I really needed to see that I was not able to fix him -- Nobody but God through prayer.
Left by Les on Jan 07, 2010 8:35 AM

# RE: Tired of Trying to Fix Your Spouse?

I too was always walking on eggshells and felt like nothing was ever good enough. After 21 years of marriage, we divorced. I still loved him, but knew I couldn't fix him. After 15 years of being divorced, he has found the Lord and we are working on putting our marriage back together. We feel that this opportunity is a gift from God. I truly believe that it is a powerful testimony of forgiveness. I remember after he left, sitting up late at night reading the Bible and I came across the parable about the gardener and the fig bush. I realized I needed to get rid of the "dead wood" and go for a period of time being heaped up with fertilizer before I would reap fruit. It has definitely been a time of humility, growth, and enrichment. Not always do two halves make a whole. Each needs to be complete befoe they can complete the other.
Left by Treasa on Jan 12, 2010 9:08 PM

# RE: Tired of Trying to Fix Your Spouse?

I have left my spouse after 6 years! He is an addict; sex, drugs, gambling, alcohol and any other addictive behavior that suits him. I have tried so many times to take him back, but my resentments grew and so did my anger. When I took him back he made promises - all were broken and he blames me - it's my anger. I guess I never took the time nor did he give me the time to heal. I reached out to God; and I got the courage to leave. Now he wants to go to therapy and I am not sure if I want the relationship anymore. I am still asking God to help me forgive him, and myself..... has anyone been through this? He has not asked God for help; I did invite him to go to Church before we seperated and he declined. I stopped trying because I felt like I was trying to change him. I am just confused. I will see him tomorrow for an exchange of clothes and I don't know what to do?
Left by newme66 on Mar 08, 2010 8:57 PM

# RE: Tired of Trying to Fix Your Spouse?

Sounds a lot like my situation, only we aren't back together this time. He has left for a few days to a week, but always comes back and repeats his actions. This time he said he was coming back for me, but that he didn't want to, so I told him not to come back until that was what he wanted. I have found it customary for many people to try to shift the responsibility of their own actions onto the other person. My husband says it's nothing I have done or not done. How much of that is even true, I don't know. He says I'm a good wife and that he doesn't deserve me. He says he knows he's not in God's will, and that God put us together for a reason. I can't be responsible for his actions. I am responsible only for how I treat myself and how I treat others. I know only God can change him, soften his heart to the things of God, and give him the desire to seek God and His ways, so to that end I pray.
Left by jazz on Mar 17, 2010 9:56 PM

# RE: Tired of Trying to Fix Your Spouse?

I gave up trying to fix my ex. He had 2 previous marriages and god only knows how many other relationships before me. I thought I could change him, He claimed that he was a born-again christian. Walked around with a bible under his arm pretending to be so holy. I guess this is the hardest part of the relationship when a spouse says that they serve God only to use and trap the other person. Never really being sincere about their words. We were married for 1 year before I had to walk out. This was due to his children from his previous marriage which he never saw until after our marriage. Now he is after another poor woman trying to lure her into his lies. I feel sorry for him as he does not know what he wants, like a lost little boy. And more sorry for her when she finds out the type of man he is.
Left by Eve on Mar 19, 2010 4:55 PM

# RE: Tired of Trying to Fix Your Spouse?

Life is way too short to waste time on people that are projects. I am sadly amazed at the arrogance of women or men who think they can change an unhealthy person. Give me a break. It is better to be alone and happy than foster and maintain an unhealthy realtionship.
Left by mike on Apr 14, 2010 8:13 PM