What Can I Do When My Spouse Changes for the Worse?

Dear Roger,
I'm a very worried Christian wife. My husband has completely changed over the last several months. He is constantly surfing the internet and delivering angry "the sky is falling" messages to me and our adult children. He claims he is only the "watchman on the wall" and that he has to deliver his messages, or our blood will be on his hands. I'm a Christian woman who believes that God is sovereign and in control even when we don't see it. I trust in God, and I’m very troubled by his haughty, prideful anger and bitterness. How do I handle this?
Sincerely, A Worried Wife

Dear Worried Wife,

You must be so disappointed. What’s happening now with your husband is certainly not the way that you dreamed marriage would be. I feel so sorry for you and for your children. In fact, let me say it again; I am so sorry for what’s going on with your husband. I know that you’re hurting a lot. As I read your email, it seems to me that at one time he was a good husband but has suddenly turned into something else. You are obviously concerned for you and your children and the damage that he’s doing. Obviously, you’re brokenhearted for him and for the broken relationships which are multiplying throughout your family. I know that you are hurting deeply about your husband's downward progression. All those things being said, let me give some suggestions that might prove helpful to you in the days ahead.

Consider Physical and Mental Causes

First, your husband may be dealing with some severe medical issues. Sudden, drastic shifts in thoughts or personality can often indicate brain tumors or hormonal changes. I don’t mention this to scare you; but, just to keep this possibility in the back of your mind as you work through this struggle with him. After pastoring over five decades, I have observed this scenario occur numerous times.

He almost sounds delusional as he pictures himself as the “watchman on the wall” and also by declaring that your “blood will be on his hands” if you do not see things as he does.

I’m certainly not a physician, nor do I give medical advice, but because of his sudden change in personality and rapid deterioration, I would recommend pursuing medical help.

By the way, his unstoppable repetition of things may be a tipoff to mental issues that a psychiatrist can help fix. Brain chemistry can change swiftly due to stressors, illness, or simply “just because.” For example, paranoid schizophrenia and bipolar disorder can have a sudden onset of symptoms.

Fortunately, these can often be treated well with medication and therapy. I would encourage you to seek out psychiatric care as well. This can be a hard sell when a loved one is struggling—they often believe that there is nothing wrong with their way of thinking and resist even the thought of treatment. Family intervention, conversation with a respected friend, or even an ultimatum (be very careful) can become necessary.

Note that your description of his internet addiction may need extra special care if he’s to get free. I’m so sorry about this. It may prove profitable to help him get involved with an internet support group.

All of these suggestions may seem impossible, but it’s amazing what God can do as we pray for His will to be accomplished in the lives of our husbands and wives!

Set Secure Boundaries

Second, his mental, verbal, and emotional abuse must not be tolerated. It’s time to set secure boundaries. For example, make it clear that his behavior is unacceptable and that you will not continue to endure it. Follow through. Leave the house if necessary. Go spend some time with a friend, relative, or neighbor. Only return when he’s had time to settle down.

This will be a judgment call. It sounds as if he is quite a volatile man. Setting boundaries may simply make him angry. You will have to decide this for yourself and proceed carefully as necessary.

Be creative in setting boundaries. I know of one woman whose husband loved to eat. She made a boundary that affected his eating. Whenever he breached the boundary, she simply stopped cooking. He began changing his behavior.

Call Attention to Abusive Behavior

Third, call him out on his abusive behavior or berating language. Let him know how his behavior is wrong, and that it’s hurting you and the children. Scripture clearly teaches that that abusive behavior between husbands and wives, or parents and children, is wrong in God’s eyes.

Remind your husband that not all abuse is physical or sexual. Explain to him that abuse can be mental, verbal, emotional, or spiritual. He may not understand that there are more types of abuse, and he needs to know that these other types can produce a tremendous amount of hurt as well.

This would be a good time to see if you can communicate to him how much he is hurting relationships with you and your children. Let him know we all need a support system to handle the issues of life, and he’s ruining his.

What Your Role Is

Fourth, you make it quite obvious that you are a Christian, and I’m assuming that he is not, on the basis of his behavior. I’ve had many women ask me how they should help their husbands to change their behavior, and if they are not already a Christian, to become one.

Peter says that the best way to do this is not to argue, judge or berate your husband. Instead, he encourages us to keep quiet and live a lovely and consistent Christian life. Pray that he will be attracted to your love and compassion (1 Peter 3:1-3).

Finally, if his abusive behavior and language continue, and if he refuses to get counseling, medical or psychiatric help, make an exit plan. You need to keep yourself and your children safe.

Well, Worried Wife,

I hope this helps.

Love, Roger

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes

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Ask RogerDr. Roger Barrier retired as senior teaching pastor from Casas Church in Tucson, Arizona. In addition to being an author and sought-after conference speaker, Roger has mentored or taught thousands of pastors, missionaries, and Christian leaders worldwide. Casas Church, where Roger served throughout his 35-year career, is a megachurch known for a well-integrated, multi-generational ministry. The value of including new generations is deeply ingrained throughout Casas to help the church move strongly right through the twenty-first century and beyond. Dr. Barrier holds degrees from Baylor University, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Golden Gate Seminary in Greek, religion, theology, and pastoral care. His popular book, Listening to the Voice of God, published by Bethany House, is in its second printing and is available in Thai and Portuguese. His latest work is, Got Guts? Get Godly! Pray the Prayer God Guarantees to Answer, from Xulon Press. Roger can be found blogging at Preach It, Teach It, the pastoral teaching site founded with his wife, Dr. Julie Barrier.

Editor's Note: This Ask Roger article features insights from Roger's daughter, Brie Barrier Wetherbee, a sought-after Bible teacher and conference speaker, author, analyst, and Christian theologian. 

Pastor Roger Barrier's "Ask Roger" column regularly appears at Preach It, Teach It. Every week at Crosswalk, Dr. Barrier puts nearly 40 years of experience in the pastorate to work answering questions of doctrine or practice for laypeople or giving advice on church leadership issues. Email him your questions at [email protected].



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