Why Change Without Lasting Fruit Shouldn’t Be Acceptable in Marriage (The Truth Hurting Spouses Deserve to Know)


Last week on Facebook, I wrote about how “change” without lasting fruit isn’t really change.

I suggested those impacted by hurtful behavior shouldn’t be asked to settle for “change” that is not accompanied by real-life transformation of character that shows up in daily interactions.

Many evangelical and other conservative faith spaces elevate a “love” that overlooks character. 

Mere affiliation with certain beliefs and communities is a primary driver of how people interact with you. Your actual person doesn’t always matter. 

change without lasting improvement shouldn't be acceptable in marriage

In other words, the words you say matter more than your actions and there’s plenty of wriggle room regarding health of character and behavior. 

In these faith spaces, you can do the opposite of what you say you believe (overtly or covertly), and it will not cause a ripple in your ocean of belonging. 

You can mistreat, betray, and hurt as a lifestyle, and nobody will squawk about your two-facedness. Because in these spaces, the “love” practiced doesn’t see accountability as a form of love.

When I shared the Facebook post, most people agreed with the assessment that nobody should be expected to settle for change without some evidence. 

But as it happens sometimes, one commenter was of the opinion that the OP was “a slippery slope.” “That’s a slippery slope, I think. If one is making improvements but it’s “never enough” or recognized, that’s also wrong and terribly hurtful to the person making improvements.”

I replied to the comment but decided to add more thoughts and turn it into a blog post because victims and survivors of chronically hurting relationships and systems deserve clarity and affirmation. 

Change Without Lasting Improvement Shouldn’t Be Acceptable in Marriage: The Post

Here’s what I wrote on Facebook post (Image and caption) and the comment:

Change without improvement
Because sometimes the bar is so low, the “wriggle” room so large, and the coddling so deep that the Christian marriage looks like where decency goes to expire.

(PSA . Christ-centered isn’t words only. It’s fruit. Lasting fruit. So saying, “But I’m working on it,” without EVER producing LASTING fruit doesn’t count. “I’m working on it” while “it” still hurts and devastates is not something a partner on the receiving end of hurting behavior should be expected to work with.” Because sometimes the bar is so low, the “wriggle” room so large, and the coddling so deep that the Christian marriage looks like where decency goes to expire.”)

I had the words “ever” and “lasting” in caps to emphasize the backdrop. 

I know personal growth and change can be slow and messy. I know inner transformation and recovery that results in a thorough character transformation and habits do not occur overnight. 

So I hit those caps. But they were missed. “That’s a slippery slope I think. If one is making improvements but it’s “never enough” or recognized, that’s also wrong and terribly hurtful to the person making improvements”

I do actually agree with part of the comment that says, “If one is making improvements but it’s “never enough” or recognized, that’s also wrong and terribly hurtful to the person making improvements.”

But “making improvements, but it’s “never enough” or recognized” wasn’t my context in the OP.

And so I wrote this post not to harp on someone who may have been well-intentioned but to stand with those who are, or who have been, in chronically hurting systems and relationships who have to deal with out-of-context corrections and warnings when they voice the truth of their experiences.

I’m writing this to those whose hearts and intentions are often reworded (sometimes by well-intentioned people) to mean what they didn’t mean. I’m writing to those whose real problems are tossed out or minimized, and they find themselves defending and explaining entirely new conversations. 

You absolutely deserve better. The tendency to fix the wrong problem (partner) is a pet occupation for many Christians, and you deserve better. 

You deserve a healthy compassionate witnesses who are anchored on truth and empathy. You do not deserve exhausting circular talk. 

Change Without Lasting Improvement Shouldn’t Be Acceptable in Marriage: The Response

Here’s what I wrote in reply to the comment on Facebook (slightly edited for clarity.)

“To continue hurting and devastating your partner, to never to produce lasting fruit and to expect that standard to be acceptable to a partner: I think that’s unfair and often what’s wrong with a lot of “Christian marriage advice.”

Unhealthy Christian marriage advice asks one person to be forever responsible, to be the “big” person in the relationship...and gives *the actual problem person* lots of room and flexibility. We have more expectations of the hurting partner than the person causing the hurt.

When the metric isn’t lasting fruit but promises (with zero lasting fruit), that’s a big problem. As far as the OP is concerned, the problematic person making lasting improvements was not in my context.”

Sarah McDugal, an author and coach who empowers women to thrive after trauma, shared something powerful this week.

She wrote: “Repentance is a whole mood, not just the absence of murdering your marriage today. A person who isn’t taking responsibility, showing humility, picking up their part of the teamwork without complaint or looking for accolades, showing patience and kindness — isn’t in recovery. They may not be watching porn right now, but they’re not sober or repentant.”

Marriage That Works: Recovery

I’m not a recovery professional (Sarah is!) My point is that people need to know they can expect more from their partner/community.

People need to know they don’t have to settle for perpetual no-fruit as some holy cross to bear. Everyone needs to be resourced to evaluate the impacts of chronic stress or trauma on their bodies and lives and to know doing so is not failing in faith or relationships.

I’m no recovery expert, but I imagine a recovery path strewn with unrelenting hurting patterns (zero lasting improvements on any level) is no recovery path.

“Change” without lasting fruit isn’t really change and everyone impacted by corrosive connections deserves to know the truth.

Question: Change Without Lasting Improvement in Marriage: What did you think? What can you add? Let’s chat in the comments. 

Are you tired of religious refrains being used to justify your hurting reality? 

Sometimes, the problem in marriage is that one person is being encouraged to spiritualize issues while the other is allowed to keep their irresponsible, non-Christian lens. Christian values were never supposed to cause or perpetuate harm in relationships. You deserve more. Courage Reflections and Liberation for the Hurting Soul is for women who are tired of harmful theology and bad marriage advice. You deserve more. Order Courage book Amazon I PDF


  1. Terrye G. says:

    Of all the information and Christian advice I read online, your’s is more targeted and offers the most effective encouragement to me! I have been married for 49 years to a man, whom through much seeking and research, I have now identified over a period of years, a narcissist, who was brought up Christian, made to attend regular worship, & always claimed to be Christian. I believed that in the early years as I had little time or resource to confirm this. He ascribes to Christian beliefs willingly and claims to accept them as truth.

    However, like you indicated up there, “seeing those “fruits” will ultimately confirm this idea!
    I have created boundaries, applied them and now can say I HAVE seen a trickle of what I would call, “realization” in him. He’s good, sincere and willing to address and maintain household problems in the ways a wife expects of a husband. He’s not lazy, doesn’t cheat, gamble or physically abuse me. I can say that in the last decade of married life, the recent times that I have actually APPLIED boundaries and expressed myself, HAVE made some visible changes, but Im still dubious that elusive “total” change as far as his respect and moods go.

    I want to be listened to, not cut off, talked over, or ignored. I want to be valued to a point worthy of sharing communication with. A LOT of discouragement is experienced in the area of his patience, need for control, frugality and behavior, especially during times when he is absorbed in his own goals and interests. Expressing my boundaries have helped but we are not “out of the woods” regarding this yet.. This dilemma seems an on again, off again challenge.

    I have long lost that “feeling in love”, but realize this marriage comittment was made under God for a reason. Protection, provision and comradery in later years is not a benefit to take lightly, especially IF there is no physical abuse to deal with! I also realized a couple years ago, that I needed to change my responses to him, which was very difficult because I had allowed His negative resonses in earlier years, not knowing or understanding what our issue really was! In essence, I was changing the rules very late in “the game”.

    Thanks to the evolution of technology (email, internet, etc), God’s word itself, friends & family, plus Christian self-help reading materials and people like you, I believe I have come along way as far as understanding and identifying what I am dealing with and which response will be most effective. But only time will tell.

    Thank you Ngina. There seems to be improvement in some ways, but I know as you certainly do, that if one’s heart is not “regenerated” by God Himself, due to realizing the need for His spirit, the challenge will not end here, but still may only be adaptable with consistent & voiced expectations on my part!

  2. Dear Ngina. Thank you for this precious post. I look forward to reading your book. Thank you for speaking to this group of women, of which I am part of, and not being swayed by all those who would disrupt with a hundred tangents to put anything more on a woman who has tried everything while a man did nothing or very little from his side. I have been married 22 very dismal years to a cruel, cold man, who merely adjusts his course from time to time but never truly repents and bears any fruit. For over a decade I tried to fix me and everyone judged me through the various phases and struggles. Your words simply confirmed what I believe the Lord has already shown me in the last 5 years of my painful journey, but it is blessed and comforting gift to be able to begin to express these issues in vocabulary as you have done. It is a treasure to read. My husband goes by the name of Christ but I am ashamed and have been reduced; I live with pain and emptiness daily – I know that is not a fruit of the Lord. My marriage blasphemes God’s image of marriage. I was emotionally abused in my childhood home, married an abuser, and was spiritually abused through more than one Christian church. I know all these things now and how the Lord Jesus views it according to Scripture, He was and is faithful, even though there are things I still don’t understand at this point like why there is no way out for me, I hold fast to Him. I believe there are other women just as trapped. The Lord sees. Thank you for your good words Ngina.

  3. Oh Belinda, I’m so sorry 😢 The blindness of the church is heartbreaking.

    I’m glad the post was affirming. Thank you for sharing ❤️‍🩹

  4. THIS!!! I really needed this today. I’m 22mths separated, 2 mth from divorce. I lived in an abusive Christian marriage for 26yrs. I was always encourage to be the “bigger” person and to spiritulize my response while he rampages through our lives, causing so much chaos. He is now in recovery and is getting accolades from his new church for his “healing” and progress. Meanwhile, the actions he continues to do have me seeking protection for me and my children from the courts. He is talking all the words but still continues to behave in a destructive manner. Thank you for your blog post, it gives me confidence to remember the abuse was real, not my imagination and there is no good fruit even if he talks a good game.
    God bless the work you do on behalf of the women still finding their voice, worth and place in this world.

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