What If Your Spouse Isn’t Sorry?


silent unhappy couple on bench not sorry

Those of us who knew them sensed it was coming.

Their marriage was in a tough spot, and it had been a long time since they had any kind of connection.

And then, one day, it happened. He left for another woman.

People who loved them tried to intervene. To plead for reconciliation and his return. But it didn't matter; she was devastated, and he wasn't sorry.

When Your Spouse Isn't Sorry

You may be tempted to think, 'Wow, what a jerk. Good riddance!'

But while this husband's actions are indeed terrible, if we're honest, all of us struggle with being sorry. With owning our sin, and its impact on others.

And we've all probably had conversations where our spouse wasn’t ready to listen. At least not right away.

But what happens when your spouse isn’t sorry at all? What if they refuse to seek your forgiveness - not just for a day, a week, or longer?

It may be as extreme as the husband above. Or, more likely, your spouse may not see something the same way you do, and it’s a constant rub between you.

Or, perhaps their hard-heartedness is more global. It’s not the stuff of divorce, but maybe your spouse is the kind of person who thinks they’re right, and the world – or, at least you – is usually wrong.

Living With A Difficult Spouse: 7 Suggestions

Here’s some good advice from Winston Smith from his chapter on forgiveness in his excellent book Marriage Matters. (With some of my own additions.)

  • Remember just how much God has forgiven you. Now matter what our spouse has done to us, our own offenses against God are far greater. Not necessarily because they're worse than what our spouse has done, but because of who God is (Habakkuk 1:13).
  • Model what you hope to receive. Make sure you listen well, and practice forgiveness with your spouse. God may use that to soften your spouse's heart. At a minimum, he will be honored.
  • Don't just let it go. Normally, after forgiveness, we should commit to not bringing up our spouse’s sin again. But when our spouse refuses to listen or care, we can’t do that. Sin is deceptive and ruins relationships, especially close ones. While we must be wise in how we go about it, we can't be complicit in the destruction of our marriage.
  • Approach your spouse with love and prayer. After all, our imperfect marriages are supposed to reflect God’s love for us in Christ (Ephesians 5:32). Even when God has to call us out, he does it because of, and in, love. Also, since God alone can change our hearts, we rely on him – not our words – to do the heavy lifting through prayer (see Psalm 107:28-30).
  • Choose to not dwell on your spouse’s sin. If our spouse is resistant and defensive, it can become hard to not let that consume us. And yet, it’s important to follow Paul’s command to focus on ‘whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things’ (Philippians 4:8) so that we don’t become bitter.
  • Consider involving others. It depends on how important the issue is, to what extent it’s affecting you, your spouse or others, and how obstinate our spouse is. But if, after approaching our spouse several times, things aren’t going anywhere, we may need to involve a trusted friend, a good counselor, and/or the church (Matthew 18:15-17). By the way, I've seen way too many couples wait too long to ask their church for help out of embarrassment. Please, don't let that be you.
  • Consider introducing consequences. If your spouse continues to sin in the same way, or refuses to repent, you may need to take protective action. Not in a punitive way, but in an effort to wisely protect yourself. One husband, for example, has had to create some boundaries with his wife because of her ongoing and unpredictable harshness. At the same time, he has told her how much he wants to be close with her, and yearns for her to change.

At the end of the day, we cannot control our spouse, and we’re not supposed to. Our calling is to pursue humility, cry out to God for our spouse and our own heart, and take wise, practical steps to encourage change and establish loving, protective boundaries.

Your Turn

If you’re in a tough marriage with a difficult spouse:

  1. I just want to let you know I care, and – far more importantly – God sees you. ‘Behold, the eye of the Lord is on those who fear him, on those who hope in his steadfast love (Psalm 33:18).’ Your love and obedience are not wasted, and they will be rewarded.
  2. What practical, next steps do you need to take? In your own heart, toward your spouse, and (possibly) including others?

If you may be the difficult spouse:

  1. Are there areas in your life where you have developed a hard heart toward God and your spouse?
  2. If there are, I want to urge you to seek God’s – and your spouse’s forgiveness. If you’re not sorry yet, don’t fake it, but let God know you want to want to be sorry. Tell your spouse, too.
  3. Ask a pastor, counselor or trusted, godly friend for help. (Maybe all three.) Do it today; don't wait until it's too late. 

If you are in a good (not perfect) marriage:

  1. Take a moment to give God thanks; your marriage is a gift, and not normal!
  2. Ask for God’s ongoing protection over your marriage. We can’t afford to take our marriages for granted; we have an enemy who is all too happy to take them off-course (1 Peter 5:8-9).
  3. Let your spouse know how thankful you are for him/her. It’s important to tell them, rather than assume they ‘just know’ through our actions. (And Sharon, if you're reading this, know how thankful I am for you! 😉)
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