“I’m Trying”: Setting the Stage for Failure

crossed fingersAfter separating from my abusive husband, I made it clear that I would not live with him unless and until his attitudes and behaviors changed dramatically.  After a couple of weeks of listening to him whine and complain about my unrealistic expectations, he suddenly entered Alcoholics Anonymous and seemingly found the will to turn his life around.

His overall demeanor took on a hue that appeared consistent with heartfelt repentance and a drastic change of character.  It seemed he had miraculously been awakened from his toxic stupor.  The nasty man was all at once the happy-go-lucky guy who forthrightly apologized to me and our kids for his hostile behaviors and failings.  Suddenly he wanted to play with our kids at the park and seemed more sensitive and respectful toward me.  He spoke in positive, glowing terms and seemed wholly committed to the follow-through to save our marriage and our family.  The man passionately assured me that our dark days were behind us.

Three months after our separation and overwhelmed by his incessant petitions to return home so that we could be a family once again, I consented, feeling pressured to reward his efforts and hoping that the measure of trust I extended him would motivate him to stay the course.  Although I  verbally assented, everything in my being screamed “Don’t do it!”  The truth is that I feared being viewed as the bad guy if I refused to buy in, realizing too late that perception is always the wrong motivation.

Only a couple of weeks after his return my husband’s cordial façade began to fracture.  There were moments in between his niceness when the snippy, sarcastic, bully would return, and I made it a point to immediately confront him.  I also soon discovered him drinking again.  At that point, he insisted that I read a chapter in his AA book that basically proclaimed that family members needed to be supportive, even when the alcoholic relapses, recognizing that it is not the alcoholic acting out, but the alcohol, the disease at work.  After reading the chapter, he asked me what I thought, and I told him straight out that I wasn’t buying it.  He became angry with me for not going along with the program, and I told him that was too bad.

“But I’m going to have relapses,” he fervently insisted as he paced our bedroom floor.

“Not in this house, you’re not,” I bluntly responded.

Then off he went about how unreasonable and inflexible and selfish I was.  From that moment on, he sought to claim a wide berth, a presumption that there was going to be a measure of failure involved in his recovery (including an expectation of occasional abuse) that, according to him, I was obligated to tolerate.  Such incidents were not to be viewed as a big deal.  His premise was that, as long as he said he was “trying,” I had no right to expect anything more.  His verbalization of effort was deemed sufficient to presume him essentially innocent.

In the weeks that followed, after I would point out the ongoing manifestations of his regression, my husband would say something like, “What more do you want from me?  I’m trying.”  But I know now that he was only greasing the slide that would have sent us back to the depths from which our children and I had only recently begun to ascend.  Three months after we “reconciled,” I asked him to leave again, a condition of our arrangement, and he did.  He never returned.

I know now that the truly repentant person willing to accept responsibility for an offense says, “I’m sorry,” while the game-player who wishes to simply create a presumption of innocence and effort will be inclined to say, “I’m trying.”

The abuser’s intent is to establish an expectation of occasional outbursts and failings that must be found acceptable by his victim(s).  It is supremely ironic that the man who cannot see past his nose to perceive the depth of harm he has caused expects his victims to accommodate his now seemingly fragile ego. He will assert that confronting him when he acts out only serves to discourage him, and his motivation will almost certainly wither.  Of course, in that event, he will have someone to blame other than himself.

The victim needs to understand that each and every verbal slip or behavioral setback on the abuser’s part is a test of her conviction.  When confronted, he will bemoan her lack of empathy and question why she doesn’t instead commend him for the most menial effort.  In truth, he resents the expectations placed on him, and his push for ever more grace represents nothing more than an incremental return to the patterns which he prefers and has grown hurtfully accustomed.

“I’m trying” is nothing but a ploy, a lie, a show.  He is conveying that the effort he is required to put forth to remain in the relationship is only a drag on his real intentions.  On the other hand, if a recovering abuser truly sees the harm he has done and is committed to repairing the damage, he won’t have to try to love his family, nor will he resent those who are counting on him to demonstrate an appropriate measure of respect and care and protection.

If an abuser has to remind you that he is trying, he isn’t.

Cindy Burrell

Copyright 2016, All Rights Reserved

7 thoughts on ““I’m Trying”: Setting the Stage for Failure”

  1. I’m sure many will resonate with this post. Thank you for setting the record straight on, “I’m trying.”

  2. Cindy, once again, so true!

    While the abuser’s target(s) are believing they might once again start to trust the abuser and have a mutually respectful relationship moving forward, the abuser is just working a surface plan to manipulate the target(s) back into his/her life. I experienced something like the dynamic you present in your story, above, twice.

    His “change” seemed so REAL the first two times!

    The third time, however, was NOT a charm for him, but deliverance for me.

    You were very strong to firmly establish boundaries. I was strong in the first and second major events that prompted his faux change, but by the time he forced me out (the third and final event), I had long since withdrawn more and more into myself and just prayed for some kind of end. That time, it was the “still, small voice” of the Holy Spirit prompting me to “leave, now,” in the middle of my ex’s last drunken tirade against me, and I did.

    Why did it take three times? Pastors and Christian “counselors” who might be reading this note well: I was still under the erroneous impression that divorce was somehow the unforgiveable sin and that if I left him because of his once-again escalating verbal abuse and disrespect I would somehow be out from under God’s protection and provision.

    Lies, both.

    How am I recovering? By staying completely away from my now (3 years’) ex husband, accessing my excellent support group of believers, this site and others where the truth of the Scriptures is explained, and by remaining very close to the Lord.

    The plain truth is this: Jesus Christ is still in the business of delivering us from evil.

    Sometimes, as hard as we try to make things right, the truth is we are dealing with an evil that simply does not go away. It is we who need to flee.

    And lest a reader think I didn’t “try” enough to love him and pray for him and so on, my marriage lasted over forty years.

    Keep up the wonderful work, Cindy!

  3. Thank you, Cindy, for your insight. I often get caught up in the I’m trying and the I’m sorry, but no real change. What I have appreciated most is how you have given us the insight to listen to our instincts.

    I am thankful for you and your obedience to encourage many of us!

    1. Hello, Kelly, and thank you for taking the time to write and share.

      I’m glad to know that these articles are helpful. Let me know if I can direct you in any way. I’m here to help.


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