What do you do when your husband lies all the time and never keeps his promises?

Every Monday I like to put up a reader question and take a stab at answering it, and here’s one from a woman in a very difficult marriage.

She writes:

I have been married a year and a half now. My husband lied to me a couple of times before we got married, but he seemed remorseful, and promised to change. However, those once-every-few-month lies turned into every month, then every week, and now multiple per day.

He no longer shows any remorse for deceiving me. He even makes jokes immediately after, or makes fun of me for being hurt by the lies.

He never keeps a promise. He is always telling me he will “do it later”, “won’t do it again”, etc. But, later never comes, and even if he apologizes in that moment, within a few hours the remorse is gone and he is right back to his old habits without a care in the world to the fact that he gave me his “word.” 

Next, he is irresponsible to the point that it endangers our children. I have found our toddler running across our apartment parking lot in the dark (because I left him with my husband so I could go down for a swim). Twice, he has left our toddler in the bathtub and went back to SLEEP. I walked in, after nursing our infant, to find the tub about to overflow, and my husband asleep on the couch. He laughed it off. The next week he did it again. He has totalled 3 cars and gotten car too many speeding tickets as well due to irresponsible behavior (like watching movies and playing on face book while driving). He purposefully wakes our sick infant when she is sleeping, just to get at me for asking him to be quiet (for example: setting the door alarm to shreik when opened, then opening it, then slamming the door hard).

We have been to couples counselling through a Christian service. Every time I try to practice the exercises our instructor gives to us as homework, he makes a mockery of it and of me. For example, the counsellor explained that we should repeat back (in our own words) when the other person said, to be sure we are properly understand them. He will not let me get a whole thought put, stopping me every sentence (even 3 word sentences) to repeat them back to me. If he is not interrupting me every other word, he is repeating back what I say in a very skewed  way, which clearly misses the meaning entirely, and then denying me the chance to try and explain further. 

She also lists other things he does:

  • He promised he would change his bank account over to the joint account and have his paycheque deposited there; he did not do it and finally admitted he never would.
  • If she asks him to do housework he deliberately messes it up (putting dishes caked in food back in the cupboards; shoving everyone’s laundry in the wrong people’s bedrooms; kicking over the pile of laundry she has folded).
  • And many more.

So what should she do?

When You’re Married to a Narcissist: My Thoughts

What do you do when your husband lies? What if he's a habitual liar? Here is some marriage advice for you:

Be Very, Very Careful Who You Marry

I get detailed emails like this all the time (well, actually my ministry director Tammy gets them and reads through them for me, because I used to do it and I was getting way too depressed. So pray for Tammy!).

And one of the things that quite often strikes me is that this was all so preventable.

I really don’t mean to beat up on this woman, and I know that what I’m about to say won’t help her in particular (though I hope what I say further down will), but I want women to hear this.

Do not marry a man with questionable character. No ifs, ands, or buts.

If you catch him doing something that reveals a character defect, that will not automatically be fixed without a major change of heart and work on God’s part. And that will require some major repentance and evidence of change. That change has to be evident for at least a year, I’d say, before you would even think of getting married.

This guy lied before they married and apologized and seemed remorseful. But most people who apologize in these situations are only sorry that they got caught. To truly be remorseful you have to be willing to change totally on your own. You have to demonstrate a desire to become a better person by taking the initiative to get rid of things that are a stumbling block for you; by surrounding yourself with mentors and people that will help you; by getting rid of people in your life that drag you down; by starting taking church attendance more seriously.

A simple “I’m sorry” won’t cut it.

Do not marry a man simply because you feel like you have to for the kids.

This woman has been married for a year and a half and has a toddler and a baby. That means that she married after she already had a child with him. That’s so, so common, but it’s also a real red flag. Here’s what happens: we slide into marriage instead of deciding to marry. Before the relationship began, if you were asked what you wanted in a husband you’d probably have a list of some pretty important things. But what happens if you become sexually active and have a child? Or what happens if you move in together? You may have sex with someone or move in with someone who doesn’t have all those qualities you wanted in a husband because your threshold for those things is much lower.

So you end up in a big relationship with a guy that you wouldn’t normally have committed to marrying. But now that you’ve been living together, or now that you have kids together, marriage seems like the next logical step.

Be very, very wary. Or better still, don’t move in with someone before marriage and don’t have kids with someone before you’re married, either, and then you wouldn’t get into these situations. (That’s one of the reasons that God wants us to wait for marriage to have sex!)

How Should You Handle a Husband Who Lies and is Self-Absorbed?

This husband appears to be completely self-absorbed and likely narcissistic. Taking this woman at her word, the husband is very negligent of the children’s safety. He is angry if he is challenged. He punishes his wife for asking him to do anything that isn’t what he wants to do.

So what should she do about it?

Not Every Marriage Problem is a Communication Problem

I’m a big believer in marriage counselling in general, but one thing I’ve found is that counsellors often approach problems as if there are two people contributing to the problem. However, in many cases there really is only one. The other spouse may be reacting in counterproductive ways, but the problem really does lie with one spouse.

The “exercises” that the couple is to do, though, are often predicated upon this idea that both spouses want what is best for each other and both spouses want to fix the relationship.

While that is true in the vast majority of cases (seriously, like upwards of 90% of marriages, I’d say), it is not true in all marriages. And in this case, one spouse does not want what is best for them as a couple. One spouse only wants what is best for himself.

In that case, any attempt at building communication will backfire.

The Children’s Safety Comes First

If you cannot trust your husband to be alone with your children, you have a serious, serious problem. Two things that really scare me here are the bathtub incidents and the driving incidents. He is not a safe driver, and likely should not be trusted with the children or his wife in the car, and he is not safe with the kids in the bathtub.

Honestly, I’m not sure that’s fixable. That is abuse. There is nothing that she can do to encourage him to stop doing this. This is infantile, vindictive, dangerous behaviour, and as a mother, she is responsible for protecting her children from their father.

Document The Safety Violations and the Mockery

I once was speaking to a marriage counsellor who had a client who was claiming that her husband was verbally abusive. The husband was very charming and had convinced the counsellor that the wife was a little unstable and nutty.

The next week the wife described a fight that they had had when the husband was calling her names in a profanity-laced tirade. The husband denied it. Then the wife pulled out her phone and played back the conversation, which she had recorded. The counsellor’s whole perspective changed.

I know another woman who videotaped her husband driving and speeding with the kids in the car in an attempt to intimidate the wife. When that video was shown to the husband’s parents, the parents helped their daughter-in-law move out and get to safety.

If your husband is doing things that others don’t believe, I’d recommend recording it. If he’s denying using porn or chatting or texting with women, take screenshots or pictures. If he drives recklessly, surreptitiously film it (before insisting he let you out of the car, of course). Sometimes even just having the recording can help you feel like you’re not crazy.

Abusive Men (and Abusive Women) Do Not Get Better with Communication Training

They have a character flaw. What they need, as I said is a major encounter with Jesus. That’s unlikely to happen while the wife continues to prop him up and give him power in the relationship.

So reach out and ask for some help to get  you and your children in a safe place. Set some clear boundaries (“I will no longer live in a marriage relationship with someone who lies, belittles me, and endangers our children.”) Insist on seeing some true repentance and change over time before you resume a relationship.

Many women are looking for a magic formula that will make their husbands stop treating them like this. But there is no magic formula when a man has a character flaw. The only thing here to do is to protect yourself and your kids–and to spread the word to other women to not get involved with a guy with a character defect, and to never, ever “slide” into marriage with such a guy, either. You’re only asking for heartache.

I believe in marriage, and I believe the vow matters. However, I also believe that God desperately cares for us and does not want us hurt. In these cases, it is more important to save the people in the marriage than it is to save the marriage.

Have you ever known a woman in a similar relationship, where the husband doesn’t care about safety? What happened? Let’s talk in the comments!

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