If you’ve EVER given your husband a list of things to do to “change” then this article is for YOU!!!!

No list holds the power to change a person’s heart.

It finally arrives – the heartbreaking yet liberating moment when you simply cannot live the lie for one more minute. The loneliness, shame and exhaustion can no longer be rationalized or minimized. There is nothing left to sort out or piece together or hope for, and you finally break through the wall of dysfunction you had foolishly accepted as normal. And you leave.

As the first days pass, you find yourself moving tenuously through the haze of disillusionment and exhaustion and catching a glimpse of clear sky, relishing every breath of free air and then falling into bed at night in peace. If you are lucky, in the abuser’s absence, the numbness of soul to which you have become accustomed gives way, and you find yourself savoring the joys of a few days, hours or minutes free of constant fear and confusion.

Unfortunately, it will not be long before your sweet respite is interrupted. Your abuser is not done yet. He shows up on your doorstep and leaves countless messages on your phone. He might arrive at your workplace, send flowers, bring gifts and make every promise imaginable. He insists he has been awakened to the truth and is intent on securing any opportunity to prove himself. So he asks, “What can I do to assure you of my love, to earn your trust and prove my sincerity? Name it.”

Those are dangerous words. He wants your checklist.

It is tempting to offer one. How many nights have you lain awake strategizing how you might reach his angry, calloused heart and get him to see you, to cherish you?

“Maybe this is it,” you say to yourself. “Maybe he has finally reached a point where he can hear me.”

It feels like an open door, a precious opportunity to set the stage for real healing and change. You feel confident, even eager presenting him with your checklist because he has evoked a genuine desire to make things right. You put it out there, believing that you are giving him some helpful direction, maybe even inspiration. You might insist on counseling, treatment for his addiction(s), corrections to his irresponsible spending, acknowledgement of and elimination of his abusive behavior. You might also ask that he help more with household responsibilities or give you more freedom to pursue your interests.

Only these many years later can I see the absurdity of enduring however many years of abuse, and then handing the abuser a short list of concessions he must make to get things back to what he considers normal. Step back for a moment, and you can see that his request of you at once infers that he is mystified as to what the issues are and how he has hurt you. If he is counting on you to explain to him what he needs to change, then in his mind, he doesn’t need to change anything. And your willingness to offer him a checklist is accepted as a promise that you are willing to reconcile with him as soon as those line items are checked off.

No problem.

As well-trained enablers, we almost always fail to realize that the checklist is a trap, a teaser in the abuser’s game, and many of us are drawn in. We continue to act on the premise that relationship is the mutual goal. Not so for the abuser. Remember: he wants control.

So what we see as a solemn opportunity to restore genuine relationship is to the abuser a trivial matter of a few small hurdles, temporary obligations, or just another opportunity to perfect his art of manipulation. The checklist becomes the very mortar the abuser will use to rebuild the walls that held you captive.

Go to counseling? Sure. Several weeks later, the counselor has bought in to the abuser’s “sincere” efforts, and the victim has lost her voice. In fact, she is probably under the gun now for being slow to forgive or accommodate him. Nothing has changed, but he has fulfilled the mandate.


Get treatment for his addictions. He goes to meetings and expresses confidence in his progress, but there will be occasional lapses. What do you expect – perfection? To be encouraging, you commend him for his progress believing his addictive tendencies will decline over time, but only time will tell.


At first, his commitment seems admirable, even believable. And you may optimistically give him more credit than he is due. Not only that, but many of your checklist demands are subjective and can be molded and twisted in a manner that can be accepted as a good effort. Speaking cruelly to you or your children? That’s a matter of opinion, isn’t it? Perhaps you’re overreacting again or expecting too much in too short of a time period. In no time, he will have found a way to document some measure of success in every area you asked.

Check. Check. Check.

If you’re a strong one, maybe you can resist the tearful pleas of your children who want daddy to come home, and remain a little skeptical when his friends and family members remind you of how hard he is trying. You do not have the measure of peace you need to consider reconciling. That is when the checklist becomes his tool and your enemy.

“I’ve done everything you’ve asked,” he reminds you. “What more can you possibly expect from me? You are being unfair to me. Don’t you want to save our marriage? Why are you doing this to our children?” And the pressure is on.

Has he really changed? No. But you have set yourself up for Checklist Blackmail. The abuser will use the checklist you gave him to contain and define and limit the scope of necessity in the relationship. Your checklist leaves the intangible, immeasurable substance of his character immutable.

Even though the abuser has met the obligations, you still feel unsafe. To his way of thinking, that’s your problem. Should you refuse to receive him, he will emotionally pummel you with the checklist you gave him and angrily affirm your response as proof that you are absolutely unreasonable, overly demanding and even cruel. You have put yourself between a rock and a hard place – and your abuser knows it.

Just say ‘no’ to the checklist. No list holds the power to change a person’s heart. If you leave your abuser, and he tells you he wants to change, to make things right; let him. He’s a grown-up. Let him go get counseling on his own and figure out what needs to do to get healthy without harassing you or promising you the moon or extracting agreements or timelines from you.

While he does his share of the work (I write with great skepticism), you can take some time to educate yourself about the abuse dynamic and focus on your healing – not on his. If one day he shows up on your doorstep, accepts full responsibility for all of his cruelties, humbly seeks your forgiveness, seeks help of his own volition and agrees to leave you alone and honor your need for time and space and room to heal without limits…then there might be a basis for entertaining the remote possibility of reconciliation.

From what I have witnessed in my dealings with abusers, they prefer the game of Checklist Blackmail. Don’t play. It is just one more game you simply cannot win.

Though you pound a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his foolishness will not depart from him. Proverbs 27:22

Here is the blog…there are MANY other fantastic articles on here!!


35 thoughts on “This….THIS!!!!!

  1. The lists (both written and verbal), I made many of these during my marriage. If any of you still make these lists, may I suggest that the last line on the sheet of paper read “HE WILL NOT CHANGE.” You’ll find this makes the lists disappear. 😀 You could add…THIS IS A WASTE OF MY TIME. That should make the lists go away.

  2. I made list for myself to read of things I wanted to see – I never gave them to him. He however, gave me lists in our final foray into reconciliation. He had 3 months prior told me he no longer loved me and wanted a divorce – I had to force him to say this to my face, otherwise our marriage would have ended with a text. I accepted it and said OK, have a nice life yada yada yada and THEN the texts started. He would ask questions he should have been asking me prior to the decision to divorce about what I meant, wanted etc. I got sucked in thinking he was REALLY thinking about things and seeing his part. Around 2 months later he told me that he wanted to try again and I was the ‘love of his life’. I requested he read a book called (I think) ‘the happy husband’ – it was all about how to care for a wife and have a happy marriage – one chapter in the back was about keeping your own hobbies as a man etc. He took a week off to discuss us getting back together – he brought the book and a pen and pad and a recorder to record me. He proceeded to ONLY discuss one chapter of the book and listed everything he wanted out of the marriage and things HE wouldn’t negotiate on. He lecture me that he HAD to become a carver and need extensive time for it plus work plus his family plus his friends plus fishing and on and on. Everytime i said anything about my needs, he would run into the back yard or he would mock me. We tried for a few more weeks with him being increasingly cruel and my mental health becoming increasingly erratic (crazy,lol). He went on holiday while I once again looked after the kids and got the famous ‘nobody will ever miss you or is likely to ever love you’ text, after I told him the hospital had found two suspicious lumps in my mammogram. That was the end. ( I believe now he was just using me to get me to look after the kids for him and one last roll in the hay – a free babysitter and blow up doll and as soon as he got what he wanted – the cruelty started again) – He tried various times after that to hoover me and I wouldn’t have it – I raged back until he stopped texting and we became NC. Now, his carving was everything, it was his VERY BEING (lol), who he WAS and he couldn’t have a marriage without it – he is now living in a house with a woman and DOES NOT TOUCH HIS CARVING!!! At all. Shows how important it was. And also shows that whatever their whim is at the time is what is most important. So he made a list – and he might very well get it all now – just not off me or while living with his family. These men are such wasters.. They waste their own lives and everybody elses. The don’t self reflect. The don’t change. They change the environment – because they think that is the cause of the dysfunction. And I hate to say this but he downgraded unbelievably (not just me says this)- in Australia we have ‘bogans’ and ‘ferals’ – her and her children fit neatly into both categories. He downgraded in values, morals, looks, wealth and intelligence. I can only think that, water finds it’s own level and he is finally outwardly showing his real values that I knew he had behind closed doors all along. He certainly doesn’t value family, respect, honour, and used abuse to bring me down to his level instead of changing and coming up to mine. I did mediation with him yesterday and the difference in our values couldn’t have been more obvious. And honestly, he thinks his value system is fine. The mediator said just because your values are different doesn’t mean one is better than the other hahahahaha. I really wanted to say – before comparing values first both of us have to have them……and one of us doesn’t unless it is defined as ME, ME, ME, ME. (I didn’t say it but I thought it). He also managed to lie and brag about himself during mediation and came across as calm and cool and talked about me as if I was over exaggerating and hysterical. And every time I tried to rebut his oh so cool attempts to downplay his neglect of the children – I was cut off by the mediator and told “we are not discussing the past” and ‘we are moving forward”. I said that is very convenient for him – I can only use the past as a predictor of his future actions though.

    • UGH!!!! My blood boiled as I read that, Bronze!! I feel ALL therapists, mediators, etc….should have to read and study about covert abuse BEFORE they get into practice!!
      It’s pretty sad when an abuser can charm them into believing their lies!

      • lol, Thanks Shatteredwife, yes, I believe you are correct. He is a complete prick. I didn’t realise how angry that post sounded. It was written just after mediation, lol.. I’m sure his gf, is a lot lovelier than him and I actually, most of the time feel sorry for what her life is going to become. xo

  3. Never have made a list. I realized that he did the things he did – on purpose, to get his way – around year 12. By year 16 or so I realized that he would not change, no matter how many times he claimed that he was changing and I just didn’t see it. Why should I make a list? The book “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” by Lundy Bancroft has the best list of how to tell if someone has really changed.

  4. That is so wise and perceptive. They are still playing us, while making us think we are in control. A real adult should be able to take responsibility for his own actions, know what he wants, and do the work to get it. Don’t we just want to matter to someone who thinks we are worth fighting for? Thanks for posting this.

  5. I made a list in the very beginning of our marriage- shortly after our marriage- when I realized what an incompetent business partner and husband Norman was. Those were the days when I would get angry because I actually believed that he could change. They really don’t change, they never do. Rehab doesn’t alter a person’s character. It might alter their superficial behavior for a time but their true character will ultimately shine.

    • Exodus – I’m starting to think my ex has a double life as Norman!! How are these men so similar? Although my responses started out by backing down, being more forgiving and compliant – I only got angry around the 12 year mark and at around the 14 year mark retreated in hopelessness and depression with outbursts of anger every now and then. But I was the perfect supplicant wife for over 10 years and it made no difference to his behaviour – in fact, it made him treat me worse. It kind of proves that it really doesn’t matter how we act – they are determined to abuse, undermine and use us. Anger management altered him for the duration of the classes and then just as quickly he was back in true form. I absolutely cannot believe he is not already sucking the life out of the women whose house he has moved into. Unfortunately, I’m the only one who knows what he is and therefore the only one who knows he is using this poor woman for her accommodation and free baby sitting services while he is at work. I hope she does not lose her house to him in the long run. I hope you can move away from Norman soon.

      • Bronze, your posts have always resonated with me on so many levels. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if your ex is N with BPD. I don’t know how you tolerated being so compliant for so many years. It must be even more difficult for you than me in many ways because you were so ‘kind’ all those years and he screwed you as he did. I get angry for you just thinking about it. While I have continued to live here through the years, I did become very worn down and depressed but I was always here to fix everything for Norman when he punished me with one of his antics. Yes, I would get angry. That’s why his therapist thinks I’m an abusive aggressive wife. Sometimes I feel like showing Norman what aggression really looks like.

        BTW, you live in Australia? They make you meditate in Australia? I was thinking about relocating there now that I don’t have any dogs ( no quarantine to mess with). I have two friends that live there that are always begging me to come ( blue mountains/sydney).
        Back to in the world could anyone expect someone to meditate next to their ugly nasty abusive husband? That’s as bad as having sex with them! I’m glad that you’re meditating for you but I hope you can leave thoughts about the jerk out of your mind and heart. (((( Shalom ))))

  6. Awesome post, it actually made me tearful. Exactly right. My pah behaved beautifully for months every time we separated but returned to his normal behaviour as soon as I started to relax and believe he had really changed. How sad that they ruin so many lives.

  7. Ironically, I made a checklist work for me in a battle of wills with my PA husband last night. We were discussing sex (specifically, that he withholds sex) and he was lamenting that we never communicate about what we want from each other sexually. I said “That isn’t true, we wrote lists for each other a few months back”. I pulled those lists out, and his list was filled with things like “I want a wife who is in charge of her own sexuality” and “I want a wife who is playful and passionate about sex”. Mine was two very graphic sentences about specific sex acts I wanted, at minimum. I told him that I was very clear in my communication about what I wanted, but I would be willing to explain it again if he needed me to. That ended the conversation about who wasn’t communicating clearly.

    This may be the only time in human history that a checklist ever worked, so don’t try this at home.

    • Forgive me, Zombiewife, but I found your conversation amusing. I know it’s frustrating in real life though! The subtext is: “If only you told me, of course I would engage in that with you!” This kind of if-only-you-told-me stuff happened to me all the time, until I stopped asking for things, or trying to discuss things. Because, like all of us, I brought up lots of things on a regular basis.

      Perhaps the key here is that you both had lists AND they were in writing AND you kept them. I know my counselor has told me that if my husband and I come to an agreement about something, to write it down in a notebook and have him initial it. I’ve only done that a few times because, as you can imagine, it’s exhausting! The amount of effort it took to come to an agreement about him not opening my mail. . . this is normal common courtesy for normal people.

      • Jane,
        Oh my gosh. Your comment above “write it down in a notebook and have him initial it. I’ve only done that a few times because, as you can imagine, it’s exhausting! The amount of effort it took to come to an agreement about him not opening my mail. . . this is normal common courtesy for normal people.”

        That’s very similar advice that our first therapist gave me in re: to managing Norman’s bad habits/character/behavior. Our therapist was even worse and advised me to do all sorts of other ridiculously exhausting enabling behaviors like putting key locks on all the doors and not allowing him to have access to the key. What the hell was this counselor thinking- that I had all day to be Norman’s concierge? To be honest, I felt as if she was mocking my concerns with her ridiculous suggestions. I made a list and had Norman sign it, date it and add comments. At the time I didn’t realize that forcing him to do that would lead to even more abuse. In hindsight, I realize that anyone of us would feel very offended AND controlled by having to sign off on rules and regulations of our household. The way to manage a PA person is not by adding another dimension of control and expectation. No therapist should ever advise a client to manage another person’s bad character. That’s like telling someone that they should enable an alcoholic’s consumption.

        There’s no way to reason with a PA person. WE need to be reasonable and realize that by nature, they oppose anything that is reasonable. Compliance with anything right, good, true, loving, compassionate and empathic is simply not in their marriage playbook.

      • Jane, your husband must be a reasonable and secure man to at least some degree if he can accept that book and not be threatened by it. I think it’s a great tool to use if there are two reasonable people using it. Businesses operate in a similar way ( except mine of course..hahaha). I use the word ‘ Rules’ because most PA people interpret any type of shared agreement, arrangement or commitment as a commitment that they must conform to. Even if ask Norman to set up his own plan or system for us to live by, he resents that he must do that.There’s absolutely no ability to share or reason with him. He’s a covert control freak and I must discover his secret rules from Madame chloe and her crystal ball. It’s even common for PA people to assume that everyone should be able to read their minds. I find this to be indicative of their arrogance.
        I keep corporate minutes about our meetings and there will be notes about what he and I agreed to implement or change, etc.. and guess what? He breaks the rule the very next day and gets raging angry at me when I am disappointed and confused.

      • Exodus,

        I don’t think he’s terribly reasonable or secure. He might be less unreasonable and less insecure than some of our husbands though. The fact that he goes along with the three or so agreements that are in the book – he does it for some reason – probably to give himself more ammunition that he’s the victim in our relationship.

        And yes, mine also expects me to read his mind. (Per the counselor.) I don’t read his mind, but I’ve become an expert at reading his behavior and knowing when to get out of the way.

        I have sometimes thought about pushing things to force a “fish or cut bait” decision on him.

    • LOL!!! Zombiewife….ya know…I MIGHT just have to try that!! Of course….PA Man and I haven’t had sex for 9 weeks now, not since I told him I want a REAL, INTIMATE relationship…NOT a “he gets sex when he feels the need!!”
      So maybe I could try that list of yours in some other area! LOL!!

      • Exodus,

        Believe it or not, the notebook works surprisingly well for us. The key for us is “agreements”. If it were “rules” it would not work at all. The notebook cuts down on the “I forgot/ I didn’t know” part of our relationship. But honestly?? I’ve pretty much given up. I will work for an agreement if it’s a boundary issue, like the mail. Otherwise I pretty much don’t bother.

        In a year we probably have three agreements written in this book. He has the option to bring up items for agreements as well, but he prefers to have a temper tantrum instead.

  8. I got a lot of criticism when we went together to a couples therapist after he had attended for a few weeks on his own, obviously describing to the counsellor how ‘controlling’ I was. The therapist leapt straight into dealing with my ‘control issues’ and I realised there was an element of truth in this (can you imagine explaining how you put locks on the doors and don’t let him have the key- as suggested to Exodus above?) of course I was ‘controlling’ in certain aspects. It was the only way to retain my sanity, but is the co-dependent trap. When I realised it wasn’t ok to manage his behaviour, I realised there was no other answer than to use the door.

    • paescapee,
      Your comment about the control issues…WOW, that’s one aspect of dealing with PA people that seems to get overlooked by many and additionally, our ‘control’ gets taken out of context and used against us. And those therapists who either punish us for trying to protect ourselves by employing methods of damage control or those who encourage us to control them should have their licenses revoked.

      It’s easy for a PA person to perceive us as aggressive vs assertive or confrontational because from their weak cowardly passive perspective, we appear to be monsters. Perception is everything in life.
      To those on the outside, I appear to be a very controlling woman and yet, I have such little control over anything in my life!! The only control I have at this point is just managing how I adapt to Norman’s abuses and trying to minimize the effects of trauma in my life. I can’t stop his behavior, I can’t discourage it, I can’t discuss it, I can’t reason with him at all. It’s funny that Norman’s therapist believes that he works so much because he doesn’t want to come home to ‘ the wife’. She correct but I don’t believe she knows why. Norman doesn’t want to come home because he likes to avoid responsibility and he likes to avoid situations where he needs to be accountable whether it’s discussing what he’s been doing all day, discussing business, discussing plans for holidays or plans for budgets. He’s always been this way even before marriage. He avoids any responsibility to family and home and expects me to assume the role of caregiver and parent. Norman wants to live like a rebellious teenager that has no boundaries or responsibilities. He’s never been here for me, EVER. He’s never once participated in any holidays other than just showing up to receive his presents and eat. He is one of those guys who wants to work and then just come home like a teenager, eat the meal mom fixed, go to his room and watch tv or whatever. If I’m sick, he doesn’t even acknowledge it, will change the subject very fast and avoid me at all costs. So anyway, the therapist wants him to play more. Everyone needs down time and vacations but what she doesn’t know ( apparently) is that Norman chooses to work harder than he has to because he’s so deliberately inefficient, wasteful, careless/creates a lot of mistakes that take time to fix and he plays all the time while he works. He hangs out with customers and chats for an hour, wasting time, losing productivity and money which causes him to lose about 14 hours at least each week…14 hours that he could have to enjoy at the end of his work week. Norman, like other busy people in the world could still plan ahead to create free time but he doesn’t do that by choice. I’ve certainly tried to help him but, he doesn’t want to make me/us happy or successful.. Good grief, make me happy? That would defy the laws of evil and he can’t have that! Norman creates his own misery and then cries victim. He’s certainly not a victim of my control at all.. he’s a victim of his own need to control everything by sabotaging progress, degrading progress, devaluing his money and personal property, demoralizing and disrespecting his wife and marriage. He’s just like all the men in his family. The only way for him to control our outcomes is by opposing all that is good for us and turning us into their caged animals.

      • PS…to above:
        Another reason Norman likes to work so much is that he gets his narcissistic supply from customers. He loves attention, loves praise, loves admiration and even lately he makes comments about how all his women customers want him sexually. For the last 18 years, Norman comes home whenever he wants to and has given me about 15 minutes per day/night to discuss adult matters affecting our life and even then, he had nothing to add, no comment, no concern and just ignored me. If I call him, he won’t answer his phone and IF he does call me back, it’s only when he’s sitting in the driveway and that’s just so he can say that he called me back. Norman is a lice that sucks the life force out of me. I live been isolated and kept in the dark all the time and because I’m not a paranoid person or a clingy person who needs to call him or check up on him, he abuses that quality in me. He claims not to have any friends but yet, he hangs out with people after work and during work and has all sorts of things to talk about relative to them but never wants to discuss anything relative to me or our life together. Yet, he cries that he’s so alone and has no friends or family, no fun, no love, no anything. Poor Norman.
        I also meant to say in my last sentence that the only way for these men ( vs. Norman) to control our outcomes….

      • It’s almost freaky reading your comments as it is EXACTLY the story of my marriage! I really don’t need to add anything at all. Thank you for your empathy, it helps. Please leave him asap!

    • paescapee, I’m glad that you wrote about how your husband would change after you separated for a few months and then revert back to his usual bad character. This is so typical! It’s so awful. I can hear in your words that you’ve been through a lot and if your husband truly was like Norman, oh my gosh dear lady, my heart goes out to you. It’s a miracle that you and I are still here, breathing and able to think and write at all. I’m sure you’ve had days when you couldn’t even do that. I understand.
      When our spouses pretend to be nice and then revert, it’s those harsh realizations that hurt me the most because I feel like such an idiot. It really kicks the life out of me and I can literally feel my body becoming exhausted and drained. Anyway, I sometimes wonder if Norman will change and how he will be toward me once I’m completely moved out. I also have thoughts about how he is using me to set up home in a new place so that he can come join me and will not have lifted a finger to help me. Norman has been commenting how he will help me move and he’ll come visit me, etc.. I told him that I thought it was best if he just stayed away. I’m so terrified that he will fill my house with negative energy and ruin everything for me if he even crosses the threshold.

      ((( HUGS)))

      • Just read this- how lovely of you, thank you. Be careful because I think they undermine your decision-making confidence so much that you literally can’ t tell up from down. I haven’ t told my ex where I live! Bit anxious about revenge.

      • Exodus, your fears about him encroaching into your new life and home are well-founded. I hope you will put up strong boundaries and go as “no contact” as possible. It would be nice if he didn’t even have to know your new address. Can you give him a p.o. box number for legal stuff?

  9. I can relate to everything you say here.

    I have finally accepted that my abusive (soon to be ex husband) has to want to change, indeed he has to recognise that he has a problem in the first place. Without these two conditions, nothing will actually change.

    Your reference to abuser’s trying to extract timelines is very familiar to me. He is so good at applying pressure and talking about what should be done and how it has to be done but there is no talk about how sorry he is only how he is a changed man after two sessions of counselling.

    I have let go and realised that he is an adult and has to take responsibility for the first time!

    Thank you for your very informative and well-written post post.

  10. Pingback: Why offering an abuser a checklist for recovery does not work. « StarkravingInsanity

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