The Mirror Motive

I hear it over and over in my coaching practice. “But he said he was a Christian!”

Well…words are cheap. The mouth has to match the motive and the only way to discern whether or not a man’s motive is genuine is to watch and wait.

And forgo emotional involvement until you know: Is his motive genuine or is he mirroring you to mislead you?

One of the best ways to test motive is to see how a man handles disagreement. A controlling man won’t stand for it. But if you always agree with him, you’ll never be able to detect deceit.

This story in Ezra 4 is a great example of men who claim to be Christians in order to gain control—men who study their prey, find out what is most important to them, copy their behavior and camouflage their intent.

When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the LORD, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, “Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here” (Ezra 4:1-2).


They tried to convince the exiles that they worshipped the same God, but it was only lip service.

When the people of Judah answered that they wanted to build it by themselves their enemies did an about face. They set out to discourage them and make them afraid to go on building. They even hired counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans.

Can you say devious? Can you say control and manipulation?

The story is a great example of what I call the mirror motive. In a new relationship, not all men who claim to serve the Lord really do.

In fact, as this story showcases, when they don’t get what they want they actually turn around and work against you. Men with false motives often use Christianity as a cover to get what they want.

They use the faith connection to establish a facade of trust and intimacy so that they can later build a platform of control.

They’ll text you a good morning message and throw in the praying hands emoji or say something like, “May God bless your day today!” They’ll sprinkle the conversation with a devotional they read that day. They may have really read the devotional, but it was only to convince you of their spiritual commitment.

They aren’t legit. They’re counterfeit.

That’s why in relationships it’s so important to not fall for what men say. Men who are manipulative are great at mirroring. They’ll find out what your highest priorities and passionate interests are and in an effort to woo you they’ll claim to have the same interests. It’s a way of establishing common ground. One of the greatest tactics is using faith to create a strong bond.

They think it’s easy to mislead Christians. Not because we lack discernment, but because one of the foundations of our faith is trust.

But blind trust gets us into trouble. Salt looks just like sugar, so do your due diligence. 

They’re skilled at using spiritual faith fuzzies to warm your heart. They know that faith is a powerful intimacy connector. Not only does it connect you on a soul level, sharing a faith connection builds a platform for a spiritual connection. That’s why If they know your faith is very important to you, men who are controlling and manipulative will use scripture and faith as a way to establish instant intimacy and worm their way into your heart.

These men seek out women who have weak boundaries. Like a puppet and a puppeteer, the relationship works well until the puppet decides to cut the strings. When the cords are cut, the puppeteer feels threatened and angry. They’ll do everything in their power to restring the puppet. It can get difficult and even nasty before the situation gets healthy, but there is a simple way of escape.

Just say NO.

April’s Story

After two failed abusive marriages, April continued to gravitate toward charming men. By the time she realized how manipulative and controlling Brandon was, she was in deep. He drank heavily and she caught him lying about being with other women. But he was going to church with her and said all the right things about wanting to change.

She believed his words over his actions. She called it off several times, but Brandon, like most manipulative men, pursued and persisted her with the tenacity of a lion after its next meal. Reluctantly, April continued to give him several more chances.

“He wouldn’t leave me alone. He knew where I hung out and he’d show up and beg to talk. He’d come to church and sit right next to me. I couldn’t tell him to move…at church.”

April tossed her long brunette locks over her shoulder. “Then I’d wonder. What if he really had changed? He keeps telling me that he’s going to counseling. Maybe I should reconsider. What if I’m wrong?”

Even though April continued to see social media posts of Brandon partying with other women, his charm continued to convince her that he was changing. Plagued by self-doubt, April went back and forth with him. Like a Ferris wheel of ups and downs, the relationship spun in a predictable spiral for over two years.

When a surge of reality hit, April had a final talk with Brandon and blocked his number on her phone, but it never stuck. Brandon would pressure her to talk after church and she’d unblock him again.

Calling off the relationship for good was beyond April’s comfort zone. She worried about being judgmental and felt guilty for not believing the best in others.

She worried about not honoring God’s call to love in 1 Corinthians 13: Love is patience, bears one another’s burdens, keeps no records of wrongs, is not easily provoked or demand its own way.

She didn’t know how to honor God’s word without being a doormat.


Because as a physician’s assistant, April’s core strengths are kindness, compassion and mercy. The perfect recipe for Satan to twist into his own version of a Christian concierge—one who serves at the rude, self-seeking, arrogant demands of another.

Satan is a master at perverting our greatest strengths and using them against us. He longs to turn us into puppets, pulling our strings so we never find the freedom we’re meant to have.

He strangled April’s kindness and convinced her that being firm and assertive was aggressive and rude. Standing up to Brandon and ending the relationship filled made her feel judgmental.

Satan twisted her compassion and magnified it into a sense of false guilt.

Then he transformed her mercy into a mountain of self-doubt that prevented her from closing the door on the relationship.

As a result, Brandon didn’t take her seriously.


April had enough.

Up until recently, her actions didn’t match her words. Her countenance defied her tongue and he could tell that she didn’t mean what she said, so he kept pressing.

But when April came to realize that discernment is not judgment and boundaries are how healthy women guard their heart, she began to embrace new behaviors that changed her identity. She’s no longer vulnerable. She’s strong and confident. And now she’s prepared with God’s wisdom to enjoy a healthy relationship.

If you’ve struggled with relationships like April once did, let me encourage you.

As hard as it seems, He prepares us all.

It’s through our struggles that we find growth…

and finally decide to cut the strings.

Want more discernment in relationships? Click below to get my free Relationship Risk Assessment, Foolproof Ways to Tell If He’s Right for You. 

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32 Responses to The Mirror Motive

  1. jana hanna at #

    I enjoyed this article and will considering taking your lessons.

    • Christy Johnson at #

      I’d love to have you! I’m also considering doing a session based on my Relationship Risk Assessment, spotting yellow flags and learning to discern character in potential relationships.

    • Kaberil Snyder at #

      Wow if that wasn’t spot on. I’ve been in almost this very scenario for the past 13 years. Honestly it is like you wrote it straight from my mouth. But God…. Praise him I finally came across by his hand a counselor that helped me heal…. I know who’s I am… I am the child of the One true King… I am a princess… thank you for your encouraging message I thank you so much and I pray God continues to move through you ❤️

      • Christy Johnson at #

        Thank you for your encouragement Kaberil. I’m so thankful that God never gives up on us and pray His power continues to increase in you!

  2. Dana at #

    And what if I’ve already married him? What then? I love my husband and am fervently praying for his salvation, but his need to have female coworkers as his “best friends” and treating me as second best most of the time are taking its toll on me. Where do I go from here? I left a job I really loved, a city and church I felt at home in and all my friends and moved to another state just for him. Thank goodness I have a church that’s awesome and that I go to to be refreshed and renewed each week.

    • Christy Johnson at #

      I’m sorry for what you’re experiencing. Unfortunately, we can’t change anyone else but ourselves. But that is where the power and grace of God comes in. Often, as we change and learn to love ourselves, manage our expectations, keep bitterness out and set healthy boundaries, it causes change for the better in our relationships as well. Sometimes, that doesn’t happen, but WE get better! We’ll cover these topics and more in the group coaching course.

  3. Dana at #

    PS- That’s a rhetorical question simply because I know what needs to be done now. I am not a fan of divorce (been there once already), nor will I be pursuing that avenue. I will, however, be allowing God to guide me in the spiritual warfare I now find myself in. Whether he’s actually cheating or not, I don’t know for sure, at this point, but he sure has become very secretive and gets upset at the slightest thing. My gosh, but how I wish I had read this article 3 years ago.

    And so now, I fight this ‘war’ with prayer, Scripture, and trusting my Lord to lead and guide me. Blessings to you for all the hard work you put in to build up and encourage so many women who truly need it.

    • Christy Johnson at #

      I gained most of my wisdom in the hard places, but looking back, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I trust that God will keep you as you trust in Him and He will grow you in spite of your difficulties. That’s a promise in His word. The end result of suffering is the hope that never disappoints. Romans 5:3.

      • Dana at #

        Thank you for your encouraging words and for the truths you put out here for women to become stronger than they ever believed they could. Your article was an eye opener for me too and I just wanted to thank you for all you do. May you be blessed abundantly and given God’s favor wherever you go.

  4. J Johnson at #

    This was such an eye opener for me. I put my ex out May 2011. Our divorce was final November 7, 2011. He was my third husband. I don’t trust men. I have had it. I prayed and prayed still picked a dud, a master manipulator and controller. I am loving my life with out a man. It’s me and God . My kids are grown and my son just had my first grandchild. I enjoy my dog and church. I don’t know if I can ever trust again. The pain was to great and the deception is awful. Learning to love myself and leave the rest to God. Your articles are awesome! Signed Still healing and learning.

    • Christy Johnson at #

      I’m glad you’re learning to love yourself. That is a great step toward healing. If you do ever decide to date again, please read my Relationship Risk Assessment first! You can get it at

      • J Johnson at #

        Thank you Christy! Will do!

  5. Christy,

    What a wonderful article! So much truth!

    I have a Ministry for Women and I hear so many similar stories!

    So glad you are sharing these messages !


    • Christy Johnson at #

      Thank you Susie! Once we’ve been set free, we are compelled to help others!

  6. YESSSSS Christy!!! I LOVE this article! I will be sharing it with others. This is SO NEEDED! Love you to LIFE Sis!

    Forever His,
    God’s Girl

    • Christy Johnson at #

      Love you too Chiquita! Blessings to you and your ministry!

  7. Jubilee at #

    Hi,I cannot believe the timing of this article – you just could have replaced my name. It encouraged me to block the man I allowed in whom Satan used and used the entire situation to fill me with guilt , doubt , fear and anxiety. God spoke to me he has better for me and I am not afraid to wait for that even if it doesn’t include a mate if that’s God’s will them so be it. For three years it’s been a roller coaster with this man an alleged Christian who has been in and out of jail rehab and recovering from addiction, constantly disappearing on me for days and even months, apologizing only to do it again and begging me to bare with him as he goes through deep physical pain but has burned the candle so much that I can’t do it anymore. Not calling for days after telling me how he loved me and saying he was in pain and then calls and once again doesn’t call back after he said he would or text always with an excuse – pain , no more minutes , busy , sleeping had to shut the phone off to rest ….. Leaving me wondering always is he with someone else ,is he using avian ?Yesterday as he spoke to me I heard another phone ring. Apparently he has two phones but denied it. Because of my love. For him and the godly love I have I always forgive and go back to him but have been praying for God’s will. Then I read this article and well the scales fell off and I said enough is enough. Cut the strings once again and FULLY trust in God in everything including a relationship. Yes I wonder will be change will I miss it but God spoke to me are you willing to accept my will , this is part of my will and plan and I have better for you. So thankful for a savior who allowed me to see the unhealthiness and toxicity of the relationship and that some people will just mimic without any action and try to get away with things because they know you’re loving and compassionate. Yes it hurts , I was used but God is using this for his glory

  8. Maryanne at #

    Thank you God for the message, I am in a relationship where I feel its emotional abusive and it is close to the wedding date we choose. Sometimes I feel like I am too harsh with my decision to leave him but then he makes it clear that he is mirroring my past back and I should never judge him. I do want to leave him but then am reminded that I am 28years old and need to start my own family soon. I don’t know how to meet men so I don’t have any other relationships.

  9. Lin at #

    I wish I’d read this article 20 years ago. My first husband led a secret life and when I found out about it I lost it. He finally divorced me and I went on to make 4 more bad marriage choices. Shame on me! I chose men who were manipulative and abusive and my most recent was a narcissist who had to make everything about him. I endured that abuse for 12 years. About 6 months after that relationship (and the narcissist was already remarried at that point in time) I met a man that I thought was wonderful. A nice Christian man who treated me like Gold.

    Unfortunately, Mr. Treated me like Gold had a drug addiction and after 4 years of vacillating back and forth with this, I told him he had to either leave or go to rehab. He chose to leave and he lived on the streets for 8 weeks before he called and asked me to take him to rehab. I finally took him and things were better, for a time.

    Now, he’s been there a year and wants to come home (he can’t, he burned that bridge with the landlord and I can’t afford to move). Of course, now, suddenly, it’s a good idea to get married. I told him that the only way I’ll marry him is if he can stay clean and sober for one year outside of rehab. It’s easy to stay clean and sober when you’re living under a microscope.

    I’ve become stronger, I’ve become closer to God, and I’m not worried about what he’s doing anymore. I went through a series of dates that were ridiculous and I’ve decided that when God has Mr. Right directly in front of me, I’ll know it. Whether or not it’s Mr. Treated me like Gold or not remains to be seen.

    I have a new job, and new pets and I’m happy. I don’t need a man to be happy, I only need God! Thank you for this article, it gives me strength and hope as I do sometimes struggle and want to go back to Mr. Treated me like Gold and get married, but I know that I must wait it out and see what happens. Can he live a year clean and sober? I don’t know. I hope so. I go with him to the dr and I am supportive of him without opening myself up to his manipulation. I’ve learned to say “NO” when he wants me to do something that just isn’t on the list of what I should be doing. He gets mad, but I stand firm.

    Thank you so much for this, I’m bookmarking it to revisit if I feel weak.


  10. Christy Johnson at #

    I hate that there are so many of you in toxic relationships, but thankful that you read this post. The best way out of abuse is to learn to value YOU. In relationships, you have to learn to trust the voice of the Holy Spirit. If you are a believer, He lives inside each of you! His sheep hear His voice. But when you allow doubt to prevail, the devil’s voice wins. You become vulnerable, over trusting, naive and a magnet to abusive men. Abusive is not just physical. You don’t have to have bruises. Domestic abuse also includes verbal abuse, sexual abuse, financial abuse, manipulation and control. But there is a way out. LOVE YOURSELF. When you don’t love ourselves, we are violating Jesus’ command to love others AS you (FIRST) love yourself. You are the vessel of the Holy Spirit. If He lives inside of you, you are worthy of love. But if you don’t have that revelation, you’ll gravitate toward men who don’t honor you either. You teach others how to treat you by what you tolerate. But the more you learn to love yourself and cherish the gift of God inside of you, the healthy relationships you will attract and enjoy.

  11. Adebola at #

    Wonderful article.

    Just goes to show that the number of years spent in a relationship doesn’t have to lead to marriage.

  12. Teisha Mahoney at #

    My God what awesome confirmation ! Thank God for reinforcing the message that he loves his daughter just as much as he loves his sons! It is hard to believe at times there are still good Christian men out there! But they do exist! You also have to know to pray and trust God he will bring them! And yes discernment is a must! Thank you for sharing this word! So many women are trapped like this! Including me! But I am free and single now. And I am finally ok with it! God bless!

    • Christy Johnson at #

      Yes, discernment is a must! And since we all have blind spots when it comes to relationships, it’s important to intentionally spend quality time with your guy around others who have the wisdom to see things that you may miss. Give them permission to speak into your life about things they’ve noticed and listen!

  13. Jody at #

    When married, and trying to honor Gods view on marriage and divorce, how and when can you leave a narcissistic spouse? Am I biblically bound to someone who chooses porn over me, tells me repeatedly its porn or he has an affair, is emotionally and verbally abusive, does not apologize, disrespects me in front of children by yelling and calling me names… just to name a few. This is my 2nd marriage and I don’t want to disobey God…

    • Christy Johnson at #

      Hi Jody,
      This is a really difficult question to answer. I believe that faithfulness to one another in the covenant of marriage goes beyond the bounds of sexual integrity. In other words, a spouse can be unfaithful without having an affair. Unfaithfulness covers not only adultery, but domestic abuse as well. Many women think that domestic abuse means physical abuse, domestic abuse covers emotional abuse, verbal abuse, financial abuse, spiritual abuse and mental abuse as well. Additionally, Jesus held us to a higher standard. He said that if a man (or woman) looks at another with lust, they’ve already committed adultery. I interpret this to mean that porn is visual adultery. 
      One of the best articles I’ve ever read on the subject of divorce is by Leslie Vernick. You can read it at 
      But….even if one has Biblical grounds for divorce, it’s dangerous to move forward without God’s direction. Some women stay too long because they’ve misunderstood scripture and think God wants them to endure abuse. But just as many leave before God has released them. Sometimes (as was my case) God was using my first marriage to refine me. To teach me how to forgive, set healthy boundaries, guard my heart, learn the secret of being content and placing my hope, trust and confidence in God instead of my husband. I’m confident that if I had bailed my first marriage before God had completed the work He wanted to do in me, I would have been drawn to another toxic relationship. 
      Pray how God wants you to respond. Hasty decisions are not wise. If you decide to leave, leave well. And if you decide to stay…stay well. 

  14. Terreasia Bromell at #

    This sounds way to familiar to me. My husband seems to the same thing as Brandon in the story. I don’t understand it. He prays, but doesn’t read the Bible, he’ll go to church but he won’t do a simple bible study research when we have a disagreement to see what the word of God has to say about the situation. I see that in him. But I still love him and want our marriage to work.

  15. Abby Eastman at #

    Thank you so much Christy. I was married to a man who claimed he was a Christian, went to youth group, the whole 9 yards. 21 years later and God exposing his porn addiction and infidelity multiple times I finally had enough. I filed for divorce on December 11th, 4 days after our sons 9th birthday. Our son has been in therapy for aggressiveness and our daughter was exposed to his porn addiction. That was my breaking point. My pastor shared with me that I am Biblically covered for a divorce and as of February 9th I am a divorcee. There have been really rough days because I was the puppet for the narcissist manipulator but I am building a stronger relationship with God and “feeling” better and stronger every day!

  16. Carmen at #

    This is a wonderful article! I had to learn the hard way as the article explained. Now I enjoy my healthy boundaries, my relationship with the Lord is growing and I have Peace! I also use healthy boundaries with my friendships. When I see someone is trying to get me to compromise my values, I tell them “no, this is outside of my boundary”.

  17. Ali Pupuhi at #

    Hey Christy, thank you so much for this article! I’m in this same scenario and actually married my guy. He convinced me the Lord brought us together and that we should get married right away. I was naive and believed him and we married after 2 weeks of dating. Now less than a year of marriage we are already separated because of his verbal and mental abuse and manipulation. I am getting stronger and learning to set boundaries but he knows how to send messages with Bible verses at just the right time. I want to believe he’s changing but I honestly don’t know so I’m just putting God first and trusting Him more.

    • Christy Johnson at #

      Using scripture to manipulate is spiritual abuse and is often so covert it’s hard to identify. It’s a effective form of control for another reason. Women who love God want to honor his word. Look for the twisted truth. Satan knows God’s word too. He used it to tempt Jesus in the desert. But Jesus recognized the lie tucked inside the truth. Covert spiritual manipulators cover a lie by concealing it in truth, but when you pay attention to the witness inside of you, the Holy Spirit guiding you and you know the truth, you can stay protected from this hideous control.

  18. Suzee at #

    I married a “Christian” man in 2014 who said all the right things, and even appeared to do the right things (involved in church, small group, etc.) When he moved to my town, my church, and my home, everything changed. He no longer seemed to be interested in praying together, getting involved in a local small group, or even attending church. He would attend church, but as soon as service ended, he would hustle out to the car and sit there ranting to my kids about how long I was taking. He was a sober alcoholic who started drinking a month into our marriage. Soon after, I found a terrific Christian counselor who helped me understand that it was not just an alcohol problem. She helped me recognize the emotional, spiritual and financial abuse I was under. I was also pretty sure he was in to porn. When physical intimacy has no spiritual or emotional intimacy and you feel more like a device than a person, it is likely. But I had no proof. A month shy of our 2 year anniversary I was able to have him move out due to his continued drinking. My pastor supported me in this. However, my pastor was also a victim of my husband’s manipulation and began to side with him when my husband (pretended) to want reconciliation citing that I was abandoning him; that I would change the criteria for him coming home once he’d met the previous criteria. He sobbed and cried, trying to circle the wagons for his cause. It worked on my pastor, but not the men’s group he tried to join to discredit me.

    Anyway, after 7 months of separation (the last two where I thought I’d seen some positive changes and was working toward reconciliation) I found out he was actively using a dating app. I found out right after sleeping with him. He was in the shower and he received a text from another woman. That was the straw. When I told my pastor that I was seeking divorce because of his unfaithfulness I was told I did not have Biblical grounds for divorce because he had not broken the one-flesh covenant. I was about to be brought under church discipline because I filed for divorce. Then, a month later, my husband died in a motorcycle accident (no one else involved thankfully). His BAC was .174 (super drunk), had high amounts of marijuana, ambien, paxil, and hydrocodone in his blood. After going through his belongings in his apartment, I found sex toys, loads of alcohol, and porn on his computer – where he had actively participated. He obviously hid this from everyone. He was a high-functioning alcoholic and master manipulator.

    While I’ve come to terms with our marriage and his death, I find I harbor resentment toward my pastor. I understand he was duped as well, but how do I address him? Even 4 years later I am angry with him. I don’t understand how he could take the word of a man who bore no fruit and was barely acquainted with then disregard me, someone who was an active and engaged part of the body for 6 years prior to marrying my husband. I feel more abused by the church.

    Thank you for your work!

    • Christy Johnson at #

      Your story is all too common and I’m sooo sorry for everything you’ve been through. Not having the support of your pastor in the midst of an abusive marriage must have been so difficult. At least you had a qualified counselor to help you understand what was happening. Unfortunately, pastors are not always qualified to counsel, especially in destructive marriage situations. They often hold fast to strict interpretations of scripture about marriage and divorce and believe that divorce is never an option, unless PROOF of infidelity exists.

      Jesus, however, held the law to a higher standard and said that even if a man lusts after a woman, he’s already committed adultery. But I believe that besides infidelity, there are a multitude of ways a man can be unfaithful to his wife. When he fails to protect her emotionally, abuses scripture and finances to control her, uses deceit, verbal abuse, sarcasm…. all of those actions are a violation of scripture that admonish men to love his wife as he loves his own body.

      You asked about forgiving your pastor. Forgiving him doesn’t mean that what he did was right. He was conned as well. And apparently he has a different interpretation of scriptures regarding divorce. While I find that doctrinal perspective legalistic, often the same vulnerabilities that draw us to abusive men can also make us vulnerable to a legalistic and abusive church culture. 
      Ultimately, forgiving him doesn’t mean he has to acknowledge that you were right. Nor does forgiving him mean you have to trust him again. Forgiving is for you. Forgiving him will release you from the burden of bitterness. 

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