Good Monday friends,
Thank you for all for sharing your favorite things this past week. Many of you responded privately to my e-mail address and so the winning name was chosen from all who responded. And the winner of my book, Lord I Just Want to be Happy is Renee V. We will contact you to get your mailing address.
The older I get the more I’m aware of my need for connection and community. I would love to have this blog function not only as a helpful resource for hurting individuals but also as a supportive community to share with one another our struggles, our battle plan, and God’s words of wisdom and help, especially as it relates to difficult relationships.
Today’s Question: It took me many years to know (almost) for sure that my husband is emotionally abusive. In the beginning of our relationship it seemed like a fairy tale. I wanted to make him happy. I catered to his every need. I do want to add that I was not a Christian when we met. I would look for love any way I could get it and thought that usually meant through sex and being servant-like to guys.
So my husband seemed wonderful and made me feel secure at first, but soon that all changed. I was a stay-at-home mom, and he took control of all the money. He would not give me money to do laundry at the Laundromat. He had to come with me to the grocery store. He refused to pay the bills but bought himself whatever he wanted.
He told me I was too sensitive and that I always make him out to be the bad guy. He lied to me about small things and big things and said (and still says) that he has never lied to me and that I always think the worst of him.
Once I became a Christian, a light went on in my head. I was worth something. We have been married 16 years and have two boys. My oldest son wants me to leave. He says “mom he treats you (us) terrible.”
I feel like I am crazy one minute and then the next minute I know that it’s emotional abuse.
This morning my husband said, “You seem to think I lie to you all the time when I have never lied to you.” He can seem so calm and in control at times and so out of control others. He will not listen to me, and when I comment about his behavior or something he said, he tells me “that’s ridiculous” or “you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Am I crazy or what? What are my next steps?
Answer: It feels crazy, doesn’t it? My heart goes out to you and anyone else who lives this way. This doesn’t sound like a healthy marriage but more like a POW camp. Here’s the deal. Nothing will change if nothing changes. That means that if you want something to be different, you will need to initiate some changes. Why? Because the way it is right now is not only toxic for you and your boys but, believe it or not, it’s destructive for your husband as well.
First, it’s important for you to get some good Christian support. When we are isolated, the words of an abusive person ring truer than when we have other voices to listen to. I recently read Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. It’s the true story of Louie Zamperini, an Olympic runner, who was a prisoner of war during WW2. Isolation was one of the tactics used by the Japanese to mentally and emotionally break the soldiers down. When they weren’t allowed to communicate with their fellow prisoners of war and receive support, comfort, and validation, it was impossible for many of them to stay strong, hopeful and even sane.
But, another important thing I realized as I read this book is that the Japanese soldiers who treated American prisoners inhumanly didn’t feel good either. Lording over someone and being cruel doesn’t only dehumanize and degrade the victim, it dehumanizes and degrades the person doing the abuse. For the best interests of everyone in your family, it’s time to initiate some changes.
There is a tremendous imbalance of power and control in your home. Your husband has all the power and control; you are the slave. He controls the finances. He controls the mood of the home. He controls what you do, where you go, and even tries to control what you think and how you feel. That’s why you are constantly questioning your own thoughts and feelings and ask yourself “am I crazy?” For example, he twists reality (saying, “I’ve never lied to you”) but your own gut and experience tells you something very different. That’s crazy making, and not God’s best for you, or for him.
On my website’s home page, there is an article called Is Marriage Supposed to be for Better or for Worse? God’s design for marriage is to be a partnership, not a dictatorship. When you became a Christian, you began to experience your true value and worth. Now it’s time to learn to live as if those things are true.
When you know and believe that you are a loved, valuable, worthwhile human being and live from that core place, toxic people lose their power to manipulate you. They can’t control and intimidate you as they once did when you felt worthless, dependent and needy.
From this new place, you can invite your spouse into some needed changes. If he refuses, don’t beg, plead, or badger or argue. Simply step back and allow him to experience his own core loneliness, unhappiness, and misery without taking responsibility for his feelings.
Here is an important insight that may help you understand your husband’s behavior. When a man doesn’t feel good about himself, he often gets mean. This doesn’t excuse his behavior, but if that’s one of the reasons he’s behaving the way he is, you might want to ask him to answer a question for you. When the time is right ask him:
“What is the single most important thing you want to be as a husband and father?”
His answer may surprise you. I doubt his response will reflect his current behaviors. I’ve never met an abusive man who said, “I want to be cruel, a dictator, a liar and someone who scares his family”. Deep down, most men want to be more loving husbands and fathers but don’t know how.
They get caught in their own internal lies, shame and self hatred over their inadequacies and failures (real and imagined) and usually do not know God’s forgiveness or the way out. Remember, that does not excuse his mean and controlling behaviors toward you but it may help you feel less crazy and enable you to actually feel some compassion (versus resentment) toward him as you speak up and require him to treat you and the children differently.
The next time he is disrespectful, abusive, or controlling, lovingly but firmly invite him to live up to his core values and treat you and your children from the person he wants to be, not how he feels in the moment. If he refuses (which he very well might do), then he not only loses the opportunity to grow as a husband and father, he loses the closeness and fellowship of his family. Unfortunately, sometimes consequences, including separation, are the only things that will wake him up enough to begin to want to change. Actually doing the hard work of change will be his next challenge.
That’s why you both need the support of loving people to help you on this journey. There is no short cut to growth and healing, but it is God’s will that you both know him and mature and live in the truth of who He is and who we are in Him.
Press on dear one. For your growth, for the wellbeing of your husband, and for the future of your boys and family, take these next courageous steps and see what God does.