Dear friends,

Thank you for your prayers. I have felt them and continue to ask God for his guidance as to pacing and scheduling.

Watch your mailbox later this week. My newsletter will be coming out Thursday entitled Are you Guilty of Being Too Nice?

I get many questions from women who wonder what their responsibility or obligation is sexually when their husband treats them disrespectfully and abusively. Although I will answer this question much more fully in my new book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, I thought I would touch on this very touchy topic today and get your thoughts.

If you’ve encountered this situation in your own marriage, please, share how you have handled it.

Question: I’ve been married for 25 years to an emotionally and verbally abusive man. I feel angry and bitter toward him for the way he treats me, yet he still expects me to be loving and affectionate with him, especially in bed. I can’t do it. What does God expect me to do?

Answer: No one likes feeling like an object. Husbands sometimes complain to me that they feel that their wives treat them like a paycheck. Wives complain that they don’t feel like a loved person but merely a sexual object or a slave. Marriage is the most sacred and intimate relationship we have, apart from our relationship with God. When one person (or both people) continually disrespects, mistreats or lies to the other, intimacy is broken. It can be rebuilt but not without genuine repentance and hard work.

From what you say, it sounds as if your husband believes he’s entitled to the benefits of married life (sexual intimacy, your affection and love, not to mention normal care) without having to do his part. He doesn’t seem to understand that having a good and loving relationship requires two people to interact with one another with kindness and respect. His emotionally abusive behavior is driving you further away from him. Does he just want sex from you? Or true intimacy?

The Bible calls us to love, not hate. That command includes our enemies. But what does biblical love look like towards your husband? Biblical love isn’t necessarily feelings of affection or warmth, but actions that are directed toward another person’s long term best interests. Is it in your husband’s long term best interest to be sexually available to him so that his sexual needs are met? Perhaps. But that is not a solution to your relationship problem. It is just a solution to his sexual frustration.

Another way to look at this situation is that it is in your husband’s best interest to let him experience the felt consequences of broken intimacy and tell him that, when he treats you disrespectfully, you’re too angry to feel warmth and affection towards him. When he’s not sorry he treats you that way, it makes it impossible for you to feel affectionate toward him. You need to have a calm conversation with him regarding your feelings. Here’s a sample of something you might say.

I know you get very frustrated when I’m not responsive to your sexual needs. You want me to be sexual with you and enjoy our physical relationship, but the way you treat me much of the time makes me feel angry and hurt. When you call me names or degrade me in front of the children, the last think I feel like doing is being warm and affectionate towards you. If you want genuine intimacy and affection, you will need to work on changing the way you treat me. Wouldn’t you rather have someone who wants to get close and affectionate with you rather than someone who is just doing her duty?

Most men I talk with want closeness with their wives. Men find the touch channel easier than the talk channel. Try expressing your feeling about being just an object versus a person. This may help him see the impact of his behavior, not only on you, but on him.

5 Comments

  1. Anonymous on February 27, 2012 at 7:38 pm

    I totally agree with Leslie. And I totally understand where the person asking the question is coming from. I was 'dying inside' in what I didn't understand at the time was actually a verbally abusive relationship. The way my husband treated me (although not phsyically abusive) was emotionally destructive and it also destroyed my natural desire for sexual intimacy. Wanting to honor God and marriage, I stayed in the relationship, not realizing that tolerating his unacceptable treatment of me was enabling him to continue his behavior, devoid of consequences. Several books, including Leslie's, helped me identify the dynamics in my relationship that were abusive. I realized it wasn't me that was doing the active destruction, but that I wasn't stepping out of the way to let God and the consequences of his behavior give him a chance to see what he was doing. Several books, lots of prayer, two separations, Al-Anon, and counseling for both of us has led to my husband turning his life over to the Lord and going to a year of counseling on his own. Things are much better now, especially because I can identify the abusive behavior and say "NO!". Sometimes abusive partners don't ever see what they are doing and continue to blame it on the other, but in my case, I realized what was going on and after much prayer (and explaining things to him), removed myself from the relationship by separating from him (making a boundary about how I was going to be treated). We eventually did get back together (the first time was too early–I learned a lot too, including that he need to demonstrate a behavioral change instead of just admit to his part). There were times when I never thought I would regain sexual feelings towards my husband, but as he has grown (albeit ever so slowly at times!) he admits more of what he has done and takes responsibility for his behaviors that have caused me so much pain as to withdraw from him. I thank God for putting back together what was already destroyed–which is really what is going on if the husband is verbally abusing (unknowingly or knowingly) his spouse.

  2. Anonymous on March 1, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    This was a huge issue for me in my marriage too– and being told constantly that the bible demanded I not withhold myself from him, in subtle ways blaming me for the problems, just piled on more guilt. I finally did what Leslie advised, explaining the consequences of his behavior to my heart–and asking him truly if that was what he wanted–me doing my duty just to please his sexual needs. He said, No, of course not– but if that was all he could get, he would take it.

    God used this utterly selfish response so powerfully in my life to speak to my heart– by letting me know that He desired my husband to care for my heart and my feelings, and that was the environment His word spoke to about being available sexually. Not this environment. But He never intended for me to sacrifice my heart for my husband's selfishness–that was His job. And I was now completely free to set that boundary for my own health and emotionally safety.

    This did not go over well, as well as other limits I enforced with regard to his behavior, my husband left within months. He is saying he's "working" at it, but even in his limited emails I permit with regard to our teenagers, he is still ever so subtly making it clear that my distance is the main obstacle to any reconciliation.

    I know that God can heal this relationship, but I also know he can only work with people who are willing… and I strongly suspect that if my husband hasn't "got it" in 23 years and being out of my life for 14 months (so far), despite hours and hours of counseling, he likely never will. I also know that it was unloving for years to allow him to behave in ways so contrary to the love of God that it poisoned me, him, and our kids.

    And I also know that God has been faithful beyond belief to the kids and I as we have gone through this trial, every painful step of the way. It probably won't work out the way I wanted, but it will work out to His glory nonetheless.

  3. Anonymous on March 6, 2012 at 12:46 am

    Dear friend (Anonymous),

    I could have written your post except for the fact my husband has not left. Though he abandoned me long ago in his heart, he prefers living a double identity – pretending before family and church that he is seeking relational reconciliation but that I am unwilling… He conveniently leaves out the truth that he is emotionally and spiritually abusive, unrepentent, and continuing to prove himself unsafe to have relationship with. It is indeed heart-breaking that at this point after 28 yrs. of marriage and lies, there is little liklihhood of a happy ending, but, like you, I trust God to make something out of the broken pieces…

  4. Karen on March 6, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    I would like to thank you Leslie and the 3 women who left comments. These have all been a confirmation for me that I doing the right thing. I am in a similar situation. I separated from my verbally/emotionally abusive spouse in July 11. I believe he is a sex-addict (tho, he doesn't go on the computer to porn sites). I am wife 3 and it was 4 1/2 years of total degradation toward me except when he wanted sex, then he was the most loving man alive. I have been attending a Christian support group that is talking about boundaries. I have learned alot that when you do put up with it over and over, you are enabling them to continue that behavior. As Leslie says, we each have to "own" our own wrongs. Since leaving him, I am growing closer to the Lord and working on owning my wrongs. I have been bitter and judgmental. I can see clearly now how the Lord intended marriage to be. I still love my sweetie dearly and I am believing in a miracle from our gracious Father to soften his heart and own his wrongs so we can be the family God intended us to be. You all are in my prayers.

  5. Anonymous on March 26, 2012 at 1:29 am

    Thank you all for sharing your hearts. My story is much the same. I have been struggling with feelings that I am wrong for not being intimate on a regular basis with my husband who has not worked in 3 + years,and has excuse after excuse as to why he is not working. He is very emotionally abusive and it is clear that he does not love me. I just read Leslie's book How to Act Right….
    I am trying to apply the prinicples learned to my present situation. The knowledge and peace that I gained knowing that God is all I need and He loves me unconditionally was such a relief. Now this blog has confirmed that the decisions I am making to set boundaries is correct and Godly. I am still struggling with the actual application and how to communicate this to my spouse when we very rarely have actual dialogue about anything meaningful, of substance, or of a Godly nature. Please pray for me and I will pray for you.

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