Morning friends,

Thanks for your prayers about my time off.  It didn’t turn out exactly how I had planned but life rarely does.  God had other ideas and I stayed home most of the week, but had a wonderful time this past weekend at my nephew’s wedding. It is always refreshing to see love blossom and grow and to see two young people commit themselves to care, protect, honor, and be faithful to one another.  The challenge is to keep our promises over the long haul, even when it’s hard, even when you don’t feel like it.

I’m going to be sending out a survey in the next few days to my entire mailing list.  If you aren’t already part of my general mailing list, please go be sure to sign up on my homepage for a free article on 9 Common Tactics of Manipulators and What You Need to Counter Them.  This survey will help me get to know you better and how I might best serve your needs.  After filing out the brief survey, as my thank you for helping me, you will immediately receive a link to download a new E-Book I wrote called, Developing A Family Approach to Adversity. 

Today’s Question:  Leslie, I want to thank you for the new hope you have given me. Knowing I am understood is a gift in itself.

I have been a peace faker for 16 1/2 years. I spoke up at year 3 and it didn't go well. I am now working on a safety plan but my next step is there needs to be the 3 questions that you talk about in Chapter Nine of your new book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage.  The questions are you say to ask our spouse are:

1: Are you happy?

2: What do you see as our most important goal or challenge as a couple if we are going to improve our relationship?

3: What kind of father & husband do you desire to be?

I don't know when to implement the 3 questions or exactly how to use them. Could you explain more?

Answer:  Thank you for your question because I think there has been some confusion over how to ask these questions, why we’re to ask them, when we shouldn’t ask them, and what the answers to these three questions teach us about our spouse and where his heart is.

First, I state strongly in my book that you have to be prepared emotionally and mentally before you ask these questions.  If you’re not, don’t ask. It’s important that you have at least some CORE strength so you don’t retaliate if chooses to emotionally vomit on you when you ask these questions. Retaliating only escalates things and affirms his belief that you are the problem in the marriage and his unhappiness. That’s the last thing you want to reinforce.

The primary purpose of asking these questions is to invite your spouse to self-reflect, which abusive men never do.  They don’t ask themselves how they feel or why they feel that way or what part did they play in their unhappiness or poor decision-making. They don’t reflect on the kind of man they are becoming or who they want to be. Instead they blame, they accuse, they attack, and they shut down, but they do not reflect.

If you want to see if your husband has any potential or possibility to begin to “see” or “wake up” from his blindness, he must develop the capacity to self-reflect.  By asking these questions (from your CORE strength), you will get a glimpse into his willingness to reflect as well as his capacity to do so.  That’s why you need to stay calm and collected and compassionate when he starts to talk.  Otherwise he will flip into his usual mode of reacting.  (He may still do that even if you do stay calm, but taking care of your own part is your best shot).

The second purpose in asking these questions is to see what his answers are.  If he does take a moment to reflect, you may find out some things about him that will be helpful when you start to do the next step of confronting him.  The most important piece of information is the third question about his own desires about the kind of husband and father he’d most like to be (or become).  Often when we are talking to our destructive spouse, we are trying to hold them accountable to something they have no desire to do.  It would be like someone holding me accountable to give up sugar (which might be a good thing) but I’m not interested in doing it right now.

Therefore the information your husband gives you about the kind of person HE would most like to be, or his deeper values about what’s important to him in the way he parents or is a husband, does give you important clues into how you can motivate him and speak into his heart more wisely.  For example, if he says, He wants to be a godly example to his children, the next time he’s flipping out over something they did wrong, you can gently say something like, “I know you want to be a godly example to the kids and I think it would be good for you to take a few minutes to gather your thoughts together so you can handle this in a way you feel good about.”  This may help him stop and reflect about what he’s doing in the moment and whether or not it’s in line with his own stated values or desires.

In Chapter Nine of my book I talk about how Abigail spoke into King David’s heart (1 Samuel 25:23-33) when he was raging over what Nabal (her husband) had said.  She spoke into the person David wanted to be (a godly man, the future King of Israel) and that helped him to press pause and reflect on his current course of action, which was sinful and destructive and reactionary.  Her words stirred his heart to self-correct.  She couldn’t make him change, but she did invite him to think about what he was doing and feeling and whether his behaviors lined up with the person he wanted to be.

If you attempt to ask these questions and all you get is emotional abuse and vomiting all over you, stop the process and say, “I was hoping to invite you into a conversation about some important things.  I can’t listen to you when you talk to me this way.”  Then leave the room.

It’s important that you realize why you do this.  It’s not necessarily to get your spouse to change.  It’s to value and respect yourself.  But as you do this, your husband sees you are changing. As you protect yourself with boundaries (I will not allow myself to be provoked into crazymaking cycles) he sees that he can no longer control you like he once did.  Yes, that may make things worse for a while because it threatens him and he will attempt you to back down and go back to your cowering, placating ways.  But the alternative is more destruction and it only reinforces your husband’s idea that he can treat you however he wants and you simply must absorb his blows.  Not true.

The more you can stay firm yet calm, compassionate but clear – “I was hoping we could talk, but I can’t talk when you scream at me” he will see that you are no longer going to tolerate his bullying behavior.  That just might give him another opportunity to reflect on what he wants and what he needs to change if he wants you in his life.

These are tough steps, but I will remind you of Jesus’ words and final prayer for us, his followers.  He asked the Father to sanctify us by the truth. (John 17:17).  Truth is the way of healing.  Pretending, faking it, hiding and covering up sin only leads to more darkness.

Friends, did you use these three questions with your spouse yet?  What was the result?

23 Comments

  1. Emily on June 26, 2014 at 11:13 am

    Hi Leslie, I’m glad you had a good vacation. Praying for you – also as you are going to speak at Family Life, which I have not found to be so helpful in dealing with my destructive marriage. I keep thinking about what you wrote in regards to self-reflection. I wonder since my husband has ASD (or for other women married to narcissistic types) – the problem is that he only seems able to reflect on himself and his ideas – not mine. He insists that he is right, even when logically, I know there is another answer. When I prayed, God showed me that our marriage covenant is broken. That seemed to line up with verses I read and your counsel, regarding destructive relationships.

    Does that still make me an Ezer then?? I read one interesting translation here: http://www.godswordtowomen.org/ezerkenegdo.htm I have separated with him for a few months, but it didn’t seem to change anything, and I don’t think it is fair to my kids – I think we should be able to stay in our home. I guess I am trying to “stay well” but my husband still doesn’t seem motivated to change… <3

  2. Joanna on June 26, 2014 at 12:24 pm

    My husband won’t answer these kinds of questions, or just says I don’t know.

  3. carol on June 26, 2014 at 3:18 pm

    When I asked my husband if he was happy his response was “Well I am happy and that it is obvious that your not, but I am fine.” When asked what in our marriage needs to be worked on his implied response has been, there is problem and we can go to a Weekend to Remember retreat to help you do better in our marriage. With the 3rd question he prays at night out loud about how he wants God to help him to communicate with me better and help him be a better father and husband.

    I do admit to this, I see no change in his behavior during the day.

  4. Belle on June 26, 2014 at 9:33 pm

    You have been hitting the nail on the head for me every week. This article as well as the last few have been tremendously pertinent and helpful. I feel like I need to save them.

    • Leslie Vernick on June 26, 2014 at 9:38 pm

      Thanks Belle

  5. DJ on June 27, 2014 at 2:36 pm

    I can’t bring myself to do this. Asking him anything makes me feel like I am back in his spider web, like I’m the one trying to fix the marriage. And the fact that he almost split my head open at one time, I always feel like why would I want to stay with him, because I fear he may try that again in the future (especially after the children graduate and leave, which isn’t too far off). His words are just that–words. If he really cared, wouldn’t he be the one to come and *genuinely* apologize, then do whatever he had to to make it right?

    • Leslie Vernick on July 4, 2014 at 10:32 am

      The problem is assuming he recognizes or “see” what he does is wrong. Most of the men I talk with don’t see it, they justify it, minimize it or excuse it and therefore why would they initiate an apology. It’s only when they get feedback or usually more often tough consequences for their words or actions do they start to consider that perhaps their ways may be wrong, sinful, hurtful, or damaging the relationship. Yes words alone can be all smoke and mirrors. We are not looking for words, but a change of heart and change of habit here. You are not responsible to fix the marriage, but when you have done all you can to help your husband see that the marriage is broken, and he still refuses to take any responsibility, then I feel you are in a better position biblically to leave the marriage with a clearer conscience and that is also an important thing for you. You may not live with your spouse any longer but you will always live with yourself.

  6. DJ on June 27, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    I can’t bring myself to do this. Asking him anything makes me feel like I am back in his spider web, like I’m the one trying to fix the marriage.

    And the fact that he almost split my head open at one time, I always feel like why would I want to stay with him, because I fear he may try that again in the future (especially after the children graduate and leave, which isn’t too far off). His words are just that–words. If he really cared, wouldn’t he be the one to come and *genuinely* apologize, then do whatever he had to to make it right?

    • Leslie Vernick on July 2, 2014 at 4:07 pm

      That’s too dangerous then to speak to him let alone live with him. So why do you stay?

      • DJ on July 3, 2014 at 9:45 am

        I stay because I am battling multiple serious health issues which prevent me from going out and getting a job. I’m between a rock and hard place; I need to leave so I can heal, but I don’t have the money to do so; he controls all the money. A Christian counselor said he thought I should leave for awhile and go back to the area I grew up in because it’s the last place I felt loved and still have friends there. My prayer request is that a place would become available there (as I begin to share that need with folks back home) so that I can have a season of healing and then be able to get a job.

        • Leslie Vernick on July 3, 2014 at 10:04 am

          You may find that once you are free from the constant turmoil and stress, your own body will heal and get stronger.

  7. DJ on June 27, 2014 at 2:43 pm

    forgot to add:

    when you say this, “For example, if he says, He wants to be a godly example to his children, the next time he’s flipping out over something they did wrong, you can gently say something like, “I know you want to be a godly example to the kids and I think it would be good for you to take a few minutes to gather your thoughts together so you can handle this in a way you feel good about.” This may help him stop and reflect about what he’s doing in the moment and whether or not it’s in line with his own stated values or desires.” This makes me feel like I am responsible to police his actions, to make sure his does right—when does his responsibility to be an adult kick in? This makes me feel like I have to be his “mommy” and monitor what he says and does. Did this for years, and I’m not interested in this kind of interaction; he never changes anyway.

    • Leslie Vernick on July 4, 2014 at 10:28 am

      I hear you. You are not his mommy but I believe marriage is an opportunity for anyone to grow to become a better, healthier, godlier person and one’s spouse is part of that equation – both their feedback and their encouragement. Yes, it gets tiring when you do it again and again and your partner doesn’t value your feedback or encouragement. There is a time to stop throwing your pearls before swine as Jesus says, but for those women who are just learning how to speak up both in confrontation and in godly feedback and encouragement, these are some ways they can learn to do it.

  8. Patty on June 28, 2014 at 8:33 pm

    Yes, this is very helpful to determine if the spouse indeed is abusive. I blame myself a lot because I didn’t see it sooner. They way he does not take responsibility for any of the major wrong things he has done and it has hurt a lot of people. Certainly, he deflects and blames a lot but now I see that he shuts down a lot too. We have read so many books in my attempts to educate and improve our marriage but in reality he would just go along and shut out the information. He admitted it to me, that he just tunes me out. He is not interested in reading much or even the bible, just keeping up appearances. Ladies, we need to remind our children too as to what to look for in a future mate and remember that when we don’t stand up for ourselves in our marriage it models an unhealthy marriage example to our children. This is one more very valid reason to divorce when married to an abusive mate, to prevent the cycle being repeated to future generations.

  9. Alene on June 29, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    Thank you for describing the approach of inviting him to change and wisely seeking his actual desires.

    It reminds me of the words God said to Moses, “what is in your hand?” Using what is actually there, uncovering that, means we aren’t starting from scratch…

  10. Lonely wife on July 1, 2014 at 10:06 pm

    Your book “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage” and this blog have really opened my eyes up to just how much I been a Peacefaker in my marriage.
    I want to thank you Leslie for being so honest, and for helping to be a voice for women within the church who often feel “silenced”, not only by our husbands, but also the Pastors and staff of most churches!
    I’m buying a copy of your book to give to my Pastor, in the hope that he will read it, and learn just how wrong it is to tell wives to basically “pray for your husband and suck it up!”

    • Leslie Vernick on July 2, 2014 at 4:05 pm

      Thanks.

  11. Sue on July 2, 2014 at 8:37 am

    My husband is not happy because I make him unhappy. He does not want to work on the marriage because he sees it as being over. He is the type of father he wants to be, he just can’t be that around me. I am poison to him. A cancer. But he won’t leave. He goes out of his way to hate me and cannot even respond to me in a manner that is cordial. I read your book and I have built my core, some. I am not totally there yet but I have come a long way. I walk away when he begins to disrespect me and tell him I cannot continue in the conversation when he insults (or vomits as you say it). There is nothing good that he sees in me. So why doesn’t he leave? We have another house he could move into if he put forth the effort. But he wants me to make the arrangements for a divorce, etc. I feel this is another way for him to feel victimized and also control. I have made arrangements for and we attended counseling and even went to a weekend intensive marriage seminar that was awesome but he doesn’t change. I have made mistakes, yes, so many of them. I have made obvious changes but I have learned that just as I never did anything right or well enough in the past, I have not changed enough in the present. I recognize I am still pretending in public to protect his image. I know this is wrong but he is a public official and it would be damaging to his career if people knew reality about him. This whole situation is so crazy to me and I think where I really struggle, besides worrying about the kids, is that I cannot make sense of his behavior. It is ‘crazy making’ as you say. Is it wrong of me to not act on his request to initiate divorce proceedings or not move out as principle the he will not control me anymore and I am not giving him one more reason to play the victim?? I don’t want a divorce, I know there is a way to reconcile through counseling and being obedient to God in our actions and love. I am expecting him to be rational which he does not have a history of being. So I am taking a stand and saying ‘If you want a divorce then you need to initiate it.’ I am just not sure if that is the right thing to do. To be honest, I have no confidence in my decisions as they have always been wrong according to him.

    • Lonely wife on July 2, 2014 at 9:52 pm

      Sue….look up the definition for Passive Aggressive…they are known as “Crazymakers” because they make you feel CRAZY!!

  12. DJ on July 3, 2014 at 10:01 am

    Sue,

    I think he wants you to initiate the divorce so he can point a finger and say, ‘see, she broke up our family, what a terrible thing she has done.’ It’s the “poor me” dance and you’re the big bad wolf. In his mind it elevates him of any responsibility for the ending of the marriage. Also, in some states (you would have to check with a lawyer) the person who initiates the divorce can be made to pay for the lawyer fees of the other spouse.

  13. Patty on July 9, 2014 at 8:10 am

    this is what my husband is doing too, I will be the one filing for the divorce. I looked up grounds for divorce in my state and there is no “irreconcilable differences”. there is though, “cruel and barbarous treatment” and “offers such indignities to the person as shall render his or her condition intolerable.” Since I would be filing I could use either of these because he is the one who is cruel and intolerable. If he is upset because I claimed one of these, I would have to say that there were no other valid grounds since there was no official adultery. I plan to meet with lawyers and get free consults and do the filing myself since it will be uncontested. the most complicated part is the property settlement agreement and if you two can still communicate, this is something you can work out yourselves or use lawyers as mediators but he can be very expensive.
    If you take a stand for yourself and that you refuse to continue to live with his disrepect and mistreatment, faking a marriage, I think there is more of a chance of reconciliation and counseling because he may respect you more and believe you mean it this time. I just heard a friend tell me that is what made all the difference in her marriage and he CHANGED. He knew she meant it, especially when she started working on her new career. Sue, I will pray for you, continue to read this blog and be strengthened, you are not alone and GOD is with you! He has a plan for your life and your husband could be preventing you from doing God’s will for your life!

  14. Karrie on August 28, 2014 at 2:45 pm

    Leslie, what do you do when they know all of the right answers and even quote scripture about the kind of husband they would like to be but their actions don’t back that up? We have been separated just over a year and I keep watching for some key things that would show me he’s changing. He does the flowery stuff that costs him very little sacrifice. I think he wants the “win” of me coming back rather than wanting “me” back. I might be wrong. I’m still working through extreme hurt and betrayal and I am as positive as I can be (without living in the house) that he lied to my son and I this week. Back to covering for addictions. Do I confront him on that? The old me wouldn’t have. At least not very often. It was nearly always denied. Or do I just tuck it away as evidence that genuine (or enough) change is still far away?

    • Leslie Vernick on August 28, 2014 at 5:06 pm

      You can do either – confront him with “I know you’re lying to me again” and leave it at that, or just continue to tuck it away as evidence of what is or is not changing. If you know he’s lying, don’t argue with him as to how you know or what you know, just state the fact and let it go. Again that will show whether he is going to come clean or not.

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