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?
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