I had a rough week. I appreciate your prayers.
Today’s Question: I’ve tried everything and my husband refuses to admit he’s emotionally abusive or controlling. I don’t know what to do next. Does God expect me just to live like this for the rest of my life?
Answer: Many reading this blog are in destructive marriages and have felt powerless and hopeless like you do. I hear that you’re tired and confused and afraid. Your husband won’t change, but perhaps you have. You are not the person you used to be, and perhaps not the person you want to be. You don’t like what’s happening in your marriage but you also don’t like what’s happening to you. I want to give you four steps that you can practice that will help you become more empowered.
A while back my friend Barb noticed I was slouching more than usual. Ugh, I feared I was turning into an old lady with bad posture. I didn’t want to end up with a walker and a curved spine so it was time to make a change. I called my gym and made an appointment with a trainer for an evaluation.
Chris a young, burly fitness trainer pushed me through a battery of tests and finished our evaluation by whipping out a camera. Already I felt old, frumpy, and fat but it got worse. You know the saying a picture doesn’t lie. The truth was right in front of me. My shoulders slumped, my belly pouched out, my back swayed and my neck and chin somehow jutted out from my shoulders in a most unflattering way—and I worked hard to stand up straight when he took the picture. Chris turned to me, eyebrows raised and said, “You need to build your core.”
“What’s that?” I asked, dreading his response.
“Your core muscles wrap around your abdomen and back support your spine and keep you balanced and stable,” Chris said. “Bottom line, a strong core keeps you from slouching and looking old.” Then he asked, “Are you ready to get to work?”
“Ummm, let me think about this for a few days,” I stammered, anxious to bolt out of there as soon as possible.
After a hard cry, I realized I faced a tough choice. I was either going to work hard to strengthen my core muscles or I could continue to do nothing and become rounded and more slouched. I didn’t like those two alternatives. I wanted Chris to tell me that there was a third choice, a pill I could take from, a massage I could get, something that didn’t hurt and was easier than working out with weights three times a week. But that wasn’t one of my options if I wanted to improve my core, my weight, as well as my overall muscle strength and alignment.
In the same way, when you’re in a destructive marriage, you know that you have some difficult choices in front of you. You already know you can’t change your marriage or your man but you can change something. You. I know, change is hard but I want you to know something important. You can do something even if your husband or marriage never changes. You can choose to grow stronger through your destructive marriage. But I also want to warn you, if you choose to do nothing it will cost you.
Your emotional, mental, and spiritual core will get weaker and weaker, curving inward until your entire personhood is out of alignment. You won’t know who you are anymore, or who God made you to be. Your example to your children will be telling them that it’s okay for a husband to devalue a wife, a man to treat a woman with disrespect and contempt. Is this the picture you want them to see? The family life you want them to model in their own families in the future?
Sacrificing yourself and allowing your spouse to continue to sin against you simply to keep peace in your marriage or pretend things are fine when the relationship has terminal cancer sin is never a wise choice, not for you, not for your husband, not for your marriage. God calls you to be a biblical peacemaker, but not a peacekeeper or peace faker.
In my book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, I outline four core strengths that are essential to build and maintain good mental, emotional, spiritual, and relational health. I use the acronym CORE to help you remember what they are. With God at your center and with His help you can make these four changes:
C – I will be committed to truth, both internally in my own heart and mind and externally. I refuse to pretend.
O – I will be open to the Holy Spirit and wise others, teaching me, maturing me, and guiding me into his way of living my life.
R – I will be responsible for my own responses to destructive behavior and commit to being respectful without dishonoring myself.
E – I will be empathic and compassionate toward others without enabling people to continue to abuse and disrespect me.
Marital adversity not only reveals character, but it also shapes it. You have a choice about how that shaping is taking place in your character right now.
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. Click To Tweet
If you don’t strengthen your core you will always live from your circumstances (of an awful marriage) and your emotions. On the other hand, when you live from your core, your abusive/destructive husband might permanently damage your marriage, but he cannot destroy you.
Don’t forget, your CORE reflects who you are or who you want to be not just what you do. If you’d like to take a two-session Introduction to Core Strength Class, it starts next Tuesday, February 11. For more information, you can click here.
Friends, what have you done when you’re done trying to change or convince your spouse?
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Yes praying for you Leslie!! Thank you for your tireless work for us who were confused. Your continued encouragement is so valuable.
Hi Cheryl,so glad the Lord has directed you to this blog site.I am sad to hear about all you have endured at the hands of your husband.I hear and understand your position about leaving as so many of us have had to wrestle with the same decision.You are being lifted up in prayer by many sisters who are walking similar paths.I only ask that you humbly consider how allowing yourself to be treated so poorly is honoring to God.As a strong warrior helper to your husband,is it not the more loving thing to not allow evil to continue to reign in your life?You are a precious daughter of God and loved beyond measure.
There is a difference between suffering for being a believer and what you are living with due to your husbands sinful choices.Leslies books are wise and biblical and I highly encourage you to read them.
Thanks for your reply. I guess I think the spirit in me is greater than the spirit in the world. I think I have the power to endure. I don’t enjoy it, but I don’t see a biblical direction for anything. Common sense tells me to protect myself, but this life is short and eternity is forever. I would rather obey God and not knowing abandon my post to be patient, kind and bare all things. Believe me, if there was biblical grounds, I would be gone in a heartbeat.
I’m very sorry for what you are and have experienced. The thought that you could be killed by the person who has vowed to be the most sacred person (union) to you as a fellow heir is NOT part of the Marital Biblical Covenant.
Are you part of a church? Individual Christian counseling? Women’s support group (for abused)?
Have you studied God’s covenants throughout scripture?
You haven’t detailed much of your marriage but what have shows biblical cause for separation (most likely permanently)
You husband has abandoned his Vows to God and to you. He wants the ideal of you being there regardless of his recklessness and because he believes that you are bound to a vow.
You are bound to a marriage vow – but sweet sister… this isn’t a marital vow after one has destroyed the safety and the promises made.
Are you staying more out of fear (fear what he will do to you?) or because of the marriage vow?
Sometimes when we are fearful or in a fog of things, we think we are in a relationship for a specific reason (marriage vow) when in reality there are other reasons that keep us there.
There is a lot of help out there and resources.
Your husband broke the marriage vow a long time ago when he made the marriage (unsafe) by his behavior and ways of thinking about -what it is to be biblically married.
You seem to describe more of a common law marriage or worldly dynamic than anything reflecting the heart of God.
Refreshing to see someone willing to take the Scriptures as the authority, not opinions, even if the natural flesh fights against it and wants to do the opposite. I agree with you 100%. The Lord will bless that; that’s the one guarantee we do have.
Actually Glad I think most of us here take the Scriptures as God’s Word and authority, but we don’t all read it the same way. Cheryl has her own convictions to stay no matter how much her life is in danger. However I see even Jesus leaving situations where his life was in danger (like when the religious leaders tried to thrown him off a cliff,) or God telling Joseph to take baby Jesus away from Herod, even though Herod was the authority and we are told to obey the authorities of the land. So if a woman in a dangerous/destructive/abusive marriage used Cheryl’s logic, that life is temporary and I will obey God no matter what, then we would have seen David submit to Saul instead of fleeing when Saul tried to kill him, or Joseph saying in Bethlehem, even though Jesus’ life was in danger because we are to obey the authorities God has put over us, or Jesus trusting God when the religious leaders sought to harm him. But that’s not what happened. Jesus only chose to allow himself to be captured and abused when it was for the purpose of our salvation. Other times, he did not choose to allow himself to be harmed. So I do think there is room for all of us to see the Bible as authoritative and not all read it in exactly the same way.
I agree that people here read the Scriptures and see it the way they want. But that is not the right way to approach the Bible. Ever. I don’t think Cheryl is implying she is staying in a situation where her life is in danger, but rather quite unpleasant (as would be many of our situations). So quoting verses about that, in particular verses that have absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with the marriage relationship, would qualify as reading the Scriptures and “not reading it exactly the same way.” That is true.
Glad: Cheryl said clearly in her first post that her Husband has tried to kill her. If you want to advise abused women then please, listen more closely.
When two believers get married, they are first brother and sister in Christ. We do not throw out the teachings on how to treat our brother in Christ because we married him. The scriptures that specifically apply to marriage are in ADDITION to the teachings on how to love others well.
We don’t suddenly ignore scripture on how to love a person well, because the verses are not specific to marriage.
Loving well is foundational (and found throughout the entire Bible). This doesn’t change when we get married (and suddenly throw out the rest of the Bible).
It is not loving to allow someone who we claim to love, to continue in sin.
We are called to love others in ACTION. Love challenges sin and calls others to repentance and restoration.
This is the revival that is needed.
Nancy, What you wrote below is well said! Praying that maybe it would help reveal light to those who interpret or read scripture like Glad has commented on.
Glad there have been plenty of unpleasant things in Scripture that have not been ‘what I want’ or prefer. In fact, many many things in scripture challenge my choices and behaviors.
Glad, I am 61 now and just beginning to have scales fall from my eyes in the same area. I believed all my marriage I was standing on Gods word. My one desire that has never wavered has been to know Him more and please Him. It can bring growth and at times a type of joy even in the midst of suffering. But as I have submitted to His word in much the way Cheryl sounds to be, I grew to find the growth and joy disappeared. In spite of my going to church and remaining in group study I found I felt dead inside. I was to a point of feeling emotionally beat up and laying on the ground, then to barely be getting up off the ground only to be brought right back down again. I began to seek counsel from a church recommended to me by a very concerned friend. The counselor had previously experienced coming out of an abusive marriage years back and felt called to educated and be used in this area to minister to those in abusive relationships. Her focus is always to bring restoration in spite of circumstances requiring a separation for a time when safety is a concern. Even verbal abuse can create an unsafe enviornment and actually inable the abuser to be held accountable for their wrong. Without accountability there is little chance for the abuser to see their actions for what they really are. My husband actually found a sense of everything being ok because I would appear to be ok to him from his perspective. I was actually allowing a lie to remain hidden. This has been such a freeing truth for me. My husband went down hill after I stopped playing the game. It concerned me yet it assured me I was doing the right thing. When I was no longer there to fill his world with what he believed made his life work knew it was the only chance for God to have full access to my husbands heart. During this time I have found much healing and restoration. Only God knows the choices my husband will make. I needed to get out of the way trust God to do what I could not. God is reminding me what it is like to be His child. I am able to receive the blessings He has longed for me to receive. I do talk to my husband and encourage him to get help. I let him know my hearts desire has always been to have a marriage with him that was not destructive. I let him know I was making choices that could open the door for a healthy relationship. It takes two and it is up to him to make choices to do the same. I let him know I felt dead inside and I am not going to allow the last years of my life to be like living dead. Of course there are safe ways to approach this and plans need to be in place to assure safety.
When Cheryl shared: ‘I couldn’t be real of (or) live in the truth if I wanted to stay alive.’ That type of living can not bring Glory to God. Most people looked at me and didn’t see a women walking with God. So separation is a step. The choice is up to us both choosing to work towards what would be pleasing and bring Glory to God.
May my words be sifted by grace.
Ruth, I assume Cheryl does not feel daily as though she is in imminent danger of being killed. And I am not claiming to be a counsellor. I’m sure all of the regular contributors here feel they are very qualified cou sellors. I am simply saying that it is refreshing to see someone take the Bible and her vows seriously. I applaud her for that.
Hey Glad,I doubt very much that all the regular contributors here feel they are very qualified counselors.What we are,Glad are wounded,exhausted yet hopeful women(as well as a few men) who are bravely and honestly sharing our stories with each other.While we do this we encourage each other to seek help and cry out to our precious savior,Jesus.We have a high view of marriage and the authority of Gods Word and it is in fact our faith that informs our decisions whether we “stay well or leave well”as Leslie teaches.Perhaps if you would be willing to share why you are here with us on this blog it would be helpful.I sincerely hope it isn’t just to lecture and judge your sisters in the Lord who have come to different conclusions than yourself.
Glad, here we have Cheryl, telling us that she lives with a man who took vows to love and cherish her, but has instead, used and abused her; not occasionally failing, but as a patterned, habitual way of life. That man is given over to evil, and not to Christ. The Bible speaks to a lot more than marriage. It tells us how we are to relate to those who say they are Christians but are not. It tells us to have nothing to do with the evil deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. Here is a woman, being tortured in a “marriage” to a man who hates her, a man who is daily destroying her, a man who tried to kill her and will quite possibly succeed next time he is enraged. What would you say if that was the end of the story, Glad? “Well, at least she kept her vows?” That is extreme foolishness at best. God would have us stand with the oppressed, not the oppressor. God is our Lover, our Rescuer and Redeemer. Marriage is a gift of God for human thriving. It is not to be made into a trap for human torture and oppression. That is a twisting of God’s intention of the worst kind, and anyone who takes such a low view of marriage as that is in grave error indeed about the character of God, as revealed throughout his Holy Word.
Dear Cheryl, your Father’s heart is for you to be loved, protected, honored, and thriving. If your husband is habitually mistreating you, you need to keep reaching out for help like you are doing, so that you can get to a safe place and gain clarity. Your life is clearly in danger, whether from another imminent physical attack or a slow destruction of your mental and physical health. You are not the one breaking your vows; HE IS! For you to get help and support, quietly make a plan to get to a safe place and live in the light instead of the darkness. That is the wise and godly response to his evil and hypocrisy. Standing up for yourself caused him to almost murder you. You need to secretly, quietly, carefully find sources of help around you so that you are safe and protected. How can we help you do that?
Hi Janice and Cheryl,
I would also add that it is not loving toward him to allow him to continue in sin. Matthew 18 outlines how the church is to proceed with such a person. The entire process is to RESTORE the person. When such a person is allowed to continue in sin un confronted, this is not glorifying to God – it makes a mockery of His most precious gift.
This is so very true. I don’t think many of us were taught in church circles about how not confronting sin (especially this type of marital sin) was ‘unloving’ as well as how one is contributing to the problem!
Much of the church culture was to keep the marriage in tact at any cost! Almost in a prideful & martyr way even if two people were not ‘restoring’ one another as you mentioned above.
I do think a lot of these messages were passed through the generations and it’s some of why we have such epidemic destructive & indifferent marriages bopping around.
I definitely agree that the evangelical church has idolized marriage and so many women are unfortunately reaping the consequences of this ungodly teaching.It takes much courage to go against your church and/ or family indoctrination and humbly take a stand for truth and righteousness.So grateful for where I am now and all that I have learned since from separation 18 months ago.God is kind and trustworthy!
Praying for you Leslie. Hope the weeks to come are more restful.
For me it is a gradual transition from trying to change him by being reasonable and cooperative, ( like all the marriage books suggested), then covering for his bad behavior towards me, the kids, (making excuses in my head and to others), then being so distraught I began to withdraw emotionally but felt guilty, then found consolation and strength from discovering I no longer needed his approval. Started to take a hard look at myself as to why I needed his and others approval, and am gradually seperating myself from that need as it shows itself. This gives me the ability to set boundaries guilt free. Of course this is not a completed process and I am still living in home seperated so you can see what my context is. Whether I leave or stay I still have to figure out how to be a stronger happier person so I am trying to focus on that when I feel confused about when/whether to leave.
Leslie, when I see the schedule you are keeping, I understand why you might be having some rough weeks. Be empathic toward yourself! Rest! Restore! We all love you and care for your well being. Take care, dear Sister.
Thank you for your book. It took 2 readings 2 years apart to build my CORE. Then, when I resolutely but quietly stood my ground, I had God’s peace. It hurt like nobody’s business, but I respected ME. When my husband could not draw me into the same patterns and get me to accept the lies, he asked for a divorce. It is a terribly painful process. But abundant life is on the other side. A life where I don’t feel like I am trying to serve 2 masters. I am in the midst of the horrendous rending apart of a 30 year bond, but I have more hope than I have had in years. Without building my CORE and support from other Christians, I could not have done this.
Christine, the wonderful thing about standing in CORE strength is that it revealed the character of your husband along with truth. I didn’t get to Leslie’s teachings on CORE in time and became more reactive to my husband. He filed for divorce before I could implement CORE, ending a 34 year marriage. Yes, I have regret and sadness for my reactive behavior. I applaud you for being honorable and respectful to the end. I know the pain you are experiencing….our God is with you!
Thank you. It really does help to know other women understand. And survived!
I have struggled with the vow I made which included the words, “in sickness and health.” I just accepted that I got “sickness” in my marriage. With that understanding cane the realization that I had to endure whatever was done to me because I pledged to love through the sickness no matter what.
I quite naturally developed my own strengths to reduce my suffering and avoid abuse in any way possible. I worked the horrible rules of my terrible marriage and just accepted it. All my feelings disappeared as I became a submissive, abused spouse.
Eventually when the kids were adults, he tried to kill me because I began to resist his control now that I didn’t have to put on an act for the kids. I couldn’t be real of live in the truth if I wanted to stay alive.
I think other women think I I thought. Sickness or health, was the vow, I got sickness. If he kills me, it is on him. I kept my vow to God and will just get to see heaven sooner.
Cheryl, I sincerely hope that you are no longer with this man. He is more than “sick.” He is evil. Work on getting stronger and healing the damage he has done. You can still have a life ahead. Develop an intimate and sweet relationship with the Lord and His people.
Praying for your recovery.
Thank you. But how do I deal with breaking my vow? Sickness and health. I don’t understand how I can betray my promise to God.
When you write “I have to endure whatever was done to me” as a consequence of your marriage vows, I wonder if you really are dealing with simply ‘sickness’ anymore. You write that your husband tried to kill you. As JoA so clearly pointed out, this is evil!!
Cheryl, evil and sick /ill are not at all the same thing. And fleeing from evil is a solidly Biblical teaching.
You haven’t described any details here, Cheryl, but from what you have written, it seems quite clear that your husband’s behaviours have been intentional and escalating through the years. When you made your wedding vows together, they were mutual; HIS promises to you also included loving, honouring, cherishing, remaining faithful in sickness and health, sharing resources, etc, did they not? Attempting to kill you does not align with those promises in any way!!!! It seems quite clear that your husband has a hardened heart, the exact opposite of what a marriage vow is about.
You worry about breaking your wedding vow to the Lord, Cheryl, but seeking safety IS NOT THE SAME as abandoning someone because you have grown tired of his face, or have let your affections go elsewhere, or hardened your heart in some other way. I’ll paraphrase here a truth that Leslie teaches so clearly throughout her books, this blog, and her presentations in person and on videos, all based solidly on Scripture: “God does not value the marriage more than He values the safety and the sanity of the two people in the marriage” . Cheryl, marriage is a gift from God for His children…….but YOU are one of the created-in-His-image children that He loves and died for. He does not value the gift He gave His child more than He values the child herself!!!! Would you? Of course not!!! You would never dream of placing a greater value on the gift you made for your son or daughter more than you loved that child (no matter how lovingly the quilt was made, or the the cookies were baked) !!!
Please dig into Leslie’s book (The Emotionally Destructive Marriage), her video’s on youtube, and all the other teaching pieces on this blog. Read deeply in the Scriptures that she builds on. Allow the Lord to breathe His freedom into your thoughts, Cheryl, and seek His safety. Many of us here will be praying for you.
Thank you for your kind and caring reply. I will think about what you wrote, especially the point about the difference between evil and sickness. When I made my marital vows, I imaged standing by my spouse if physical sickness should occur. I never even considered mental sickness.
There just isn’t a clear biblical teaching that you can get out of your marriage because your partner is evil. Love is to bear all things. So this leads me to staying and enduring my lot. I don’t see a choice biblically. I can read into areas and apply them to marriage, but I can’t find anywhere that says you can divorce because your spouse is evil.
Thanks for your post. You are right, Jesus fled from evil.
You have ALREADY kept your promise to God and to his husband. You stood by him, but he wanted no part of your love or care. He didn’t file and sign divorce papers but it sounds like he rejected you as a wife. It sounds like what you have IS NO MARRIAGE! God gets no glory from this kind of relationship. No! It grieves God’s heart to see you being abused.
Cheryl, think about your own children. Would you rather one of them get gunned down just so they can keep a promise? Or would you much rather they escape their oppressor, get a divorce, and live free?
I am also thinking of the OT Biblical story of Abigail and Nabal. She found a way to walk in her integrity (something I am sure Leslie is teaching us) though her husband was foolish (the definition of his name = Nabal). He also was unreasonable and his servant knew that Nabal could not be reasoned with. This is a must read Biblical story.
Sorry to hear about your rough week, Leslie. You’re in my prayers. Perhaps you can get some outdoor time with God and His Word. That’s where I hear Him best.
I’m finding your messages so helpful. And I say YES in my mind and heart but I need to know how to change. I have joined the Core webinar and am looking forward to next Tuesday or Wednesday depending on time change here in Australia East Coast Queensland. Jennifer
Welcome to my world . My husband is a recovering Alcoholic for 30 years. But still has all the bad attitude. I Think he also has a little PTSD
I am new to the blog. My counselor introduced me to Leslie Vernick’s books and videos. I have found the information very helpful. I was wondering if anyone had any comments on how they are feeling or felt once they made boundaries and then if you filed for divorce-were you scared, anxious and unable to move forward with the divorce process. I have been married 27 years. My marriage was always a little bizarre and I spent many years wondering what was wrong. My husband is disconnected emotionally from me and my adult children. It has been a lonely, weird marriage. As the kids got older my husband would say things in anger that have been very destructive. He has yelled and screamed in their faces over small issues. Eventually I started sticking up for them and that did me in. I made boundaries with him after telling him for the past 5 years that I was physically wearing down from the anger episodes and mood swings. Now he has been living with the boundaries for 15 months and seems to like it. He sits in church worshipping God like nothing is wrong. I stopped going to that church. (I had exposed the problems to our Pastor last year and have not been checked on one time by him or any staff.) Our children serve in ministry to the youth there. My husband has made no attempt to address any issue and when I try to talk about a divorce he screams all these accusations at me and blames me for everything he thinks is wrong. I end up shaking all over and try to defend myself. It got so crazy recently he accused me of hiding thousands of dollars from him-which I have not. I had to call the police. When he has been mad at our daughter-he has said “I wish she would hit me so I could call the police”. Bizarre, right? Our children are good kids and have been thru a lot of stress. I am feeling so stressed thinking about filling out these papers for a divorce. You would think I would be ready to end everything. I am unsure of my decisions and feel very insecure . I was never like this . I would appreciate any response of those of you with similar feelings or situations.
Hello SJ, I am so new myself to this wonderful fellowship of women who are seeking to grow. I wonder if you have joined the Conquer Journey teaching? Perhaps you have? It helps to hear Leslie affirm some sound mind thinking in her videos. Our feelings are telling us that something is not right. I too have been dealt with abusive and unhealthy emotional attacks. One thing I have learned is I do not need my husband to believe my perspective of truth for it to be true. So there are fewer words on my part trying to “get him to see.” I am on a journey of learning how to communicate more confidently (and peacefully) with clarity of thinking on my part. Take one day at a time – hold onto God’s truth of His value of you and keep learning.
Thank you Lois. No, I have not heard of the Conquer Journey teaching but I will see if I can find it. She has so many videos and teachings !