Morning friends, 

Thanks for the book and movie recommendations. I’d especially appreciate your prayers over the next few weeks. I have a lot of moving parts on my plate and sometimes I don’t keep track of them all as well as I need to. Pray that I stay focused, that I am productive, and also take some time out to refresh. That work/life balance has always been a challenge for me and still is. I’m kind of an on or off person. When I’m off, I don’t want to do any work. When I’m on all I do is work. But to do both on the same day is challenging. I try to keep weekends more for off, but not always. 

One thing I’ve tried to be consistent with is walking, but a week of heavy rain is predicted here so that might present different challenges. Thanks. I appreciate you.

Question: My adult sons blame me when they see my abusive spouse and I fight. He will put on a fake display of apologies, while I won’t. They say I never say I’m sorry. How am I to say sorry to an abuser? It’s very complicated. He does it for show.

Answer: Your dilemma is not uncommon and if you want to change the dance, the change starts with you.  

Here are the dance steps you must change if you want to stop this pattern.  

First, your thinking must start to change. Part of good mental and spiritual health is taking responsibility for you. Your thoughts, your actions, and what comes out of your mouth when you both fight. Apparently from your adult children’s perspective, some of the ways you handle yourself aren’t in alignment with the person you say you are or want to be.  

Let me ask you a question. Your adult children don’t like what they see in you when you and your husband fight and by refusing to apologize for your side they see that as a flaw in your character.  

How do you feel about yourself in those moments after fighting? Not how you feel or think about him, but about you? Are you proud of the way you handled yourself, even if he acted like a jerk, or provoked you into reacting? Did you respond from your best self or a less mature version of you?  

One of the things you say that you value is that you want to be honest and real. You don’t want to fake apologies like you sense your husband does. That’s fine. But if you were watching you, do you think you are handling your part of the dance in a way that does not dishonor you? In a way that makes you feel proud of you knowing that even if your marriage is awful and your husband was egging you on, you didn’t bite. You didn’t let him push you over the edge. You were strong enough to stand firm, or wise enough to get away and end the conversation for now.  

To stop repeating this cycle, you have to take ownership of yourself and stop being victimized by him. By getting provoked and fighting ugly, it is not taking ownership of the person you want to be in that moment and it’s costing you.  

Second, you must understand the strategy of a covert abuser. The reason I’m discerning your husband may be more covert in his strategy is that the covert abuser’s aim is to make himself look good and you look bad to others in order to reinforce his “story.”  

He wants family and friends to see how difficult you are to live with, how unstable you are, how uncharitable or unchristian you are, etc. Covert abusers also can provoke a woman to where she starts to question her own sanity, character, motives, or Christian values.  

George Bernard Shaw once said, “I’ve learned to never wrestle with a pig, you get dirty and the pig likes it.”  

And it’s working with your adult children, right? When you and your husband wrestle in front of them, what happens to you? You get dirty and he likes it when you get dirty. It proves his point and reinforces his good-guy persona (he apologizes) and your bad woman persona (you refuse). 

You must begin to realize that you are doing exactly what he wants you to do. Reacting in ugly ways to what he does or says. Then he can apologize and you’re supposed to apologize for reacting to his abuse. That’s where you feel unjustly accused. Why should you have to apologize for your reactions to his abuse? You shouldn’t. That’s like asking a woman who kicked or scratched someone who was trying to rape her to apologize for kicking him if he apologized for trying to rape her. Resisting abuse is nothing to apologize for. However, retaliating against your abuser is never God’s way. (For examples wee Romans 12:17-21; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9; Matthew 5:44).   

Perhaps this illustration may make it easier for you to understand why you need to pay closer attention to your reactions to his abusive ways. Currently, in our culture, we see people fighting mad because of racial injustice. Because of profiling and abuse by some police officers against people of color. They are right and they have every reason to be furious and to demand systemic change. But how they express their outrage to racial injustice and abuse impacts their message.

Burning down buildings, assaulting police officers, or defacing monuments doesn’t help their message. Instead, it creates a whole other problem and they start looking like the villains instead of the victims of racial oppression and injustice.   

Standing up for what’s right, articulating what’s wrong with our culture strategically and non-violently like Martin Luther King did in the 60’s, I believe, will always have a better outcome in the long run.  

So what if you walked away from the next wrestling match since you already know if you engage you will lose? Why engage at all if you know the outcome ends poorly and you end up dirty?

Third, what kind of support do you need to either stay well or leave well?

Living with a toxic person takes its toll on a person and sometimes we start to become like the very things we hate in the other. This is not God’s plan for you. Click To Tweet

Paul reminds us “not to be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21). You are to be a good steward of “you” and not let yourself be infected by the poison darts your spouse shoots at you and then apologizes for shooting them while you are oozing in pain, tempted to shoot back some of your own. 

Do you need some counseling? A support group? A personal coach? Do what you need to do to take care of you. We all have our limits and breaking point and it sounds like you are near yours. We can’t heal or thrive when we are not safe. In addition, I don’t believe God intended us to grow, heal, or mature alone. We need some support from others. Therefore, make it a priority to find godly women who can help you, encourage you, strengthen you, and support you while you change your dance steps and figure out what you want to do regarding your marriage.

Friends, what steps did you take practically and Biblically to stop dancing the same destructive dance steps with your spouse?  

24 Comments

  1. Shannon Anderson on July 22, 2020 at 9:39 am

    I danced this dance for several years before my eyes opened up to what was happening. Covert abuse. My divorce is set for next Wed. 7/29/2020. My stbx still has a very diluted perception of what has led to this happening. He still fights to create this public persona of what a “victim” he is. Leslie’s 2nd response to this email is exactly what he did. He created a false “story” that he wants to have for his life. I am letting go and letting him have the story he wants. I’m moving on with my life and my relationship with the Lord. My marriage for the 9 years has been pure craziness. I became a mini psychologist myself through the entire experience. You really can’t explain this experience to someone that has not been through it themselves. I’m very thankful for Leslie Vernick’s teaching.

    • JoAnn on July 22, 2020 at 6:18 pm

      Well done, Shannon! Time to move on, and I’m glad you recognize the situation for what it is. I like that you said, “I’m letting him have the story he wants.” That takes courage, not to worry about what others think of you. When you know who you are in Christ, what others think doesn’t matter. Via con Dios!

      • Peachy on July 22, 2020 at 8:39 pm

        Yes, Shannon. It is good that you made strides and took care of yourself before a lot more years passed and still the Diane situation could’ve been going or worse.

        • Peachy on July 22, 2020 at 8:50 pm

          Oops! Typo there! Meant ” same” situation .

    • Free on July 23, 2020 at 3:06 am

      Congratulations, Shannon!

      Embrace your new freedom and be good to yourself. Don’t waste your time dealing with any form of crazy talk. That is why they call in crazy!

  2. Lori on July 22, 2020 at 9:06 pm

    If he plays the victim or withdraws, I don’t take the bait to feel guilt, shame or take responsibility for whatever negative feeling he is experiencing. If he tries to push my buttons or question my thoughts, feelings or decisions, I don’t fall into the trap of reacting and practice Leslie’s JADE and CORE strength. If he pretends or twists reality or the truth, I speak to the truth and reality of the situation and do not engage in circular arguments. I accept at this point most of what he does or says is a manipulation and do not allow myself to play his games. I understand I do not need his permission or approval, do not expect anything of him and can walk away from unproductive and disrespectful discussions to respect myself. He does not define who I am and does not have the final say in my life. I pray for God’s grace and wisdom to guide me every step of the way and convict me if my motives, words and actions do not bring Him glory.

    • Jolene Drake on July 22, 2020 at 9:45 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts they were an encouragement.

      • Lori on July 24, 2020 at 12:35 pm

        You’re welcome. Watching Dr. Les Carter, Surviving Narcissism on YouTube helped me create the list above. He answered so many of my questions and some I didn’t even know I had.

    • Lori on July 24, 2020 at 1:00 pm

      On the flip side, we are all at different points of our own path as we navigate these personal journeys. I focus on showing care, options and respect to my children in words followed by my actions. I believe God gives wisdom, understanding and clarity to each of us when He knows we are ready. I believe the ultimate goal is to give support, freedom and encouragement so they will be able to make decisions which suit the needs, path and purpose God has given them. I have grown to understand that the timing of my own journey will be different from my husband’s and my children’s. My desire to “save” them must be according to God’s timing not my own. I read somewhere recently, perhaps even in this blog, not to fear because my choices and mistakes will have no control over God’s plan and purpose for them. While terrifying when I first thought about it, it also grants freedom and peace.

  3. Jolene Drake on July 22, 2020 at 9:41 pm

    In the past 8 years of my marriage I have learned a lot about stopping the dance. Especially from my side of the situation. I have first learned where my identity lies it is in Christ, Humbly admit and apologize for my sin, and to stand up to him in a loving way without being angry and bitter. I can only do this by the prayer support of my accountability group and running to God’s word especially the Psalms for comfort and strength ( especially when things have gotten intense) . I have watched God soften my husband s heart and have a greater respect for me in this 8 years.

  4. Frer on July 23, 2020 at 2:57 am

    Why are you living with an abusive man? Why are you speaking to a person who demeans and dismisses you? Why don’t you value yourself?

    If you would like you children to stop asking you to apologize; stop living with a person who doesn’t uplift, edify and honor you!

    When your adult children see that you left such a person, they will begin to respect you. They can all begin to detoxify from your poisonous yelling. You can be the wiser petson. Model self respect and take yourself out of an abusive relationship. In doing so, your adult children will finally transition into the independent adults rather take the childish roles they have adapted. They too are being abused and manipulated.

    Spare your adult children the psychologically invasive exposure to Mom and Dad’s dysfunctional dance by ending the dance. If your abuser shows no sign of change, then you have to change. That doesn’t mean you acquiesce to a new style or arguing, but rather, you determine to have a self honoring relationship without arguments. Stay with me here, as the”arguments” you think you are engaging in are really just episodes of abuse.. Set yourself and them free from abuse.

    • Mark Johnson on July 24, 2020 at 5:55 am

      Leslie and her followers are all about destroying marriages. They don’t compute there are two sides to every story, and they haven’t heard this woman’s husband’s side. Has her children said they want to see their parents divorced? Pitiful.

      • Leslie Vernick on July 24, 2020 at 5:11 pm

        Mark you give me way too much power. Most people who consult with me have marriages that are already destroyed. I’m only acknowledging it and giving them godly steps forward. When an abusive person – man or woman, repeatedly breaks trust and safety in the marriage, the marriage is already broken. I am not the bad guy for telling the truth. If there is no genuine repentance and changed behavior, the broken marriage cannot be repaired. That is not my fault, that is the fault of the one who broke the marriage. Yes there are always two sides to every story and I’ve done enough marriage counseling over my 40 year career to hear just about everything. But when you are a chronic adulterer, liar, and abuser, these are not marriage problems, they cause marriage problems and break safety and trust. Is the other spouse sinless? No. But when you repeat destructive behaviors over and over again and still feel entitled to all the perks of good marriage, you are the one who is living in fantasy.

        • me on July 25, 2020 at 8:09 am

          Dear Leslie,
          Thank you for such a wonderful response. I “found” you because I was very broken and undone in my marriage. I wouldn’t have sought help if something wasn’t very wrong. I know you care about us deeply. I would even go as far to say that you love those your are helping. I imagine this could be exhausting at times, but you don’t give up helping others. I am truly grateful to have finally figured out that “What!?” In my life and know that it wasn’t me. God Bless you. Peace, Health, and Strength In Jesus Name to you and all those helping hearts right along with you.

      • Lori on July 25, 2020 at 7:25 am

        Divorce does not start with the filing process at the courthouse. It begins in the heart with the way another is treated through words, actions, attitude and behavior. Discipline and self-control does not stop once we reach adulthood or marry. Neither does stewardship of our own life. Speaking truth when you are not being treated in a Godly way is the greatest form of love you can give. Forgiveness cannot be given until the hardened heart softens enough to acknowledge their sin, repents and makes amends. This cannot happen until pride is removed because grace and pride cannot dwell in the same place. Realizing and accepting you cannot control or change another person is the greatest gift you can give them and yourself. This is the hardest lesson God tries to teach us.

        • JoAnn on July 25, 2020 at 10:16 am

          Lori, your participation here is very encouraging. Thank you for your insightful sharing.

      • Aly on July 25, 2020 at 11:46 am

        Mark,
        I’m not sure why the (adult children) get to weigh in as to whether or not this couple should divorce? Also, I don’t see this particular discussion about divorce in general… but about a woman sharing her experience of having adult children see her not apologizing in front of them and maybe her adult children not seeing HER SiDE of the situation too! Just like you commented on there are two sides of experiences going on here.
        Destructive Behavior destroys marriages and relationships throughout Mark.

        • Aly on July 25, 2020 at 12:13 pm

          Mark,
          Destructive behavior isn’t just about the person who is the aggressor, destructive behavior can also be passive behavior- a husband, a wife, a mother, father, friend being passive when they need to have a godly loving boundary!
          Even God supports destructive marriages and relationships not moving forward because these dynamics do not glorify God.
          He gives honor and blessings to the humble and teachable, those that want to pursue sanctification and live out a genuine life of love for the Lord and others.

      • Barbara B on July 25, 2020 at 3:44 pm

        Goodness. If there are two sides to every story, I wonder what the other side is to the story Mark is telling about “Leslie and her followers.” Honestly I’ve never met anyone in this forum that follows Leslie. In my observation, everyone here, including Leslie, follows Jesus. I think Leslie would be the first to say that she is not the Shepherd, Jesus is, and we are all equally the sheep of His pasture.

  5. Barbara B on July 25, 2020 at 3:37 pm

    It’s so very easy to point the finger, especially when there is an obvious aggressor. Therefore, the first step is to put my finger down and look in the mirror. What am I doing that sends the message that this dance is okay with me? By participating in arguments, by trying to educate or persuade, by appealing, crying, begging, trying harder, etc. I’m at fault for continuing the cycle. That’s where I have to do my own work with the Lord, taking my fear to Him and being willing to accept any outcome. Then, walk in truth instead of walking in the fear of man.

    • Aly on July 28, 2020 at 8:41 am

      Barbara B,
      What has the outcome been for you so far?
      I agree we must look at our part of the cycle. Sometimes that part can be similar for many of us or different given the vast degrees of situations.
      For some it can be not standing for truth or requiring overall change in the dynamic of the relationship.
      I’m not sure I would always see (a fault) in a person educating, appealing for change and health as problematic. I get where you can see this as a role one might be in and needs to stop reasoning with the ‘unreasonable’!
      I think it’s healthy to invite others to a healthy relationship of living truth and moving toward healing.
      One of the things I had to change in my dynamic was to stop taking far too much responsibility for the dance! Owning places that were not mine to own because of the insecurities of the other party. Owning places for the sake of thinking it would bring about Conflict resolution, yet all that did was feed the beast.
      I guess the unreasonable person in the equation most likely would be over joyed to see the Other person Who is trying to make things better as the one at fault for seeking health and growth.

      • Barbara B on July 29, 2020 at 12:20 pm

        Hi Aly, great questions! I think it all depends on the character of the other dance partner. You’re right, I don’t mind explaining or appealing to someone who is teachable and who wants to learn and grow. That’s a good dance. But if the other person is entrenched in arrogance and entitlement, doesn’t want to learn but does want to string me along for their own sick gratification, that’s not a good dance and I should get out. There are sheep and there are wolves in sheep’s clothes and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference at first.

  6. Meridith Watson on July 29, 2020 at 11:44 am

    Thank you as always for your wonderful sharing. Plenty of insight to ponder over.

  7. amanda on September 19, 2020 at 8:24 am

    I would like to add another angle here. I have a similar issue with my adult children saying that I never apologize or take responsibility.
    The thing is, it’s not from anything I’ve said or done in a mean spirited way. They have adopted many of these ideologies from extremely conservative Christian beliefs that say that women must submit to even abusive husbands….and honestly, I’m partially to blame for that. Now that I’m waking up to this type of control and abuse, and having boundaries, im changing the dance, their dad, my husband is often in a mood, or silent treating us, and they see it as an issue that I have caused, therefore I should apologize.
    Yes, I fully admit. I was completely blind to it, but now that I’m healthier, and naming it, I’m am the one ‘causing’the issues, therefore my adult sons accuse me of never apologizing…..I’m just wondering if this might be what this question is about.

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