Morning friend, Do you have a hard time asking for what you want or need from your friends? Children? Husband? Doctor? Neighbor? Pastor? Counselor or coach? I’d love to hear from you the reasons you think it’s hard for you to be direct and say what you want or need. Granted you may not always get what you ask for, but sometimes we never ask. Why is that for you?

Today's Question: My husband is a verbal abuser. He was a trial lawyer. He is brilliant and articulate. He changes his assaults from time to time, particularly when one is not successful, but he has certain mantras that are repeated. The current one is: “I don’t understand you. You are not making any sense. YOU ARE NOT COMMUNICATING!” This is said after he has cut me off mid-sentence, not listened to what I said, and by cutting me off, has denied me a chance to talk. How should I respond? I would like some actual words to remember and say back. How do I nip this in the bud? 

Another one is: “I CAN’T HEAR YOU!! You are not facing me while you talk.” Of course, he often tries to talk to me when he’s in a different room or when he’s not facing me, but if I do so it is a major offense. So strange. I always respond by calmly moving and repeating what I said. Any other possible responses? 

This is all part of his current attack to paint me as a bad communicator. 

I am a perfectly fine communicator. But I expect normal communication, not those with ulterior motives. Normal communication has a desire on both parts to understand each other. This person, at least unconsciously, does not want me to be able to communicate. How should I respond? 

Answer:  Interpersonal communication involves both talking and listening for both spouses. From what you describe, it does not sound like your husband wants to do any listening, just talking at you. That’s not communication. That’s bullying, ordering, blabbering, lecturing, scolding, preaching, teaching, and pontificating.

[Tweet “Interpersonal communication involves both talking and listening for both spouses.”]

But for a moment, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. Next time when he says, “I don’t understand you,” I’d like you to try an experiment. Try to see his statement as his valid experience. From what you say, you assume when he says those words, he’s using it as a diversionary tactic to get you to overexplain or try again, where he can once again discredit your ability to communicate because he still does not understand.

I’d like you to press pause on that thought and for this experiment, instead be curious. For example, you could simply say, “What don’t you understand?” See if he can tell you. Maybe you discover he understands what you said but doesn’t understand why you don’t agree with him. Or maybe you’ll see he misunderstood something in what you said and you can clarify. If that happens, is that a different outcome for both of you?

Another approach could be instead of reexplaining what you just said, ask him to tell you what you just said as best he understands it. That way, you will be able to better know whether he listened to anything you said. If not, perhaps your thoughts are correct, he’s simply attacking you from another angle.

You’ve asked what you could say in these moments and I’ve given you two approaches. But I wonder have you been direct in sharing your experience with him and asking him for what you want/need?

For example, Have you told him, “When you talk like that, I feel like I’m being lectured. Please stop. I don’t like that.”

Or, “I’d like to be talked to as a person you value and respect.” Or “I’d like for you to stop interrupting me and cutting me off and listen to what I have to say.” Or, “I need to feel safe when you ask me questions and I often feel like I’m on trial. That doesn’t work for me.”

Hear me, none of these approaches will work with a person who is bent on damaging your reputation and your sense of confidence and worth. But doing so will help you value yourself, stand up for yourself and gain confidence in your abilities to hold your own, which changes the dance of your relationship as well as your own internal sense of self. That is a game-changer for you, even if he doesn’t change or respond positively. And, if he escalates his verbal assaults and tactics, that clarifies things and gives you more wisdom on what your next steps might need to be.

Jesus was an excellent communicator but he did not always have good outcomes. At times he spoke his truth, other times he kept his mouth shut knowing that speaking would yield no good results. Sometimes I think we tell ourselves if only we said it the right way, then the other person would change. He’d wake up. He’d finally see the light. And that is a possible outcome when we stop reacting in our own negativity and learn to speak the truth in love. However, it’s not a guaranteed outcome.

I’ve said it before, but I’d encourage you to do your work. Learn to speak the truth about what it’s like for you to talk with him, telling him what you need or want to make this a better conversation for you.

But remember, don’t do it to change him. Do it for you. In doing so, you will start to transform your internal experience of being with him from something that feels like a continual assault, to something that feels like you have done well and are proud of your side of the street even if things in the marriage don’t change. His attempts to rob you of your confidence, courage, and value will fall flat because you are no longer giving him any power to do so or needing him to give it to you for you to be healthy.

Friend, When did you begin to realize that despite living with an immature, unhealthy person, you had your own work to do to get healthy and strong?

22 Comments

  1. Free on November 10, 2021 at 8:53 pm

    You are being abused and gas lit. You don’t need to learn or change anything. You are not the problem.

    Get out. Make an exit plan. You don’t need to get healthy or strong. You already are.

    You probably need trauma counseling, a restraining order and a good divorce lawyer.

    Blessing to you as you plan your escape.

    • Leslie Vernick on November 11, 2021 at 12:20 am

      I don’s say you are the problem but you have a problem. Every situation is an opportunity for you to learn something. Maybe it is to get out. Maybe it’s also to learn to have boundaries and speak up. If you get out, but don’t learn what you need to do to grow from the situation, then you will probably find yourself in a similar situation in the future. Taking responsibility for our own growth and healing isn’t to say it’s our fault that we’re in that situation, but if we’re in that situation, we might as well learn what we can from it. Even if it is to get out. But we can get out and still be pretty unhealthy ourselves or we can get out and understand our own work to do so we don’t get into another destructive relationship.

      • Marian on November 11, 2021 at 6:22 pm

        So true Leslie.

      • Free on November 12, 2021 at 4:18 am

        I can’t imagine anyone repeating their mistake and choosing another abusive partner. Maybe it happens more than I realize. I.am concerned about telling victimized women that they have work to do. In my experience, they get out and thrive. Yet, you know more people than I do in this situation. I had no idea some women are mentally ill enough to reinjure themselves through subsequent dysfunctional behaviors. Thanks fir the insight.

      • Sherry on November 13, 2021 at 9:54 am

        Thank you, Leslie, for your insight. I have experienced similar verbal attacks from my husband and the great desire to leave for many years. But, you have helped me see that I need to be stronger if I do leave. I see the patterns in my life where I become a bully magnet. It would continue if I were independent as well. So with God’s help, and your wisdom, I plan to grow strong right now. May the other ladies be safe and strong as they grow too.

        • Autumn on November 16, 2021 at 3:51 am

          Sherry, you don’t need to be stronger to leave. You get stronger when you are apart from your abuser. Find your gut instinct and listen to it. Abusers bully us into their thinking. You will never get any stronger listening to your abusers sneaky, cruel tactics. He likes keeping you down. You are easier to manipulate that way and he can get what he wants faster. Expected increased abuse and violence when you resist his control.

          Please consider getting help from your local domestic violence center. They have advocates and a safe place for you to learn about and leave abuse. Have you been to Natalie Hoffman’s site, Flying Free?

          Best wishes for baby steps to spend time away from your abuser and get wise, safe people to listen to you and speak the truth to you.

  2. Linda on November 11, 2021 at 6:05 pm

    Thank you for these suggestions! My h “communicates” this way, also. He interrupts often, and then when I ask him to listen to my full sentence before interrupting, he will say, “You’ve got 5 seconds! Speak!” ( I want to reply “woof, woof!,” but so far, I’ve refrained!) Sometimes when he does listen to the full sentence, he will repeat something way off base from what I actually said. Or he will tell me to “document it” because he can’t understand it unless it’s written on paper. I will try what you have suggested here, and mainly, will work on not getting so upset myself over his attempt to make me look/feel crazy!

    • Free on November 16, 2021 at 6:55 pm

      Linda, maybe you need to get upset. He is abusing you. That is wrong. Don’t forget that. Separation seems long over due. I hope you find a way to do that before the year ends.

  3. Linda on November 11, 2021 at 6:09 pm

    (This is in reply to Leslie’s answer to “How to I Speak Up to my Trial Lawyer Husband): Thank you for these suggestions! My h “communicates” this way, also. He interrupts often, and then when I ask him to listen to my full sentence before interrupting, he will say, “You’ve got 5 seconds! Speak!” ( I want to reply “woof, woof!,” but so far, I’ve refrained!) Sometimes when he does listen to the full sentence, he will repeat something way off base from what I actually said. Or he will tell me to “document it” because he can’t understand it unless it’s written on paper. I will try what you have suggested here, and mainly, will work on not getting so upset myself over his attempt to make me look/feel crazy!

  4. Abbi on November 11, 2021 at 6:10 pm

    My husband is not a trial lawyer but he does the same tatics. When he gets on the defensive , he starts telling me I’m prideful and I need to start praying for myself. I finally stood up and said, I agree. Can you give me some items that you see I need to work on? He said I shouldn’t have to tell you . You know. I pressed again and again he lashed out and started with a bunch of other things like I’m not submissive and I don’t respect him and I call myself a Christian. I hate the yelling but I’ve learned JADE and then I say, I won’t be talked to this way and then walk away.

    • Autumn on November 16, 2021 at 3:44 am

      Everything you described are manipulative tactics which can be found on the Duluth model power and control wheel. I assume you know you are being abused. Have you been gathering resources to address this problem? Have you formulated an escape plan? Have you lost your voice in this relationship? Are you bring devalued?

  5. Shannon Danielle Anderson on November 11, 2021 at 7:15 pm

    I truly appreciate Leslie’s response to this particular post. Like many of us our spouse or ex spouse is someone who portrays themselves as on top / better than based on public opinion or credentials. Leslie has given the unbiased opinion of examining both sides, which I myself did through my own experience for many years, lol and whew. I agree with her perspective evaluation, but what I will say to each reader is that the post asks you evaluate ” you had your own work to do to get healthy and strong” to which I agree! However, when a woman finds themselves in the depths of a place like this where she’s more than willing to take full responsibility like Jesus himself did, possibly reframing this statement to “listen to the small voice inside of you” as I’ve learned that most women in these situations have the intuition and self evaluation skills to know what’s wrong with themselves, but they DID NOT have the skills to listen to their inner voice of trauma and what they need. As women, we need to listen to ourselves (within the Lord) for our needs and from that we are who we were created to be. Another point is that listening to that voice inside of often the Holy Spirit speaking God’s love to us which is so hard to understand within the Christian realm. God loves women, and his definition of submission has been lost of in the muddle of worldly masculinities definition. I applaud and am thankful for Leslie’s teaching on this.

    • Leslie Vernick on November 13, 2021 at 2:53 pm

      I agree and i think for so long as women we’ve been taught that to express our needs is selfish, especially if they conflict with someone else’s wants and needs, whether it’s our parents, our children, our husband’s our church leaders, etc.

      • Natasha on November 14, 2021 at 7:33 am

        Yes! I have lately been realizing how my decade long involvement in a popular Christian marriage conference ministry taught me that any expression of my needs was selfish. I was also taught that not deferring to my husband even when he was wrong showed a lack of trust in God. I pulled out my old conference manual, compared the mens and woman’s sections and couldn’t believe the condescending statements in the woman’s section that were not in the mens. I am embarrassed that I drank the cool aid for so long and didn’t notice how they manipulate women to be subservient to there husbands all the while claiming to teach that being a wife was as valuable in God’s eyes as being a husband.

      • Jo on November 16, 2021 at 1:04 am

        Jo,
        As a girl and through age 21, I was taught that my job was to make the home work. It was something I did for years, consciously doing it without knowing what I should keep for myself. I didn’t learn to protect myself from harm either. I was just supposed to keep being nice.

        So, I’ve had to rethink/rediscover what belongs to me, and what I should keep for myself. I’ve started standing up for myself, and trying live as if I count to my own self. It’s a work in progress, but improving with time and practice. I regret not being taught to identify necessary boundaries, self-respect, and self-care while growing up.

        So, at 62, I’m looking forward to who I can become with work. While my husband continues his verbal abuse, disregard, and intemperate behavior, I am looking to separate from him. No one deserves this kind of burden.

        Please for the strength from God keep going on the path forward.

  6. Shannon Anderson on November 11, 2021 at 7:34 pm

    I just noticed that my comment was deleted. I don’t find Leslie to be a person that sensors her forums so much that she deletes comments. I provided my contact information for my comment. Can you please contact me to let me know process for approving or denying posts to public forum? Thank you.

    • Leslie Vernick on November 13, 2021 at 2:52 pm

      I don’t think it was deleted, I just hadn’t approved it yet. I just did.

  7. Tery on November 12, 2021 at 9:11 am

    I too am married to a very bright and articulate man whose forte in business is Negotiating contracts. He often corrects me and “tells” me how I should have worded my sentence so he could understand it better. Hmm..he obviously heard me as he is telling me how to re-phrase it, but he won’t respond because he says he doesn’t know what I mean. So, I rephrase etc, and then he says I am “repeating myself.”. This went on and on until our lack of communication became the straw that broke my camel’s back. I file my paperwork today with the court for a dissolution of our marriage. (Thankfully in Colorado we were able to go thru a Mediator) and in 90 days this will be over. Communication is KEY to a healthy relationship and my marriage hasn’t had it for too many years.

    • Autumn on November 16, 2021 at 3:39 am

      Such a blessing to have a mediator. All communication was manipulation. That skill worked well in his career. The problem is, manipulation can’t be a part of marriage. Congratulations on valuing yourself enough to forbid abuse in your life. Shame on him for not keeping his vows and treating you as a possession rather than an equal.

  8. Natasha on November 12, 2021 at 10:58 am

    My h says the same things almost verbatim right down to it being a major offense for me to speak with my head turned away but he can do it all he wants.
    I love the idea to ask, “what did you hear?” before saying it all again. I think it will help me feel less defensive.
    Leslie, thanks for telling Christian women that it’s ok for us to speak up and defend ourselves. I think the church too often teaches the only good wife is a quiet wife. There are tons of scriptures about speaking up and protecting yourself that you will never hear at a Christian marriage conference.
    Your resources have really been helping me to get rid of lies and speak up respectfully, set reasonable boundaries,etc. My husband is slowly listening and my marriage is slowly improving.
    Thanks

  9. Hope on November 12, 2021 at 11:33 pm

    Leslie, you asked why it’s hard for us to be direct and ask for what we want or need. My dad had Aspergers, so me/my needs/my wants were invisible to him. I rarely tried to talk to him without rehearsing multiple times first. Asking for things at home made the chronic anxiety/tension between my parents worse and life harder, especially for my mom. I learned fast that it was less painful to go without than to try to ask. There was a strong message too that asking meant I wasn’t grateful or appreciative for what I already had. Unknowingly, I married a man with Aspergers and all the tangled communication/confusion was there Again. I’m learning–but it’s still hard for me to ask for things, especially if its a want, not a very basic need. Thank you so much for all the ways you keep encouraging us to grow strong in self-care!

  10. Lois on November 15, 2021 at 11:18 am

    In my experiences now practicing what Leslie teaches us (such as in her book “How to Act Right when Your Spouse Acts Wrong”) It takes time for us to “get out” of the mental mind frame that we need our h to understand us and to change. The 1st hardest thing for me to adjust to was to emotionally let go of the belief that my h could or would change. It was a huge grief to the bottom of my heart, but I needed to separate from that belief. It truly helped me to focus on what I needed to learn and find skills in protecting myself and guarding my heart. There was a situation where I said I really did not want him to pass on what he said in a text to a friend (I felt it made me took a tinge negative) and it got sent as we were in the car. A weird situation. He begins (as usual) saying he did not understand how that could sound bad… and instead of explaining (because I know we will just get into an argument with circle reasoning) I just said, “I accept the fact that you do not understand what I am saying.” In many situations, I will speak truthfully about my thoughts and beliefs knowing he will not agree, but it is not my job to cause him to understand. I used to just pretend it did not matter and just keep dying inside, becoming smaller. But now, I speak up more. I believe what I am thinking more. There is a healthy separateness of sorts. I am not as angry, but able to be nice in these times. Over many months of boundaries(stopping my involvement of verbal hooks – an absolute necessity) and speaking up my h is seeing someone different. I choose not to feel “dread” when he comes home, but guarded and steadfast. It all takes practice and continuing reading what Leslie is teaching us. Each of us can learn how to like who we are in the Lord as we respond more healthy, firmly, and even kindly or even less engaging at times… a new dance…

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