Morning friend,

Since we’ve been discussing whether or not Christian women should resist the oppressive control of their spouses or even church leaders and how that resistance should look, I thought this question was timely. 

Question: I separated from my husband after 48 years of marriage because of his emotionally destructive and sometimes physically violent behaviors toward me. Now he says that I was the abuser in our marriage, and he is insisting that I apologize to him. There is some truth in what he says, however, I do think I was only showing some reactive and some resistant behaviors to his abusive ways. What should I do?

Answer: Although we’ve been on this topic for a few weeks now, I thought it would be a good idea to answer your question because your situation is not uncommon. As a Christian woman/wife, once you start resisting oppressive control and begin speaking and standing up against patriarchal oppression or abuse at home, you will be labeled as an ungodly and un-submissive woman. You may even be accused that your behaviors are sinful and abusive by those who believe that women should keep silent, suffer for Jesus, endure mistreatment for the sake of the gospel, and keep their families together at all costs. 

This is what those who hold power believe. [Tweet “Trying to talk with them will not change their minds because they would then lose power and power is never willingly yielded by the more powerful to the less powerful.”]

That said, you were not specific on what you did to resist his abusive control over you that your husband labeled as abusive. But let me say this: Rage that is stirred in defense of human dignity (your own or someone else’s) is God-breathed. Rage born in defense of oppressive power is manipulative, deformative, and self-centered. God knows from where your anger and resistance came. Therefore, has the Holy Spirit convicted you that what you did was abusive? Did you intentionally pay back evil for evil or cause harm to him? If so, how would you like to handle that awareness? If not and your conscience is clear, then you have nothing to apologize for. 

Your husband’s insistence that you apologize to him shows that he still hasn’t understood his oppressive and controlling ways. A sincere apology for wrongdoing is never demanded or coerced by the one who feels harmed. It is offered by the one who has done the harm, along with efforts to make amends and repairs for the damage done. He’s focused on your apology, but has he offered his own sincere apology for how he has treated you over the years? Or is he still blame-shifting and demanding your compliance? If so, nothing has changed. He’s still attempting to dominate and control you. 

Your next steps are crucial. You have now separated. Yet you are still listening to him tell you what you should do (apologize). In this season you have new freedom to do your own work, think your own thoughts, and get healthy. I’d encourage you to take that path rather than do what he tells you to do. If he isn’t willing to look at himself and do his own work and look at all the 48 years of his abusive ways, then there is absolutely no hope that things will ever be different if you move back home. 

You separated for a good reason. Don’t lose ground by allowing yourself to be manipulated and controlled while apart. If you do sense your need to apologize, ask God if it’s wise to verbally apologize to your husband, or right now, simply confess it to God. Sometimes abusers use your apology as a weapon to further antagonize, demonize, torment and abuse you. If you think that might happen or have experienced that in the past, please make sure you get some help in discerning your next best steps forward. 

If you do feel led to apologize to him, perhaps you can do something in writing, with no further contact. You might say something like: “I wish I had been stronger to handle myself in a better way when I got so angry and (did ……..or said…….). I’m sorry I said ………and I’m not sorry I left. I have been unhappy with the way you’ve treated me for years. I’ve tried talking with you and nothing I said made any difference. I should have left before I allowed myself to get so depleted and worn down. That’s my mistake and my lesson to learn. I will not return to a relationship where I am treated with (whatever your experience was here) .” 

[Tweet “Don’t demand he apologize. That can only come from him and if he does it, look at his actions, not his words.”] Is he willing to understand the harm he caused you over the years? If not, he is using words to get a free pass to say he’s sorry and then do it again? Don’t allow that. You took a giant step forward by separating. Now continue your next right steps forward, even if they’re baby steps. 

Friend, when someone has gotten the best of you and you reacted or resisted in ways that dishonored your own self, did you apologize? If not, why not?

23 Comments

  1. Vi on May 12, 2022 at 8:31 am

    Thank you Leslie! This post was very relevant to me and the timing so perfect. In fact the timing seems perfect and your advice so relevant to my situation with almost all your posts! I appreciate the work you do for me and others in similar situations.

    To the writer of this question: you are very brave to stand up for yourself and leave. Your situation gave me hope. I am still struggling with the decision to leave my husband after almost 40 years of marriage and was thinking it was too late for me to start over. But your situation made me rethink things and gave me a new and better perspective. Thank you!

    • Jamie on May 12, 2022 at 1:36 pm

      I separated from my abusive alcoholic narcissistic husband after 26 years of marriage. I’ve attended 2 years of counseling and read the boundaries book 3 times. It has now been 2 years and I am doing so well! SO WELL! And my kids are starting to thrive too. The first year is hard because you will realize after leaving how much you were abused, but IT GETS BETTER. My advice: Do make a plan and make sure that you will be safe. Do not let him know of the plan and do not let him know where you live. Think through situations ahead of time if possible. I had to block my ex husband’s phone number for a while after leaving. Know your own reasons for everything you do, but do not share those reasons with him. Simply say what you will do and what you won’t do. God bless you!!!!

  2. Debby on May 12, 2022 at 9:19 am

    As always Leslie, this is a great article. I always look forward to them. I would strongly suggest though, based on the divorce proceedings I just went through with my abuser, she not put anything in writing that could then be used against her during a divorce proceeding.

    • Amy on May 15, 2022 at 11:49 am

      Good suggestion…I was even advised to write “Notes for my attorney” on the front of all my journals so that my husband’s legal team could not request them in the discovery process. Attorneys can ask for anything put in writing about my husband…however certain things are protected under attorney/client privilege.

  3. Gail Smith on May 12, 2022 at 9:44 am

    What this woman is going through is what I went through 7 years ago. The specific suggestions of what to write was EXTREMELY helpful. When we are caught up in our emotions and under almost unbearable stress, it is hard to even think. When you said “please make sure you get some help in discerning your next best steps forward.” it sounds like good advice but the problem is – WHERE? My church (and friends) sided with my narcissistic abuser in that I didn’t have reason to divorce because he didn’t have a sexual affair (that knew about). Since I didn’t have a bruise, the local women’s shelter couldn’t help. With five kids and a home based business, I was trapped. Suggestions of where to find help would be extremely helpful 🙂

    • Free on May 13, 2022 at 8:34 am

      Patrick Doyle’s site. He has started a non profit to help women escape and find support as they leave abuse.

      Also, if you were a victim of a crime. There is the Crime Victim’s compensation fund. It is a federal fund. I used it to pay my medical and psychologist’s fee. However, I did have to report my abuser and report his abuse to local police. I needed to press charges to get the funding

    • Jessica, on behalf of the Leslie Vernick & Co team on May 19, 2022 at 11:03 pm

      Hi Gail!

      It can be hard when the people who are meant to protect you don’t. It does seem odd to me that the women’s shelter would not help you without a bruise, but perhaps there is/was another one in the area that would? http://www.thehotline.org would be a great place to start. They may have a list of resources per state, and they certainly understand emotional abuse.

      Family and friends can be helpful sometimes, but not always. And churches can go either way, unfortunately. However, a church that understands abuse will not turn you away if they offer services even if you aren’t a regular attender.

      Counselors and therapists can help with safety planning.

  4. Connie on May 12, 2022 at 1:16 pm

    What I have found, is that there is always a counterfeit to resisting abuse. A counterfeit looks so much like the original but is exactly the opposite. For example, the counterfeit of going no contact is the silent treatment, but the abuser will accuse you of using the silent treatment on him when you are actually protecting yourself by going no contact. The intent is what makes the difference. The silent treatment is to punish you and make you beg him to connect with you so that he can have emotional access to you, otherwise he can’t abuse you like he wants to. No contact is simply to guard your heart from further abuse. We need to be able to discern these things so that he can’t make us feel guilty.

    Guilting is another abuse, on the other hand, bringing someone’s sin in the open to deal with, is not sin.

    Him hiding money to use for selfish purposes is abuse, you hiding money to use for the children’s or your needs is not.

    It is the intent of the action that makes all the difference. Same with boundaries. He withholds things and calls it boundaries, but it isn’t.

    • Ann on May 19, 2022 at 7:21 pm

      Very well articulated. Good insight. Excellent distinction.

  5. Maria on May 12, 2022 at 5:09 pm

    Leslie, could you please expound on this: “ Rage born in defense of oppressive power is manipulative, deformative, and self-centered. ”?

    • Leslie Vernick on May 12, 2022 at 9:10 pm

      Maria, good question. I think that there is a healthy God-led internal rage against oppressive power structures and injustice. I believe Jesus showed that when he turned over the tables of the money changers in the temple who were exploiting the poor with spiritual labels (purchasing sacrifices for sin). Having righteous rage does not mean we should burn down buildings and cause people harm, but it does motivate the oppressed or even the bystander who sees the oppressor oppress or abuse the victim to take a stand. To work to change laws. To create awareness. To speak out strongly against injustice, abuse, and abuse of power as well as advocate for safety as well as restitution for the victim. Recently in the news there was a horrific story of a parent who sadistickly sexually and physically abused his 7 year old daughter and invited others to do the same, all while filming it for porn use. The child was seriously harmed by one who had power over (a parent) and misused his power for personal gain. I felt rage. I think to feel anything less than rage says something inside is broken. Jesus said that those who harm children would be better off if a millstone were hung around their neck and they drown in the sea. That’s righteous rage. However, there is also a rage used to defend the the abusers tactics. The privileged powers in charge- whether that is institutional powers of patriarchy, racism or misogyny or personal power (financial, physical, spiritual) that lead to domestic violence and oppression of those in “less powerful” positions (usually women, children, and people of color). That kind of rage is manipulative (to control and exploit), deformative to both the victim of that rage and the one who rages, as well as self-centered, (The rager protects his turf, what he believes he’s entitled to according to the privileged position he holds as parent, pastor, husband, or leader in a church or institution.) Hope that clarified it. It’s a lot to unpack and I’ve been pondering this over the past few years.

      • Maria on May 13, 2022 at 6:53 am

        Leslie, are you saying that if a victim feels rage and defends herself, that is manipulative, deformative and self centered? For example, a victim pushes a person who is physically abusing her.

        • Sandy Harris on May 13, 2022 at 1:51 pm

          No, she used those words to describe an offender’s rage, not the victim’s righteous rage.

        • Leslie Vernick on May 13, 2022 at 2:14 pm

          No Maria I am saying the opposite. The victim’s rage is appropriate and self-protective. It’s the villian – or the oppressor’s rage that is self-centered, self-serving and manipulative.

        • Leslie Vernick on May 13, 2022 at 2:19 pm

          Maria, heres an example of something I thought of yesterday. If you were eating dinner with someone who prepared something for you that you didn’t like, and you got up and verbally raged at the person because they didn’t make the dinner you wanted, and put your finger down your throat and vomited on their table symbolizing that their dinner was awful – that is self-centered, manipulative, deformative rage. However, If you were eating dinner at the table and you begin to feel sick and realized that the person poisoned you and you stood up and threw up all over the table, that would be your BODY RAGING against being poisoned – and rightly so. So if our body would rage and revolt against being poisoned, why wouldn’t our spirit and emotions also?

          • Maria on May 14, 2022 at 7:32 am

            Thanks Sandy and Leslie.



  6. Margie on May 12, 2022 at 7:11 pm

    I would agree to put nothing in writing or text messaging of a subjective nature, because it can easily be twisted & both can be use in court.

    On the other hand, I suggest to those dealing with difficult people to do as much communication by text or e-mail even Facebook, it is like gold in court, because it is not subjective.

  7. Arloa on May 13, 2022 at 12:24 pm

    Remember JADE.
    Do not: Justify, Argue, Defend, or Explain. The abuser will not understand (doesn’t want to because then he has to be accountable) and the abuser will twist it all. Just be a “broken record” stating the facts and what you will/won’t do.

  8. Mary on May 13, 2022 at 10:30 pm

    Hi Leslie, thank you for answering my question, I am the woman who wrote the question. My first name is Mary. I really appreciate what you said about bringing this matter to God first. He is the one who knows my heart and knows my motives and He has never condemned me for my behaviors. I do think my behaviors towards my husband (crying, pleading, yelling, even sometimes throwing things to make my point ) were such desperate measures, and now I see how worn down and diminished I really was. What God has done for me instead is help me to release my anger towards my husband, and instead to begin to pray for him because I’m in a safe place and away from him. I will consider the possibility of writing an “apology” as u suggested, but probably only after the divorce is final, but I hold little hope that he will receive it in the appropriate manner. I received so much help and encouragement from the CORE strength class and look forward to Conquer this fall. I can’t say enough how thankful I am for you and this community of women😀

    • Free on May 16, 2022 at 9:38 am

      Mary, I don’t agree that you should write an apology letter. Go ‘No Contact” with a psychological abuser. Let your lawyer do the talking as you navigate the divorce process. The more distance you get, the more you can heal. It takes years to get out of denial and realize how things really were during your years of abuse. Focus on your healing. He could care less what you think or feel. When you are out if his control, he will lose interest in you. Journal your thoughts, don’t give any form of written communication to your abuser.

  9. Maria on May 14, 2022 at 7:57 am

    Before I realized I was in an EDM, my husband and I would get into an argument, he would purposely provoke me to react badly. I would cry and yell and then feel bad and apologize to him. Nothing was ever resolved and I ended up taking the blame for everything. When I realized this, I learned how to stop reacting and started responding to him. Many manipulators use this tactic.

  10. Holly on May 16, 2022 at 10:05 am

    I also have been in a mostly emotionally abusive marriage for 44 years with some physical abuse 30 years ago when he was still an active alcoholic. He’s been in recovery for that for decades but the emotional abuse didn’t stop. He would pick at me until I would finally get worn down and explode back but always in reaction to his relentlessly poking at me. Then he would smile. I almost divorced him in my early 50’s but since he went to an abuse intervention program I ended up staying after a long separation. We had a few good years after that but slowly but surely the behavior returned, what I used to call a dry drunk. Then I think things got truly horrible for me. I got so reactive that I was almost instantaneously verbally abusing him back in a subtle way, an eye roll here, a sigh there, commentary on his behavior etc. It was becoming a very fine line as to who was abusing whom first. This for me was almost the worst. He would say I was the abusive one. I wondered whether I was indeed a narcissist. I have now gone very very little contact for 6 months. We are separated in the house. I am trying to figure out what to do because I can’t do this any more. I will ask God for forgiveness. I was becoming just like him in some attempt to get revenge or get him to change I guess. Yes my conscience was bothering me about my part in it. I do not want to abuse anyone.

  11. Free on May 16, 2022 at 1:53 pm

    Holly, you were and are never “just like him.” His thought process is nothing like yours. He hides most of his real thoughts and doesn’t divulge the satisfaction he derives from mistreating you. No, you are nothing alike. There is a world of deception that is calculated and evil in your abuser.

    Stay strong in your separation. Have you read “Psychopath Free?” It might help you identify some of the behaviors of your emotionally dis- regulated spouse. It’s not you Dear, it never was. Turn off the gaslight and invest time and money in your own trauma counseling.

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