Am I Enabling Or Enduring (Poorly)?

Morning friend,

We had a great CONQUER workshop last week and I hope you got a chance to attend. Our doors are open until this Friday. If you’re interested in checking it out, click here.

This week’s question: My husband struggles with anxiety disorder, is controlling, and acts harshly with bullying, criticizing, or the silent treatment if I don't act the way he wants me to. He blames everyone else for his own mistakes, talks over me in conversations, speaks down to me, and with his distorted thoughts accuses me of bad motives for doing things. 

It's emotionally exhausting to constantly walk around on tiptoes not knowing when he's going to get upset about something I do or say. I feel like in a way I've enabled his disrespectful treatment of me by trying to be a “good submissive wife” all these years. But ironically, he still accuses me of being a selfish, unsubmissive, hypocritical Christian anyway. I feel depressed like he'll never change, and I must accept that I will have an unhappy marriage for the next 20+ years.

Answer: Thank you for being so vulnerable and honest. It is exhausting and depleting to live like this. It sounds as if your husband has some internal beliefs which keep him from growing, maturing and becoming healthy. From what you’ve written I’ve listed what might be a few of his internal beliefs:

Possible Beliefs for Husband:

As the leader of our home, I have the right to control you – who you are, what you do, how you talk, what you think. If you don’t follow my lead, do what I say or want, you are being ungodly and unsubmissive. 

I have the right to punish you if you don’t do what I want by bullying and criticizing and not talking with you about anything until you decide to submit and do what I want.

My needs, my feelings, and my thoughts are more important than you and your needs, feelings, or thoughts.

If only you would do what I want, do what I tell you, then things would be fine between us.

It’s your fault (or someone else’s fault) that I made a mistake or did something wrong. If you would just do what I tell you (what I want), then I wouldn’t have done that or made that mistake.

According to God, a wife’s life energy and purpose are to make her husband happy and his life easier and take care of the kids. If she doesn’t, she is selfish and not following God. 

Now here is where it becomes a little more complicated. You didn’t directly ask me a question but implied in your exhaustion and query I hear two questions. Question # 1 “Does God call you to live the rest of your life this way?” And Question # 2, “Have you enabled his treatment of you to continue because of your own internal beliefs?”

Let me start with Question # 2. Here’s a list of your possible beliefs that may have enabled this destructive pattern to continue. You are not going to change him. Only he and God can change his beliefs and/or behavior. But I would challenge you to examine some of your own beliefs because at some level if you choose to stay living like this, you must be agreeing or accepting his belief system and yours as God’s will for you. 

Your possible beliefs:

No matter what my husband does or says, I must stay with him because God hates divorce.

God will be angry with me if I can’t take it anymore. There must be something wrong with me and my faith if I leave or fall apart. I just have to learn to accept it.

I married him for better or worse so even though it’s been worse, I’m stuck because that’s what I promised.

It must be my fault he refuses to change, love and care for me. If only I tried harder, learned what I’m doing wrong or prayed more, God would change him. 

He could be such a great guy if only I could get through to him.

My kids would hate me if I divorced him. Then I’d be all alone.

I can’t make it on my own. Therefore, I have no options.

I need him to change for me to be healthy and whole.

I need him to love me in order to be okay.

I’m thinking selfishly. I shouldn’t be concerned about myself. God will take care of me and I just need to trust God. 

Submission means I shouldn’t argue or disagree. Maybe he’s right and I am being selfish and ungodly when I try to argue or reason with him.

I could list other beliefs both of you might hold that led to the kind of marriage you’re experiencing, but let’s move on to what you can do from here. 

God says that we all have wrong thoughts and beliefs (Read Romans 1). That’s why we are called to examine our thoughts and heart and start this change process by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2). Next, we’re commanded to identify those wayward and untrue thoughts we all struggle with and take those thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ so that we can grow to have the mind of Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5; 1 Corinthians 2:16, Philippians 4:4-8).

Therefore, when you close your eyes, put your hand on your heart, and ask God to lead you into all truth, his truth, what comes to your mind? What thoughts and/or beliefs about yourself or about your marriage or even about God need to be rooted out, named, transformed, and conformed to the truth of God and his Word? (John 8:32). 

No one can do this work for you but you. And no one can do this work for your husband but him. But God doesn’t call you to live in fear, despair, and defeat. He says you are to have a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).

What might be possible if you worked on your own self instead of trying to change him or fix your marriage? What might be different about you if you truly believed God loved you and didn’t want you to be bullied or mistreated by anyone? If you lived your life forward as if God created you for wholeness and purpose? Your husband’s anxious and controlling ways, coupled with your own wrong beliefs) have squashed you into someone even you don’t like right now.

What different ending might be possible to your life story if you stopped believing that you are stuck, doomed, and must live like this, rather than take responsibility for your own well-being and life purpose even if your marriage doesn’t get better? What might you tell yourself differently when your husband criticized you or disapproved of your newfound strength, courage, and growth?

Friend, you may have to accept that your husband may never change his beliefs or his ways, but that does not mean you can’t change yours. Your job right now isn’t to focus on trying to fix him or even decide for sure what you might need to do regarding your marriage. Your work right now is to submit your own mind and heart to God’s renewal process and learn to walk in the truth, so that you can start to live in freedom and peace and not in fear, frustration, and depletion.

Friends, can you share some of the ways you became aware of your own internal beliefs that kept you stuck in despair and frustration and how God showed the importance of renewing your mind with His truth?

26 Comments

  1. Katherine Alba on October 5, 2022 at 10:02 pm

    I’ve been through similar and I’ve decided to stay in the marriage. After careful examination I truly believe, in my situation, that divorce is not an option and would cause more harm than good. Therefore, I decided that if no matter what I do he thinks badly of me, then I’m going to act how I want to act and not try to control his emotions by trying to act perfectly and avoid accusations. Now, some people might think that meant I behaved badly. No. I know what kind of person I want to be and how I want to conduct myself, a good person and a godly wife. However, I quit letting the possibility of his bad behavior affect mine. I quit trying to not step on landmines. Instead of worrying about walking through a minefield, I chose to walk God’s path.

    If he was a miserable grump, I went and did my own thing away from him. If he accused me of things I didn’t do, I would simply say, “I’m sorry you believe that about me, but it isn’t true.” Then, I’d walk away and get on with my life. (Yes, I prayed and cried a lot in private away from him.) All the evidence in the world wouldn’t change his mind, so I just wouldn’t bother fighting or convincing him. I just stated the truth, because deep down these men know the truth but speak lies to control things.

    Another thing I did was take up space. I quit wrecking myself to make him happy. If I’m too sick to make dinner, I don’t make dinner. If he’s hogging the bed and I can’t sleep, I go on the couch. If he asks me why I went on the couch I tell him the truth.

    If he talks over me, the conversation is over. I am not responsible for his poor opinion or distorted views about me. It is not my responsibility to correct his false views, though I do speak a calm, simple truth and leave it at that. I can only act according to God’s plans for me. If he chooses to believe lies (and stay in the marriage) then that’s his belief and he can live with it.

    It stinks to have anyone think poorly of us and we want to change their point of view, but he’s already proven that this is his control tactic over you. So don’t give into it anymore. No more tiptoes.

    “You only brought me coffee because you want something!”

    “No, I brought you coffee because I thought you’d like a coffee.”

    “You want something! You always act nice when you want something!”

    “Enjoy your coffee, dear.” And walk away.

    He can stew in his own misery and negativity. You go spend some time with Jesus.

    It’ll take time to retrain yourself to not tiptoe and to not walk through the minefield. It’ll take time to build CORE strength. It’ll take time to find your voice. For me, before I could find my voice I had to be ok with silence. Instead of defending myself, I would just keep my mouth shut and work on my actions and feelings towards the behavior rather than words. It mostly meant keeping silent and walking away. Not stonewalling, mind you, but knowing that the situation isn’t going to be resolved in a healthy way so I must remove myself from it. Then, I would pray and ask the Holy Spirit to speak for me when needed.

    You got this!

    • Kelli on October 6, 2022 at 5:20 pm

      This was a very good response. I learned a lot from it. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

    • Connie on October 6, 2022 at 5:40 pm

      Katherine, that’s about where I’m at as well. This is my second rodeo, the first being 25 years and 10 children, then 8 years single, now 17 years married again. I now know that they never do stop abusing you, even from afar. Through the children and church and friends and any other way they can think of. I’m not young and don’t have that nudge to start over once more. One thing I would add is that humour is my friend. I’ve studied much on the subject, and amuse myself in predicting his games and other foolishness. I pray a lot, sing a lot. I do wish I had one local friend who understood this dynamic, but writing helps, though I presume he sneaks my journals and hacks into my email account. Maybe even reads this. I just don’t care about that anymore. He has an online accountability group and counsels them to love their wives better, thinking that talking and praying aloud (or pretending to) about it will distract me from realizing that there is no walk behind the talk. So many mind games and excuses for not changing. The pride, insecurity, and fear is so obvious to me. It’s good to be able to let go of expectations and outcomes and leave it all to God. It’s good to come to realize my value to God, not others, and to learn to stand up for myself and God’s standards. He is my husband, my shield, my strong tower to run to, and all that. But I have my days when I’d really like to clock him. Sigh.

    • Ruth on October 12, 2022 at 4:02 pm

      Wow! I totally agree. We aren’t responsible for how our husbands act, only how we choose to respond to them. My goal is no longer to please my husband, but to please God. Pleasing God includes speaking the truth in love & not tolerating mistreatment from others.

  2. julie on October 6, 2022 at 8:53 am

    Very good article. Thank you for always pointing us to Truth. Reminding us we are His Beloved.

    Isn’t the comment about her husband” struggling with anxiety” an enabling excuse ?
    She is not his emotional punching bag.

  3. Kay on October 6, 2022 at 9:02 am

    My hubby also has a lot of anxiety. I think he really feels desperate sometimes, if only I would do what he wants and not upset him, then we would be fine. He doesn’t know what else to do with his own emotions, he honestly feels he needs me to avoid activities that cause him fear or upset him.

  4. Lizzy on October 6, 2022 at 9:20 am

    Great reminder to have God examine our own hearts so that we can allow the one true God to reveal to us our own blind spots. I am at a point where I cannot continue to be the only one fighting for my marriage and am pursuing a separation with my spouse of 15 years. Leslie and Lysa T. Have help me tremendously! I decided that I’m worth more than the fear that I’ve experienced from my husband for years and hope that saying goodbye, ” God be with you ” puts both my husband and I on a healthier path.

  5. Kim on October 6, 2022 at 9:46 am

    Psalm 37:4. Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart. Our true delight and happiness will come first from our one true God, the Lord Jesus Christ, not from our husband who is unsubmitted in his own selfish will to the true head of our household.

  6. Michelle Harley on October 6, 2022 at 10:39 am

    I’m so grateful I found this website wish it would have been years ago. But what I realized through physical mental emotional and financial abuse. I am totally dependant on God. My husband and I just graduated from Bible college and now see it was all act his beliefs are still the same. Myblove for God had me speaking truth and he took all our money and left. God answered my prayers to remove him. I spend two years preparing myself for marriage before meeting him but I was nieve to think because he knew scripture he was a man of God. He is a narcissist and I lost everything twice I worked hard for as a single mom. But he could not take my faith. Through out this 6.5 years of marriage I pressed into God my two years of ministry school to have my ministry vision birthed. God told me to take my handsnoff marriage as it became an idol I was trying to do what bible said. But Jesus did not die for us to bw on bandage. My husband could not handle my dubmission to God to have my own mind to continue to seek God. To walk in freedom and peace and no longer fear the outcome or live in defeat or frustration. God is renewing my mind daily to the truth. I want to encourage anyone to press into God let him reveal truth to you its the sweetest place to be. My values or beliefs where to that marriage is a covenant not contract. Through this process I learned forgiveness I learned I was unequally yoked, I learned during to yourself is not accepting abuse. I learned I’m a victim not a victim. Healing is a time of reflection for first time in my life I am learning to put myself first and love myself. ❤️. I see on outside looking in he was used to strengthen my faith in God and to understand its never acceptable to twist scripture or think of ourselves less than. God meets is right where we are. There is no better love than the love of God. Thank you for all your ministry does.

    • . Yariela Paschall on October 13, 2022 at 12:01 pm

      So one with you. Many “christians” get like pregnant with the Word , but seem to never give birth to it. The Word just bloats them , they look full but since it doesn’t give birth, it just becomes fullness of knowledge, like from the the tree of knowledge of good and evil., nothing from the tree of life. Sadly so much of that among believers and I feel So many men are failing there, ( and some women too). Lord, give us wisdom!

  7. Michelle Harley on October 6, 2022 at 10:44 am

    I’m so grateful I found this website wish it would have been years ago. But what I realized through physical mental emotional and financial abuse. I am totally dependant on God. My husband and I just graduated from Bible college and now see it was all act his beliefs are still the same. My love for God had me speaking truth and he took all our money and left. God answered my prayers to remove him. I spend two years preparing myself for marriage before meeting him but I was nieve to think because he knew scripture he was a man of God. He is a narcissist and I lost everything twice I worked hard for as a single mom. But he could not take my faith. Through out this 6.5 years of marriage I pressed into God my two years of ministry school to have my ministry vision birthed. God told me to take my handsnoff marriage as it became an idol I was trying to do what bible said. But Jesus did not die for us to be in bondage. My husband could not handle my submission to God to have my own mind to continue to seek God. To walk in freedom and peace and no longer fear the outcome or live in defeat or frustration. God is renewing my mind daily to the truth. I want to encourage anyone to press into God let him reveal truth to you its the sweetest place to be. My values or beliefs where to that marriage is a covenant not contract. Through this process I learned forgiveness I learned I was unequally yoked, I learned dieing to yourself is not accepting abuse. I learned I’m a victor not a victim. Healing is a time of reflection for first time in my life I am learning to put myself first and love myself. ❤️. I see on outside looking in he was used to strengthen my faith in God and to understand its never acceptable to twist scripture or think of ourselves less than. God meets is right where we are. There is no better love than the love of God. Thank you for all your ministry does.

  8. Maggie on October 6, 2022 at 10:47 am

    How do we not worry about the marriage at the moment if the marriage is part of what keeps us struggling, the mental mind games in the home can’t be ignored. It can actually hurt us as we try to heal.

    • Leslie Vernick on October 6, 2022 at 5:33 pm

      Maggie, I’ll answer your question in a future blog post. It deserves more thought than I can give right now.

  9. Lori on October 6, 2022 at 10:49 am

    Thanks for sharing this – I really needed to hear it!
    I am going going to take more time to process it and allow God’s light and truth to speak to me about my own fears and faulty beliefs.

  10. Kathleen Lawman on October 6, 2022 at 10:54 am

    This article hits so many points I did not see in my own life : I honestly believed all of them. I would never have initiated a divorce, being a good Christian wife, but God, in His mercy and love, gave my husband over to his desires, and he initiated it. I TRIED even harder, and it became apparent his depravity: one wise other said during a particularly terrible time in the midst of the divorce process ( separating items in our home), “God is showing you what He is rescuing you from”. God is good, He is good to me, and He is good at being God. All praise belongs to Him!

    • Ellen on November 12, 2022 at 7:32 am

      🙏🙌

  11. Janet Eck on October 6, 2022 at 11:35 am

    A Most Important Life Lesson learned in my early 30’s: If I want something different than I must do something different.

    • Kate on October 6, 2022 at 8:08 pm

      Thank you so much for that comment- “ God is showing you what he is rescuing you from.” Things were so bad for me once I made the decision to separate from my husband, but before I had moved out with my children. It felt like I was living another reality- how could this actually be my life? A husband who said such vile things and acted in such cruelty.

      • Dora Upchurch on October 7, 2022 at 9:17 am

        Kate, I can relate to your experience. I am so sorry you had to endure that type of abuse. Would you mind sharing your story beyond leaving?

        • Kate on October 10, 2022 at 9:16 am

          The emotional abuse ratcheted up big time. The night before my surgery, I said I was feeling scared of being alone at the hospital. he just stared and said nothing. Anger directed toward me (well it looked like anger and sounded like anger, but he said he’s a passive person and not angry). I felt scared for the first time in my marriage. I carried my phone with me all of the time just ‘in case’. He never hit me, but I knew that if I didn’t leave, it was only a matter of time before things turned violent.

        • Cheryl on October 10, 2022 at 4:41 pm

          These women have described my husband and marriage. I was married 40 years to a wonderful man. After he passed I thought I had found another good man. Well, when he’s not in a mood or mad. He absolutely wonderful. But when he gets triggered he is awful. Just like these women describe. I can financially take care of myself. I love him very much, but can not take the emotional abuse. Only married 6 months. So sad. But heading for a divorce. Never what I wanted.

  12. Connie on October 7, 2022 at 12:23 pm

    Another wrong thought pattern:
    I get a huge dopamine rush from knowing I have power over you to make you cry, angry, or react in some way. My parents believed that sibling rivalry was normal, so they never taught me to not torment my sister to tears, so now it’s a habit and a rush.

    My first husband said to me one day, “Connie, don’t you know that if I can make you sick or cry, it makes a man of me?” Another time, “Connie, don’t you know you’re always wrong?” I asked God where that was coming from, and He immediately gave me to mental videos. One, of hubs tormenting his sister, and another of my brother tormenting me. He had been trained to do that, and I had early learned to react. Nobody taught me how to respond wisely, or especially that I was worth more than to be treated that way. Why do parents think this magically goes away when our bodies turn into adult ones? This is an actual addiction, in German called Schadenfreude, that is really really hard to overcome, especially since it usually isn’t recognized. It is evil. We always want to sugarcoat this evil, calling it something else like, ‘he just doesn’t understand’ or, ‘he must have ADH’ or a rough childhood. No, they have usually been perpetrators since childhood but have learned that others will feel sorry for them if they claim a rough childhood, etc. This has to be tackled head-on like any other addiction, no excuses, no sympathy. AT ALL. I keep reading these suggestions of, “You could say this to him…” I’m never sure if I should laugh or cry. We’ve tried that a few hundred times, and it feeds the addiction all the more. “There, I’ve sucked her into my game again.” They’re like cats playing a mouse. Read “How He Gets Into Her Head” by Don Hennessy. LIke one counselor said to me, “Stop fluffing his pillow!”.And they are training your children to do the same, to each other and to you.

    • Leslie Vernick on October 7, 2022 at 11:35 pm

      Thanks Connie – great point.

  13. Marfa on October 9, 2022 at 2:14 pm

    Hello.
    I am born again Christian and I appreciate this post so much because just right before I received this link from a lady in my comments I had no idea what to do.

    Here is my long story short.
    Me and father of my child are both born again and got baptized together. Now our daughter is almost 3.
    I fell in love with him because he loves God, he really is God fearing man. However, non of is are perfect. I never had normal relationship in my 35 years so I had nothing to compare to.. He took responsibility and felt like “OMG someone actually loves me.. finally, after 30 years of my life, love is reciprocated “ and with that state of mind I went into this relationship.
    Now him – difficult personality. Everyone doing him bad, everyone is bad and this world is going to s!!t as he say.
    At first, I thought ohhhh poor baby, he is so lonely and no one appreciates his good heart. Later on, I started experiencing other side of him. Irritations of me, being aggravated, yelling, stumping feet, cursing and recently he crossed the boundary and told me to SHUt UP in the middle of our argument. Now took me only 4-5 years to realise truly that something isn’t right.. it shouldn’t be this way… how come this sweet, generous, kind funny man turn into this terrible personality from time to time.. almost like he is demonised.. but then it goes for days.. no talking to me if he frustrated about literally NOTHING. Blames me for every little thing he does wrong or I do .. etc etc. exactly as in this post.
    So now I’m wondering… what God wants me to do.. I know if I leave it will be hard and extremely painful but if I stay.. how far would it eventually go… plus our baby.. I don’t want her to grow up seeing this other side of him…
    So yeah. This is my long story very short 🙂

    • Kate on October 10, 2022 at 9:19 am

      I am so sorry you are going through this. Check out Leslie’s book, the emotionally destructive marriage and her podcast. Soooo helpful and can help you find answers to your questions.

      • Marfa on October 10, 2022 at 2:16 pm

        Thanks! Will definitely do!

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