Addressing Emotional Abuse

Morning friend,

I am currently traveling for both business and a bucket list trip to Israel. Instead of stressing out trying to write answers to questions before I left, I thought I'd try something new. 

In some of my private webinar teaching, I've done a Q & A at the end. I've chosen a few questions that I thought might be helpful to answer where you could either read the transcript or watch the video of my answer. The video is below. 

Some of the most powerful feedback I've gotten on my blog is when people say it's so helpful to give examples of the ways you might say something. Each video and transcript you'll hear me give you many examples of ways you can say things around the problem asked. 

Let me know if you like this format. If so, I will incorporate more vlogging in future blog posts.

Question: My husband hasn't heard of emotional abuse or verbal abuse. I feel he's not aware of the damage that he does to me and of our marriage. What should I do? 

Answer: I think part of your job is to make him aware. Not by saying, “You’re an emotional abuser.” that will go over nowhere. But to say, “When you curse at me, it is really harmful to me. It makes me not want to be around you. It makes me feel afraid of you.” 

So you tell the impact of what he does.. And, if he's a Christian, I think you can add, “The Bible says that your words are powerful. And when they're mean and negative and destructive, they hurt my heart and they hurt our relationship.”

So you don't have to use the words, “You're an emotional abuser. You're narcissistic.” I think that can really backfire. Instead, you want to say, “That hurts,” and then see whether your husband says, “Oh I'm sorry, I don't want to hurt you.” 

If my husband grabbed my arm to pull me over to look at something and I say, “That hurts,” he's not going to keep pulling my arm because he cares that it hurts me. So if your husband is saying mean things and you're not telling him it hurts, how would he know it hurts? Whether he's touching you in wrong ways, or saying things that hurt you or financially doing things that are hurting you, if you don't say, “Ouch! Stop. Don't. I don't like that…” How is he going to know? He's not. 

[Tweet “His body's not your body. His heart's not your heart. His feelings aren't your feelings. So this is part of communicating.”] “Ouch, I don't like this. Stop.” And, “This is harmful to me. This is harmful to us.” This is where the next level of trust comes in. “Do you care about that? Do you care that you hurt me? Do you care that I feel hurt by this?” If he does, good. If he doesn’t, it’s a red flag. That tells you something.

Friend, when you let someone know the impact their behavior or words have had on you and there is only indifference, blame-shifting or shaming like, “you’re just too sensitive,” what does that tell you about your next steps?

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  1. Sara on June 2, 2022 at 8:28 am

    Thank you Leslie. You have really helped me. Now I pray for the strength & wisdom to know what to do next. 💕

    • Nancy on June 19, 2022 at 7:59 am

      Yes pray for that and on a moment to moment basis rely heavily on the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

      He is with You

  2. Carole on June 2, 2022 at 9:03 am

    What are the next steps???

    • Leslie Vernick on June 3, 2022 at 12:48 am

      Carole, each step we take gives us information that helps clarify and inform our next steps. So what happened when you spoke to your husband about the impact of his words, or actions, or attitudes? If his response was “that’s your problem” or “that’s your fault” or “I don’t really give a rip how you feel.” Then what does that tell you about your options and your next steps? On the other hand if he listened, showed some kind of remorse, regret, repentance or even curiosity by asking questions, maybe you have a different next step.

      • Shari on November 30, 2022 at 9:33 am

        I think that is my question too! I don’t really know what it tells me about my options and next steps when it is met with excuses or turning it around. What are some reasonable, doable next steps?

  3. Ellen on June 2, 2022 at 9:32 am

    Thank you Leslie, This is very clear information! Useful!

  4. Pastor Wife on June 2, 2022 at 9:45 am

    My husband is a Pastor but I feel like he is emotionally, mentally, and spiritually abusive to me. Anytime I try to express my feelings, he over talks me and blame shifts. He will even use Bible scriptures to justify his actions and tell me that I am just being ungodly or it’s of the devil because I’m feeling some time of way. He has a tendency to blame me for his and everyone else’s actions. For example, we have a lady in our church that has ought against me for no apparent reason (I am nothing but nice to this lady) and when I try to talk to him about it, he automatically blames it on me and tells me that I just need to ask her to lunch or I just need to show more love to her because I’m not doing enough. He makes it out to me being the bad person and her being the good one even though she so much as got me in the church parking lot one day and just mauled me with evil and others heard her.
    We separated for a little while after him demanding that I had mental issues and sent me to 4 different counselors only to find out that I only have some depression and anxiety due to situational issues. We have since then came back together and it is somewhat better but still a lot of red flags. I’m trying to trust God that I’m doing the right thing by staying. Any advice would be helpful.

    • Leslie Vernick on June 3, 2022 at 12:46 am

      Pastor’s wife – and you are staying because? You said, I’m trying to trust God that I’m doing the right thing by staying…. Is God asking you to stay? If you are getting sicker and sicker staying, is God asking you to do that? If you’re suffering from depression and anxiety living with this person who is emotionally, mentally and spiritually abusive, is that what God is asking you to do? For what reason? I’m not challenging you, but I’m curious and asking you to be curious too.

  5. Tendayi on June 2, 2022 at 10:04 am

    Thank you Leslie. I needed to hear that example!

  6. BabyWalkCook on June 2, 2022 at 11:35 am

    Thanks for this, it’s all very big on my mind. I’ve read both your books and just got Darby Strickland’s new book too. We’ve been to countless counselors. A lot of what he says or does is implied, like texting me yesterday that he has a full week, so “please be both sensitive and respect boundaries. This will require empathy. Thank you.” But it has been about 10 years of me being told I’m hyper-sensitive, socially dense or socially handicapped, OCD, controlling, undermining, emotionally-psycho, crazy, not normal, in-human, incapable, critical, investigative. And when I do say something like that wasn’t nice, that was really hurtful; he’ll say “Oh I forgot, I have to walk on egg-shells with you. You’re so sensitive.” Occasionally he will apologize, like after he cursed at me when he was drunk, and apologized the next day for it. But most of the time, he is defensive and deflects. ‘Everything’ is turned back on me, and ‘everything’ is used as ammunition against me (probably not always, but it feels like the majority of the time that’s how things operate). I think I’m so stunned by it, because I wouldn’t want to treat someone like that or accuse them in the way he does me, that I become a deer in the headlights and have a really difficult time knowing how best to respond. The drinking has been a big issue – an emotional affair years back, passed out while taking care of our 3 year old (I told him things must change or the kids and I are moving back to my family home in 6 months), passed out while watching the boys in the pool (we were all at my family home by then, so I asked him to leave and we were separated for 4 months), driving us home intoxicated (pushed me away when I tried to get in driver’s seat, but I’ve managed to have him pull over after we’ve left friend’s houses) and the latest was a month ago when he drove drunk with our boys. That really scared me/us, and I’m still scared because I don’t think there is real change. He’s not drinking right now (he did once but of course justified it and apologized for it in front of counselors), but I think this is yet another cycle because of how he chooses to view me and talk to me, and multiple lies about smoking and then denying it was even a lie. I’m ready for a separation (to allow the children and I some time for emotional and mental wellbeing; and because I could bet money on the fact that we will once again be in a crisis situation with our children’s safety put at risk, maybe a few months or a year or two, but until there’s a heart change we’re still in this cycle). Our church counselors seem to think that means I’m not committed to working on our marriage, and trust and commitment are the two pillars of a healthy marriage. Of course he thinks that’s over the top and it was just a lie, we all make mistakes, and does that mean that when I’m overly controlling or get frustrated with the kids that he can take the kids off to a hotel and email the church to say we need a separation? I apologize for when I blow up, and know that’s not what I want to do, and I think I have improved over the years and need to continue to take steps to manage my stress and frustration well. The counselor keeps giving me advice to do this or that but I think there is nothing that I can do that will be ‘good enough’ and it’s really really exhausting. He says I’m controlling and overly-corrective but it’s down to little things like asking if he could make me eggs if he’s making himself some, or waiting for him to put his phone down to talk to him, or sending a child up to him to go over homework. I think it’s more of a ploy to get me to leave him alone so he can stay upstairs in bed on his phone or watch TV and nothing is asked or required of him, only what he wants to contribute in his own time and way.

    So I will be following this comment thread! I try to act right, see when I’m wrong and apologize, seek his good, try to understand his perspective and validate it even if I disagree with it, etc. etc. I’m trying to not ask anything of him right now, to leave him alone and just live my life and take care of the kids. But it’s not a healthy marriage, and doesn’t seem sustainable.

    • Holly on June 13, 2022 at 11:23 pm


      Idk you but I’m so very sorry for your heart and that of your children. I finally left my marriage a year ago. I tried for seven-years to use Leslie’s approaches. I can honestly say I don’t have any regrets other then the response I got on day one never changed and had I left then I wouldn’t have so much damage to reap. When you share your heart and hurt with someone who loves you waiting around for the Godly response isn’t your job. A year out and I’m wondering how long Lord before we will recover. Thank God for miracles!

  7. Connie on June 2, 2022 at 2:56 pm

    Well that advice gets me an hour-long lecture full of blame-shifting, minimizing, excuses…ending with, “Well, you’re abusive too!” So, I’ve coined a new phrase. Inside myself I say, “You’ve just slapped me with your words.” That helps me remember that it is not a small thing, or ‘only’ verbal abuse. Then I thank Jesus that He is not that sort of husband, that He was slapped with words and worse, and that He can handle it when I give it to Him. I see Him holding me and ask Him if that’s what He thinks of me. That He is a just God, and one day it will all come out in the wash. Emotionally, I have shaken the dust off my feet. Detach, detach.
    Some days are harder than others.

    • Leslie Vernick on June 3, 2022 at 12:43 am

      Connie, I’m sorry that he responded that way, but now you know. You’re living with someone who isn’t just defensive if you’re critical, but someone who does not want to hear the truth, even if it’s delivered in a kind way. He is telling you that you don’t matter, only he does. The comment, “You’re abusive too” is something that is often flung out when we use labels like “abuse” That’s’ why I cautioned my listeners to use descriptive language rather than labeling language to give you the best chance of being heard. But no guarantees. Jesus spoke truth and they wanted to kill him. But you’re not responsible for how he hears what you say, you’re just responsible for how you say it.

      • Kimberly on June 5, 2022 at 4:23 pm

        This is exactly the response I get when I use this tool of sharing how it makes me feel & hurts us. In addition to what Connie said, I get ,”You think you’re so righteous & superior. You’re not going to change me or control me .You’re a control freak! If I don’t say it just like you want, you’ll never be happy. You’re exhausting. “

      • Carin on June 6, 2022 at 11:52 am

        Detatchment is, also, how I have responded. Thankfulness for what we have and forgiveness for what we don’t.

      • Connie on June 21, 2022 at 12:14 pm

        Umm, yes, we have all done the molly-coddling for years, using ‘descriptive language’ instead of labels. In fact, I do not use the word ‘abusive’, although it wouldn’t matter if I did. He’s not dumb, he knows what I read, and probably has hacked into my email. He did (does?) read my journals. Jesus sure didn’t shrink from labels when it came to those in power oppressing those ‘under’ them. Vipers, liars, blind leaders of blind, wolves…if we wives were secure enough in Christ to walk out the very first time with, “Nobody talks to me like that!!”, we wouldn’t need these hundreds of blogs and counselors, etc. In Proverbs it says that evil needs to be confronted with firm boundaries immediately. Zero tolerance.

        These guys have usually been bullies since childhood and always gotten away with it. Read ‘Character Disturbance’ by George Simon, and ‘Becoming the Narcissist’s Worst Nightmare”. Only firm truthful quick consequences do anything. Years ago a counselor told me that only one thing MIGHT help, and that is an intervention by those whom he most respects. Well they said they’d help me and then they sabotaged it by telling him what I was up to and that he should just come get me because I was being emotional. One intervention is all you get. If that is botched, don’t try another, it won’t work. As long as he has anyone on his side, forget it.

        I’m still with him after 17 years, but understand that there is nothing to be done except that I totally detach. We only talk about the weather and a few things like what’s happening in the community. He said he wanted to live like a bachelor with a maid, and that’s fine with me. No expectations and I live my own life. Lonely alone or lonely with a ‘roommate’ is not all that different. The Lord told me to ‘be still and know’, to silently observe and pray. Now I see the patterns and can predict stuff. Sometimes it’s even hard not to laugh because he’s so predictable. And so very childish. It’s a matter of not wanting to grow up.

        He fixes the car and other things, although he’s been known to sabotage that, too, so I’m on my guard. He quite likes it this way, because self-pity is one of their addictions, and now he can whine about me. Fine. This world is not my home, I talk to the Lord a lot, meditate, read, have friends.

    • Carin on June 6, 2022 at 11:50 am

      “I’m sorry” is not in my husband’s vocabulary. “Tough luck” is. I’ve learned to live with it and I don’t plan to leave. Do you have words to say to someone who does his duty taking care of me, but makes no pretense about the fact that he really doesn’t care.

      • Hal on June 13, 2022 at 11:05 pm


        You asked- Do you have words to say to someone who does his duty taking care of me, but makes no pretense about the fact that he really doesn’t care.- I immediately thought hmm how could some one take care of someone and not care. Then I remembered how everything with destructive people is confusing.

  8. Joyce on June 6, 2022 at 1:28 am

    Thank you for your helpful advice. I have been married for the past 25 years to a man who was never interested in marriage, intimacy or affection. I cannot even hold his hand.

    He handles m finances and I am ever so resentful of this although I am the one who told him to take care of the money I earned. At that time I trusted him but he has abused my trust. I think he has been putting away money in a nest egg for himself as he cannot account for the amount of money withdrawn from my account each month. He has not worked for the past 22 years and preferred to stay home and look after our child.

    A couple of women complained that he tried to touch them and also had an affair with a much younger women and later he blamed me for the affair saying I was cold and distant when he was the one who did not even like me touching him. He is still involved in porn and masturbation.

    A lot of my personal things like jewelery and cash has gone missing from our home and I suspect my husband has taken them.

    I am not sure where my marriage is heading. I am 60 years now with a grown up child. I am so worn out each day trying to figure if God would be ok if I left him. He has his nicer side like taking care of my meals and my car and my child when she was younger and are these qualities enough to stay on? I somehow feel cheated

  9. Stephanie on June 6, 2022 at 1:30 am

    Great advice Leslie

  10. Carin on June 6, 2022 at 11:46 am

    “I’m sorry” is not in my husband’s vocabulary. “Tough luck” is. I’ve learned to live with it and I don’t plan to leave. Do you have words to say to someone who does his duty taking care of me, but makes no pretense about the fact that he really doesn’t care.

  11. BabyWalkCook on June 6, 2022 at 12:37 pm

    Thanks for this post. This is all very heavy on my mind. It’s been about 8-10 years with verbal insults and destructive words. He definitely does not want to hear feedback on how he treats me; it’s just about always turned back on me for being too critical, hyper-sensitive, demanding, etc. With our church counselors we’ve read “How To Act Right” over the last 6 months, and I have also read “Emotionally Destructive Marriage” and probably need to read through them again.

    This has also gone along with so many lies over our 20 years, an emotional affair, and drinking: with a number of scary incidents over the past 7-8 years where my children and myself are put in dangerous situations. We lived in England (he’s in ministry) and there it was just that he was intoxicated whilst watching the children at home, or passed out to where he couldn’t have driven me to the hospital if I went in to labor, or passed out whilst watching the kids in the pool. Now that we’re back in the States, it’s drinking and driving. I’ve been able to have him pull over and drive home, but a month ago he got drunk during the day and drove with the children. I was suspicious of it (I’m tuned in to the cycle now and some of the warning signs) and was able to get the kids out ASAP. All of that to say, I was hopeful that there would be a real change but I am definitely facing the reality that things have only gotten worse. So how much of the emotional abuse (which evidently goes along with alcoholism) and child endangerment can the 4 children and I take before it becomes more harmful to stay than to leave.

    I’ve mentioned separation (after the 3rd lie about cigarettes since him driving drunk with the kids, and he said he didn’t lie or wasn’t being dishonest, he just didn’t tell me). But I get the impression the church counselors think that I’m not committed to the marriage if I’m considering a separation. I was hopeful that going to our church counselors would put us under the authority of the church if a separation or divorce became necessary. But they say I’d have to go to the elders for a separation, that they are about bringing people together and restoring relationships and would only report to the elders if there was physical abuse.

    In the past few days, I’ve gotten involved with Al-Anon which goes along nicely with your advice to do the right thing, focus on my relationship with God, admit when I get it wrong and take care of myself and the kids. So I guess my next step for now is to focus on that and setting boundaries for myself and the kids (“I statements” – not demanding a change in his behavior but just what my response will be when he does x or y); although I really do feel like we’re just waiting for the next ‘incident’ to happen. But for today, I can be thankful that he’s not drinking and stay true to who I want to be as a person.

    • R on June 9, 2022 at 8:58 pm

      Counselors who come into your situation with an agenda (to preserve the marriage) are not good counselors. The counselor needs to be able to respond to the particulars of what is happening to you as they unfold.
      To be honest, you asked how much you can take before if becomes too harmful… It sounds like you might already have an answer in mind. Passing out while his kids are in the pool? Driving drunk with them in the car? He could have killed them.

      Jesus does not expect you to keep yourself and your children in very real danger in the name of one-sided “submission.” You are free to protect yourself and your children. I hope you can see that Jesus loves you even if your marriage doesn’t look the way you want it to.

    • JoAnn on June 11, 2022 at 10:19 am

      Carin, this is where you must care enough to take care of yourself. Guard your own heart, however you must. You already know that you can’t expect him to care, so drop any expectations that you have and just take care of you. When he does something hurtful, Think of a consequence, like walking away, or not preparing dinner. Say, in a sweet voice, “Thank you, Dear. For that, I think I’ll go out for a while.” Perhaps Leslie’s book “How to Act Right When your Spouse Acts Wrong” will have some good suggestions.

    • Eliza on June 12, 2022 at 10:31 pm

      I hear in your words my own struggles. The desire to do the right thing. Wanting so badly to be under authority.

      Sweet one, you do not have to wait for permission to be safe. You do not have to wait for permission from others who have no idea the depths of your situation to “see” truth.

      You can trust yourself. You already know. Waiting for the next thing to happen means you are still in the cycle of abuse.

      True love is full honesty. You and your children deserve an environment to heal and connect to one another without living in fear.

    • Hal on June 13, 2022 at 10:36 pm


      I know your comment was a week ago but I wanted to tell you after surviving the beginning stages of what you describe, my heart aches alongside you. I fortunately left. It had been about seven-years of attempting all the suggestions in Leslie’s book and just going from bad to worse.
      It’s been a year free now. I’m praying for your family. A year away has only begun to begin to heal the wounds. I have no idea how long this takes but lately I just wish I would have left seven-years ago. We get to choose who we are and who we love. I don’t see abusers loving God and their family or oops forgetting what that looks or feels like. I see it more than ever as a very calculated, well-understood rejection and form of punishment. Selfishly justified in their mind the more we infringe on their (entitlement) free will. I also find it odd that I feel as though I’m pained in reading your comment and I don’t even know you (does your husband feel or see your pain). I cannot see your beautiful life and that of your children but I can promise you this- I understand love thy neighbor as thyself it’s written on my heart.

  12. Looking back on June 7, 2022 at 9:49 am

    Next steps to me really are a necessary response to a situation. After we have let that person know the impact of their behavior and often times we have done this more than once, it’s up to us to choose what environment we will put ourselves in based on what we profess to believe about who we are in Christ. I think Christ challenges us greatly in this! Claiming to be a Christian challenges us in these relationships.
    The indifferent person or person unwilling to take responsibility for their behavior (often they too claim to be a Christian) isn’t in the equation anymore, they have stated their place and that IS their next step and freedom to choose how they want to be.
    It can be painful and grieving to make these steps but there is so much freedom to giving a response (in action) to a person who needs the opportunity to ‘feel’ the loss of what they claim to not care about in their indifference etc.
    Some do feel the loss but not enough to take steps to change their position. Some are too defended to even ‘feel’ the loss and continue to be self centered and motivated to feed themselves emotionally. Either way with prayer and facts based statistics in these destructive types of relationships, I believe a person can make a wise response and experience the joy of being a responsible person, friend, spouse, mother, sister, etc.

  13. Lisa on June 8, 2022 at 9:52 am

    Good morning. I always appreciate your emails sharing so much helpful information. On this one about emotional abuse, I received this message where the video is supposed to be:’s server IP address could not be found.

    Do you know if this is something wrong on my end or where I could access the video? Thanks so much

  14. Nicole on November 14, 2022 at 3:16 pm

    Hi Lisa,
    What if the person you are in relationship with is not your husband, but a family member? My sibling and I have had a tense relationship for my whole life, only recently discovering that it is a destructive and abusive relationship. I have said all I can say to them about stopping, changing, how they speak to me, how they treat me to no avail. We gone no contact and with holidays and family events coming up I am feeling the anxiety about what’s going to happen. I have no intention of seeking reconciliation, what I am worried about is retaliation. They are absolutely revving up the tension through others, and social media. Church and friends have been no help, and my parents are playing neutral.
    I have enjoyed listening to your podcast, and you practical advise for others. I am very interested what you could say to those that are forced in a life space together.

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