It’s hard to believe that our world has been shut down for a year now. I had planned a trip to France in April that was cancelled this week due to continued COVID restrictions. It’s easy to get angry and depressed. What’s much harder is to take responsibility for our own emotions in an unfair, unpleasant situation and figure out how to face those challenges or restrictions or new opportunities with positivity, patience, strength and dignity. That’s what I’m doing, how about you?
Today’s Question: It took me many years to know (almost) for sure that my husband is emotionally abusive. In the beginning of our relationship it seemed like a fairy tale. I wanted to make him happy. I catered to his every need. I do want to add that I was not a Christian when we met. I would look for love any way I could get it and thought that usually meant through sex and being servant-like to guys.
So my husband seemed wonderful and made me feel secure at first. But soon that all changed. I was a stay at home mom and he took control of all the money. He would not give me money to do laundry at the laundry mat. He had to come with me to the grocery store. He refused to pay the bills but bought himself whatever he wanted. He told me I was too sensitive and that I always made him out to be the bad guy. He lied to me about small things and big things and said (and still says) that he has never lied to me and that I always think the worst of him.
Once I became a Christian a light went on in my head. I was worth something. We have been married 16 years and have two boys. My oldest son wants me to leave. He says “mom he treats you (us) terrible.”
I feel like I am crazy one minute and then the next minute I know that it’s emotional abuse.
This morning my husband said, “You seem to think I lie to you all the time when I have never lied to you.” He can seem so calm and in control at times and so out of control others. He will not listen to me and when I comment about his behavior or something he said, he tells me “That’s ridiculous.” Or “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Am I crazy or what? What are my next steps?
Answer: It does feel crazy, doesn’t it? My heart goes out to you and anyone else who lives this way. This doesn’t sound like a healthy marriage but more like a POW camp. But here’s the deal. [Tweet “Nothing will change if nothing changes.”] That means that if you want something to be different, you will need to be the one who initiates some changes. The way it is right now is not only toxic for you and your boys but believe it or not, it’s also destructive for your husband.
First, it’s important for you to get some wise Christian support. I’m glad you are here on this blog. When we are isolated, the words of an abusive person ring truer than when we have other voices to listen to. The book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption tells the true story of Louie Zamperini, an Olympic runner who was a prisoner of war during WW2. Isolation was one of the tactics used by the Japanese to mentally and emotionally break the captured soldiers down. When they weren’t allowed to communicate with their fellow prisoners of war and receive support, comfort, and validation, it was impossible for many of them to stay strong, hopeful and even sane.
But another important thing I realized as I read this book is that the Japanese soldiers who treated American prisoners inhumanely didn’t feel good either. Lording over someone and being cruel doesn’t only dehumanize and degrade the victim, it dehumanizes and degrades the person doing the abuse. For the best interests of everyone in your family, it’s time to get strong enough to initiate some changes.
There is a tremendous imbalance of power and control in your home. Your husband has all the power and control, you are the object he controls, not the person he loves. He controls the finances, he controls the mood of the home, he controls what you do, where you go, and even tries to control what you think and how you feel. That’s why you are constantly questioning your own thoughts and feelings and ask yourself “am I crazy?” He decides what you think, not you. He tells you what you should feel, not what you do feel.
You mentioned that he twists reality telling you he’s never lied to you. But your own gut and experience tells you something very different. That’s crazy making and not God’s best for you, or for him.
On my website there is a free resource page where you can find my article, Who has the Final Say? God’s design for marriage is to be a partnership, not a dictatorship. When you became a Christian, you began to experience your true value and worth. Now it’s time to learn to live in that truth. [Tweet “A diamond is still a diamond, even if your husband throws it in the trash or tells you it’s just a rock.”]
When you know and believe that you are a loved, valuable, worthwhile human being and live from that core place, toxic people lose their power to manipulate you. They can’t control and intimidate you as they once did when you felt worthless, dependent and needy.
Changing you might also require you to be less financially dependent and find some means to earn money of your own. Having the ability to support yourself and your children, if necessary, gives you choices you don’t have when you are totally dependent upon your oppressor.
Journaling what he says and does when he’s out of control as well as what is said and agreed upon will help keep you clear minded. The journal isn’t to prove to him that he’s emotionally abusive or lying but it’s to keep you from feeling crazy when he denies doing what he did or saying what he said.
As you get stronger, you can invite your spouse into necessary changes. If he refuses, don’t beg, plead, or badger or argue. Simply step back from the relationship and allow him to experience his own core loneliness, unhappiness, and misery without taking responsibility for his feelings.
Next time he is disrespectful, abusive, or controlling, lovingly but firmly invite him to treat you and your children with kindness and respect. If he refuses, (which he very well might do), then he not only loses the opportunity to grow as a husband and father, he loses the closeness and fellowship of his family.
Unfortunately, sometimes consequences including separation are the only things that will wake a destructive person up enough to begin to realize change is required. As you already know, actually doing the hard work of change is a whole different step and requires time and consistent effort as well as accountability and support.
That’s why you both need wise people around you to help you on this journey. There is no short cut to growth and healing, but it is God’s will that you both know Him and mature and live in the truth of who He is and who we are in Him.
Press on dear one. For your growth, for the wellbeing of your husband and the future of your boys and family, take these next courageous steps and see what God does. Don’t focus on fixing your marriage or your man. Focus on strengthening your own CORE and putting God first and leaving the outcome of your marriage to Him.
My educational and support group CONQUER will be opening up to new members in April. I encourage you to join the wait list so you get notified when it’s open. It’s a group where you will find support and help.
Friend, what other steps have you taken to shift the imbalance of power and control in your marriage?
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I know you do not want your boys to grow up like their dad so the best thing you can do is to show them what a strong woman looks like. I know at this point a separation seems “hard on the family” or “it is breaking the family up”. But in reality, the family model IS broken now and taking action, even separation, is a effort to improve it. You and your children ARE being damaged everyday.
CBPP,I appreciate your comment about the action of separation being an effort to improve an already broken family model.This makes sense to me and was exactly what I desired when I initiated a legal separation from my husband.Although he continues in his denial I believe God has honored my decision in many ways as I heal and grow.It is much healthier to pray for my husband from the safety and peace of my own space and leave my husband in Gods very capable hands.
Leslie, thank you so much for this! You and the private support group have helped me through the most difficult time of my life. This blog is very timely, too, because even though I’m out of the abusive marriage, I still wonder from time to time if I made the right choice. This second-guessing is just shrapnel from his crazy-making behavior. The blog helps me remember with confidence why I left and why I appreciate my life so much now.
“This second-guessing is just shrapnel from his crazy-making behavior.” Love this!
It is such a blessing to go from frightened and dreading when my h comes home to a place of guarding my heart and actually believing that what I think is really true. I am certain that it does take a bit of courage to look at the realness that a destructive husband brings into the relationship [Clarity]. But without it, I am not in a position to figure out how to put a boundary on that kind of treatment/behavior. When I began in the Conquer Journey a year ago… I was a very fearful person and almost did not sign up. I love the teaching and have even experienced some feelings of joy and healing as I learn how to take better care of my needs and to be with healthier (not perfect) friends. I’m praying for you sister… please sign up for the Conquer Journey.
I wish I would have done this sooner: emotionally detach, sit back in your mind and observe (and journal what you’ve observed if you want). Listen to what he says without replying (or wait, pray, think before you reply calmly and wisely and with total detachment). Pretend you’re in the bleachers watching a game (which it is). Watch body language (the classic smirk, eye roll, etc.) Shrug and turn away while saying things like, “I have no right to change your perception of this situation (or of me)”. Don’t try to convince or debate at all. Pray through it all. You’ll be surprised at the insight and wisdom God gives, especially if you have first gone to Him and thoroughly learned what He thinks of you and how He feels about this, and where He is in it all. We need a clear understanding of our worth before we can do this. God doesn’t impose His way on us and we can’t impose it on each other, but we can learn patterns, tactics, etc. I find now I can recognize it for what it is and get on with my life.
Blessings to you.
Are you familiar with the term gaslighting? That seems to be what is happening to you. It is a form of abuse.
I think it is very insightful of your son to tell you that “Dad treats you terrible!” Wow! Your son needs to see that he is right and that you don’t deserve to be treated that way. Honor him for seeing that, and honor yourself by refusing to accept that treatment anymore. If you do not, then your son will resent you for it. He may even learn to think that he was wrong and this is the way a man should treat a woman. That would be terrible, too.
I lived like this for nearly 16 years with my husband – controlled, monitored, isolated and having my own thoughts and feelings undermined in every conversation. He always told me what I thought and felt and often “had to explain to me why I was wrong” because I “just didn’t get it.” He had me second guessing every move I made, feeling guilty over every argument because it was “obviously my fault,” constantly walking on eggshells, and I was afraid to talk to others if I did get the chance. I didn’t even attend church anymore because he was atheist and I was “of course, agnostic at best.” When I did talk to someone as a sounding board because subtle physical abuse had started as an extension of his control (and this physical abuse would gradually become more extreme), he found out and stood over me to make sure I sent a message saying I had made it all up, thus robbing me of my credibility too, tightening his control over me that continued for years. I was cut off financially and he made scary threats that I took very seriously if I ever tried to leave. He accused me of having sexual thoughts about other people while he cheated on me and lied to my face for years and “put me in my place.” I stayed in that relationship and continued to hope things would get better or something would change, but it never did. The relationship finally blew up and turned into a messy divorce when he left me and the kids with no food or money or gasoline and many letters about how the months-behind bills would soon lead to utilities being shut off and an eviction so he could run off with another married woman. The separation and divorce were the hardest, most miserable things I’ve ever had to go through… but once I was away from him and able to talk to people outside the relationship, over time my head felt less muddled and I felt peace for the first time in years. I had forgotten what that felt like. I was able to see clearly what he was doing. I sought out more information to make sense of everything that had happened because now I was able… just because I was away from him. I wasn’t afraid/anxious during every waking minute. That was almost 3 years ago. Now I’m more angry at myself, angry that I let myself live that way for so long, that I let myself be so completely dominated, that I let him make me believe that everything HE did to me and our family was my fault, that I covered up the abuse for him so he could go on to do it to others. Now I’m allowed to be angry… because I know it wasn’t all my own fault. Sometimes I still catch myself in these patterns of submission in other areas of life when I come up against strong personalities. But in the end, despite all the trials and pain for myself and our kids and all the self-doubt… I wouldn’t go back to living that way… and he has continued on the same way. He was adamant that he will never believe that he’s done anything wrong because his leaving “was my fault for not serving him enough” (in the bedroom) and I “let him be unhappy” in the marriage – trying to make me responsible for his feelings and decisions. Occasionally he still tries to display his power and control over me, but I just stand there and don’t react, which drives him nuts and he starts to look like the crazy one. That power and control isn’t there anymore. I’m free, as God meant me to be, and I’m making a better life for myself and the kids.
So many of us can relate to the harm you endured. Don’t blame yourself. You were tricked by a sick man. He hid his true evil motives from you and still lives in a delusion world of his own design. Sadly, that is pretty typical for abusers. The classic symptom us not taking responsibility for his bad behavior, always blaming anyone but him.
Go no contact as much as you can. Congratulations! Well done, strong woman!
I’m not sure whether or not her husband lying is the biggest issue here to do something about. When I read this woman’s experience, it rings true to being in a relationship with a destructive/abusive person, where they often want to deflect from the bigger issue of their lack of respect/value for another. I’m not saying that lying is not an important issue, it should be addressed. Her husband doesn’t care what she feels or let alone needs, (money, basic necessities etc.) his behavior is that he is superior and she is inferior so much so that even her children see the discrepancy!
It’s crazy feeling because this is not the behavior of a husband let alone a father. And when you are in this type of living situation it is crazy feeling!!
This isn’t a marriage where both parties are fulfilling their marriage vows.
The husband has broken his vows to be in the relationship based on many things this writer has highlighted.
Understanding it’s ok to draw a line, make choices for yourself and move into living a life of dignity and value is a healthy response to the freedoms in Christianity.
I’m not sure I would spend time trying to convince her (roommate) of his power and control issues.
Some men, really see nothing wrong with treating their wives like this – if they stay home to take care of children and other home responsibilities. They don’t see a pay-check so they think they are entitled to control every dollar which actually is against God’s description of managing God’s money!