It’s a glorious day today at our cabin. We were in Phoenix over the weekend to bring our granddaughters home and it was pizza oven hot…..and draining. Drove back here yesterday and it is more pleasant. For those of you who are interested in the Southern Baptist Training curriculum that I’ve been working on with them, you can get a free copy here. Please pass the link on to your church leaders and anyone else you know that could benefit.
Today’s Question: I would like to have you explain what “enabling” the emotionally abusive person means? The balance of walking the Christian walk, being empathic and caring and submitting to my husband but not enabling is a very difficult line for me to draw. I don’t think I enable, and my husband is not physically or verbally abusive, but he is emotionally abusive without knowing it, even though I have tried to raise his awareness of it. The Christians I confide in say that I am an enabler, but I do not like that term…and I don’t feel I am. Can you clarify?
Answer: It’s difficult to hear people tell us something about ourselves we don’t believe is true. And you’re right, sometimes it is a fine line. It might be helpful for you to ask them what they see in you that makes them think you enable your husband’s emotional abuse. But let me give you four red flags that might indicate enabling behavior.
1. Do you ever lie, cover up, or make excuses for your husband’s emotionally abusive behaviors? You might have a very good reason like you don’t want to embarrass him or disrespect him by calling it what it is, but right now, just be honest with yourself.
Sometimes we think that this is our duty or responsibility as a submissive wife or godly person to cover up sin, but I don’t believe God wants us to exchange the truth for a lie or call evil good.
We can speak the truth with a gentle spirit and in love (with their best interests in mind). Click To Tweet
The apostle Paul says that we are to have nothing to do with the unfruitful deeds of darkness but rather expose them (Ephesians 5:11). When abuse remains hidden and secret, it flourishes.
2. Do you do regularly change your behaviors, stuff your feelings, or guard what you say just to keep the peace, prevent an argument, or make him happy?
Again in any marriage, there is a fair amount of give and take and at certain times for good reasons we might do any of the above. But when we are the one who is doing most of the accommodating or significantly changing who we are or stuffing how we feel then the relationship is unhealthy.
For example, perhaps your husband is insecure and jealous. For those reasons he does not want you to work, or go to bible study, or even go to the mall without him. To accommodate such controlling demands actually enables his insecurity and jealousy to flourish, not to change and heal. That’s where the fine line between submission and enabling starts to blur. Do you submit to your husband’s demands to stay home all the time or is it actually better and healthier for you, for him, and for your marriage to challenge them?
3. Are you doing things for your husband that he should be doing for himself? Again in marriage, there are times spouses do extra favors for one another. But when you are the one doing the most of the work and your spouse is not sharing those responsibilities, you are enabling him to be selfish, lazy, and indifferent.
4. Are you taking the responsibility or blame for things that you are not responsible for? For example, when your husband loses his temper and says “if only you were more organized, or more submissive, or cooked better, or didn’t upset him” do you enable him to blame shift and make you responsible for his bad behaviors?
Now in each of these things, you cannot change your husband. You may be doing all you can and he still may be emotionally abusive. You can’t make him help you, or take responsibility for his own emotional outbursts, or be more secure and less threatened.
I don’t know your particular story or what your spouse is doing that you feel is emotionally abusive, but you can and must look at the part you play to see if you are enabling his behaviors to flourish and grow without protest or consequence.
Friends, how have you learned to walk the fine line between enabling and being a godly and submissive wife?
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Yes, there is a fine line between enabling and walking in empathy. For myself, I have to depend constantly on what the Holy Spirit says in each new situation. Sometimes I have had Holy Spirit guide me to show compassion to my husband while maintaining my boundaries and at other times He has warned me to stay distant, quiet and still, to not respond at all. It seems to be a flexible line depending on the circumstances of each new issue. I wish there was a clear and hard set path. I am frequently praying for wisdom on how to walk this out!
So grateful for this blog. Ann, it sounds like you are really on track.
Wow Ann, that is precisely what I am doing too at this point – beautifully put: I know that to completely stuff who I am with my husband would not only be hurting me, but would also in the long run be hurting (enabling, feeding into his sin) him. But certainly I am trying to be more sensitive to what “sets him off” that I can control, such as complaining, speaking too much about my anxieties, etc. (thought truthfully, I wish he were more understanding and less emotional about those because sometimes I would like to be able to express certain things to my husband, even if they are emotional, even irrational, just to have him gently say “it will be all right” or “let’s just pray about it”). Sadly, though, I have also learned that because of the verbal and emotional abuse (and I can give it too – more as a defense mechanism, though, a wrong form of “self protection”), I can’t really fully give myself to him (one of his several complaints about me) because I don’t know when he will respond emotionally about something because it bothers or aggravates him. I know it’s not the most healthy situation and I am trying to navigate the “staying well” versus “leaving well” options right now. But for now, I am trying more and more to ask God what would be the BEST way for me to respond that would benefit him (my husband), which of course does not include enabling. It’s hard. God bless you guys.
Help me understand, why are you asking God what is best for him? Ask what is best for you. God can manage your husband’s future. He doesn’t need you to be his Holy Spirit. Let’s focus on YOU. You are your responsibility.
It concerns me that you say “and I can give it too.” I have to stop you there. No, you are not giving it. You are not abusive, he is. Any methods you used to try to defend yourself or respond to the injustice placed upon you are SURViVAL techniques, not abuse. You need those skills to live in your terrible situation right now. Enough about him, let’s concentrate on what makes YOU happy, save and loved.
Moonbeam’s comments are well said!
I wonder what you think of what she wrote back to you?
You posted above:
“I can’t really fully give myself to him (one of his several complaints about me) because I don’t know when he will respond emotionally about something because it bothers or aggravates him.”
A loving and respectful thing you can offer your husband is reality here, he can’t have it BOTH ways! He can’t complain about you not being fully giving emotionally etc of yourself if he is not willing to be a fully safe partner. He sounds extremely emotionally immature and tries to control your positions and opinions on ‘ how you feel’
Maybe you need a safe place to process and you want that to be him on occasion?
He is being unreasonable by not developing this place of maturity in himself and then being disappointed you both are not more connected.
Do the loving and mature respectful thing- you may need a counselor involved though/ 3rd party for accountability. Share with him how unrealistic his expectations are! Don’t walk on eggshells, don’t peacekeep, we are called to be peace makers not keepers.
Give him a gift of inviting him to grow out of things ‘setting him off’.
Either way just know you are sending a message in how you behave around him. Personally, I think an emotionally immature husband is really the one who is not Available or present for the important aspects of a Christian marriage(emotionally) don’t let him twist it on you that it’s you, in reality it’s him and you and gently but firmly give him the invitation toward a healthier relationship, but he must choose that he wants to grow.
I am beginning more and more to ask what is best for me, and to allow myself to partake. Thank you for that input. I have to, for the good of BOTH of us. I knew what I was doing when I married this person: I knew many of his traits. So in a sense I am “to blame” for helping to put both of us into a situation (marriage) for which perhaps neither of us was (or ever will be?) ready (I have my things too). Hence, co-dependency. But God knows, and that’s what I am experiencing at this point: His mercy, which is sometimes severe as He allows consequences, and at other times is like a wonderful, sweetly-scented, soft blanket. I am praying for the both of us — and for all of you too. God bless.
I think it’s really a healthy thing that you can recognize (co-dependency behaviors) in yourself. Are you getting individual prof counseling? Are you in a support group or surrounded by well educated and wise women/team to walk along side?
“ I knew what I was doing when I married this person: I knew many of his traits. So in a sense I am “to blame” for helping to put both of us into a situation (marriage) for which perhaps neither of us was (or ever will be?) ready (I have my things too). Hence, co-dependency. But God knows, and that’s what I am experiencing at this point:”
It’s sounds like you are saying you are taking full responsibility for both you and your h? I think it is wise and healthy to take responsibility for your part (only)
When you take MORE than your own or take another’s, you are not doing them ‘good’ this is what can be very disproportionate and cause all sorts of additional marital issues.
When you mention this (I am to blame) to yourself – I wonder if it’s how you are choosing to cope/survive as if you have control? Or as if your deserve the consequences?
I once has a supposedly godly friend tell me that I made my bed (referring to my marital dynamic) and now I need to sleep in it)
Her own unhealthy skewed lens and influence on my life -kept me stuck and actually reinforced more co-dependency behaviors in my marital dynamic.
I’m sorry this is long but I do hope it helps in seeing disproportionate ‘thinking’ and how we can spiritualize that in an unhealthy way as ‘believers’.
I believe the answer to the question is the phrase, ” he is emotionally abusive even though he is not aware of it, though I bring it to his attention “. If you have brought it to his attention, then he is aware of it and has no excuses for it. A loving h would be doing all he could to change that. Think about it, is that not what you would do if your child made you aware of you being abusive? Once he has been made aware of it, I think you are enabling of you keep putting up with it.
On a bit of a tangent, I thought it might me good to remember that if you are living with a Narcissist the empathy will ever only go one way. Part of a diagnosis of Narcissism includes the inability to show empathy. Narcs are not unwilling, but incapable, that is part of their disorder. Their egocentric and entitled thinking disorder leaves them deficient in many of the behaviors necessary to participate marriage. So, when you interact in any way shape or form you are enabling the disorder by pretending these people are capable of marriage. I know this is a lot to swallow. Let it marinate, Narcs are incapable of being partners and they do not think anyone is equal to them.
There is no place for empathetic thoughts when in relationship with a person who has Narcissistic tendencies. It is those very thoughts that keep you exactly where your abuser wants you. One needs to capture any empathetic thought and replace them with a reorientation towards reality. This kind of thinking takes practice and often requires counseling, a support team and courage. Your abuser does not have the ability as you think. Their personality disorder is constant and pervasive in all aspects of their life. You probably haven’t recognized this if you are contemplating empathetic thoughts in this situation.
Abuser does not have the ability to think as you think.
See (Google) Dr. Sam Varkin’s work for an in-depth explanation of Narcissism.
Correction- Sam Vaknin. Author of Malignant Self Love.
Covert narcissistic h is what I live with. I am aware there are differing views on their abilities to change. I can only give my testimony. Covert narcissism was unheard of in the early years of our marriage. When I first heard about it and studied it, I saw it fit him 100%. At his worst, he would have rated a very dangerous man according to all I read. If a scale of 1-10 was used, he would have been about 8. After years of boundary setting and consequences, he is more like 4 or 5. Empathy on his part? He thinks he tries but it is never genuine. Some of what I have read suggests the early childhood wounding creates damage on the brain. That is where empathy on my part comes in. NOT sympathy. I do not compromise my boundaries. I believe Jesus can bring full healing if h will choose to embrace full humility. That is the struggle with the entitlement thinking though. Humility. Outside of that I do not expect genuine and complete change. I can not change him. I learned that the hard way. But, I can deal with behavior. If he doesn’t want to deal with his behaviour choices, he knows the only option now is for him to leave. His motivation to stay? His precious reputation in our small community. He can’t bear to look bad. That is where we are. Empathy for me is about recognizing the roots of his disorder and damage done in his brain.
I am also married to “ your husband “
I refused to accept he has no empathy until after 44 years of Marraige. After all he is a pastor… which has also been difficult for me to unpack. Each day I am better able to own truth and to accept who he is. Let me tell you that he has never laid a hand on me physically but emotionally I have gone under more than once. I am focusing on taking care of me in this relationship. I had no idea when I gladly walked down the aisle with him that he was a narcissist. I see the behavior in his early years of having to be there for himself with parents who were not there did take a toll on his brain as someone mentioned earlier.
Ann, I have the same thoughts about empathy for the wounded child. Yet, childhood has been over for decades. My reality check is living in the now. Today, the boy is a grown adult who is mentally ill with the a Narcissist Personally disorder.
I hear you, Free. He is responsible for his growth. If I may ask your thoughts then? How does a mentally ill person, tied to about a 6 year old child’s emotional maturity, make the necessary decisions to deal with their junk? I don’t excuse him. I am wrestling with the thought of a lifetime married to this nonsensical behavior if he can’t make healthy decisions due to the disorder. Yet, at times it appears as strictly a sin issue in him and rebellion against God and His authority. If that is the case then I know, sooner or later, it will become worse again. Thoughts ?
Hi Ann and Free,
I hope it’s ok to jump in here. You ask about how he makes the necessary decision to deal with his junk?
God only knows the answer to that, Ann.
The best thing you can do is to stop enabling the bad behaviour, and allow the Lord to deal directly with him. This will give your H his best shot at transformation.
In many of our cases, we could not ‘get out of the way’ without separating because our own enabling patterns were so deeply engrained.
These people are master manipulators – don’t under estimate that.
Ann, you don’t have to endure a man who constantly sins against you. If you read 1 Cor. 5:11 and Eph. 5:11 you can realize that remaining with an abuser is not God’s will. Look up the words in the Corinthian verse to get the full impact of what they mean. If we are not even supposed to eat with such a one, how could anyone expect you to go to bed with him? You can empathize with his shortcomings, just like you would with someone who has a handicap, but you do well to maintain boundaries for your own sake. Remain strong, and continue to seek the Lord’s guidance for how to move on.
I believe that within everyone, especially a believer, is the capacity to choose between right and wrong. A six year old can make that choice. Some people will hide behind their disorder, using it for an excuse. It would lots of hard work, yes, but he could learn to modify his abusive behavior, if he wanted to, and he considered it worthwhile.
Ann the trauma and neglect shaped he experienced created the disorder. He is not a grown man with a six year old’s behavior. He is an x year old adult using abnormal coping behaviors xyz. Take the age out of it. He is no longer six. He had decades to work on his stuff and he couldn’t. That is the sad thing about narcissism, there is no known cure. Consequences may help spur a Narc into behavior modification if he thinks it will benefit him. It requires extreme discipline and desire on the part of the Narcissistic person to modify his(her) behavior. Their brain has developed abnormally, that is what makes it a clinical diagnosis. It is pathological, meaning it is consistent and pervasive throughout all thought patterns.
What tripped me up is applying biblical verses and teachings to my situation as if I had a normal husband and a marriage. In reality a Narc is incapable of marriage. They can make the vow, can’t love, and just can’t think about anyone but themselves all the time. They have masks they developed to cope in society but manipulation rules ALL their actions. Entitlement is their life foundation and Christianity is often a platform used to inflate their egos and find people who are easy prey. Are you familiar with the term, Narcissistic supply?
Correction. Should read.
The trauma and neglect he experienced created the disorder.
I have posted a bit on this topic. Please know I have absolutely no insight into dealing with a difficult partner. I only know the action plan for a lifestyle that choices the long, hard road to reality which frees one from an abusive and destructive marriage.
Personally, I think your boundary is essential here given what you have posted about your empathy toward his disorder.
What it seems like your wrestling with is what boundary and necessary requirements you are willing to put into place.
If he had another life threatening illness that was contaminating your environment and he was not willing to get treatment toward it, what would you have to do, for you? For your children?
So here is an example of a requirement given the covert narc abuse:
He needs ongoing (long time) professional help at min 2x per week so a professional can give him a road map and help assist in his ability to be in any relationship. Marriage? Only time in recovery and interventions will answer that more clearly.
Ann, based on a post above; you said that YOU are dealing with his behavior, to me this seems like a place to look closer and evaluate given the empathy vs enabling. Why are you dealing with it and not him? Why are you ok to be dealing with it? Isn’t that his side of the street?
I would hypothesize, he is pretty comfortable with you dealing with it all these years and probably thinks that’s your role because it has continued in a pattern.
Thank you for your thoughts, Aly! I am taking in everything being said and will need to process it.
I have a husband with NPD. I agree that there are different levels. Mine too started out as a 8 or 9 score but is about a 5 now. Has diabetes with moods that sometimes make it worse or even allow him to humble himself. I have to leave the house sometimes he aggravated me so much. Appearances !
Charlotte, my heart goes out to you!
Thank you… I just can’t let my mind dwell on all of the years I was struggling to survive without any knowledge of what I was dealing with.
It is true that my kids and I have taken such a major HIT. Heart breaking for me to see the devastation and the consequences that is ongoing.
However for the last 15 years I have been taking steps towards personal healing. Yes the backlash from my h and my kids has almost done me in…I am pretty much alone in my family.
After all — so far — I am the only one who has searched for a better way and truth. The wisdom with which you and others share is unparalleled!!!
I can say first hand married to a pastor and being a woman with a load of religiosity of incorrect thinking crammed into my religious life —-did nothing to help me to cope.
These days I celebrate understanding truth without making excuses for my husband. He is a narcissist and I can’t help him
I can help myself by getting clear and out of delusion. We can never be partners and lovers. The strongest line for me to hold on to is that a narcissist can never be healed ——but a narcissist who wants help ( which would be rare) can get behavior modification.
Since I am a teacher who works with kids with learning challenges…. that computes. Behavior modification is how we help them to learn to cope with their challenges.
I pray for the young women who early on can courageously make choices in this life that lead to health for them and their children without guilt or shame. I know we lovingly walked down those aisles with the hope and love for our future with our men.
Today we are learning to make the best decisions before God —-without compromising or blaming —-
‘Becoming the Narcissist’s Nightmare’ is a great read. Loads of information there. Like you, I had no idea what I was dealing with. It’s “crazy making”! I read it 20 years into our marriage. I moved out a little over a year ago. Still married. It will be 22 years in September. I’m just taking one day at a time as God is patient with me and keeps showing up for me.
I would really like to hear some thoughts about submission vs. enabling. I think that’s one of the hardest scripture knots to untangle in difficult or destructive marriages.
One point of clarity for me has been the realization that God says a lot about being a godly wife. Many churches focus exclusively on submission without pointing out that this instruction to wives is given in the context of mutual submission of the husband to the wife as well.
Here is something Leslie wrote:
“Jesus asked the Father to help him discern between the good things and the best things. Just like we do, Jesus had to make some hard choices–to please God or to please others. He chose pleasing God. Jesus describes himself as always doing what his Father wanted him to do. That focus regularly cost him the disapproval and disappointment of others including his own disciples, religious leaders, and family (See Matthew 26:8; Mark 3:21-22)”.
This writing under a title of ‘distinguishing between false guilt and true guilt’.
Maybe the false guilt is where enabling stems from and true guilt is when we don’t submit to Christ?
So I guess for me it comes down to praying “Lord, increase my fear of You and free me from my fear of man”
I know for myself, trying to ‘make me h understand’ or ‘explain where I was coming from’ stemmed from me being unwilling to endure the cost of his disapproval and the disapproval of others (family, religious leaders etc…).
There is a significant cost to responding to The Lord. We should not forget that. That cost often includes others thinking poorly of us.
The verses that tell a woman to submit to her husband also require more from the husband: he must submit himself to the Head, Christ, and he must love his wife in a sacrificial way. When a woman feels loved and respected, she doesn’t have trouble submitting to her husband’s headship, because he is submitted to the Lord, and she knows that he is acting in her best interest. A man is not to “lord it over” his wife, but is to love and cherish her, as Christ loved the church. If you are not feeling loved and respected, I believe you don’t have to submit, especially if he is requiring you to do something against your conscience.
Agree completely with your post here.
Submission is a posture and a wife submitting toward a husband to honor God, is doing so as the husband has ALREADY been genuinely submitted to Christ.
Many Christian circles/ bible studies with women, often send a dysfunctional message:
‘Wives submit toward your husband (regardless of his behavior) and watch how your husband surrenders to Christ’
This is not only unbiblical and out of order but quickly can be a path of enabling dysfunctional and unhealthy marriage roles especially if a wife is submitting to a husband who is not following after God!
The message version of Eph 5:22
Wives understand and support your h in ways that show support for Christ. The h provides leadership to his wife the way Christ does to the church, not by domineering but by cherishing. So just as the church submits to Christ as he excercises such leadership, wives should likewise submit to their h.
( I love the ‘as he excercises such leadership’. That means this is not ‘blind submission’ – we are to rely on the Holy Spirit to discern)
Nancy, that is a great interpretation. I like that. I went to a wedding recently where the husband and wife each washed the other’s feet as part of the ceremony. I’d never seen that before, but it was beautiful.
“Understand and support your husband in ways that show support for Christ.” Or, in ways that express Christ’s love for one another. That belongs in a wedding sermon.
Thank you so much for all the thoughts shared! I am familliar with “narcissistic supply”. You all gave me much to think about.
My thanks goes out to everyone for bearing with my grammatically incorrect posts.
I think I feel a little confused with what’s been posted on narcissism. I know everyone has a choice to choose their path. But above it sounds like you’re saying Narcissistic men can’t change. That narcissist behavior cannot be cured. I left my narcissistic husband because it is true he had no desire for change, or even admitting his issues. But isn’t it true- he could have chosen to go the path of healing, he just didn’t choose that. I guess the question is can they be cured if they soften their heart??
Robin, we need a clinical psychologist and a neuropathologist to chime in here. I have a strong medical background in a different field.
A “softened heart” is a theological concept, not a scientific one. The diagnosis of Narcisstic Personality Disorder, has no known cure. The only treatment option is behavior modification, not healing. Your X could not will himself to get better. We Christians can easily become confused when we spiritualize an illness. We create magical thinking and live as enablers, using terms like a hardened heart or come to Jesus rationales to lull ourselves into “staying well.”
I don’t think we intend to live in denial, however, we do. The denial thinking pattern is fueled by all kinds of spiritual and theological rationales. We turn to these our realtheories because our reality is just too disturbing to be true. Our brain doesn’t have a place for such abuse, therefore we conclude, this must be of the spirit.
The manipulative partner is cunning, very much like the description we have of a power that is the opposite of good. They train us to dismiss our concerns and silence our own intuition. Their destructive behaviors have nothing to do with their hearts. Their thoughts and actions come from an evil mind. The heart is an organ which pumps blood through the body and adds in circulation and oxygenation. A mentally ill person can have healthy and robust heart function. Their mind on the other hand, shows deficits on MRI and EEG. The Narcissists is a mentally ill. They have a pathological, personality disorder.
Free thank u for your words. I do agree with you. Narcissism cannot be healed thru our faith and it steers many spouses wrongly. I feel like you really got it right- it’s mental illness, it’s pathological and it is a personality disorder and disease which is very rarely seen any improvement – just modified behavior. I have been separated from my ex for 4 years, and I feel the longer we’ve been apart the more I see his depth of evil intent and any modified behavior being nothing more then an appearance to fool others. I have a strong faith and I pray for my ex, and I believe all things are possible with the Lord but some diseases won’t be healed.
This is such an interesting topic. It can get confusing for counselors who want to help and can become enabling instead of empathetic.
Trent, you are absolutely right about that. As a counselor, though not a licensed therapist, I would say that knowing what you are dealing with is very important. There are some issues that most therapists refuse to work with, and NPD is one of them. Borderline Personality Disorder is another. These can drain you dry and in some cases, a master manipulator can take advantage of the counselor’s good intentions and cause more trouble.
Hi… I am not a medical professional.When the Bible talks about the heart it is referring to the entire inner person,which includes the mind,emotions and will.It states how deceitful it is in its unredeemed state.This includes our thoughts,desires,and affections.We are image bearers of our creator God,fallen and marred by sin yet morally culpable.God provides the solution to our deepest need which is our spiritual condition.Jesus is The way,The truth,The life.Humble submission and repentance is to be our posture before God.I think the question we are raising is can God heal a person given over to complete selfishness? Absolutely!, This does not mean it is easy or common,nor does it mean we put ourselves in harms way in an effort to reason or reach our unrepentant husbands.I recommend reading from CCEF( Christian Counseling Education Foundation). I believe it will be insightful to this discussion.When we slap medical diagnoses on people it may be informative,yet I’m not sure it’s the whole story.My father was diagnosed as bipolar.He lived a sad,selfish life surrounded by family who loved him and were seriously hurt by his actions( I was sexually abused by him) I saw Gods love and grace extended to him throughout his life. He went the path of an outward religiousl life without any inward fruit bearing change. In my 30s I was also diagnosed bipolar and on medication which helped stabilize me.I had counseling and God in his love and grace has been restoring my soul.All disease,including mental disorders are the result of living in a fallen,broken,sin infested world.God is redeeming his creation and making all things new and one glorious day it will indeed be heaven on earth. I know this is long,hope it’s a helpful perspective.Lets not separate the spiritual and the medical. I think it’s a both/and situation,not an either/or one.
HI Janice D,
I really like the way you explain this here. The other factor is misdiagnosis – by professionals or by us, here.
It’s pretty far fetched to read someone’s post and put a medical diagnosis on a person based on a description by their spouse.
I have come out the other side of separation and have learned that my husband is not a narc. Not even close. But in the midst of the fog, it really didn’t matter. What matters is to follow the steps outlined in Leslie’s book, leaning heavily on The Lord. Do what what you have to do for YOUR health and focus on ‘your side of the street’. In the process the fog will gradually clear. Your spouses’ Responses to your boundaries and requirements will reveal your next step (not a diagnosis).
In the end only God knows a person’s heart. He most certainly can do anything – that’s the Sovereigty of God. The reality is though, often transformation does not happen. Only He knows why.
Some good perspectives on dealing with difficult relationships from all. There are a vast spectrum of issues that comprise the “difficult” relationship. The “destructive”relationship has far fewer causes, discerning whether the relationship is difficult or destructive sometimes takes third party intervention.
It is good to be knowledgeable about Narcissism if and when it becomes diagnosed.. Each situation is different, yet Narcissism is pathological, as I wrote. It is predicable and consistent. Repentance is impossible due to the distorted brain function of the disorder. Spiritualizing the situation, although sadly very common, is what keeps many Christians trapped. Providers refer to it a magical thinking. It is illogical and rooted in denial.
So, destructive and difficult relationships are two different discussion with two different action plans. Leslie offers some good ideas, but each case is different and just reading her book and applying the concepts she suggests is not enough in many cases. I appreciate the movement that has started to educate and inform the clergy of these situations.
I think I understand where you are coming from especially given your experience with having been married to someone diagnosed with NPD.
To me, the or many types of diagnosis is a simplified way of describing context, behaviors etc. Doesn’t mean these things are untreatable. Many professionals have various positions on whether NPD can be treated and it really depends on the spectrum of where someone is.
I would like to circle back to the comments on difficult versus destructive and share some of my journey, my h is not NPD fractured but had many high traits. Some might say I experienced a difficult marriage but I experienced a destructive one. A person DOESN’T have to even be high traited narcissistic to cause serious injury (narc abuse syndrome).
What helped in my situation was to see my reality regardless if my h had a diagnosis or not, that was really irrelevant because the behaviors and treatment toward me became the focus.
Boundaries and requirements became essential. The destructive part was on many levels destructive toward me based on how it effected me and my own sanity. Irrelevant in many areas of why my h decided to respond toward me in a destructive way. Eventually h could take ownership of it coming from deep within him and how it became a power issue for him. Had nothing to do with me, this is often the care with those highly traited narc, and highly insecure or untreated in other behavioral attachment areas, neglect, abusive upbringings etc.
I agree with your comments about the denial piece- this is rampant in abuse survivors and often those ignorant in their circles that help reinforce the illogical fantasy thinking or those that try to Minimize the destructive behavior.
In my opinion, everything IS truly Spiritual we can’t take that out of our world based on how things were created and how things became broken.
Connie wrote a great post on this point.
Ah, yes, I hear what you are saying. Everything is spiritual yet, the complex situations many of us discuss here are not exclusively spiritual. It seems sometimes one can run to a spiritual platitude to cope with a situation that seems unexplainable. Which gets me back to the topic of enabling vs. empathy.
My claim is that it is very easy to be overly empathetic and cross into enabling spby usingiritualization as a mechanism of denial.
The other thing to consider here, is that over-focus on trying to identify ‘what is going on with my partner?’ can lead to more of the same – me trying to change something that is out of my control.
I agree that we need to be aware of the danger of the spiritual platitude. Yes…it can be a mechanism to reinforce denial.
I was in a similar situation as Aly – destructive relationship with someone who was not NDP. I’m grateful that Leslie does not focus on labels in her book. Just steps. If I had focused on trying to label him, God only knows where I’d be.
My steps depended on his responses to my boundaries and requirements – not a diagnosis. I can see, though, where one might need more accurate and detailed information on an NDP.
This is why we each need to rely heavily on the Holy Spirit as we walk this out!
Here’s an example of empathetic vs. enabling:
When we were separated and I felt emotionally unsafe around him, I would hum or sing worship music. This created a boundary of safety for me. At one point, he shared that it ‘hurt him’ when I did that. I heard that and could totally see why – I was empathetic. Did I stop that behaviour because it made h feel uncomfortable? No.
Even to this day, when he has a dark cloud over his head, the old habit says, ‘tippy toe’. The ‘old self’ is afraid to get punished for creating that worship barrier against his dark mood. But for him to expect me to modify my behaviour because he shared a weakness is sinful. It would be like me saying, “it makes me insecure that you excercise regularly. Please stop.”
To empathize with the twisted thinking is loving (I can totally see why he feels that way) but to modify my own behaviour to accommodate it would be encouraging that sin to grow (enabling).
I think the sin in this case is ‘I am uncomfortable so you need to change’
Or ‘your boundary makes me uncomfortable so you need to take it down’
I should have written “to empathize with the real feelings that come from twisted thinking is loving….”
I’m not sure that it’s possible, or healthy, to empathize with twisted thinking.
Janice D. and Nancy, you summarized the spiritual and mental connection quite well. Thank you!
At this moment, I don’t have time to read all of these posts, but I certainly will do it soon. My husband and I are approaching our 50th wedding anniversary. It is only in the last couple of years that I have realized the truth of my situation. My husband is a covert narcissist and I have been an ultra-submissive wife. Through years of therapy and hospitalization for my nervous breakdowns, no one ever helped me see that I was not crazy. I am now getting better, getting stronger, but it has been a nightmare. When we married in 1969, there was no talk about personality traits and emotional relationship problems in marriage. I married when I was 21. I am now 71 and I am just NOW learning how to take care of myself. Thank you to all who have posted here. I am overjoyed to learn that I am not alone in this, that I am not really crazy.
Wow…I think I need a counselor to talk everything I’ve been through with..
I’ve been told so many times prophetically that my husband and I would do great things together and that we would reach many people..yet, here I am 2,000 miles away now because I am separating myself from him and going for a divorce.
It will be 10 years in a couple of months that we will have been married, and two kids later..and I realized he never chose to change. I left everything to be with him(first mistake) and now I’m having to start over in order to make it financially with my kids and I. It’s hard but I know it’s possible and necessary.
I think the hardest thing has actually been facing the disapproval from his own family, whom I learned to embrace as my own..and who were also my spiritual mentors..and prophets..too much?
I am learning that I have thought it was Godly of me to lay down my life for him and others as a reflection of God’s love and sacrificial love in my life. I believed that I had to be the proxy, or the intercessor for him as my rightful job and responsibility as his wife..and I did for years along with lots of arguing and defending myself..but he never changed and chose pornography and other countless women over and over again, along with financial abuse and verbal abuse.
In retrospect, even though it’s only been 2 months since I’ve left him, I can’t believe I stayed with him so long..but I also believe I stayed because I thought it was the right thing to do in a forgiving, love covers all sins kind of way…and I still feel confused about it all. I know for a fact that God can do anything and can take his life and transform it if he would only give his life entirely to Him. But I can’t make him. I know that now.
So knowing that is helping me to understand that me leaving either the kids was the right thing to do. He wasn’t leaving though I told him to many times; he was too comfortable with the way things not were. But his family is apparently telling us that we aren’t supposed to leave before they do first and that me and the kids must come back and leave the right way(because they didn’t have their final goodbyes…). My husband will also be moving out here at the end of this year to be closer to the kids. So I think time and space from his family and their influence will be good for all of us.
He has more family out here though and I greatly love them as well. I’m just having a hard time with some of what they’re saying in regards to “you don’t want to do this-divorce is the toughest and hardest thing anybody ever has to go through especially the children, and it’s not just his fault, you have to take responsibility for your part in this too” even though they agree that I didn’t cause him to cheat and do all those things…they had a pretty bad separation and close divorce and have come back together and are actually better than ever! So that is actually encouraging to see, but at the same time I’m not sure that it’s necessarily what’s going to happen in my situation. And I don’t know that they understand the kind of abuse I’ve endured or that their brother/brother in-law could actually be the person that I haven’t yet painted in full but close enough to where they would know he’s different than what he’s portrayed..
Lord help me!! Am I bound to this man for life?? I know covenants are real..which is why I’m trying to divorce from him and all so I can be free. Part of me still loves this man but I think I need to focus on loving God and myself in a way I haven’t before..almost sounds like idolatry though? In the Bible it says to honor others above yourself, and that love endures all things and that it never fails…the Bible says a lot!!
This is all so very hard. My friend said, “If you made a covenant to join a cult, and then find out that you were deceived, would you not feel justified in breaking that covenant?”
Cry out to God and wait on Him. He’s the only one who knows what is ahead and where your husband’s heart really is at.
I have learned to make Jesus the center of my joy. I can not change anyone, especially my h. It took me 36 years to finally realize I was enabling his unchrist-like behaviors as I allowed myself to say nothing about his emotional abuse. I no longer accept that as okay. I voice my concerns after whispering a prayer; for I’m only responsible for me. Prayer is the “tool” God has made available to each of us. Choose Him in every situation and know God can do that which we are unable to do.
I realize that what I am about to say may cause controversy. I am aware that I might receive “hate” mail as a response, but I am not trying to chastise, criticize, or demean anyone. This is my struggle as I understand scripture currently. Perhaps some could shed light on my thinking. My understanding is that the word submission means to buckle under. It is a military term. I do understand it is a voluntary, however, I would imagine there are consequences for both obedience and disobedience. I also see times in scripture when people submitted to things that were hard, even abusive. Examples Gen. 16:1-10 where Hagar is to submit to Sarah, Abigail in 1 Samuel 25 lived with a fool for a husband, Paul talked about submitting to the government. At the time Nero was the ruler, Rom. 13:1-7. Yet Peter and John didn’t submit to the counsel in Acts 5:27. The biggest example is Christ himself. He suffered great abuse (Physical, betrayal, slander, emotional) for us and didn’t shrink from it.
So here are my questions based on the above. Did those who endured abuse always enable? Maybe the abuse wasn’t so bad? Does one have to always “buckle under” or is it okay to buckle under in some things but maybe not others. If so, when would it be a right time to buckle under or when is it not. Does God call some to endure for his sake to develop perseverance? Or is it right to endure some abuse but not others? (I know some might think me crazy for even asking such things). What can I learn from their examples?
At this point in time I am trying to stay well with my husband. I understand I can’t change him. I am just trying to understand things. I do see how all these people had to be strong to endure what they did. Sometimes I wish I could sit down and face to face ask God what he wants me to do, and how he wants me to live. At this point in time I would rather focus on the above abuse situations, than on my situation. I believe understanding here is the key between enabling and Godly living.
Can anyone shed light on my lack of understanding?
Hi Lori, You have good questions. To begin with, I don’t believe the primary idea of submission is in a military sense. Maybe in the world it is, but not in the kingdom of God, because God doesn’t operate based on rigid authority structures. He wants us to operate voluntarily from the heart, not “buckling under” out of duty. The word itself means “to order under.” It was used in the military, but you can see how the idea of orderliness and due process is true of the military, too. To me, the idea of submission in God’s kingdom means that we don’t have to run around like crazy having power struggles and relationship chaos all the time. We have procedures that help us live peaceable, godly, and productive lives. Just like in the military they have processes in place that are supposed to keep everything organized and flowing smoothly so people can do their jobs well.
Wow. Lori- you bring up some great questions. Don’t know all of the answers- except staying close to the Lord brings me closer to the Holy Spirit- and He knows way more than I do.
It is also hard when people tell you how nice your husband is….
My question would be – how do I REALLY know it is NPD and not just because his blood sugar is low?
Am I responding to the comments to where people can see them? I just need some support from Christian women who are experiencing NPD in their husbands. I am learning a lot from all of you
I believe you are posting correctly if that’s your question.
From what I understand about NPD is that it is on a spectrum and many people can seem NPD but are not actually diagnosed by a professional as having NPD.
A person (like your husband) doesn’t have to have NPD in order for you to be hurt, abused, misused or affected by his behavior or attitude toward you.
What are you experiencing from him? You didn’t give much information above.
You mention low blood sugar? Ok, well many people get moody or short when things are not regulated but that never gives anyone a right or justification for how they treat another person!