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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?
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