Am I In An Abusive Marriage?

Morning friends,

I am heading back home to Sun City West for the fall and winter. Although I love the cooler weather in Pinetop during the hot months, I miss my friends and other amenities (like my office) at home. I’m ready to go back.  

I do have a very heavy travel schedule beginning the end of September through mid-November and I’d appreciate your prayers for my health and stamina. Lots of speaking engagements and travel and although I love it, it does wear me out too.  

Addison (my puppy) is going to the vet and getting fixed today. We gave her a bath yesterday. She shrinks to half her size when wet.  So cute and she smells much better.

Question: I’m confused. My husband is a well-respected man in our church and community. He doesn’t call me names or curse at me but he thinks he knows best about everything and he believes he should control absolutely everything as the head of the house. I have no say in our finances, what I can buy, how I decorate the house or even what groceries to purchase each week. He tells me what clothes I should wear and when I resist, he says that if I loved him, I’d want to please him in the way I dress. 

I’ve told him I want to be free to make my own choices, but he tells me God has called him to be the head over me. When I disagree or refuse to listen to him he tells me I am being unsubmissive and disrespectful and that I must not love him.

I feel like I’m being slowly smothered and I can’t breathe. I wanted to go to work and he said I can’t because I am needed at home even though our children are in school all day long. If I do not have his meals cooked the way he wants when he wants, he withdraws, sulks and won’t talk to me. 

There are times when I feel so angry I blow up and say terrible things. I feel bad for getting angry and sometimes I wonder if I’m not the abusive person because of what I say when I get upset. I find myself sneaking things behind his back and I know that’s wrong. Bottom line is I want to leave him but I’m afraid God will punish me if I do. Is it me? Am I being rebellious and ungrateful or is there something more wrong here?

Answer: Although a person may not be able to articulate exactly what’s wrong, one of the ways you know that you are in an unhealthy environment is that you regularly feel sick. You say your spirit is being crushed and you cannot thrive in the smothering environment that you live in. Like a plant that needs fresh air and sunshine, you’re slowly shriveling up and dying inside. 

From what you describe, although your husband isn’t outwardly verbally abusive, his domineering and controlling behaviors are slowly suffocating the person God made you to be. They keep you afraid of speaking up or making choices for yourself and as a result, you are functioning more like a child, rather than a mature woman. This is not healthy. This is also not what God intended for you or for your marriage.

God did not give husbands the authority to demand their own way all the time and call that Biblical headship. God calls that behavior selfishness. Click To Tweet

Biblical headship, as described by Jesus, involves sacrificial servanthood. As the head, your husband gets to initiate that kind of selfless service toward you. To learn more on the whole issue of Biblical headship and submission issues watch my quick nugget video on the subject here

However, as you indicate, your response to his attempts to control you have been to either cave into his demands and allow yourself to be coerced into doing it his way, or to have a temper tantrum and/or sneak what you want behind his back. Either way, you are not only being treated as a child, but you’re responding like one; either a complaint child or rebellious child. If you want to change this destructive pattern in your marriage, change must begin with you.

I outline how to make these changes in detail in my book The Emotionally Destructive Relationship but here are some crucial first steps.

First, it’s imperative that you stop and ask yourself why you’ve permitted yourself to be treated like a child instead of an adult woman throughout your marriage? Ask yourself what is going on in you that makes you unable to tolerate both your husband’s disapproval and his withdrawal which he uses to manipulate you into doing what he wants? If you want to make a significant change and become healthy, you’ll have to grow to be able to tolerate his disapproval and withdrawal, at least for a season while you stop accommodating his every demand. 

Second, you need to face whatever fears you have that keep you from learning to speak up for yourself in a calm, firm, adult way. You have an unhealthy pattern of putting up with inappropriate behavior until you can’t stand it anymore and then you blow up. After that, you feel ashamed and guilty so you go back to putting up with it until you can’t bear to. Now you want to run away and leave the relationship. 

But I’d encourage you to do your own work before making a decision about your marriage. Otherwise, this problem of being controlled and manipulated by strong others will continue to rear its ugly head in other relationships.  

It is God’s will for you to grow and mature into the woman he calls you to be, not who your husband calls you to be. God wants you to function as an adult woman, not a passive, fearful child. Gaining strength and courage is something he wants to give you. Pray and ask him for his wisdom to have a crucial and assertively calm conversation with your spouse.

Third, your husband believes certain lies that hinder his ability to allow you to function independently of him. I’m not sure of all of them but here are a five that I’ve discerned in your question:

Lie # 1: If someone says she loves you, she should always want to please you, do what you want her to, and make you happy.

Lie # 2: If you want to do something on your own, that means you don’t respect me to know what’s best for you or us as a family.  

Lie #3: God has given a husband total decision-making power in a family and over their wives.  (You can see more about this on my blog: God my Husband Always Get The Final Say)

Lie # 4: When my wife disagrees or doesn’t want to do what I want her to do, that means she doesn’t love me or love God enough to submit to my leadership.

Lie # 5: A wife’s sole purpose is to revolve herself around the needs and interests of her family. If she wants anything independent of those things, she is not loving her family or loving God. We should be enough for her.

Your husband may mean well but because of his own internal lies, he’s blind to the truth. When you assert yourself it will not only make him angry, it will be painful to him because in his mind he will interpret your actions to mean that you either don’t love him or don’t love God enough to obey (because of the lies he believes).

In an attempt to identify and break this pattern, you can verbally address the lie your husband believes within your conversations with him. Now it may not do him any good (If he’s firmly committed to his lie), but it will help you stay clear-headed. In addition, you must learn how to stay strong and not cave in when he starts to sulk or withdraw or disapprove of your newfound strength and decision making power.  

Here are a couple of sample ways you might say things:  

“I believe you mean well and you are trying to do what you think is best for me and our family but I’m a grown-up woman and need to make my own choices. If I choose an outfit for myself, it’s not because I don’t love you (identifying the lie), but I want to wear clothes that make me feel comfortable and attractive and I think I can best decide how I feel in certain clothes.” 

Or when he withdraws and sulks because you haven’t done something he wanted you to do, you might say something like this:

“I know you’re disappointed that I’ve decided to take that part-time job but I need some outside stimulation and I am bored at home all day. I know you think that the household chores will suffer but I think that I can still cover the basics with working these hours. The kids can help out more and I think I will feel happier as a person. I’d like you to respect my decision, even if you disagree.”

This change will feel very awkward and scary to both of you at first. He won’t like your newfound strength and independence and you will feel uncomfortable asserting yourself without using your anger as a shield. 

But I promise you that as you stick with being respectful yet assertive in what you need for yourself, this will quickly clarify for you whether or not your husband is willing to adjust his behavior or his thinking.  

When you refuse to give in to his sulking and just go about your business, then it no longer works for him to do it. He will probably move into one of two new behaviors. He will either escalate into more oppressive and abusive behavior to regain control over you, or he will adapt to the changes you are making in your relationship. If he adapts then you have started a new foundation of mutuality, reciprocity, and freedom to be yourself. If he escalates into greater control and/or abusive behaviors, then you will have greater clarity to know your relationship is emotionally abusive and may need to consult with some experts on abuse for your safety and your own well-being.  

These changes will be hard for you to make without support, so I encourage you to continue with this community and consider getting a coach or counselor to help you get stronger and healthier.

Friends, when you realized that you are being controlled or manipulated through someone’s emotional withdrawal or spiritual one-up-man-ship, how have you gained the strength to respond firmly and set healthy boundaries in a godly way?


  1. Debi on September 11, 2019 at 9:31 am

    I worked on learning to respond rather than react first. I also created a very strong support system of godly men and women for accountability. When I began to see that something was very wrong in my relationship and I realized that I was being manipulated and controlled through behaviors like sulking, withdrawing, punishing and escalating coercive behaviors, I called him out and set CLEAR boundaries. (I wrote them down for him so that I could simply refer him back to them when he claimed he didn’t know or understand). Then, I stuck to them. (That was the hardest part!). Ultimately I had to enforce a boundary for safety and sanity and we separated. I did safety planning with the help of a crisis advocate and didn’t back down. It was both scary and liberating. I regularly checked what was happening in my relationship with my support people to help me with “blind spots”, and help me stand firm. I didn’t try to go it alone I asked for help and kept nothing hidden. In time, I could see clearly what was going on and gain an accurate view of the destructive behaviors my husband was using in our relationship. Get help, don’t try to do it alone. The Conquer group and the training videos that Leslie provides will help you get stronger and live the fruitful and abundant life God created you for.

    • Sharon on September 18, 2019 at 2:03 pm

      Hi Debi. It sounds like you firmly stood by your boundaries. I’m curious if that has done anything to change his behavior toward you.

    • JoAnn on September 18, 2019 at 3:34 pm

      Debi, I commend you for taking good, solid action. you have set an example for others to follow. Well done! I, too, would like to know if his behavior toward you has changed any.

  2. Lynn McIntosh on September 11, 2019 at 11:37 am

    Thank you Leslie. You fed us some good food with this post. ❤️

  3. DJ on September 11, 2019 at 12:16 pm

    Anytime I have found myself dealing with control and manipulation in others, I have had to stand my ground, so to speak, and not allow their behaviors to cause me to appease or feel fearful. Each case is different, some you can confront in a loving way and some, you can’t, because they do not want to give up control. In this case, I agree with all Leslie said, and I would be prayerful and get support on the outside, as you learn what is normal behavior and what is not, both in you and in others.

  4. Connie on September 11, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    I would add, make sure you have your full armor on, because you usually get a huge rant about what a piece of **** you are when you start standing up for yourself. Ask me how I know. On the other hand, that’s when God tells you what He thinks of you, when you lean in to Him and it’s good. Really good. A husband either leads you closer to Jesus, or he drives you closer. Either way, if you end up in His arms, it’s good.

    • Christina S on September 11, 2019 at 8:46 pm

      I love your quote, Connie, “A husband either leads you closer to Jesus, or he drives you closer.” SOOOO true!

  5. graceiscome on September 11, 2019 at 1:11 pm

    Another “sign” that something is just not right (even if the husband is using terms that “sound” justifiable, like wives should submit, that the husband is the leader…all TRUE…but only a PART of what God says about a husband/wife relationship…) is if you feel confused a lot (which can lead to feeling ill). Sometimes a woman wants to believe that her husband is right in order to not have to face the fear that something could be wrong in the relationship. That can rock the hope that most woman have that in a relationship there will be stability. But like Leslie and others have said, there should also be peace…love…joy…the fruit of the Spirit. And I also agree with what was alluded to above which is that when you do (gently and calmly) start to express your needs, concerns, etc….if your husband truly loves YOU (he may anyway, but just have issues of his own)…he will listen to your heart. PLEASE spend time with God talking with your First Love (and True “Husband”) before you talk with your husband. Because if you have dependency issues on your husband, if you don’t get the response that you hope for, it can be very disturbing. I hope you do, though. Blessings on you…it’s a good thing you shared on this blog. I’m in a similar situation, but with added verbal abuse. I have benefitted very, very much from this blog.

  6. Karen on September 11, 2019 at 1:15 pm

    I remember how freeing this information was when I first learned it. Reading “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage” and joining Conquer really opened my eyes to what was causing all of my confusion and pain. When I began to stand strong and make decisions based on what was right instead of making them based on fear of what my husband’s reaction would be, I found new strength and courage and healing. I found that the real me was still there but buried under all the confusion, pain and fear. My husband did not like it though and his behavior got desperate and a bit scary. I think he realized that he was losing control of me. He did end up leaving and I’m now divorced and very relieved and thankful.

  7. Suzanne on September 11, 2019 at 1:16 pm

    That was my marriage. I wish I’d had these resources and information back then.
    Leslie, what should a wife do when she sees her husband going way too far in discipline with their toddlers? My heart breaks for a young mom/friend of ours…

    • JoAnn on September 11, 2019 at 5:28 pm

      Suzanne, your friend should call the child abuse hotline and get help for herself and her children. What is happening is child abuse, if the father is over-disciplining the children, and the mother has a clear responsibility to protect her children. No doubt she is being abused, too, so stand by her and encourage her to get help.

      • Suzanne on September 11, 2019 at 6:16 pm

        I agree. But the problem is that I don’t think this young mom realizes her husband is abusive. Like me, 25 years ago, she possibly feels she’s a submissive, respectful wife, allowing her husband to do ‘his job’ as a husband and father. Somehow we need to educate her on what abuse is…

        • Free on September 11, 2019 at 10:30 pm

          Call the hotline anyway. If you saw it your report it. Record it on your phone too.

        • JoAnn on September 13, 2019 at 2:37 pm

          Suzanne, this is where you share your own story with her, to awaken her to the reality of what she is living with. Introduce her to the EDM book that Leslie wrote. She has a check list there for you to evaluate your relationship. Just point out to her that you see similarities with your own experience and encourage her to read the book. That will be a good start. She needs a good friend right now. Be that for her.

        • Aly on September 13, 2019 at 2:49 pm

          Is it possible for your friend to give specifics to you on what she is calling discipline? Or the husband doing ‘his job’?
          Sometimes in these cases it’s important for the wife to verbally give the information to you with what’s going on.
          Gently but strongly come alongside her and tell her you are there for her but it’s helpful to be completely honest when you hear of abuse! Sometimes it’s a huge wake up call for the parent who needs to advocate and step in for the children.

          I was in a bible study, and a woman for weeks was using the term discipline to bring about her trouble she was having with h toward the kids. Privately, I asked her if she would give more specifics of what she was referring to as discipline, she did and I responded gently but firmly that what she was describing was not discipline, but unacceptable & ABUSE! It was a big waking moment for her.
          Think of all the things that she might have been keeping still hidden.
          Many abuse victims, trickle out the information if they are feeling somewhat safe to do so.

          • Suzanne on September 14, 2019 at 1:37 am

            JoAnn, Free and Aly, Thank you for your comments. This young mom is only an acquaintance of mine who lives in another state, so I am seeking advice to share with her mother-in-law. Her MIL (the mother of the father) and I are good friends, and my friend shared with me what she observed while recently visiting this young family. She tried to intervene once while her son was disciplining, but he ordered her to ‘stay out of it’. She’s very burdened for her grandchildren. This young mom probably has no idea it’s abuse, as Aly suggested (she didn’t even know what legalism was!) I will share your advice with my friend and keep praying. Thank you.

          • Aly on September 14, 2019 at 8:52 am

            The mother most likely knows something is wrong but is also being victimized or in a state of fantasy/denial.- (it’s not that bad)
            If her own mother tried to intervene, you know it’s most likely not good.
            The mother in-law must report and get her Daughter all the resources to get safety. There are lots or there.
            This situation will only get worse as time goes on and the mother feels more isolated and fearful.
            This sounds like a serious situation and your friend is using the ‘term discipline’ To lie to herself about how abusive this father is toward the children.
            The mother has a responsibility, so does the mother in law.

          • Nancy on September 15, 2019 at 8:09 am

            Your friend has an influential position with her daughter in law, as well as the authorities because it is her own son that she would be challenging. Way to go grandma!

  8. Loretta on September 11, 2019 at 4:25 pm

    If you are in an abusive relationship, get support, make plans to safely escape, and make plans to pray & trust in the Lord. My husband did some things he shouldn’t have in 2017 & 2018 but I took him back last year with him saying he would make some changes, our doing Christian counseling, & him saying he would take his Rx’s for bi-polar disorder. He is doing better but I still don’t trust him. We’ve been married almost 19 years & I feel I’ve become dependendent on him. I pray for him everyday and for our marriage daily.

  9. Lena on September 11, 2019 at 9:03 pm

    I know that this doesn’t pertain to what Leslie wrote, well maybe in a way it does.
    I’m wondering if I can possibly heal while living in the same house where the abuse was done. We are divorced, since 2016, he has three girls so there will always be some contact.
    Thank You

    • Free on September 11, 2019 at 10:40 pm

      Does the house feel like home to your kids? If so stay. Just change up somethings. I did that and it really helped. Paint a room. Give away clothes with trauma association. I changed fragrances of many things. Even cleaning products fragrances. I got rid of all my nighties and underwear. All intimate stuff had too much trauma. I slept in a different bed and threw out his personal items.

      If you are saying you have to share the same house then that is really good for the kids. Just redecorate where you can. Change noises, or smells. Add a windchime or burn a lavender candle. Soothe all your senses. Buy a bathe scrub or facial mask to cleanse away the old and welcome the new. Every little thing you do will decrease trauma triggers. Keep a journal, that really helps too.

      • JoAnn on September 13, 2019 at 2:43 pm

        Great advice, Free. I especially like the part about changing smells, as odors are such a trigger. And I will again mention the book by Ramona Probasco: Healing well and Living Free from an Abusive Relationship. Excellent follow-up for the aftermath of a divorce. Join Leslie’s Conquer group the next time she has one.

  10. Anonymous97 on September 12, 2019 at 12:08 am

    Sorry, I know this isn’t the right place for it, but I wanted to comment on a post about sexual abuse in marriage, but it looks like comments are disabled on those articles, is that right? It’s weighing heavy on me.

    • Moonbeam on September 12, 2019 at 8:58 pm

      Please share if you need to. We will listen.

      • JoAnn on September 13, 2019 at 2:44 pm

        By all means, share here. Have you seen in the archives the posts about sexual abuse in marriage? There are one or two there.

  11. K Cooper on September 12, 2019 at 8:08 pm

    Or he can choose a third response: Be unhappy, find every opportunity to act dismissively toward me, denounce me to the adult children as being selfish and thinking only of myself, cease all but the most necessary communication, and live miserably and separately in the same house.

    Honestly, since the adult children are very cognizant of how life was when they were home, and since the screaming rages have stopped, this isn’t a bad alternative. I don’t feel the Lord leading me to divorce him, I’m no longer accepting any abuse (some may ask whether his misery toward me is abuse, but I just ignore it and choose joy), and I get to show him on a daily basis how living in the clear presence of the Lord and the joy and peace He gives is the end result of being honest and choosing joy over fear. Some day, maybe he’ll get over himself and start wanting the same.

    • Moonbeam on September 12, 2019 at 8:54 pm

      K, I think you are fooling yourself that he notices you living in the Lord and his joy and peace. He is the same guy. You are just easier to use and manipulate now that you don’t stand up for yourself. Your spiritual alternate reality is working for you, great. But don’t think for a minute that he could care what you think. He cares what he thinks. To him, you are an invisible and sometimes annoying housemate. Think about if you are enabling sin and what exactly are you denying. I would like being pious and righteous too. God’s blessings are real and good. They are a gift to you and help you hide from the truth of your situation.

      • K Cooper on September 12, 2019 at 9:22 pm

        Huh? I think you misunderstand. I’ve implemented Leslie’s principles as well as those from Boundaries. I do not accept his rage, being gaslighted, or the other behaviors he used to control me through fear. I am quite frank with him when he’s acting poorly toward me and make it clear that his misery is his choice of reactions. I am no longer enabling sin. He knows that he is choosing to wallow in misery, and I am not a Pollyanna about our situation. When people ask, I don’t hide the truth, but I don’t go out of my way to antagonize him. He is unable to use or manipulate me because I am no longer afraid of him. I am now working full time, I moved him out of our room, and I have an amazing church fellowship that I’m active in.
        I don’t quite understand your comment about me being pious and righteous. It sounds like a slam, when in truth, I’ve never lived a more honest and open life. How do God’s blessings help me hide from truth??? That’s an oxymoron!!
        You’re commenting on a Leslie Vernick thread where I have chosen to stay well, and you act as though that’s not a valid choice. You may need to read her books again.

        • Aly on September 12, 2019 at 9:50 pm

          K Cooper,
          Both of your posts I’m trying to understand. So are you saying that living as roommates (who dislike each other) is your only option and that living as roommates is staying well for you?
          It may be helpful for you to know that the emotional climate (currently) actually might be a form of manipulation and enabling that your spouse prefers?
          Just a thought, not saying it is so.

          • K Cooper on September 12, 2019 at 11:20 pm

            I don’t dislike my husband; rather the opposite, as I now can love him freely without feeling forced. I don’t like the way he acts, but he needs to make his own choices. Living with him is not my only option, but it’s the one I choose, because after much prayer and Godly counsel, I just do not feel led to leave him. I do consult with my pastor and counselor regularly, though, to be sure that I’m NOT enabling my husband. He hates the way we’re living right now, but he isn’t making any changes, and I’ve drawn my boundaries. He may very well “prefer” to be the martyr, but all our children see it for what it is, and that’s about the only input he gets, as he’s alienated most others. Our children still at home see me living with integrity, being honest about the hurt I feel and about the forgiveness that the Lord enables me to extend. Please understand that forgiveness is NOT reconciliation, nor is it acceptance of the provoking behavior.

          • Aly on September 13, 2019 at 12:36 pm

            K Cooper,
            I’m not telling you to leave him or live separately or live together etc.
            You wrote this:
            “Be unhappy, find every opportunity to act dismissively toward me, denounce me to the adult children as being selfish and thinking only of myself, cease all but the most necessary communication, and live miserably and separately in the same house.”

            Would you consider that your husband might be perfectly content with this living arrangement? As for my own personal experience, my own husband had such destructive coping skills that it was very easy for him to be quite content just knowing I was in the same vicinity as him. It also kept him from facing his biggest areas of growth.
            Some Men (generally speaking) really don’t wake up to the full consequences of a destructive relationship until they are out of the home or you are living elsewhere too?

          • Suzanne on September 18, 2019 at 3:17 pm

            Nancy and Aly, yes, I did go back twice, to carefully reread. And from the beginning I see KCooper as misunderstood and having to defend her decision. Comments like, “I think you are fooling yourself… Don’t think for a minute…What do you hope to accomplish?” She has definitely received a lot of good advice to consider too, but I feel she was also questioned a bit harshly. Even she responded, confused.

          • Aly on September 18, 2019 at 4:11 pm

            Maybe someone else posted, “I think you are fooling yourself”.
            As well as the other comments you listed.
            Can you please be sure of what (or who?)you are specifically addressing here? Maybe that will help clarify.

          • Aly on September 18, 2019 at 4:17 pm

            I did go back and re-read those comments.
            Moonbeam said the first two you referenced.
            JoAnn said the last one.
            I read JoAnn’s post and I see her question as that, a neutral question to K Cooper to consider.
            Sometimes these kinds of questions are vital to our growth and process.

        • JoAnn on September 13, 2019 at 2:57 pm

          KCooper, I actually see you as an overcomer in your situation. With apologies to Aly and Moonbeam, I feel that if you are content in your present situation, and you are looking to the Lord for His leading in this marriage, then continue to wait on Him and be ready to take action as He should lead. Only the Lord knows what is going on in your h, so by following the Lord’s lead, you will be doing what is best for him and yourself. Stay strong!

          • Aly on September 14, 2019 at 9:08 am

            K Cooper, JoAnn,
            I also see your position as strong too K Cooper.
            Many of us dealing in destructive relationships can be ‘strong’, we can hold strong limits feel content etc. but this doesn’t mean that they are ALL effective.

            K Cooper,
            You wrote these things of what you are exposed to:
            “Be unhappy, find every opportunity to act dismissively toward me, denounce me to the adult children as being selfish and thinking only of myself, cease all but the most necessary communication, and live miserably and separately in the same house.”

            Being in the presence of this kind of environment you describe is extremely difficult and can be hard on one’s soul. It’s important to remember that even your presence DOES send a message of what is tolerated to the abuser.
            Being present to a person who has the opportunity to acts dismissive toward me and behave like you describe, is giving that person space to do so. It is not honoring of ourselves to be exposed to such a situation even though we are not the aggressor.

            Husband needs strong boundaries for what is not tolerated under the same roof- regardless of someone’s ‘content places with the Lord’ Even covert behaviors need boundaries and limits.

          • K Cooper on September 14, 2019 at 9:31 pm

            Aly, and JoAnn, I really do appreciate your input. Believe me, the biggest question I have is whether I’m enabling my husband’s misery–the exact question Aly poses. I talk about it with my intimate friends who know me and my husband and are able to see from another perspective, and I consult regularly with my care pastor at church. I pray every day that I will not merely be allowing hubby to do as he wishes, but that my presence, attitude, and behavior would be convicting to him. At the moment, those it’s having the most impact on is my children. They are seeing me live WELL in the fact of his disdain, they see his tantrums for what they are, they remember BEFORE I started enacting Leslie’s principles and my boundaries, and they’ve acknowledged what a powerful testimony my very real joy is. For that, I thank my Savior daily.

          • Nancy on September 15, 2019 at 8:27 am


            This is really well said!

            Regardless of the state of mind / heart of the person who is staying well (they could be staying well ‘perfectly’) – their spouse may indeffinately tolerate this ‘non marriage’ very well.

            K Cooper, I think you are wise to continue bringing this before The Lord, as you are doing and as JoAnn suggested.

          • Aly on September 15, 2019 at 4:37 pm

            Nancy, JoAnn, K Cooper,

            I agree with continue bringing these request to the Lord.

            Much of what you describe is what many people out there chose to live like for a long time, the separation in house with the behaviors you listed above begin to be ‘their normal’. They are often married on paper yet they very much divorced at the heart level and this does not bring glory or honor to God.

            It’s important to pay attention to the effectiveness of these places and their purposes within the context of a marital union.
            Often it’s much more desirable for couples to separate in this manner (finding a space for joy etc.) while not having to really embrace the financial and realities of living separately.

            Usually these true realities and lifestyle changes bring greater discomfort to the spouse who is the offender yet rarely ‘feels the pain of their choices.

          • JoAnn on September 16, 2019 at 6:10 pm

            I am wondering, KCooper, if you and/or your spiritual advisors see this marriage arrangement as acceptable to the Lord? As Aly said, “married on paper but divorced at the heart level” with no reality of what the Bible describes as a godly marriage. Is this really acceptable? What are you hoping to accomplish by staying? If your children are old enough to see what’s really going on, then perhaps they would really rather you leave and take them with you. Have you asked them what they would like you to do? Or, is your church so against divorce that they are insisting that you “stay well”? For you to remain in this situation, I assume that you have a compelling reason for doing so. If you feel to tell us, I would like to know.

          • Aly on September 17, 2019 at 9:22 am

            K Cooper, JoAnn,
            Sometimes in these situations it’s better for the offending spouse or the spouse refusing to work toward repairing the relationship to be the one to leave the home’space’ even it’s a temporary situation. I’m not saying this is always available to some in these places.
            For my situation and past specifics with my h, it was clear that if he wasn’t going to do all that was needed to do to repair what he ‘broke’ he would need to find other living arrangements. Why should I have to be the one to be displaced and displace our young children at the time because my h was stubborn and not ‘uncomfortable enough’ to respond to the consequences of his choices?

            Home is supposed to be a place of recharge and a safe area to escape from the ‘world’s chaos’ with our sacred loved ones. it’s a space of rest and renewal.

          • Suzanne on September 17, 2019 at 10:10 am

            I’ve been really puzzled by all the comments strongly encouraging KCooper to remove her husband from the home. I admire the way KCooper has chosen to handle HER particular situation. All situations are different! She’s getting feedback from close confidants and her pastor, then making HER decisions. And she sounds confident about them. I think it’s wonderful. Let’s not push her, or cause her to question herself. Barbara Roberts, in her blog A Cry for Justice, recently highlighted a quote by Brad Hambrick from The Church Cares curriculum. He says, “In abusive situations, we don’t TELL the abused spouse what they ought to do. We believe that is a matter of conscience and wisdom.”

          • Nancy on September 17, 2019 at 1:42 pm

            HI Suzanne,

            I agree that we should never tell anyone else what they should do. If you read through the comments carefully, you’ll see that no one is telling KCooper to do anything. Nor is she even being given advice.

            Personal experiences are being relayed and really good questions are being asked. And all of this amidst the only direct advice of ‘bring it all to The Lord’.

            The questions and examples being given are not with the intent to shake her confidence, but to lovingly challenge. No one here has answers for K except The Lord.

            Also, we don’t challenge one another here because we think we know the answer, or are trying to ask ‘leading questions’. We challenge because that’s the loving thing to do,

          • Aly on September 17, 2019 at 7:27 pm

            I can completely resonate with Brad Hambrick. Your reference is something important.
            What you mentioned above is that K Cooper is getting feedback from close confidants and her pastor. This is also important to evaluate, because many people in these roles may not be most equipped to give the best feedback to a victim/survivor of covert or overt abuse.
            I’m speaking from personal experience.
            One of my best friends advised that, “ I made my bed I should sleep in it” -this was horrible advice that actually caused me more harm and my children.
            My husband had a problem that soon became my problem based on how it was effecting me.

            Getting the healthy resources and wise counsel was essential for the hope of my husband awaking to his issues that were not healthy.
            I continued with courage to ask the Lord for Truth and direction.
            Many of my close confidants were not equipped ‘themselves to face the true reality’ of what I had to face. Their advice came from a broken place that they feared…. maybe for their own marriage or boundary issues…? Even though they tried to stamp it with Christian theories but those were often misguided and taken out of context.

            Please do as Nancy has challenged you, reread the posts and you might see a different message than what you first read and interpreted as some telling K Cooper to have her husband leave etc. or giving her pressure. Many of my questions were about asking her to evaluate the effectiveness of her current boundaries and how they were impacting things. As well as my own personal pathways to a restored marriage that can Glorify God with Him being the center, rather than my h.

  12. William on September 12, 2019 at 10:33 pm

    Wow, I feel for a lot of compassion for this woman. Her husband is obviously believing some lies like Lesile mentioned. This seems like a very cut and dried case of emotional abuse and control. I sincerely hope this husband can accept Godly counsel and his wife can find her voice. This leads me to a question: is there a time when Godly leadership with genuine concern for a spouse can be misconstrued as abuse? If a husband is concerned with his wife’s wardrobe choices and feels the clothing is immodest and even distracting, how does he address it? If a husband sees his wife is focusing so much on work, the children are starting to suffer, what does he do? If husband sees money being spent carelessly, can he ask to pump the brakes? I have experienced these things and, because of mistakes I have made, each situation led to me being accused of power and control issues. I want to know when I am drifting into ungodly power grabbing rather than leading with the heart of Christ.

    • Nancy on September 13, 2019 at 7:11 am

      HI William,

      I think that Leslie’s advice of setting healthy boundaries and making reasonable requirements apply to husbands just as much as wives. None of these tools should ever be used as a means to gain control (although they absolutely can be).

      This process always requires that the one implementing boundaries and requirements go first before The Lord to repent of whatever part they have played in the areas where there is breakdown.

      For example, the money question. Do you make a plan for your money, TOGETHER? Do you make a pre-arranged agreement each month on how the money will be spent (a budget)? If you sit down and do this together and then agree on it, then you are working together to make decisions about your money.

      If either one of you then deviates from your agreement, then you have a bigger issue on your hands.

      But if you don’t do the work of making the time, sitting down together and communicating then it’s not reasonable for you to expect her to stick to some guidelines that you may not have communicated to her about.

      If she is working too much, then maybe you say, “I’d love for you to join us for dinner, but in order to maintain the kids schedule, we’ll be eating at 6pm, wether you’re home or not”. This is a loving boundary. Or if she’s working on week-ends, “we’d love it if you’d join us for a paddle down the river. We’ll be leaving at 10am, I hope you can make it”

      • Nancy on September 13, 2019 at 7:18 am

        *but if you don’t do the work of making the time, sitting down together and communicating, then it’s not reasonable for you to expect her to stick to some guidelines that you may not have communicated, AND SHE HAS NOT AGREED TO. (The bold is not yelling, just the part that I left out)

        • William on September 13, 2019 at 7:02 pm

          We have done work together-three and a half years of counseling. We follow the plan for a while, but she has struggled with it. I like the plan, but I have to be reminded when I am straying off course. I don’t like it when I make mistakes, but I am grateful for merciful correction. My wife tends to feel like a failure when she strays off path. She says, “I am just a screw up. I can’t do anything right.” I hate that and its not true. I am quick to forgive, but her self-worth is damaged and it makes me regret ever bringing up the plan. However, when the plan isn’t followed, it causes damage to my trust to my wife. It leaves me empty and withdrawn and it hurts the kids. I know tough love is necessary for domineering men and stubborn people. (That definitely describes my personality.) What kind of love will work for a person who has low self-worth, but is resistant to correction? Is it mostly because she ‘agreed’ to a plan to avoid more conflict? It leaves me confused.

          • JoAnn on September 13, 2019 at 11:17 pm

            William, I admire your courage in coming here and opening your concerns to the rest of us. It sounds like each of you, both you and your wife, have some deep seated issues that might be better addressed in individual sessions. Her self-worth issues have roots in her past as does your stubbornness. What you really need, in addition to some very effective counseling, is some real and intimate contact with the Lord. Spend time in the word and prayer, opening yourself up to the Lord and asking Him to do a deep work in your soul. She needs to do the same. A real and intimate encounter with the Lord will change her sense of who she is in Christ. Can you find out about spiritual retreats that your church or another in the area might be holding? Marriage Encounter weekends have been transformative for some. Begin to look for resources in your area, read some of the books recommended here. The Lord will lead you to the help you need. Ask Him.

          • Nancy on September 14, 2019 at 12:20 pm

            Hi William,

            My husband was VERY hard on himself and his main filter, through which he heard everything, was “I am a failure”. This made him extremely resistant to any type of correction. He also had very low self-worth. He also could not handle me being vulnerable about how he had hurt me, because his “I’m a failure” filter did not allow him to empathize. Instead he’d defend himself each time I shared. Result : zero emotional intimacy, I could not trust him with my heart. It was not a marriage.

            In my case, I followed Leslie’s recommendations in EDM. His main issue was that he refused to look at his past and how it had affected him.

            If you are confused, William, maybe it’s time to consider what JoAnn suggested: individual counselling. Leslie does not recommend marriage counselling for destructive marriages.

  13. Annabelle Moreno on September 13, 2019 at 12:46 pm

    I have tried to stand up to my husband multiple time and I have tried to speak to him about his controlling ways. But it never goes well.
    It usually ends up like this… “ you always want to argue” ..
    “you can’t just be at peace can you”
    You ruin everything”
    “You think you’re the boss don’t you”
    Or he will scream at me and start cursing..
    I don’t know how to approach his behavior except pray that God will give him conviction to changes.
    I just don’t have it in me anymore to keep fighting. 26 years of emotional abuse begins to wear on you. I just feel beat down.

    • Aly on September 13, 2019 at 1:33 pm

      Do you have an individual counselor you (alone) are working with on a regular basis 1 or 2 per week?
      Your husband has quite the list of defenses coming against you when you choose to not be walked over.

      • Annabelle on September 13, 2019 at 2:15 pm

        I have had one and have gone to marriage counseling with him. But he stopped going. He said only the devil brings up the past . So he won’t go anymore.

      • Autumn on September 14, 2019 at 6:31 am

        It is normal to feel beaten down and exhausted because you are a victim of abuse. If you have tried confronting your spouse and continues to ignore you, then it is time for a new response. Most would say institute consequences against his mistreatment of you. Figuring what a consequence is and how to do it will be easier with a counselor or support team by your side. As often abusers who don’t get their way get meaner.

        If your spouse continues to sin against you that is his responsibility, not yours. Your responsibility is to remove and protect yourself from such treatment be it temporarily or permanently.

    • Nancy on September 13, 2019 at 1:36 pm


      Stick around here a while and you’ll get lots of ideas that will enable you to guard your heart.

      One of these would be when he starts to tell you say, “I will no longer allow myself to be treated this way, if you cannot speak respectfully to me then I will leave the house for the evening.”

      If he doesn’t stop, go catch a movie or rent a nice hotel room for the night. The next time he does it, repeat the same thing. You have a choice as to how you allow yourself to be treated. But it will start with you taking ownership of how far you’ve let this go.

      Of course if you think he might get violent then you’ll need to make an escape plan. You can call your local women’s shelter to get started on that.

      • Annabelle on September 13, 2019 at 2:20 pm

        I have tried that. And over the years he has gotten better. He is no longer violent with me. But the verbal abuse has continued. It’s sometime subtle. It’s manipulative. I don’t have anywhere to go. I’ve wanted to leave many times .
        I just feel hopeless now.

        • JoAnn on September 15, 2019 at 6:29 pm

          Annabelle, Abuse is abuse, whether it is physical, emotional, sexual, or spiritual. (The different kinds are addressed in Leslie’s book.) So don’t diminish the effects of the emotional/verbal abuse you are enduring. Patricia Evans has written a book called “The Verbally Abusive Relationship.” In it, she says that abuse inevitably intensifies, so even if he isn’t physical anymore, the verbal abuse will continue to escalate. You might see if there is a battered women’s shelter or abuse hotline in your area. Begin making some plans for leaving: separate bank account, suitcase in the car, a friend you can call if you need to leave quickly, etc. The sense of hopelessness begins to fade as you start taking steps to remove yourself from this damaging situation. Try to get some counseling for yourself. That would be a great first step.

          • Nancy on September 16, 2019 at 9:18 am

            I agree with what JoAnn says here. Do you think you are able to take a step?

            My sense from what you have written in these couple of posts is that you are dependent on your husband’s choice to be healthy.

            If this is the case then the first thing to do is to go before The Lord and ask for the courage to take responsibility for your own health. Ask Him to enable you to become fully dependant on Christ alone. As you cling to Christ he will enable you to CONTINUE taking steps toward health regardless of your husband’s response to those steps (as you receive Godly counsel and support).

            This does involve letting go of the outcome of your marriage. And this is only possible with God!

      • Nancy on September 13, 2019 at 3:42 pm

        OH, and if you have kids, take them with you when you remove yourself from verbal attack

        • Hopeful on September 16, 2019 at 1:41 pm

          Nancy! Your responses always resonate with me so deeply. Thank you!

          • Nancy on September 17, 2019 at 9:51 pm

            What kind encouragement Hopeful. Thank you 🙂

    • William on September 13, 2019 at 6:43 pm

      I am sorry. I am glad you still have faith/hope that God can change your husband. I hope he will ask for the help he needs from God and Godly counsel. I agree that you need to find safe people to help you work on your hurts and to help you find your voice. These people should be able to help you establish the boundaries you need with your husband. Do you fear for your physical safety? Please, be safe.

  14. Anne on September 13, 2019 at 6:53 pm

    Find a scripture that counteracts the abusive behavior and speak it over yourself. When my husband gaslights, I speak Psalms 71:1-2. In You O Lord do I put my trust and confidently take refuge; let me never be put to SHAME OR CONFUSION! Deliver me in Your righteousness and cause me to escape; bow down Your ear to me and save me! I have a stack of index cards with scriptures that negate the abusive tactic. I am gaining strength and confidence in who I am according to God, not man. Isaiah 1:17 Amp – Instructs us to correct the oppressor. Chew on that truth.

    • JoAnn on September 15, 2019 at 6:35 pm

      Anne, thank you for pointing out Isaiah 1:17: “Learn to do good, Seek justice, REPROVE THE RUTHLESS….” Pretty strong words and A good verse to have on hand.

  15. Free on September 14, 2019 at 8:25 pm

    I found this quote on page 174 of Don Hennessey’s book, “Steps to Freedom: Escaping Intimate Control” useful.

    Adult Intimate abuse is a process of seduction and coercion, founded on mind-control, by which an abuser establishes and maintains dominance over the partner. Continued abuse is possible, and maintained, by the abusive person’s persistent and effective lying, denying, and re-directing of blame.

  16. many years on September 16, 2019 at 1:17 pm

    I really appreciate this post, Leslie.

  17. Mrs. B on September 16, 2019 at 4:01 pm

    I am dealing with my own matter of control and I’m not quite sure how to deal with it. If someone reads this and wants to give advice, I’d really appreciate it.

    We recently refinanced our house in order to pay off debts, buy a new van (our old one totally died), and put in a new garage, as well as a few other small repairs and upgrades to the house, such as a dishwasher. Once the money was in our bank account it was like some kind of monster that had been hidden in my husband, came out. Although before we got the loan he lectured me about how all the money was going to go to the house ONLY, that we were not to spend ANYTHING on anything unnecessary, including the grain mill I wanted that I would CERTAINLY NOT be buying (he said this with a sneer) – as soon as we had the money he went out and started spending on himself freely – a giant bag of weed, a new gun, expensive ammo “just in case” he goes hunting someday, junk food, you get the idea.

    I tried to tell him that this bothered me and he exploded in rage and got very nasty very quick, swearing and cursing at me, etc as well as flatly denying all the stuff he said before. Ever since then (a few days ago) he’s been extremely hateful to me. I can’t bring up anything serious like money because he goes straight into attack mode, like he is a starving dog and I’m trying to take away his bone or something.

    He has shown through our conversations that he really has no good will towards me at all, and he is bringing up stuff from many years ago that he is apparently still (irrationally) bitter about…it’s so strange that things seemed a lot better between us for a long time, then as soon as we go this money he went back to seeing me as the enemy. It makes me feel sick that he is so unable to see me as his friend or partner, but only as an adversary.

    I hate that he is frittering away our loan money on such selfish things, and I want to protect our finances for our children, but I don’t know what to do. He put all the loan money into an account I have no access to, and he has been lecturing me about how the house is really his, my name shouldn’t be on the mortgage, all the money is his, etc. He doesn’t want me to have any knowledge of our finances. Clearly he feels all the loan money is 100% his to do with as he sees fit . I can’t see how I can rectify this situation without things becoming very ugly. I don’t have a job and I have no money of my own, which is a thing my husband uses all the time to argue why he deserves nice things, and I don’t, and he should have control over the money, and I shouldn’t. I can’t see how I can gain some control over this situation when he is obviously trying to have complete control himself and is viewing me as the enemy.

    • Free on September 17, 2019 at 4:52 pm

      Start small Mrs. B. You are being abused on many levels. I am glad you found this site. Start reading some of the books recommended on this site. You need counseling and a support group. I would make a private appointment and speak to someone at the bank regarding your role and responsibilities with the home and mortgage. Also see a lawyer. The first appointment is always free. You are being treated as a child. What are the laws in your state about Marijuana? Is smoking weed legal? My point is gather information and resources. Get as much information as you can so you can plan your wisest move. Call the domestic abuse hotline, they have a ton of free resources. Finally, figure out how you could work one day. How could you earn some income and squirrel it away? Abusive men with guns are dangerous, you will need a team of people to help you. You can’t change him, you can only change yourself.

    • Nancy on September 17, 2019 at 10:07 pm

      Mrs. B.,

      I wholeheartedly agree with everything Free has said.

      The old vows said “unto thee all my worldly goods, I do pledge”. Two becoming one is not just some theoretical idea – it should include bank accounts and the reality that this is now a UNION where financial decisions are made together.

      You are describing a guy who is a toddler (a toddler with a gun), running around screaming that this is ‘mine!’ and “you can’t have it!” This is not a man. Sorry if this is harsh, but sheesh, this is not healthy behaviour in a grown up.

      Be very careful. Take small and intentional steps.

      • JoAnn on September 18, 2019 at 3:52 pm

        Mrs. B, I agree with everything that Free and Nancy have said, and I want to add a thought or two. First of all, it may be a blessing that the house and loan are all in his name, because you will not be held accountable should he default or you divorce. But for sure, you need to learn as much as you can about what the law has to say. It can be different in some states. And, yes, by all means, begin to gather information, though very secretly, because this sounds like a dangerous man. You need to have a safety plan in place, like how to escape his presence should he become violent. We have discussed this in previous blogs, and your local women’s shelter should have help for you in this. Pray hard, leaning into Jesus and trusting Him to guide your steps. We all are here to help.

  18. Sheep on September 17, 2019 at 6:24 pm

    Hi Leslie, JoAnne, Nancy, and so many others too numerous to name. I just wanted to let y’all know that my divorce was final today. This has been such a long hard road, and I thank all of you for being here while I walked it. Thank you for your wisdom, guidance, thoughts, and encouragement.

    Today has been a day full of conflicting feelings and while I am sad because of the loss, I am at peace knowing that I did everything possible and more to save my marriage. I also feel relief that this marathon is finally over and I can now move on to a different stage of life. I’m thankful for everything that I have learned here and I’m glad that I am able to now help others that are facing the realization of emotional abuse in their marriage.

    • Autumn on September 17, 2019 at 7:03 pm

      Thanks for posting Sheep. I was wondering how you were doing. I think each day you will feel more and more stress lifting from your shoulders.

      I know Lundy Bancroft’s book, “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” Is oriented to females, but there is a chapter I think you could really benefit from. Towards the end of the book there are various exercises to help one adjust, reflect and grow after leaving an abusive relationship. I was just looking at the chapter today and doing some of the exercises. They are very healing. Lundy reminds his readers that recovery from abuse takes time.

      Give yourself time to process the past, but then walk confidently into the new future of life without an abusive partner in your home.

    • Nancy on September 17, 2019 at 9:48 pm

      Sheep, Thank you for sharing this.

      You absolutely did do everything possible to save your marriage. God knows exactly what your heart has been through.

      He has blessed you with a sensitivity and compassion for others, as well as giving you a quiet strength; all these come through loud and clear in your comments here. May our God of all comfort be very near to you and your children.

      I’m grieving with you, brother.

    • JoAnn on September 18, 2019 at 3:58 pm

      Brother Sheep, Thank you for checking in; I have been wondering, knowing that The Day was approaching. Rejoicing with you that it is over, and grieving with you for the loss. Hard feelings to navigate. Keep your eyes on The Lord, and He will direct your path. I, and I’m sure the others, hope that you will continue to join us here. Your experience will be a great encouragement to many, as we all have learned so much from others who have been through these challenges and come out on the other side. Be well, Brother, and we hope to hear from you often.

    • Sheep on September 19, 2019 at 10:02 am

      Thank you all for your kind words. I know it hasn’t been long, but it is interesting to me the feeling of growing relief that I have. It is like I have taken off a large backpack full of junk and I’m not carrying it around anymore.

      Yes, I will still be around here, reading, learning, and commenting as appropriate. It is now a habit to get up on Wed. morning and check for the new blog post.

  19. Homeschool mama on October 23, 2019 at 10:13 am

    In my situation, my husbands dad was verbally and emotionally abusive. He left home and moved to the town where I live. We met and married. Now my husband says that going to church, and seeing my family and old friends are all triggers for him. They all remind him of when he first moved here, and all his baggage. He’s trying to overcome and he can’t around these people. He stopped going to church about three years ago(I still go with the kids), and now he wants us to stop seeing my family and says if I love him I’ll let him lead this way. The problem is that we live in a tiny town, so it’s almost impossible to completely avoid anyway. And even bigger issue is that I’ve told him I understand that my family is a trigger and he doesn’t need to see them, but that the kids and I would still like to. He doesn’t even want me talking to them.
    And he’s definitely triggered whenever he sees anyone, and in the last 5 years he’s become increasingly abusive in his words to me. And in the last few weeks he’s hit or shoved me a few times. My oldest daughter(17) deals with severe anxiety around him because of his rage.

    Any advice? I’m wondering where the submissive line is here. And I’m on the verge of divorce, because I can’t take the verbal abuse anymore. It’s so tough, my kids are 17,15,13,9,5 years old.

    • Leslie Vernick on October 23, 2019 at 10:30 am

      Something sounds fishy to me. If his dad abused him why is your family triggering him? And what is he doing to manage his triggers instead of trying to isolate you? I don’t think submission means that you cooperate with his paranoia or controlling tactics to manage his own anxiety. That’s not helpful to him, to you or to your children. Also next time he shoves you or does anything physically scary, call the police and file a report. Do not allow yourself to be treated this way and it’s time to seriously consider leaving for you and your children’s safety and sanity. You see the toll it’s taking on your daughter. This is not good stewardship of her safety and well-being, not to mention yours and the other children.

      • Annie on November 1, 2019 at 12:28 pm

        He has crossed the line of physical abuse. He is escalating. Trying to isolate you from your support system is a classic abusive tactic and he is using his “victim status” to appeal to your compassion in order to achieve this. Try to put together a safety plan so you and your kids can leave ASAP. Try and place your childrens needs above his if it is hard for you to picture your needs are more important than his

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