Thanks for your prayers. I am up at my summer cabin now doing Nana Camp for a week with three of the most amazing grandchildren. We are doing lots of art projects, outdoor fun and the weather couldn’t be nicer. It’s a great place for some rejuvenation.
Today’s question a reader asks: After 47 years of marriage it has only been a few months since my eyes have been opened to realize he has been abusing and controlling me. For so long I felt crazy. But now it seems I am SO angry and bitter. I know this isn't right but can't seem to move past it. What do I need to do?
Answer: I’m so glad you don’t want to stay in that angry and bitter place too much longer. It’s a normal place to land once you see more clearly that you’ve been abused and controlled by someone for years who told you that you were making a big deal out of nothing. But I also imagine that you’re feeling a little angry towards your own self for allowing it and being blind to what was going on all these years. You may also be feeling some anger towards the typical Christian teaching that has put Christian women in a role to follow rather than helping and equipping her to be a full image bearer as a person.
That said, anger can be used in a good way and it can be used in a destructive way. The energy anger gives us motivates us to take some action. However sometimes in our anger, our action steps can be self-serving and harmful towards our self and others. That’s why the apostle Paul warns us that in our anger, do not sin. (Ephesians 4:26). But your anger can motivate you to take action in healthy and constructive ways, so I wouldn’t be too anxious to get rid of all of it.
1. Your anger can motivate you to stop being so compliant at home and start to speak up for yourself. What I mean by this is sometimes when we get angry, we speak up, but not for ourselves, but against someone else. We lose our temper, we accuse, we attack, we blame, we shame. That reinforces the abuser’s mindset that you are the problem and depending on how you do it, that you are unstable. Instead, use your anger to speak up for yourself. “I don’t like that.” Or “No, I don’t want to do that.” Or “That’s not okay with me.” This may not make a bit of difference to your husband, but when you start to stand up for yourself it will make a huge difference in you. Now you no longer allow yourself to be controlled, even as he tries to guilt trip you or bully you into giving in. You start to build an identity as a person and not just a wife who is to comply or submit. You start to have an “I” which is important towards moving towards your “who”. Who does God want me to become as I grow through this trial?
2. Your anger can help you start to do your own work. As you discover your “I”, and build a stronger sense of personhood, you will begin to set some boundaries. “This is what I will do. This is what I won’t do. This is what I’m responsible for. This is what I’m not responsible for. This is what I am to steward. This is what I’m not responsible to steward.” This is all important information for you because as you’ve been controlled for these 47 years you have not been allowed to think for yourself. Thinking for yourself is your adult responsibility. That does not mean we don’t listen to other’s feedback or advice, but ultimately, you are responsible for your own thought life. Who is to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ? (2 Corinthians 10:5) You are. Who is to guard your heart above all else, for it is the well-spring of life? (Proverbs 4:23). You are. Who is to renew your mind with God’s word so that you will be transformed? (Romans 12:2). You are. Sometimes when we live with a controlling and abusive person, we become flat-lined and apathetic. There is no energy inside of us because we aren’t even allowed to think about our own needs/wants/goals or desires. As you’ve woken up, your anger can help you remember, you do not want to slide back into passive apathy. That is toxic to you.
3. Your anger in the short term can help you stay firm in your resolve that things have to change in the dynamics with your spouse. He’s not going to like the new you, He’s used to having someone who is an easy target to bully and control. Short term your anger can help you stay firm and not back down. But long term, you don’t want to have to STAY angry in order to have good boundaries and a healthy sense of self.
So your question was how do you move past it? Remember, your anger has a purpose. It’s alerting you that something is wrong and needs to change. [Tweet “You can’t change him, but you must change you.”] You have to get safe, sane (clear thinking and feeling) and strong. Your anger can motivate you to take positive direction in stewarding your own life from this day forward. And part of that self-stewardship is letting go of the bitterness that unresolved anger and resentment has built up in your spirit, and your body.
But here is one reason why women especially find it hard to let it go. It’s because anger is the only way they know to be strong. When they’re angry, then they can stay firm on their boundaries and not cave into the pleading or whining of someone else. When they’re angry, they aren’t as easily controlled. When they’re angry other people tend to not demand things of them than when they are kind and empathetic. Therefore, your work is to build other internal muscles of strength, fortitude, wisdom, confidence, and truth that can help you stand firm without needing to hang on to your anger.
When a woman in a destructive marriage stops acting angry, sometimes her husband thinks, “Everything is fine. She’s back to normal” When in reality it isn’t fine. Nothing has changed. That’s why it’s imperative that you grow to use your words and actions not your anger to communicate, “things are not fine and our relationship is destructive towards me and that’s not okay with me.” And then be able to hold your boundaries if he starts to argue, plead or even threaten. Healthy people who are loving and kind have good boundaries so that they don’t feel walked on or taken advantage of all the time. They know how to have them, keep them, and don’t get bullied or intimidated by others to do what they don’t want to do. They don’t need their anger to communicate those things, they know how to do it with words, and take the appropriate action if the other gets disrespectful or ugly.
Anger towards your own self for allowing this for so long might also be a challenge to let go of. We get so disappointed with ourselves that we aren’t better than we are. Stronger than we are. Healthier than we are. But we’re not. [Tweet “We’re just where we are and if we can accept that without resentment, we can let our self-hatred go.”] I don’t know why it took 47 years for your eyes to be opened, but instead of being angry at yourself or God that it took that long, perhaps another way of looking at it is that now you are strong enough to see it, and take healthy action to get safe, sane and strong. And just maybe as you take your own steps towards getting healthier, your husband will be curious about your newfound strength and want to move towards greater health himself. And if not, you will know what your next steps are and be strong enough to take them.
Friend, when you’re filled with anger and resentment towards something or someone, how have you learned to let it go?
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Imagine having no angry feelings at all. I was zombie faced, emotionless and silent like a shell shocked prisoner of war who just escaped a torture chamber. That has been my response to decades of abuse. I don’t get angry. I forget how to feel that feeling. So, be thankful you can still feel.
Moon Beam, Perhaps you need a safe place to begin to allow yourself to feel and safely express those feelings. Bottling them up really takes a toll on you both emotionally and physically, not to mention spiritually. You would do well to find a counselor who you are comfortable with and work on this. You will enjoy the feeling of freedom once you work through this.
.My husband of 27 stopped speaking to me about 2 years ago. I’m taking so long to heal for all this hurt. I believe its because we still share the same space. He is bitter and angry towards me, yet I still want his approval and do things for him to notice. How do I detach from him emotionally?
Sandra, u am very sorry for what you are going through. It seems you are struggling with denial. Your husband is clearly showing you he is no longer interested in you. That hurts. You need to ask him if he wants to be married to you or not.
If he wants you in his life he will need to make some changes. As he is not loving you well. If he indicates that the marriage is over, sadly, you need to accept that and build a different life.
I hear you saying you want him to love you. You can’t force a person to do that. I would suggest a formal separation. That will either call his bluff and provide consequences or it will reveal the truth to you. I think you know the truth, but you just don’t want to accept it. The truth may be very painful, but you disrespect yourself by living a lie. It’s time for professional counseling.
Thank you Free.
I never saw it from the perspective that I want him to love me. I thought I was just processing the pain.
That part about me disrespecting myself by living a lie hit home. No one ever told me that before. And its so true.
I eventually became thankful for the silent treatment he was giving me because that mean no more verbal abuse, but I was wondering what next to do.
Thank you for letting me see things differently.
The silent treatment is a form of emotional abuse. Many abusers try different tactics for control and to see your response. It’s confusing and exhausting. Their relational skills are very ‘low level’ so they won’t know how to interact in a healthy way with another without trying to be superior in the dynamic. It can feel very much like toddler-Ville.
I’m sorry you are going through this but Free is correct that it’s time for professional counseling. The fact that he can live in this environment with this dynamic should tell you how unhealthy (he) is and your next step is to get help and clarity for yourself.
Thank you Aly. These responses are very helpful.
Glad you are receiving such good wisdom here. Your husband has his own issues to face, but I’m glad you are facing yours and realizing that you do not need to continue to live this way anymore. Take some new steps towards building your own life and emotional well-being. As you stop waiting for him to change, and you start to change, that may give your husband the motivation to work on himself too, or it may not. That part you have no control over. But stop living in limbo, waiting for him to change and decide what your next right step forward is.
Agreed, thanks Free.
Yes. I have been not only waiting for him to change, but
also waiting to see God punishment upon his life for what he did to me, but I know now that was because I was hurting so much.
Leslie thank you for taking the time to read my comment and the responses. In the multitude of counsel there is wisdom.
As Free says, you can’t force someone to love you. And please don’t stay in denial; you deserve better. I feel sorry for what you are going through. God loves you. Do not do things for his approval. I think you need a formal separation & I believe that will get his attention. You deserve respect. Start by first respecting yourself. As a Christian counselor told me several years ago “females are like butterflies. We are to be chased by members of the opposite sex. They are to be pursuing us.” Never let them catch you. God bless you as you look to him for strength and guidance.
Loretta Barbour thank you 💓