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Today’s question is from a husband who wants to know if he’s being emotionally abusive. He’s a brave man for coming on this blog and asking this question. He hasn’t given us a lot of information, but let’s use CORE strength in our responses to help him understand from a wife’s perspective, what might feel abusive to her.
Question: Can constant arguing about everything and anything be considered emotional abuse? I'm trying to understand why my wife thinks I'm emotionally abusing her. I admit I talk loud.
Answer: Thank you for asking this question. I think a lot of men might not have the courage to invite my feedback and this community’s feedback into their life. You haven’t given me enough details about the way you and your wife argue to definitely answer your question but you said two things that are red flags.
The first is that you are constantly arguing about everything and anything. Why is that? Do you ever give in to what she wants? Does she ever give in to what you want? Mutual submission is an important discipline in the Christian life (Ephesians 5:21, 1 Peter 2:13; James 4:7). It teaches us that we don’t have to get our way all of the time.
Sadly some men believe the Bible entitles them to get their way or be right because God calls them to be the head of their home. But Jesus never defined headship as getting your own way or being the boss. Rather he defined it as a sacrificial servanthood that seeks to bless and serve the other person (Mark 10:42-45). Is that how you treat your wife?
Do you and your wife compromise together and reach a solution that works for both of you? It sounds like you both are locked into a win/lose approach to dealing with your differences and that is never healthy for a marriage. It results in a power struggle where one person wins and the other loses. If your wife is regularly on the losing side, she indeed may feel she does not have a voice or choice in your marriage.
The second thing you mention is that you talk loud. I imagine when you get angry during an argument you get even louder. When you talk loud or yell, your wife may feel scared and intimidated by you. Also, you may talk over her and not listen to what she has to say very well. Those things may feel emotionally abusive to her.
But I’d like to also give you some additional things to think about. What do you believe all the arguing and fighting is about? James 4:1 says that it’s often because we are not getting our own way. Are you the kind of man who thinks your way is the best way? That what you want is what she should want? That how you feel is how she should feel? That what you say should be gold and what she says is chaff?
Are you the kind of man who believes you know what’s right, what’s needed in every situation without really listening to input from your wife? If there is some truth to what I’m saying, your wife may indeed feel more like a child or slave in the relationship. She may be fighting you for equal status, to be heard and valued as a partner and helpmate. She’s told you that she feels emotionally abused, why haven’t you asked her what specifically you are doing that makes her feel that way? You’ve asked me but more importantly have you asked her?
Many couples argue a lot. Even fight. But the way you argue and fight is more an indicator of whether your relationship is difficult or slides into destructive.
Here are a few more things to think about:
- Do you invalidate what she says? In other words, when she gives you a contrary point of view or her feelings are different than yours, do you tell her she’s stupid, ridiculous, or shouldn’t feel that way? Do you shut her down by your loud talk?
- Do you make fun of her, mock her, roll your eyes or show contempt when she has a different opinion than you do or wants something different than you do?
- Do you alienate your children against her, making her look crazy, stupid, or ungodly?
- Have you humiliated her in public or told negative things about her to family and friends?
- Do you refuse to answer her questions? Are you defensive when she tries to tell you what’s wrong?
- Do you lie to her or withhold or twist information so that she is kept in the dark about some things?
- What are your wife’s favorite flower and food? If she could only do one thing for fun, what would she pick? If you were to buy a piece of jewelry for her or something to wear, do you know what she would love most? If you can answer these questions, good for you. If you draw a blank, perhaps you don’t know your wife as a woman or a person. She is a wife to you, not a person in her own right. She may feel hurt that you have not taken the time to know who she is or what she wants or likes.
- Are you critical of her body, her parenting, her housekeeping, her skills, her family or other things that make her who she is?
- Are you indifferent to her feelings? The fact that she says you are emotionally abusive has bothered you. But does it bother you because it hurts your ego or because she is hurting? There is a difference.
Your wife has told you that the things you are doing hurt her. Instead of arguing with her about that fact, have you stopped doing the things that she says hurt her?
I can’t tell you the number of men who refuse to acknowledge that what they are doing is painful to their wife. It may wound your ego to humble yourself and look within, but if you don’t, you can’t change (tweet that).
Most times it’s only when the man himself is in pain does he start to pay attention.
Often this happens when his wife says she’s leaving the marriage or refuses to have sexual relationships with him. Now he’s listening. But he’s listening because of the pain he’s in, not because of all the pain he has caused. It’s still all about his feelings and his needs. When she says she wants a divorce he cries, “Don’t do this to me, or to our family.” Yet, what he has done for months and years has been ignored. He hasn’t cared about her pain.
I don’t know if this is you. But I would highly encourage you to stop arguing and defending yourself. Start asking more questions and listening to what she says. I know some people use the “you emotionally abused me” card inappropriately, but try to hear from her why she feels emotionally abused by you. Without some real changes, your marriage will continue to deteriorate and that is not God’s best for you or for her.
Friends: When you try talking to your husband about what hurts you, what kind of response from him have you received?
If you are a male reading this and your wife has told you something similar, why has it been so hard for you to hear her?
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My husband and I never seem to be able to discuss any situation that requires a solution. Day to day living is isolated, sleep in separate rooms, no physical touching other than a little kiss goodbye. When discussions take place he will ask why I have so many questions or say we’ll never get a resolution with you thinking like that. I’m seeing a downward spiral in our marriage and am giving up. Is they anything more I can do without always giving in all the time?
I think you can ask him why he doesn’t think that the two of you ever get to a resolution? And what does he mean “if you keep thinking like that?” Is that a put down? Or is trying to – in a backwards kind of way give you feedback that you’re not contributing to solution thinking, just problem thinking?
My husband’s response when I express hurt is to say “whatever.”Obviously this does not solve anything or foster healing.
Have you ever followed up with “Doesn’t that matter to you that I’m hurting?”
This is the way I grew up! It’s how my MOTHER treated my DAD!! You don’t hear much about that, however, I believe he was and still is, emotionally and psychologically abused. In turn, it had its devastating effects on us as we grew up and our marriages and eventual divorces throughout the years. It’s difficult to make sense of all of it.
. . . .that means you were impacted too even by just witnessing it. . . . .Direct abuse. . . straight on abuse experienced in childhood is devasting because you don’t have any resources or understanding. You can’t have boundaries, or scripts that you say to them to make things better, you can’t move out, you can’t file for divorce and so often us survivors have their experiences denied, trivialized, distorted because no one wants to see “moms” that way. What way? Chaos dragons from the very abyss. . . . But when we battle monsters we have to be very careful we do not become a monster ourselves because if you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes through you. . . . .The issue is that all that psyhic vomit just keeps being passed down generation by generation, recycled through time. . . .Until, with God’s help, we decide to break that cycle. There is something about being loved and protected by a parent knowing that you can be loved for who you are, not what you can do, or might one day become. Very few people should be allowed to raise children, it is just too important. The initial repeated traumas go underground but they always return to haunt us. As we grow, the engulfing, dis-empowering feelings that grabbed us during moments of our abuse do not change with any knowledge, any awareness, or new experiences. They are locked deep, deep inside until we return to the very bottom of the ocean to release them (Pinocchio-Gepetto-style.) . . .It would actually be easier to just climb Mount Everest but that wouldn’t help.
>“Friends: When you try talking to your husband about what hurts you, what kind of response from him have you received? If you are a male reading this and your wife has told you something similar, why has it been so hard for you to hear her?”
. . . .So, all these behaviors: “. . . . invalidate what others say because you don’t like it (re: she gives you a contrary point of view or her feelings are different than yours, do you tell her she’s stupid, ridiculous, or shouldn’t feel that way? . . . . Well, that is going to shut the entire system down. “. . . make[ing] fun of her, mock her, roll your eyes or show contempt when she has a different opinion than you do or wants something different than you do?” “Humiliate her in public or told negative things about her to family and friends?” “. . . refuse to answer her questions? Are you defensive when she tries to tell you what’s wrong?”
. . . . All these behaviors are just a nightmare and are the road to chaos and hell on earth. In my marriage, every day we love, and every day we forgive. It is an ongoing sacrament ―love and forgiveness. . . . Now, if you are in a situation where your marriage isn’t of sufficient quality, I’ve been there too, you might ask yourself: Am I doing absolutely everything I can to fix it? All of us should always be asking that (re: How to Act Right When Your Spouse Acts Wrong―style) . . . . I know it may be disgusting to hear someone say something like that after all you have tried but it is just true. The Lord God only knows how many doors will open if you are seriously doing everything you can to fix your marriage. That is always worth pursuing. . . .It may be better not to draw any conclusions about our marriages and the utility of them until we know (―Holy Spirit-style knowing) we are seeing things clearly. . . . .The Bible looks like it does not bracket off neuropsychological measures outside of the norm: —emotionally unavailable, devoid of empathy, etc. . . . .But maybe we need to in the end, I just don’t know what to make of it all —BUT— what is clear is that those listed behaviors are pure poison, just raw poison. That way of acting destroys life and even impairs your health.
. . . .One thing that always, always, totally floors me is how a man could not comprehend what marvelous responders women are when they get an environment of sincere, ongoing, affection caring, protection, nurture, thoughtfulness. . . ―Everything just blossoms. —And it doesn’t even take any belief; just sincerely try it and you “see what happens.”
―Anyways, we have to go after fear. I know what a relief it feels like to give into it at first. It’s not hard to persuade yourself that you’re doing the right thing —that you’re making the smart, safe decision. But fear is insidious. It takes anything you’re willing to give it, the parts of your life you don’t mind cutting out, but when you’re not looking; fear takes anything else it pleases, too. What we fear is what we must conquer. When you eat too much chocolate, you get sick of it. Gorge yourself on fear. God will be our strength. We have to prepare mentally by renewing our minds with the scripture daily to be able to cope with fears. . . . .
I love these questions: “What are your wife’s favorite flower and food? If she could only do one thing for fun, what would she pick? If you were to buy a piece of jewelry for her or something to wear, do you know what she would love most?” . . . . Everyone should know things like this about the people they are in relationship with and especially our spouses. I basically know these things even about my cat: what food, fun, (―jewelry being his favorite charm on his collar), how can we not know these things about our spouses? . . . God have mercy on us. But we don’t have to be totally blind if we ask God to help us. I start a lot of prayers off this way: God I seriously lack wisdom but You said “. . . .if anyone lacks wisdom, let them ask of You, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given. . . . “ Please help me God to know what to do and even more importantly to do it.
As far as the “talking loud” goes (which some do interpret as “yelling”), I wonder if there is an app or something that measures your volume/decibel level during normal conversation. Maybe try it at work, or when you’re talking to a friend or something, as a baseline, then when you’re talking with your wife. See how loud you are compared to how loud they are. When you have this information, you may be able to be more aware to modulate your voice.
This won’t solve the “always fighting” thing, but who knows? Maybe it will affect the perception of fighting.
I think my husband wrote this because it was the topic of our text yesterday. I finally left him after 31 years of marriage. In the beginning it was IV drug use, cheating and STD’s. Later it was forced counseling by the church because my pleas for understanding from him went unrecognized, and periods of separation in which I became the submissive wife and learned to live well within my situation which meant living with indifference. I fit Leslie’s description of indifference to the T. Almost 9 years ago while I was in seminary school to be a biblical counselor and I developed PTSD due to several different childhood molestations, beaten in foster homes, and raped by two men at the age of 15. Before this happened, I held everything together. I was the Rock and pretty much the one who raised our children. Whenever I went to my husband to share anything Godly while o was in school, he had this idea in his head my motives were to change him. His fear I suppose because he liked things the way they were. I was never heard. There were times early on in our marriage I’m sure that my motives were self motivated in order to get him to hear me but at this point I had learned to live well in the situation and he saw something wrong in everything I said. So basically we didn’t share anything. While I was in school we did a case study on sexual abuse and I went into a catatonic state. From there the person who was called “The Force” by my mentor had fallen face down and couldn’t get up. My husband was so upset that I was broken that he basically was kicking me to get up. I was having horrible nightmares almost every night for a year and a half which were so scary and real that I would wake in my own urine. My counselor wanted my husband to join my in counseling because he thought my husband would help. I told my counselor that he didn’t care but I asked him to come in anyway. After I cried about how I locked myself behind every door, was afraid to even answer the phone for what conflict or danger would be on the other end, … Or the nightmares that made me urinate in my bed… Through hysterical tears mind you… His response was, “where is her Christian faith now? I put out all this money for things she wanted to do and for what!” And there it was. Needless to say he didn’t come back. So I spent the next 8 years pleading for him to have some kind of emotional connection through tears because I felt sexually abused. Our marriage basically consisted of him climbing on top of me when he wanted and it kept me in my PTSD. Here was the person I was suppose to trust most in the world for my care and he only reinforced how scary people could be. Through countless nights in tears did I make me plea for gentleness and real intimacy only for it to fall on deaf ears. He didn’t feel the need to change for me if it didn’t effect him. He would state at some point that I never advanced toward him like I use to. I told him that he would often reject any advances on my part when I initiated intimacy., and this made me feel dirty and ashamed. He swore on several occasions that he would not reject my advances but he most certainly did. He always provided a good home and thought that it was enough. Last August he put me on the back burner for the last time and I moved away from him physically and emotionally. Over the course of those months I was extremely angry and distant. My behavior was poor to say the least. I basically acted like a crazy person. I forgave myself and considering my circumstance. By May of this year I began dry heaving due to the anxiety I suffered living in the situation. His fears and control had me sick so on June 4th I took half the money in the bank and got an apt. Mind you I had been unable and too work for years fearful to re-enter the world for 8 years but I God made a great part time job fall in my lap and I went to real estate school. So basically I climbed out of the gutter with no emotional support from him. Realizing I was on my own in healing took long and was very painful. During this 8 months in the home in separate rooms he tried to move towards me, and behaved supportive but it was much like the dance we did for 30 years. His pattern… (I’ll wait until things gets so bad and she’s ready to leave before I start the dance again. I’ll be nice and soon as she gets comfortable, I can stop all this attention stuff!” Only this time I wasn’t entering the dance anymore. I filed for divorce and told him I am going through with it because I wasn’t willing to spend anymore of my life in this harmful, hurtful destruction of my life but I was willing to offer him friendship. A chance to build something after all those years of having nothing and maybe having something real. I also left an open door to possibilities of reuniting after the divorce if we actually became real friends after 31 years. What I’m recently faced with is him arguing with me that I don’t really want to be friends with him because I am keeping a safe distance for my well being. His accusation is I spend more time with my girl friends then him so he’s not my real friend! And he’s actually angry at me! I chose the setting I’m comfortable with and he thinks it’s not fair. It’s clear he doesn’t get what’s going on with me and why such boundaries are in place or he simply is so self centered he can’t see. But I’m faced with accusations that I’m just not sincere. He analyses things to death but never seems to get to the root of what the real issue is. So basically he tries to put me in the hot seat when he’s the one on trial here. Trial meaning… Im watching you and I don’t see much fruit. So after yesterday’s discussion he ask for a restart in our friendship and I think to myself…I’ve been giving him restarts for so long that he must think I’m a fool. I kind of know what to expect and get its hard to say No more because I feel sorry for him. He hasn’t explained to me his reasons for his indifference in a way that is acceptable for me to understand his years of indifference, which doesn’t help his situation. Hope for reconciliation left me almost a year ago. I use to invest and be so heart broken every time we went back to the same old dance. The person who was the one that victimized me over and over again was the persons arms I allowed to comfort me over and over again only to find it was trickery. Maybe he was sincere in the moments of reconciliation but never came to lasting change. Every time I was crushed and my heart was devastatingly broken. All he walks away with from conversation with yesterday is … “My wife says I argue to death and I emotionally abuse her. I talk loud.” My fear is not of his voice! It’s his inability to see me, hear me, love me! I told him months ago before I left that he needs to speak to someone who could help him understand to understand me better because I couldn’t seem to make him understand me. His response was we didn’t help because he knows what to do. I told him again yesterday and he writes you, but not before suggesting I do it first because he thinks I need someone to speak truth in my life? After all… I need someone to help me see! So we tend to go back and forth. I say to him that I don’t invest too much hope in us reconciling and he says how he feels about what I feel. Or … I say, “I feel this way because you did this to me” and he responds with, “But you did this to me!” We never get to the root of my issues because he turns it around and wants to make it about my faults. Deflecting! Tired of the merry go round and needed to get off! Since I got to my apt in June I have no anxiety and much peace. I’m off blood pressure meds that treated my anxiety, antidepressants, and have gone 3 nights without Xanax before bed after 8 years of being on them! I’d say I’ve never been healthier!
Thank you, Leslie, for a wonderfully clear and validating (for my situation too) article. I have made such incredible progress from chaos and confusion, to clarity and understanding – thanks to your many words of Godly wisdom.
You’re so welcome Marianna.
I happy you’re away from him Christine…I know how it is…you’re blamed for what’s wrong, with no ownership on his part, to the crazymaking, talking in circles, and the. Back to blaming you!! UGH!!
It’s exhausting…and I’m glad you finally have some peace in your life. May God continue to bless you!
Yes Exactky. What’s hard to deal with more or less emotionally now is that my dream of us living the life I always wanted is gone by no fault of mine. I had to move out! I will have to struggle since he was the bread winner, and my grown kids still want me to save the day. I never told them about their fathers offenses so they are pretty clueless.
Sounds like you’ve been in the rescuer and over-functioning role both in your marriage and with your kids. It’s time for you to focus on you, yes you need to grieve the loss of your dream life and build your real life. You cannot “save the day”. All you can do is take care of getting healthy and create a new dream for your life.
. . . Thank you for sharing that Christine. I’m praying for you. . . . Sometimes it’s better to end something. There is a limit for everything. . . . Sometimes you just have to move to damage control. You can’t re-model a house that’s totally engulfed in flames. . . . The experiences endured by so many here are just so sad. God wants us to have free will but it always results in lots and lots of damage. . . . And yet, everything that infuriates us about others can lead us to a much greater understanding of ourselves. With the Holy Spirit’s help, we can look into your own hearts. . . .If any answers exist, they are probably there. It could be that until we make the unconscious conscious, it will direct our lives and we will just keep calling it fate. ―I know for me, many times, I can see it is only as hard as I am resistant to the Holy Spirit and I don’t know about you, but I can have serious resistance at times. I was just praying this morning: Lord please make me aware of why I choose people-pleasing and supposed “safety” (accepting scraps of lonely love) instead of standing up, taking your hand and choosing to walk with you and loving myself the way you love me? . . . What kind of person do you want to walk down the street with? What kind of person do you want to wake up in the morning with? What kind of person do you want to see at the end of the day before you fall asleep? . . . .Because, really. . .that person is yourself, and it’s my and your responsibility to be that person we/you want to be with. I know I want to spend my life with a person who loves Christ, knows how to let things go, who’s not full of defenses, who’s sensitive, caring, tender, able to smile, et.al. So that’s who, with Christ’s help, I have to be. . . . You say “. . . I’d say I’ve never been healthier!” ―that’s wonderful!
Christine, I’m sorry that you’ve gone through so much. Praying for you.
I’m lease pray for him and my kids too. Thank you.
Your body says it all. Without all the drama and stress you can finally stop being on high alert. That’s important.
re: Body as the barometer
. . . . I really like that idea that the body is a sort of receiving device ‘body as radar’ and ‘body as barometer’. . . .that makes so much sense. Just like the dishes that collect satellite messages and funnel them down, our body can actually take experiences and then funnel them, track them . . .and with good observation and good internal questioning we can actually follow it through to see what it’s about past or present.
That was the wake up call! My body was telling me and I found myself in one day deciding to get an apt., and at the bank taking half of our marital assetts within the strangest calm. I knew I was doing the right thing and God had opened every door. It was time. The park across the street from my new apt had fireworks I could see from my patio. Here I was feeling the strangest relief and the fireworks seemed to signal my new found freedom from anxiety.
When the Body Says No: Exploring the Stress-Disease Connection
Jan 1, 2011
by Gabor Mate
It’s all real, and it’s all true. The body knows what the mind cannot or will not accept, and it does everything that God designed it to do in order to get our attention. It does this to ensure our survival, to save us as it were. If we learn to ‘listen’ to our bodies, we will have one more God-given tool that we can use to heal.
God Bless you.
This must be one of the most comprehensive posts on basic abuse yet. Thank you. It may or may not help the questioner, but I bet it will help targets of abuse to better recognize it. So often we second guess ourselves. Is it really abuse? Maybe I’m wrong all the time after all…………and so on.
If any accused abuser reads this, and REALLY wants the dynamics to change, they could easily print this out, take it one point at a time, and ask the wife, “is this how you feel?”. Without ‘being loud’.
I am divorcred from a relationship that went on for nearly 29 years. I recognize more clearly, now, 6 years after marriage that whenever I tried to express my views on hurts that were affecting me and our marital situation my pleas for change and validation of the points were ignored. The most hurtful behaviors resulted, I was essentially dismissed with his use of the traits listed in the blog spanning without a break from 1 to 9. I once avoided a face to face episode by writing a heartfelt letter that I felt was a step to addressing the issues clearly and without contention. Instead it came back with red pen teacher like corrections. All the red markings were defenses that avoided the real issues in question. And sadly he never has faced the destruction the same attitude has caused for our family. Even after the alienation of our’ children against me, including making me look crazy, stupid, and ungodly was proven to be false and backfired on him to the point our oldest has chosen to protect herself against his evil ways he claims he’s not aware or quilty of any problem. My daughter and I are accused of being in our own world, the ozone in his estimation. Better to live in the ozone than the abuse zone where I dealt with suicidal ideation. I thank God for showing me how to behave with heartfelt love first to Him and then myself. I am still working on my flaws on healthy boundaries with relationships. God has pointed me to people, places and things that help me stay true to His desires and His will for my life.
I’m glad you don’t want to live in the abuse zone anymore either.
I can relate to all. So sad that we, such devoted women would be treated like this. I feel very sad for my husband. He’s so lost.
Some of the things my husband has said when I have said he is hurting me.
“I feel the same way.”
“You are so sensitive.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“I’m sorry you aren’t feeling well, but you don’t need to take it out on me.”
“You do the same things.”
I have tried to listen to his side and apologize where I can, but I have learned that I am ignored. At least that is how I feel.
It is a circle that I can’t hop off of. Round and round it goes. I can get off of it by apologizing and by agreeing with him. But my hurts etc.. are not dealt with constructively.
So it sounds like you may have to come to accept that you don’t have a mutual or reciprocal relationship. YOu don’t have to like it, but it sounds like it’s time to accept it. And if you accept that, what would that mean for you?
Acceptance of that is the hardest thing for me. I confronted my husband on his abusive ways a few years ago. Throughout that time and to this day, he is still abusive. He is now telling me I sexually abused him, I have abandoned him which is emotional abuse, I emotionally abuse him, I psychologically abuse him and on and on. Aspects of his statements are true…like I have asked for space after the sexual abuse because it was very detrimental to me. He cant seem to understand that the things he has done have damaged me greatly and now that I’ve asked for space he claims im abusing him. Round and round I go too. It never ends. I’m feel so helpless and no one understands.
Hurting, I hear you. The pain, confusion and weariness I hear in your words are quite familiar to me while I was in the abuse. When you’re living the crazy making where you get to a point that you don’t know if you know anything any more…it is difficult to imagine a different life. It is difficult to breathe because you are ingesting a toxic gas every moment you have to live in the crazy making.
That said, there IS hope. You said that you feel hopeless. I felt that way too for a season because nothing I did made any difference. I, too, thought that the problem was that he just didn’t understand. A low emotional IQ. His needs vs her needs. Not so. Not in arrangements (there is no relationship) of abuse. So where is the hope? The hope begins with realizing that you are NOT crazy…you are living in crazy.
You said that he can’t seem to understand. An abusive person doesn’t fail to see, they just disagree. They do understand. They understand enough to know the most hurtful things to say and do to undermine your confidence. They understand because they know how to turn the abuse off when others are present. They don’t seem to talk to others they way they talk to you. If they know how to turn it on and off then their behavior is a choice.
Abusive people do not share the same goals as a non-abusive person. There are disordered people who do not desire connection or relationships. When I realized that my ex truly did not desire connection with me (and never did) suddenly his behavior made sense (from that perspective anyway).
You needing space due to his abuse is NOT being abusive. Projecting their abuse on to the target is typical of abusers and adds to the crazy making. They are late for an appt then tell you they can never count on you. Its crazy making. Someone who truly cares about you and has any kind of compassion would be more concerned about what is going on that is causing you to want to distance yourself. That was a perpetual clue to me of my ex’s abuse. He never addressed my pain.
You are not alone, Hurting. I look expectantly to God that one day soon your name will be Healing. Praying for you now.
So true. They do “get it” but they pretend like they don’t know what you are talking about or are asking something totally unreasonable for them to treat you like a decent human being.
Yes, I have accepted that this is the way it is. No, I don’t like it. What is means is that I don’t open up to him or try to deal with things anymore. It means that I suffer inner pain, lost time and diminished energy on a pretty regular basis when I am hurt anew. It means I need to stay close to God since He is my comfort. It forces me to stay in the Word, which is a good result. I also journal and read your blog and others to help.
I thought of a couple more responses:
“I was only joking.” (My favorite because of Prov. 26:19)
And ignoring what I said or pretending he didn’t hear it.
It took several years of marriage, but it did get through to him. Standing up for yourself, having boundaries, it does work, but only with the help of Christ. It also took my husband realizing that he might lose us if he didn’t change. Then he turned his heart to the Lord and truly became changed, even though he was already a Christian.
I don’t argue, he does. I spend days, sometimes even weeks and months, praying about what to say, rehearsing what to say so it sounds the most respectful and well received as possible (he reads into things). I rehearse his possible answers or attacks and what calm things I could respond with. I wait until he is in a position to listen to me and receive it with little to no distractions or added stresses. Often, before I even finish the first sentence, he has jumped on the defense, turned it around, turned up the volume and started in on accusations. When I calmly reply to his lies with truths, he continues. As I remind him that I have no intention of fighting, I just want to hear and respect his side, he escalates. If I raise my voice a little or continue, he starts with the bull dog body language, fist clenching, hissing through his teeth, getting in my face, and sometimes even raising his fist. If he pushes all my buttons and I break down, he calms down and is the supportive husband while I sit there crazy sobbing. Then, I get the cold shoulder and smug attitude for a few days and nothing is still resolved from my original question to him.
Thankfully, I have grown in my strength and I either stand up to him, or calmly tell him we obviously cannot do this together, so I am calling a third party to come mediate. That last bit sets him straight FAST. We haven’t argued since I did that.
All very insightful as usual, Leslie… from the points made in #1 – #9 to this quote:
“I can’t tell you the number of men who refuse to acknowledge that what they are doing is painful to their wife…”
I agree with Leslie that he did not give us enough information for more conclusive answers.
Let me preface my comments by saying I do not condone abuse of any kind in a marriage or family.
I think it would be interesting to hear the husband’s perception of the marriage relationship and of his wife’s attitudes and behaviors.
I think as women we can tend to think that our husbands should instantly understand what our issues are and why we think they are even issues in the first place.
We also can tend to think that the best and only way to deal with these issues is to have a big, emotional, confrontational reaction to them.
Sobbing, wailing, stomping, slamming doors, throwing & breaking objects, big dramatic sighs, glaring looks, even physically hurting ourselves. Asking incredulously with huge eyes,
“How could you do that to me?!?”
My husband HATES that. It could be the most legitimate and rational of issues but if I attach a lot of emotion to it, forget it, I’m talking to the wall and arguing with myself.
He does not want to feel like he is being manipulated, controlled or disrespected. And I know for myself that all those behaviors are nothing more than manipulations. And my husband isn’t stupid, he knows exactly what I’m doing and refuses to participate.
Perceptions are crucial and I think that when we strive to understand those first and speak to an issue in our spouse’s language, our issues can be much better received and resolved.
My husband said something to me a few weeks ago that was very simple yet very important, “we are two very different people”.
So I need to stop wasting so much time and energy trying to get him to think like me (arguing, right?).
And spend that time and energy understanding him and where he’s coming from.
Doesn’t mean I will ever be like him but I can begin to like him for who he is and he will like that! ????
As we are learning to walk in CORE, I certainly hope we are not sobbing, wailing, stomping our feet, throwing and breaking things…WHAT?….slamming doors, and giving glaring looks, etc.
From reading this blog for over 2 yrs now I’ve seen women who are BROKEN from their husbands abuse and who would not EVER think of stomping their feet, or glaring at their husbands for FEAR of their husbands reactions!
Sue, I’m not sure of the relationship you have with your husband, but based on your post, I’m not sure you truly understand the dynamics of abuse.
If I’m wrong, please forgive me…but it does seem that you are looking at abusive marriages as one would a healthy marriage…there is no “speaking to an issue in our spouses language” because in an abusive marriage, our spouses only know one language…HIS.
Our thoughts and opinions….Do.Not.Matter.
Well, I’ve also read many posts in which women have admitted to fighting back verbally and physically.
The way I read the husband’s question is that they both argue with each other frequently.
If his wife is not arguing in any way, then my comments wouldn’t apply. But I don’t think that’s the case here and there’s always two sides to every story.
Hearing more from both the husband and wife would be very helpful.
Sue, there is difference between arguing with your spouse and what you wrote.
I’ll say no more about it, but your statements have shown me that you do not understand the dynamics of living with an abusive spouse and how damaging it truly is.
Lonelywife07, Sue, et.al.
. . . yeah, it took me a long, long time to even partially understand, and I don’t know that I really do yet, the difference between these DSM-V-style issues* (neuropsychological measures outside of the norm: —interpersonally exploitative, psychotic, emotionally unavailable, devoid of empathy, etc.) and deeply problematic but “normative” marriage issues. —And more importantly how to really tell. The distinction is absolutely critical because in the one case you may not be able to change anything longer term whereas with the other issues you may be able to massively improve or heal the situation. —But, categorizing people via their symptoms. . . while it may be very necessary, it can very quickly be abused and degenerate into a reductionist and violent act that allows for dehumanization and lack of empathy. Maybe it is necessary, I don’t know. But it allows us to distance ourselves from others, and to temporarily avoid those parts of ourselves that we fear, our own dark sides. Nobody’s motives are really pure (—lots of those motives aren’t even at the level of our consciousness); all of us have many, many defenses, and the game of “thank the Lord God I’m not like that” is probably evidence of that. ―But I don’t know, I’m just wondering here. . . . . Oh my, it really makes me wonder because I don’t see God making clear distinctions about things like this in scripture but I certainly see why these distinctions are absolutely necessary. People’s lives are being destroyed by being around spouses with these issues and maybe God put people like Leslie here on this earth to renew/ update these marriage models so that we can move forward in the church. I hope so. Maybe these models need fundamental, serious renewal. It sure looks like it in so many cases. . . .It’s hard because at the same time others want to seriously update Christology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology ―all of it. It is, after all, a system. The same text deconstruction principals and advanced logic applied equally, fairly, in balanced fashion changes each area. . . . each —ology. I think God is pleased when we update our models but I don’t know how you contain changes. . . .Fifty years from now we could have “The Five Love Languages: Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Edition.”
* DSM-5 Guidebook: Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders like 1,000 pages of them. . . . it looks like the American Psychiatric Association had a crazy desire to label all life a mental disorder.
Sue, I dont’ disagree with your points, and I’ve certainly worked with wives who were contentious, argumentative, dramatic, and manipulative. But for the most part, women in this blog are not choosing those responses as a habit pattern. And if they should “react” inappropriately, they have learned to take responsibility for themselves and stop that kind of behaviors. However, I don’t think women want their husband to be like them, and I don’t think a healthy husband would want his wife to be like him. But what both men and women long for is to be known, to be heard, to be valued, and to be understood. What those components only go one way, or neither party in the marriage demonstrates them, then the marriage is toxic.
“You’re over-reacting and not being submissive to me.”
Is this what your Husband says to you, Pam? My H never says this…but I have two friends whose husbands say this ALL.THE.TIME….or they say “I’m in charge and you have to obey me!”
It’s a sick twisting of scripture!! UGH!
NO where in the BIble does it says “Men are in charge of everything pertaining to marriage, home and family, yet it is a sick twisting of Scripture and the whole idea of headship.
“Friends: When you try talking to your husband about what hurts you, what kind of response from him have you received?”
When I try talking to my husband about what hurts me, it usually gets turned back on me as my fault. Somehow, I am responsible for when I feel hurt. He blame shifts, ignores, or minimizes my pain. I feel like we have looping arguements. The same things just keep getting said without addressing the deeper issues. Sometimes he pouts. Sometimes he throws a tantrum. Sometimes he ignores me for days. It seems like he is set on his way only. Like another idea or suggestion is a threat. It’s just an idea. I don’t get what the big deal is. Like someone else mentioned about their husband, he seems to analyze things to death. Kinda drives me crazy. Why not just take care of business & move on? I want to quit participating in the cycle.
Rosie, you can get out of the dance by changing your dance steps. You can’t change his dance steps, but when you change yours, the dance changes.
Please consider reading up more of the dynamics of an abusive relationship in which most of the women on this blog endure and seek advice on how to navigate a very difficult life with an abusive partner
Your comment “” there’s always two sides to every story.” is not true in most destructive relationships
I hope Leslie “chimes” in here…..
Yes, that sent chills down my spine when I read that. It’s very obvious that Sue does not understand the dynamics of living in an abusive marriage, and seeks to blame the wife, even insinuating that we are conniving and manipulative!
“Asking incredulously with huge eyes, “How can you do that to me?” I felt sick after reading this….
To Sue and Brenda – of course there are always two sides to every story, but that doesn’t negate this man’s question or my answer. I didn’t say he was abusive his wife did, but I did ask him to look at these 9 characteristics of emotional abuse and examine himself to see if he is guilty of them. Yes his wife is arguing back “in his opinion”. I don’t know what that means. She may be just as abusive or contentious as he is – or she may be trying to be heard and he “views” it as arguing because she disagrees, doesn’t immediately submit to his decisions, or questions what he says. What the readers of this blog want you to understand that the mind of an abusive man is very different than the mind of a healthy man. The mind of an abusive man does not feel his wife SHOULD have an opinion different than his – or it is seen as disrespect. The mind of an abusive man feels his feelings and his needs and his thoughts are the most important ones and minimizes or trivializes his wife’s needs, thoughts or feelings. So my goal in answering the question was not to speak to both of them as she did not participate in asking the question, but to answer is question, could my wife be right? Am I abusive? I gave him space to draw his own conclusions.
Thank you, Leslie, for sharing the rationale behind your goal- to help him reflect and reach his own conclusions.
I wonder if he read your reply to his question.
I began to reflect on my situation when I read this post. When my husband and I disagreed about things, I’d attempt to have a conversation, which would often lead to arguments. That was when I had hope that he would change- that he would listen to my concerns etc Now I know that he probably does not have the ability to connect with another human being. He is not honest with himself and prefers to blame etc. Once I realized this, the arguments have ended. There’s really no point in entering into a conversation with a person who cannot/refuses to see the other’s point of view.
To the person that sent in this question- if your wife is willing to have a conversation with you, it’s important that you LISTEN to her concerns. Stop being defensive and entering into arguments. How about allowing her to talk and making a commitment to not interrupt her? No one wants to talk to a person that yells. If you can’t have a conversation with her without getting into an argument, ask her if she is comfortable sitting down with someone, and let her choose that person. If she accuses you of something, don’t defend yourself or dismiss what she’s saying, just be quiet and listen. Then, when you are alone, reflect on the things she has shared. If there have been many unresolved hurts in your marriage, you wife may not be willing to trust you. Accept that, don’t demand anything from her that she is not willing to give freely. Many of us here on this blog have husbands/ex-husbands who don’t believe/accept they have done anything wrong. The first step to healing your marriage is to take responsibility for you actions. Focus only n yourself. The only person you can change is you.
First I want to say that I asked my husband if he wrote this question and he said no. How things happen the way they do is just amazing to me. My husband talks loud and we were just talking about this very subject and someone writes in about it! Just strange! Anyway, I want to apologize to this husband and I hope he gets the answers he seeks. Secondly, I’d like to thank you ladies for your support and prayers.
Thank you Lonely wife. You’re so right. I tended to think of the back and forth with him as “crazy making.” It broke my heart to see your name for this site. It really hit home. … Lonely wife says it all. For all my efforts, hopes, prayers, staying power… It just had to come to an end. Lonely and broken all those years and still now lonely! It seems so unfair that my dreams of a happy life with him are over. He’s trying to win me back but even if he was sincere not sure I could ever go back. I’m kind of blown away at how long I stayed and survived those years of pain. I’m sad because I feel like a huge chunk of my life was wasted. Sometimes I think if only I was stronger I could have helped him be accountable sooner and we’d be in a different place but I loved him so much that I would take him back probably before I should have. Sometimes I felt him giving up and I gave in. I’m sad for him because I know he’s hurting and I think he wants to get it but he’s just clueless somehow. He did all these things for me when I moved away from him… He read books I always hoped he’d read. He made grand gestures like buying me a boat, and he would always kind of do these things in the presents of my grown kids or friends. I’m not sure if he was manipulative grandstanding or just trying to put me on the spot in front of people. I say that because he often tried to look like the good guy. He would get the support and I as usual had the burden of accepting his grand gestures in front of these people. It kinda felt like he was putting me on the spot to reach out and hug or kiss which wasn’t very comfortable for me. It’s confusing because he always did these kinds of things in times of distance but would revert back when all was well. He has no idea what my favorite things are and never bought me things just because unless things were going rough for him. Holidays and birthdays often went by without acknowledgment. I think he wants to understand but he can’t get out of his own way. His anger and lack of control show his lack of repentance. I tell him he acts as if I owe him something for his attempts at kindnesses and he seems angry I’m not entering the dance. It was clear to me that God opened every door to pass through getting here in this apt. I was so calm and at peace when I went to the bank and applied for this place. I realized I wasn’t shaking and it wasn’t planned. I just know the dry heaving was a sign to get out. No fear, no guilt, only resolve. I knew in my heart finally that it was what God wanted for me. … To finally have some peace. The first night I was here fireworks were going off in the park across the street and I could see them from my patio here. It was like a sign of freedom. The part time job that fell in my lap paid $20 an hour. My fears of being in the world just kind of went away all at once but my heart is still hurting for the lost years and rejection. I just don’t understand why it was so hard for him to let me into his heart. Strangers all these years and 3 beautiful children. I know I was learning to live well in my situation and I was very upset when God finally had me deal with my past rapes, but I know he wanted me to become authentic. When you’re in denial about the things that happen to you like that, it’s like wearing a mask even before God. Your worship isn’t authentic because it tends to be based on fear. You feel ashamed and try to do everything right so that you don’t feel dirty and that people will love you. God knew I was less than authentic in my worship of him and he brought me back to who I was but an ever better healthier place. I see this mask wearing a lot in the people of our faith. I know what it is to truly accept Gods grace now. It’s his methodology to call me clean even if Im not or didn’t feel that way. I’m amazed at the fact that I’ve been able to come this far and still be healthy mentally. I actually feel more powerful and stable in my approach to life than every before. I never imagined it would come coupled with the exiting of my home and marriage. I always believed God would make it happen for us. Maybe he will in time but from my prospective it will take a miracle. There is still much for God to do with me though.
This is a beautiful statement of faith and trust in God, Christine. I’m so glad to know you feel much healthier now…keep concentrating on YOU and take whatever time you need. 🙂
And Yes, I SO understood what you said abut the “gifts”…it’s manipulation, pure and simple. And so deceitful.
My H use to bring me flowers and other gifts…and while I did thank him, I started wondering just what game he was playing, because he always asked, “Did you put a picture on Facebook?”
When I finally asked him ” Why do you want me to put it on FB?” and he had no answer, I knew he was manipulating me…AND my friends and family, who would see the pics, when I posted them!
BTW, the gifts and flowers have stopped 😉 I guess when I stopped playing his game…he knew the gig was up! LOL!
I’m praying for you Christime…please keep us posted on how you are doing.
In case you haven’t read about it on here…Patrick Doyle from Veritas Counseling has a lot of YouTube videos that have helped me and several others on this blog. He’s a male version of Leslie 🙂
Thanks for your honest vulnerability.
So sorry Pam. Hate to say it but that’s a special kind of sick and twisted. I’ve known some like that. They resemble cult leaders to me. I put up with a lot and my husband was very clever in his manipulatiions because he had to be. I was way to smart for that Jim Jones drink my juice nonsense! i so hope your issues with him get resolved sooner rather than later. Xo
I agree Aleea. Children can’t process this degree of chaos. I could not ‘blame’ my dad. (He was my ‘hero’). The defect must have been me! When I fell apart emotionally, my Dad would get more angry and scream, ‘she’s emotionally screwed up’. So, the abuse was one message. My RESPONSE was another defect. It is helpful to consider this insanity because for me it has sometimes resurfaced in my marriage. I experience hurt, and then blamed for an emotional response. It is like getting punched twice in a row. A ‘I am so sorry I hurt you’ goes a long way. I was not able to receive that message ever as a child. But I am slowly learning to work in that direction in my adult life. My counselor recently told me my ‘feelers’ are damaged. So learning to live in truth sometimes doesn’t ‘feel’ right…but I am going in that direction. Thank you for sharing your life. The only way out is through. Our God is a wounded healer. I am looking to HIM.
Thank you so much Penny. Those are really helpful, insightful thoughts, and I especially understand the pain of not wanting to see your father as anything but your hero. That is why we have Jesus as our hero. Jesus is the hero we all need.
>“The only way out is through. Our God is a wounded healer. I am looking to HIM.” ―That is so beautiful and so true.
>‘I am so sorry I hurt you’ . . . . I am too Penny. . . . All these problems seem love problems. In my case, I suspect I have a love problem never a theological questions problem. The Bible reminds me of my mother. The Bible triggers me and when it does I want to deconstruct, demythologize and de-weaponize it. I don’t really know why either. Maybe because I feel like the Bible is so often used to remotely control people. When I see pastors, elders, using the Bible to control people remotely, even if I am not being addressed, I feel controlled. I feel really afraid. . . . . but the responses are numbing devices and distancing mechanisms. . . . The best counseling sessions are when I come in, pray. . . cry the entire time and then leave.
>”My counselor recently told me my ‘feelers’ are damaged.” . . . . I am praying that those fully heal and they will will if love is properly applied. I’m not sure but I think the Holy Spirit is so, so critical in this. . . I’ve been thinking a lot about the CORE model (as I tavel) and how the Holy Spirit IS the model. If the Holy Spirit has really gotten ahold of us, “O” ―I will be open to the Holy Spirit to teach me new ways of thinking, feeling and responding. . . . . the “C”; the “R”; and the “E” should definitely be happening. The whole rest of the model should fall into place. . . . . re: How to Live Right When Your Life Goes Wrong by Leslie Vernick
Page 113 “. . . . It means we allow the Holy Spirit to teach us to see everything from God’s perspective.”
Page 185 “. . . . By teaching our ﬂesh to obey the Holy Spirit no matter how much it wants something, our ﬂesh will not be able to rule us. Fasting can be a regular spiritual discipline that prevents our ﬂesh from leading us to places where God does not want us to go. . . . ” ―I really get that, that makes total sense.
Page 190 “. . . . Use your imagination and picture the Holy Spirit as your personal trainer.”
Page 203 “. . . It’s my lifeline, so to speak, the Holy Spirit, God’s Word, both absolutely delicious to my spiritual cravings and my spiritual appetite. Ultimately a change of head grows out of a heart that is graﬁed into the heart of God.”
. . . My counselor says I still have my will fused (confused) with my mothers. How do we ensure a “Holy Spirit fusing” in everything??? . . . . .I have had Word-of-God and Jesus cravings but I have never been aware of a Holy Spirit craving. If it is a wanting to go deeper in cleaning our heart, I have had that.
. . . .Anyways, thank you Penny. . . I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose, in Christ, to become. But until we (I) make the unconscious conscious, it will direct our lives and we will just keep calling it fate. We will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing our own souls. The most terrifying thing is to accept myself completely. But there’s no coming to consciousness without serious pain, as you say Penny: “The only way out is through.” I see it this way: One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making all that darkness conscious. ―And yet, at least for me, every half-step I make toward the Holy Spirit, He makes like ten steps toward me.
I think you are wise to caution any of us against a “one-up manship” when we describe an abusive person. There but for the grace of God does me. I remember when I was a young mother slightly out of control, but I thought to myself, “I could be just like my mom” Thankfully I stopped and got the help I needed, but we can describe someone’s behavior patterns with truth and grace – always with both.
. . . .I know you did. Leslie, I know some of those stories. ―I know. . . . Truth and grace, always. Grace and truth are the key ingredients for God to be glorified, Christlike balance, absolutely. . . . .Everyone finds the best people they know how to find and works with them. Anyone praying clearly knows God wants them to work with the best people they can find no matter how painful. The best person to help is probably the person who has had ones critical problems/ issues and truly, demonstrably, durably solved them. But God has created every human creature to be a profound secret and mystery to every other. ―And through pride we are ever deceiving ourselves but deep down below the surface the Holy Spirit’s still, small voice says to us, something is out of tune . . . . And childhood wounds are way too deep to heal quickly. In addition, many memories are simply so, so painful they are hidden behind locked vault doors. . . I seek to fully embrace my brokenness so I deeply heal but there is always more brokness behind the next deeper door. At the surface, we see these issues and addictions. Who knows how many hundreds of them there are: idealism, materialism ―all the isms. It would seem that the issues are not the same as the problems driving them and that obviously “issues” are solutions to problems. ―Often horrible, destructive, ineffective “solutions” . . . but without the real problems front and center, I don’t know how we do things that will be durable. Our minds are not terribly logical or consistent places and people are not that rational. . . that is easy to see because a reliable way to make people believe in falsehoods is frequent repetition, because familiarity is not easily distinguished from truth. Authoritarian institutions and marketers have always known that fact. A person can rationalize anything, but the Holy Spirit shows us to not even try because we are really seeking to embrace our brokenness so we heal and heal even more. . . . .Lord God help us all, every one of us, not to re-tramatize ourselves or each other. The conflict between the will to deny horrible events and the will to proclaim them aloud is psychological trauma itself. Lord God help us to surface these traumatic events as undisguised communications/ verbal narratives not as symptoms.
He refuses to discuss any decision that needs to be made because my point is not valid. When I ask the questions he rolls his eyes and just won’t answer. The things I do in life at home are trivial so my time has to be his time. He used to get angry and say things he would probably regret but never said he was sorry. Now it is eye rolling or sighs or just walks away. He never was able to show any support or respect, I ask him to atleast do that much when I went back to school 15 years ago. He was able to show some support and seemed to be proud of my accomplishments but I no longer see that. I did read your book ” the emotionally destructive marriage”. Using the Core values is helpful. I do need to get involved with a group of friends at church again. My elderly parents put a hold on any activities for about 7 years as their health required almost 24/7 care. I appreciate this blog, reading about other difficulties in marriage and your positive, Christian approach to these problems. Thank you!
❤️thank you fellow pilgrim!!! I read every word here!!! PRICELESS
. . . Penny it is a pilgrimage, a pilgrimage to take Christ’s love and apply it to each and every one of those broken areas in our lives, so we heal (feel). . . a pilgrimage that may lead, I don’t even know how, to us becoming aware of the sacredness of our suffering . . . God has created you because he loved you. He loved you so much that he could not resist the temptation to create you 🙂
Friends: When you try talking to your husband about what hurts you, what kind of response from him have you received?
-then fix what you are doing and change
-there’s so much for you to be thankful for, but you are always so negative.
-I feel hurt too
-are you still taking your medication (mocking me for the postpartum depression I have)
-if you would just….(fill in the blank) then you would be happy
-you shouldn’t tel people that’s how you are feeling. You sound like you are complaining all the time.
My husband has been carrying on an affair with a married woman with a child. He has refused counseling and insists that he will sort out the problem himself. Recently I found out that this married woman has been texting my husband and sends him photos of herself wearing sexy clothes.
When I asked for a divorce, he did not agree citing family and that we have been married very long (15 years). I cannot continue to live under this conditions where he continues to talk to this married woman and meet her when I am at work but still chooses to live in the same house with me and our children.
My husband has been out of work for many years I suspect that he may be choosing to live with me so that he can continue to receive the financial advantages from this marriage. He said he wanted to reconcile with me but up to now he has taken no steps to do so. He makes me feel so bad all the time but I am not sure if God wants me to divorce him. I am afraid of the loneliness that will follow.
. . . .I’m praying for you Sarah. Sometimes I think I know a little something about something then I read situations like yours and I wonder. . . . . We humans are far more addicted to self-destruction then to life itself. . . . I always underestimate the human capacity for self-destruction. . . . “civilization” is nothing more than an artificial and very thin veneer hiding the abyss below. Humans are just hell-bent on our self-destruction. It is only by God’s restraining hand that anything functions. God have mercy on us all. If we don’t walk according to the Word of God, then we are on the way that leads to self-destruction, immediately.
My husband is much more likely to hear me when I stick to “I ” statements. When I cross over into “you” statements, his walls go up- I’ve lost him.
Sometimes it doesn’t matter how I say it. His fear of failing me is so strong that he ends up attacking (as though I’ve backed him into a corner). Timing is such a big piece of the puzzle for me.
I read this and thought I wrote this! I had to double check the name! Wow! I could’ve written this exact comment.
I will say though, that “I” statements still don’t work with him. He will still distort it to something and corner me, while screaming at me.
I am having a hard time. I recently told my h that I needed a separation and was very clear about it. Instead he argued over and over with me on it. He sends me messages every day, asks me if I have read the messages and then basically pouts that I haven’t read or listened to the message yet or is pouting because I didn’t respond. I need space but is that wrong? Some of his emails and recorded voice messages are LONG and I honestly haven’t had time to read or listen to them. I am feeling guilty for asking for a separation, but I know it is so desperately needed. I don’t want to talk anymore about what has happened. We’ve talked plenty through the years and nothing has changed and talking to him tends to make me more crazy due to his lies and manipulation. He is controlling and demanding. Is it wrong to ask for space. Legitimate space? I hate always second guessing myself.
NO, you’re not wrong at all! You’re H is manipulating you…and he doesn’t care about what YOU want, it’s all about him.
His calling you and sending emails is all about HIM getting what he wants….and if he can guilt you into staying….he will be very happy….but will you?
Do what you need to do hurting…you’ve put a boundary in place, and now your H is fighting against it, but it’s not his call!!
Hurting…I thought this might help you. https://leslievernick.com/pdfs/Countering-the-Manipulators-Tactics-FR.pdf
My husband tells me I’m throwing a temper tantrum when I cry or am upset- I’m starting to get confused- maybe I am communicating all wrong? He “preaches” at me- and cuts me off. We were already separated once and have a wonderful 7 week old daughter. I don’t know how to respond without Boeing down to him or giving in to “keep the peace.” He flips out if I use the word abuse- melting down that he’s an abuser- which I get- but I need some serious help navigating.
To the husband:
In my experience, arguing layered a confusing dynamic over the REAL issues. It is intriguing to me that your wife shared about the emotional abuse. Consider what it takes to never argue again, and maybe it will help you see where the problems are.
When the levels of arguing dropped low enough, I saw my wife was in the habit of not doing what she said she’d do, and would go on the attack to deflect when confronted. The pattern was:
1) unhealthy (she breaks promise)
2) healthy (I confront)
3) unhealthy (she attacks)
4) and then… unhealthy (I argue)
I don’t know if any of these things would help, but in order for me to not argue I had to:
>Stop repeating my point – I am responsible to make my point, not make my wife agree with my point.
>Respond appropriately to inappropriate comments.
>See that emotional intimacy I really wanted did not involve being offered anger or bitterness and reflect on which emotions I was offering.
>Learn to say “you might be right” when crazy things were said to get me into rescue mode.
>Remember that being heard is powerful – give room for my wife to say whatever she wants. Rather than argue it if it’s not true, let her know that I really listened and repeat back to her the lie I just heard her say. Most of the time when I ask if I heard her right, she’ll deflect with another comment.
>Stop trying to correct all the lies, because that makes me irritated that I realize I chose to spend my time doing that instead of something productive.
>Allow for healthy behavior and consequences. In my case, for not doing what she says she’s going to do it’s: confront her. When she attacks during confrontation it’s: remove myself from the conversation and trust her with less.
I believe my need to argue was because I was not healthy…largely because I was too busy meeting everyone else’s needs and not taking care of myself. It made me prone to using people instead of loving people. I rescued to feel good about myself. But due to the nature of rescuing it could never be reciprocated and ultimately I had to choose between being powerful or being available for a healthy relationship.
Since I spent years rescuing my wife when I should have allowed for growth, I now deal with the consequences of having a wife that is that much more in the habit of being irresponsible. Consequences can be really hard…and it’s easy to argue when things are hard so be extra careful not to miss that some of the difficulty today may be consequences of your choices. Difficult consequences are not a valid reason to argue. Arguing just makes it that much worse.
Thanks husband for chiming here with your experience.
OK it took me a few days to get my list down. This is coming from a guy and I debated whether to post it. But I have been encouraged by reading your posts… So here’s mine.
Background issues: married 17 years, three kids, wife is non -committal, is never around during my most difficult moments, lies and won’t keep her word.
“Here we go again.”
“I know… you hate me.”
“This isn’t going to take long will it?”
“I don’t know why I married you, it’s like you don’t know how to make money.”
“Let me guess, now you’re going to tell me it’s all my fault.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Why should I care? It’s not like you love me.”
“You probably wish you were married to someone else. When you leave me you can go get your new wife.”
“You say you love me but you don’t like me.”
And then two days ago, right after the first post, she said, “I want your ring back. You aren’t acting like a husband. Who would want to be married to you?”
We have loads of debt from private school tuition for three kids… She promised to work but did not.
The counselor told her she left the marriage a long time ago and I have been waiting for her to return. And asking for her to make healthy choices. She promises and manipulates to get what she wants… And then acts like she never promised anything.
I gave her the ring back, told her that I will continue to provide for her basic needs, that she has said she didn’t want a relationship so I will not be asking any longer, and if she wants me to put the ring on again it will be publicly with vows.
Final response that I can add to the list: “so that’s it… You’re never going to talk with me again?”
It is craziness and the entire conversation you shared is full of manipulation and control tactics.
I’m not sure if you’re looking for answers, comments or validation, but I will share a few thoughts if you don’t mind.
Although both you and the counselor believe she has already checked out of the marriage, ironically I think she’s trying to manipulate you into saying that you really love her and you want to stay together, apologize and work things out.
Unfortunately, I think she also wants you to be codependent and dysfunctional with her so she can continue on in her old, comfortable patterns instead of doing the hard work of introspection and change.
I know because I was there with my husband for many, many years. Pure craziness.
I would say the best thing you can do at this point is to step back, disengage and allow her to face the consequences of her choices. Remain calm and civil, don’t get drawn into crazy, circular arguments that go nowhere. Pray for her, yourself, your marriage, your family and your kids.
Most importantly, use this time to examine your own heart before God and allow him to do any work he needs to do in you.
I’m glad you posted. I think husbands can have valuable insight to share.
If I may ask, how have you found this blog and the posts helpful and encouraging?
Thank you Sue for sharing your thoughts.
I think for me there are probably two aspects of reading through Leslie’s posts and the responses that are helpful and encouraging.
A little more than two years ago I was given one of Leslie’s books, read it, and asked her for individual coaching. That decision turned out to be the most valuable thing I have ever done and I am a better person for it. I like Leslie and respect her tremendously because she speaks truth into difficult topics. It takes a lot of courage to take a stand on things like she does, and her courage inspires me. So the first reason I read these posts is because they remind me of commitments I made to myself, take a deep breath, and go further.
Because the question of this post was from a guy and about arguing it struck a nerve for me, so I posted. I’ve actually never posted before and had no idea posts were moderated! But that just added to my respect for this site, and the care that is put into making it what it is…which brings me to my second reason.
The second reason is because the blog is a community. I don’t see myself as part of the community…I am most definitely a guest here. But I have sat outside the room and listened for a long time. It’s always encouraging to know that there are real people dealing with real problems that leave them in positions that… well, most would find very hard to understand. I know you are all aware that the lack of understanding from others can be really isolating. No surprise, the responses by the readers teach me I am not alone in the struggle. I find great encouragement knowing there are others who are doing what they believe to be the best for them in their situation, when often that is a very, very difficult thing to do.
The discussions here are no joke, and that makes it perfect for those that need to be taken seriously.
I serve a real God, with real power, who really loves me and my wife, and Leslie honors that God, so I read Leslie’s blogs and work on me. I’m going to “slip out the back door” now…
Thanks for the response and encouragement. I like the metaphor of the house in flames. Xo
The Bible uses the word ‘win’ differently than what we are used to. There, to win someone, means to bring them over to your side, as in to ‘win’ her over to love you.
I used to tell my children, when they were growing up, that an argument is like a hockey game. Each person’s goal is to trounce the other, and if you lose, you go away and hone your skills so that next time, YOU win. Never is there a true biblical ‘win’ where both are on one side in agreement. A discussion is different. So, as soon as you sense the discussion has turned into an argument, forget it. Might as well walk away and give it up. That made for quite a peaceful household……except for their dad. He never did get that one figured out.
Good word picture Connie.
Oh Lord! … How this brought tears to my eyes! I know it’s true. I did dote and spoil them. It’s just so hard to move forward with my dream life knowing in my heart my children are upset with me. I was the mother and father in so many ways. I gave them their spiritual upbringing and here they are disappointed in me because I just can’t tell them why things are the way they are. I don’t feel the need to burden them with the ins, outs, and why’s. It’s between me, my husband, and God. To tell them the truth feels like trashing their father and I just can’t do it to save myself and also burden them with my pain. I am the parent after all right? My 25 year old and youngest begged me to share with him why I was moving out, and asked with the implication as if the past cheating concerning my husbands cheating was why I was leaving. I could sense my husbands influence on that matter concerning how long ago it was! This was the first time one of my children would speak of my husbands infidelities to me. My husband told my kids a few months ago about his indiscretions in an attempt to get them to back off me and score points with me because I cried to him about how they act toward me because they don’t know why I moved away from him. He told them he cheated on me and it last happened 23 years ago. He left out all the things after that and the ways that he behaved around women that humiliated me. His cheating was not the reason… It’s everything! But mostly going through the PTSD and him being the last person to trigger me leaving my life. So I said to my son that My leaving not just because of the cheating, but mostly because when I went through the PTSD that my husband basically kicked me when I was down, and left me alone to basically find a away to crawl out of this all by myself. Not saying.. “and apart from his sexual misuse of me.” I also told my son that if he knew all that I lived through and why I was leaving that he would be proud of me. I was basically asking my son to trust in me and believe in the woman that raised him. Do I need to tell my grown children the truth in order to have a relationship with them? It seems so cruel to burden them with my pain and I fear hurting their view of, and relationship with their father. Last night I was faced with my 28 year old son asking me what I was doing by stopping by my own home. I asked him why he said it. He backed off. I continued with, “Do I need an excuse to come to my own home? …bring my sons some cake and visit them?” My daughter doesn’t want to know anything and she is the one who verbally interrogates me and even went as far as saying God gave her this idea that these certain scripture applied to me which was basically horrible! I set her straight. I think sometimes she forgets who raised her in the word. I told her that God did not tell her anything such thing, and that it was a lie spun from the pit of hell! I know it sounds dramatic but if you knew my personality, you wouldn’t think so. I can’t not tolerate Christians who speak for God who aren’t speaking for God and I will stand against that. My children have been the reason I survived all these years because there is nothing that I loved or enjoyed more. They were without a doubt Gods saving grace for the last 30 years. Their unconditional love was the only love I experienced throughout my entire life. Yes it seems that it has become conditional which is heartbreaking. I literally stayed alive for their sake and the joy they they brought me. I so don’t want to lose their love and respect but at this point I am questioning if I should sit them down and tell them. The idea of sharing my pain with them seems unbearable! I have spent my life faking it to myself and then them about my life being manageable. How do I tell them that I faked a smile and their happiness was the driving force behind everything I did all the way through for them, and because I was too tolerant or broken to leave sooner? Should I even do that? Please anyone respond!
Christine: My response will be disappointing. My story is far too similar to yours. The truth will set you free? I fear if I tell the truth, it will cause me to lose what little respect I get from the (grown) children. They want a relationship with both parents SO badly. They know deep down that if they believe the truth (and I think they subconsciously suspect the truth) that their father will turn against them, but if they keep believing his lies, then they get both of us, because I keep loving them either way. So I pray that God reveals the truth to them. Maybe He already has and they don’t want to believe it? How many years did I cry out to God and He showed me the truth (always the ‘fool’ verses in Proverbs) and I rejected His truth, because the church told me it was evil to believe anything negative about my husband? I keep praying, and then I pray that He will give opportunity for me to speak truth when the timing is right. Is that a cop-out? Should I make the opportunity? I don’t know. Every day I have to take my mind captive to think on those things which are above and not ruminate on the heart-breaks. Every hour. And I praise Him for His strength which is perfected in weakness, and His grace which is enough for me. Each minute. These posts are becoming my prayer list. Blessings to you and your precious loved ones.
Ha, silly me, I posted when I should have replied! Please see what I wrote, and use what works for you and throw away what doesn’t. I wish you well, and am praying for you.
I get it. Me too. I was quiet about all the “difficulties” to my children, but nothing I said or did with and for my ‘husband’ made any difference. Until my boys grew up and left. Then I no longer had to expend 150% of my limited energy holding a broken family together. And I learned.
I learned that I didn’t deserve this miserable destructive life that hurt my children and ruined my health and destroyed the only marriage I ever had. I fought against this, I followed Christ, I led each of my children to the Lord, I didn’t ask for this, but I got it nonetheless, just like so many others. It happens.
I learned that it was called abuse.
I learned that God really is always with me and all of us that follow Him, including my children.
I learned to explain, in not too much detail, to my grown kids so they would have some understanding. It can be done, they aren’t blind and they aren’t stupid. My oldest repeatedly told me that we were the worst match on the planet. There is a lot of truth in that. My youngest told me repeatedly that I was afraid of him (“dad”). More truth. My daughter thinks he is a liar. Truth again. They saw what I did not. Now I see what they saw, and so much more. My kids always knew this was a very difficult man, now I know that he is a destructive one, and hardly a Christian!
I explained that a Godly marriage is reciprocal, not one sided. There is no such thing as competition within a Godly marriage. In a one sided marriage, one person reaps all the benefits at the other’s expense – where is it written that this is right? Where is it written that a man can do anything he chooses to his own wife and children and family, with no regard for their needs, their welfare, their safety? How is this even any sort of a marriage? It is not! The opposite is written, as everyone here knows.
I also told them that they needed to be very, very careful in choosing their own spouse, and I use my example as one of what not to do, and who not to marry. I told them, especially my daughter, to date for at least a year and a half, and preferably for 2 years before making any kind of marriage commitment.
Even if this is difficult for your children to understand, keep repeating it, eventually it will sink in. If they do not accept that there are abusive husbands, refer them to a book or three, Leslie Vernick has several good ones, as does Barbara Roberts with Not Under Bondage. There are several other good authors, all on Amazon. Sometimes all you need to do is read the reviews, Amazon is good for that.
My kids do not hate their father, but they also don’t hold anything against me. I am still with him, implementing boundaries and refusing to live as we have, still trying to sort it all out. My oldest still thinks I should leave, and I may come to that point, but not yet. He doesn’t blame me or his father.
Here are the life lessons I have recently learned:
1 – One cannot know how another person will understand anything, we are not in their head. We can suspect how they will react initially, but we cannot know long-term: nobody has a crystal ball to see into the future. Their path through life belongs to them and God, just as yours does; He will guide them as He guides each of us.
2 – We cannot make anyone’s choices for them, no matter how hard we try. I know, I’ve tried. Not a good idea! It always backfired, so I stopped. Turns out, offering ideas, choices, support and encouragement are all anyone can constructively do.
3 – One also should not make choices for anyone by keeping silent. When we say nothing, when we withhold information, we take away a person’s right to choose, to decide, to learn, and to grow strong and compassionate through adversity. Ask yourself what are you trying to protect them from? We mothers always do that, we protect, but we are not always correct. You cannot protect them from life, and you do not need to protect them from the truth. Now having said that, truth is often very hard to accept but once accepted it is also very freeing. God says that truth (of Christ) will set us free, and that is free indeed. If we are free, why live in bondage of any sort to an abuser? Once the truth of abuse is realized, they may be less likely to become abusers themselves and less likely to become ensnared by an abuser – both good outcomes. Will this be a difficult concept for them? Maybe, it was only difficult for my youngest, the other two knew before I did! And they each still love their idiot father!
4 – One can explain and still not ‘trash’ the father. One can be factual and simply give some instances that support the abuse experiences. Not all facts, just a few well-chosen ones to make the point that this was abuse. If he never abused the children, then this can be used as a good point to say that he loves them (even if he doesn’t), and was an adequate father for them, but an abusive husband who made your life a complete misery. God says very differently about how an abuser treats his wife versus how he SHOULD have treated his wife, and I want my children to know the difference so they don’t make the same mistake I made.
5 – Opportunities come when your child says something about it. If they ask, if they complain, if they demand, if they yell, if they berate… all of these are opportunities for us to say some little thing to start the conversation.
6 – Saying something is better than silence. The problem with silence is that it condones by its very nature. If I say nothing, I am accepting whatever is thrown at me. If I say nothing, it is interpreted as agreement. Decide if this is what you want; there absolutely is a place for silence, but there is also a place for speaking up, even quietly. The trick is knowing when to do what. (Book: When to Speak Up and When to Shut Up by by Dr. Michael D. Sedler – Amazon; check it out and read the reviews to see if this would help.)
7 – I told my kids individually that they were the great joy of my life. Not one (of 3) argued with me, even if they didn’t believe me at the time. I have told them a few times, over the last few years, though perhaps not often enough. I also told each that no matter what life brings, I will always love them – no matter what. I even went so far as to say that if they broke the law and ended up in prison, I would still love them and still visit them, though I would not condone whatever it was that they did to land themselves there. All through their lives I have told them I love them, why should now be any different? For me, it isn’t. My life may have disappeared down a sinkhole, but theirs doesn’t need to. Telling someone that you love them is what God does for us, He tells us and He shows us, particularly when our lives are at their very worst. That is what we should do, too, however we choose to do it. I stayed in pain, misery, and torture so my kids would not be raised in a broken home. I will never know if I was right or wrong, I only know what I did, but now they know that I did it for them. Now they know that I sacrificed my life for theirs, for their safety and security so they would not be pulled apart in a messy divorce like my sister’s kids were. Even if they think I was wrong, even if I actually WAS wrong, they now know I did it with the best of intentions and made what I thought was the best choice not for me, but for them. It matters, to each of them, to know that their only mother loves them more than she loves herself.
Just so you know, the mother almost always gets the blame for stuff, at least initially. I did, my kids blamed and resented me for things their abusive father did to them and to the family before I even had the word “abuse” in my vocabulary. Makes no sense, but there it is. It took a few years for my oldest to smarten up, about 3, and when I asked him why he blamed me for things I did not even do or say, all he could do was look at me with a puzzled expression and say “I don’t know.” He really has no idea why he was such a brat, but he remembers being that person and is sorry. So it took 3 years, but he finally began to see the truth. Now he sees even more of the truth, and it’s been 3 more years.
My daughter said: “tell your kids, their relationships are their choices, not yours or anyone else’s.” She is succinct, I am verbose – sorry!
Does any of this help? If not – throw it all away! If so, use what you can. This is my life experience, not anyone else’s, and I hope it helps someone and you in particular, even if it shows you what not to do!
I have prayed for you, and will again, for clarity to do whatever you decide is the correct plan of action, and the strength and courage to do it. God Bless You Always.
Hi other husband. Welcome! Don’t be so quick to slip out just yet! Ha ha I want to say I’m real sorry for your trouble and I agree with what Sue said about wanting you to say just how much you love her. I also wanted to ask you if it was always like this, or were there events that she claims got her to this point of craziness with you? The reason I ask is because many of us often have a reason for wanting our husband to say they love us when for whatever reason we don’t feel loved. God knows I myself went through a crazy phase after pleading for years to be heard. I also dealt with cheating, drugs, no communication, … Basically complete indifference. So I’m not meaning to sound like I’m blaming you… Please believe that. The reason I asked is because I know so many women who threw their hands up and went crazy because we felt hopeless in our situation which leads to us wanting our husband to save the situation and more than just say they love us! We tend to go back and forth between wanting their love and frustrated that we don’t feel loved. An example would be… How much does it really matter that your wife that she have financial security? I have a friend who’s husband can’t keep a job and he’s the nicest guy in the world. But nonetheless he is very lax about her anxieties and she gets very nasty to him because she believes he doesn’t care and the reality is he doesn’t! Lol I personally prefer to be poor and in love but! Lol
The thing with me right now is my husband tries to do things for me to prove his love in order to win me back but he first needs to understand how I got here. He thinks that after 9 months of separation and his buying me things and making me breakfast before I moved out made him a prince and should make up for 30 years of lack of attention, understanding, good communication, or just plain hearing me. The arguments we have start with me expressing what I’d like from him, and him seeing it as an accusation but it was always that way. An example of what I would like is: my son checks himself into detox. I ask my husband not be so negative about our son going into detox and to try to think the best because he is discouraging by the things he says. There is absolutely no reason to say, “Ya this probably won’t work!” … Among other negative statements. I tell him it’s upsetting when I’m trying to have faith that he feels the need state the obvious of our sons long history of failure with sobriety. Then he gets offended. Then I’m explaining how I was just simply stating that I’m upset and it would be encouraging to me to have him be hopeful and help me stay positive for our son. … Since I can’t lie really lean on him and never really could. Basically I’m asking him to be a comfort instead of making a dark situation more troublesome and he takes offense and starts hurling at me accusations of how I remain negative about him and makes it about me not coming home. So you see, even though he appears kind and doting, he really doesn’t want me to think, feel, express what I want, or be encouraging to me. So the point of me saying this is to ask you… Has she tried to tell you anything that maybe you’re not hearing? I mean this to simply try to be helpful. There is no excuse for the things that she says to you!! She is very abusive and it’s terrible that she puts you down like that! But I’m asking you this because you’re stating clearly that you would like to resolve things and I just wonder why she is so angry. I also say it because I hope to help you figure out just what’s going on here. Why do you think she is this way? Is she simply using you? Are you only her safe place to fall until she finds a guy with more money? Why is she avoiding counseling? Did she not feel heard in counseling? or does she simply not want things to change because she likes the way things are? I know it sounds like I am comparing your situation to mine because I am! Lol …and it doesn’t seem like it puts you in a positive light but for your sake i wanted to simply ask you if there is anything you are missing. If my husband just got the fact that he lead us to this place and could understand I simply need to feel understood instead of him being defensive all the time, or that doting will not work but authenticity would… we might be in a different place. So again.. Is there something you’re missing? Is there something she can’t get past because she doesn’t feel you really get it?
Telling my wife I love her has never been hard – I come from a very loving family. But I came to understand over the years that my wife believed love was letting someone walk all over you. She comes from a very manipulative family. So when she walked all over me and I protested and started drawing clearer boundaries, to her it was not loving.
I have listened very carefully to my wife over the years and believe that she is not only manipulative, but also sees life through manipulation. Everything is a concession, not a compromise. Negative, not positive. Things have to get worse, and won’t get better. I realized that she wasn’t “being” manipulative in moments…she approached all moments that way. It’s how she operated, and it seemed to be designed to keep me away. When in fact, because I had healthier boundaries back then, I just couldn’t be closer as long as manipulation existed.
After five years of marriage I started to wonder if she had been abused before I knew her and was just trying to protect herself. I asked her about it, and she laughed it off and thought I was crazy. In my mind, the crazy thing was listening to her think I was crazy for thinking those things because of how she was acting. But I learned that’s how manipulation is…it doesn’t reflect on how it’s acting, it focuses on what the other person is doing. Manipulation is designed to change something in someone else. And I had no clue at the time about that and simply wanted to be closer…and I’m thinking I moved my boundaries or got rid of them altogether at some point all because I wanted to be closer. That was a foolish thing for me to do.
Eventually, her behavior started to resemble that of someone having an affair. That moment when you know that you are watching them get more distant because something else is drawing them away and not because they are putting the distance there. At one point I spent quite a bit of time discreetly assessing if she was in a relationship with someone else. And there was nothing. In fact, it left me even more confused. I am fairly savvy with technology so when I got done looking into things, I actually discovered that she didn’t spend much time talking to anybody at all. It was like she was on the outside of life, looking in. I asked her if she was lonely. She bawled and it was like I hit the nail on the head or something.
But no, it was back to crazy just like you describe. Which was very frustrating. I knew I cared, I was listening, I was being responsive and addressing what I saw. It didn’t “make a difference.” I was focused on what I could do to change her. I see it now, but I didn’t then. And because I didn’t, I got pulled down further and further. Everything was going off the tracks. I had gotten sucked in.
If I could go back, I would look less at what she was doing, think less about what I could do next to change things in her life, and think more about what I had already done that was preventing change from happening in my own life. I admit, I made a poor choice when I decided that I would do whatever it took to be closer to her. It took becoming unhealthy and that was not worth it.
When I first got counseling for myself, I kept hearing the counselor say “You have to own your part in this.” I always thought that meant, “You have to admit what you’re doing wrong.” Now I think about it as, “You have to identify what you are doing.” I know now that I have choice, I have power.
Maybe some people reading this would say “Sure, you’re the husband, husbands always have the power.” But I would challenge that. Many husbands like myself gave the power away when they focused on their wife’s behavior instead of their own. The power I gave away was the power of self-control. I was being controlling…but in my mind I wasn’t trying to be controlling. I was starting to lose control of myself and was becoming desperate. That’s how the situation gets, right? It gets desperate. And I became a rescuer. Not only were there no boundaries, but now there was no fire I was not willing to run right into. And my wife was happy to provide more gasoline, while calling for help and never staying put so no matter which floor of the burning building I went to…she was never on that one.
I went to counseling with one guy for six weeks. He was quiet, like a grandpa, and he didn’t say much. Come to think of it he was quite annoying because he kept asking me why she would do certain things…and I was like “That’s why I am paying for counseling you should tell me.” But he taught me one thing that turned out to be super helpful. My wife also is a “Ya this probably won’t work!” type.
So here’s what I started saying. “You might be right.”
I think it ranks up there for me as one of those “golden phrases.” Think about it – it is a true statement. Your husband might be right, and yes it would be sad if he was because in this case your son would not be getting better. Talk about rip your heart out. Man, that’s hard.
The phrase is powerful, though – it could give you a chance to respond without agreeing and without requiring him to have different feelings about things than he does. “You might be right.”
My wife’s response was, “What the heck does that mean? You think it’s bad too?” I’d say, “No, I don’t.” “Then why do you think I might be right?” “Because you might be. All I know is what I would like to see happen and what I’m hoping will happen. But I can’t control what happens…obviously if I could control what happens in other people’s lives things would not have happened like they have. I just wanted you know I heard you, and that you might be right, though I hope you are wrong on this one.”
This cut through a lot of the patterns and layers and led me to understand something about how my wife sees me today. I learned that she pays very little attention to what I am actually saying. Instead, she pays really close attention to whether she is able to get me to react because of something she said. It helped to explain why the conversations make no sense, why she flip flops as I – wait for it – get more and more frustrated.
I see it clearly now. I have been great at taking the bait. She’ll never leave me. Many days I wished she would. Yes, she does use me, but not for money. It’s for the sense of control. I care about her very much. But now I see I can help her by NOT trying to help her, or coach her, or teach her, or remind her, or point out this or that, etc. I am a recovering “rescuer.” And that means I had to come to grips with the truth: it’s not her fault that I have done what I’ve done. I chose to wait all those years for her to be willing to grow up with me instead of growing up on my own like I needed to. I chose to spend all that time going round and round arguing. I chose to keep running into the burning building that is always a trap, no survivors.
And now I’ve stepped back completely and am choosing to refuse to require anything of her. Quite simply because it highlights she doesn’t require anything of herself, and now she sees the distance that appears when I am not always closing the gap on everything.
I feel badly for my wife. She expects me to manipulate her. She promises things still, but realizes it no longer works. I have watched her face the scary reality that because I have just ended the dynamic I no longer wanted to be in, she has to decide to change… or not. And I watch the struggle because she fights it at first, thinking to herself that I am just trying to manipulate her. She asks things like “What do you want me to do? I’ll do anything.” But then moments later she works up her manipulation to try to get me to change my mind again, and the attacks begin.
It has been really important in my own journey, given the context of how everything is my marriage, to no longer elevate “what I want for my wife” to the highest spot. I need her to want for herself the things that would be better for her. Or maybe I should say the marriage needs her to want those things.
I think some “needs” I had are because I was not attending to my real needs in healthy ways. I didn’t need to be married – I wanted to be married. But if I am to be married, safety is a need, not a want. Trust is a need, not a want. Respect is a need, not a want.
Having healthy boundaries was hard to relearn. I had all these “needs” that resulted from missing boundaries. The need to control, to be right, to see change, to be free to do or say whatever without exercising self-control. So I step back across the proper boundary and…hey! What do you know? I need safety. I need trust. If the marriage can be safe, then I can go there. If not, I wait.
I can tell you care a lot about your son. Lots of people make it through detox successfully and I hope it goes well for him and he’s able to make the choices he needs to. A mom has a powerful role in their son’s life. What always has meant the most to me whenever I was in a difficult spot and my mom talked to me, was not so much that she didn’t want me to get hurt or suffer, but that she saw a man inside of me that had the character and the strength to do the incredibly difficult task ahead. In my quiet times I would ask myself, “Is what she sees really there?” I would look for it. We tend to find what we look for.
Holy crow, there’s a lot of great stuff in this post. Thank you. What you said about how manipulation does not reflect on how it’s acting, it focuses on what the other person is doing. That is so powerful. Also your distinction between needs and wants, and that boundary development clarifies these.
I have often felt like we were living in a co-dependant house of mirrors. It’s been so hard to figure out who’s issue we’re dealing with. Thankfully, Leslie’s CORE teachings is helping me ‘row my own canoe’. As I become more boundaried, I am able to see things more clearly. My husband’s rescuing tendencies run far back into his early childhood and as a result his ability to operate from an honest place is seriously compromised. It’s a muscle he’s never had to develop. As I set boundaries, take responsibility for myself and stand back out of harms way, he is getting physically ill before my eyes. I’ve removed his ‘raison d’etre’. The guilt is tremendous.
Thank you for posting. In reading it I realize my own manipulative tendencies are always waiting in the wings. We’ve danced this crazy making dance for 20.years, it won’t go away overnight. But God is faithful, and much more powerful than the most well rehearsed, perfected dance in existence.
I’m a practical kind of gal and learn best from specific examples.
Would you please share an instance in which you have stepped back and set clear boundaries?
Also, how was your husband being the rescuer and what is he feeling so guilty about exactly.
Thanks so much,
In terms of examples of our dynamic… our dance was very much that I talked, expressed every feeling. I was an open book. He would question me. Why did I feel this way? He needed to understand. What I came to realize is that he wasn’t keeping me talking because he wanted to help me solve the problem ( or because he cared about me, or wanted to understand), but to manipulate the conversation so that I would end up apologizing. If you look hard enough, you can always find something that you didn’t do perfectly and so, to stay close to him, I’d find that thing ( spoke harshly, wasn’t gentle enough) to apologize to him for. The apology brought us back together, but each time, at a cost to my personhood.
For years we both agreed that I was so selfish because the conversation always ended up “being about Nancy”. It took me a long time to realize how it always ended up being about me. There was an understanding that his baggage was off limits- it was intrusive for me to question him. But Because I was in counselling and working so hard, I’d share my struggles with him in the hopes that he would decide to get help too. It was key for me to learn from Leslie’s book that in a destructive marriage, trying harder will only serve to bolster your paretner’s pride. I realized that all my efforts to share everything ( and apologize for everything I could) we’re doing more harm than good. With each year that passed he became harder and harder in heart.
5 years ago we were in marriage counselling and it didn’t work at all. Again, Leslie’s book explained why. Safety and sanity – foundational elements- were not there. Working on communication when both of these are not present is like putting a bandaid on a cancerous tumour.
Here’s the key for me these days. If I don’t feel safe, I don’t share. I don’t apologize for it. I just say,
“I can’t get into this right now because I don’t feel safe.” , or “I cannot continue this conversation because I don’t feel safe”.
” tell me what I’m doing?” He’ll ask. This is a tempting trap for me because it looks like he wants to know, but he doesn’t. It’s a question to get me talking. It’s also really tempting for me to analyze why I don’t feel safe, but again that’s a snare from the enemy.
Trust in The Lord and lean NOT on your own understanding.
This gives me permission to say “no” without explanation or guilt. I also don’t have any responsibility to our marriage right now because I have separated sexually and emotionally from him ( the way Leslie suggests in her book). We are both in individual counselling working on our stuff. I have a responsibility to The Lord and to our children to act right. But it really helps to be separate for now. I’m very careful about apologizing and know I get it wrong a lot. For mistakes I just acknowledge by saying “oops”, for small injury I say a short, light-hearted apology in front of the kids, and for bigger injuries I try to say a more serious apology, also in front of the kids. This tends to be working.
He wants us to go to marriage counselling. There’s no way. I don’t feel safe, and I need to simply trust that. The Lord will reveal to me when, and if, and who to go to ( not to mention using Leslie’s criteria for reconciliation).
The tremendous guilt in my post above is mine, not his. He is getting physically ill and I feel terrible because of my tendency to be overly responsible. When I exit a conversation I leave him no one to rescue, but thank The Lord he can now talk to his father in heaven. This thing is driving us both to our knees- a good place to be.
This is a long winded explanation..practical stuff is challenging. Thanks for the challenge! My part in all of this is to watch my own desire for him to be my saviour. I so badly want a partner that will save me from the enemy. The Lord is consistently showing me that is His job, not my husband’s.
One thing that helps me stay the course is a friend’s paraphrase of Ephesians 6:12
“Our fight is not AGAINST people. Our fight is FOR people, against evil.”
Boundaries keep evil out. They are not against my husband – they guard our relationship.
Thanks for sharing, Nancy.
Thanks for sharing your insights. I feel like my own husband could have written some of your comments. I think he has tried to tell me some of this, but in the heat of the battle and after years of repetitive betrayals and destruction of trust, listening, really listening, wasn’t happening. I will be reading your posts over several times and evaluating my own dysfunctional behaviors.
What specificall would demonstrate to you that your wife has had a change of heart and is willing to do the hard work of changing herself and salvaging the marriage?
Darn autocorrect ????
You know, Sue, I’ve been working through that question myself lately. I see you like specific examples, so I have some for you.
But first, generally speaking, Leslie wrote this in a newsletter last year, and I keep it handy to remind me about what truly being sorry means: https://un184.infusionsoft.com/app/hostedEmail/1921144/ea8bd04e1dfb7ea4?inf_contact_key=1df62eb101e58a9e70314dcd5095a57e38e117669cae9384013911079f9cea0a
Hopefully the link works – I don’t think it was a blog post…maybe just part of the newsletter that got mailed out. It’s an excellent reference.
You asked specifically about my wife, and what could she do that would demonstrate real change. I’ll admit, even as I write this I am reminded of how hard it has been for me to make changes. So these things are also the changes I have been making in my own life.
1) When she gains clarity on boundaries and where things “begin”… What belongs to her, what doesn’t belong to her. Her thoughts, feelings, choices, attitudes, words, dreams, concerns, etc. belong to her and she is responsible for those things. She will often speak for “us” when she is sharing her negative feelings. She will say “If we could just not hate each other.” The truth is I don’t hate her, though yes, she has experienced hate toward me.
So if she doesn’t see boundaries, what does she see? She sees something called The Relationship. It’s murky. She doesn’t understand it and doesn’t feel like she belongs. It’s as if it’s a secret society, something unattainable, something with magical formulas. She has concluded she won’t be able to become a member of The Relationship.
When approached regarding her own behaviors, words, attitudes, etc. and how those are affecting our moments of interaction…she sees those as the *outcome* of The Relationship. “How can I not feel this way?” “How can you think being married is a good thing?” “How can you say that you love me but it doesn’t depend on what I am doing?” She believes I should feel according to however she thinks The Relationship is going.
I think she sees The Relationship is something her family taught her. The Relationship is like the “dysfunction zone.” Change is when she abandons “The Relationship” and instead sees Her Relationship to Me and My Relationship to Her as the outcome of: choices that began in her, and also at the same time but from a different place the choices that began in me. I will no longer see her waiting for The Relationship to get better. Clearly, The Relationship will never change. However, Her Relationship to Me can change whenever she wants it to…it belongs to her. And I will watch her working on how she relates to me.
2) When she sees that relationships are conditional… In Leslie’s book the Emotionally Destructive Marriage, she talks about unconditional love does not equate to unconditional relationship. When my wife no longer uses the “you don’t love me” card to excuse her unwillingness to commit and be responsible, that will be change. When she is able to say that my choice to do a difficult thing and create distance was also a loving thing, that will be change. She must be able to see that causing suffering in my life is NOT okay and stop justifying it twistedly as something that then gives me a chance to prove how much I love her. When she says “I can’t keep doing that to you and should have never done it to you” I will hear what I am looking for.
3) When Nothing does not equal Okay… When she believes that the absence of problems is not the same thing as a good relationship, that will be noticeable, because she will see that The Relationship doesn’t do anything, and she herself must be doing the good and healthy things.
She currently believes she just needs to get rid of all the problems and everything will be okay. But that’s like saying all you have to do is remove the rust off of an old classic car, and it will be showcase ready. Uh, no. There will be a lot of holes that need patches welded back in and seams ground down to make smooth again.
Yesterday, we spoke about the debt from private school tuition. $25,500 was the result of her poor choices. I told her that I want to be a responsible person. Yes, those were my kids that went to the school and yes, it was partly my decision for them to go. But no, her decision to not work when she said she would was not my decision. The debt was not my decision. I said I do not want to be a rescuer and I held the card up and said that it was standing between us because she is acting like I’m supposed to somehow just snap my fingers and get rid of the debt. Who can do that? Yes, it’s a crazy amount of debt. Anybody would have a sick feeling in their stomach when they wake up to that reality. So does she want it to be between us? She said she wanted me to trust her again. I said yes, I did want to trust her. But then I held the card out for her and said “Show me.”
She took the card and said this “So you’re saying that if I pay off the debt, we will be fine?”
I said, “No, I’m saying if you take responsibility for the consequence of your poor choice then I can see that you are no longer expecting me to be responsible for you. That if you go get a job and start paying down the card, that I can see you doing something about it after you said something about it. Trust comes from watching a person do what they say. You said you want me to trust you.”
She said, “But you’re not saying we will be fine? I said, “You will be better off having done it because you will be acting responsibly. This debt is not between you and me IF you take the card from me and handle it. At that point it will be a personal issue that you are dealing with and I will be supportive and understand that you have a very big challenge.” She said “How can you say it’s not between us?”
And that’s the real issue: it IS between us in her mind…she created it to bond us together. It was intentional and she really thought I would rescue her. Doing stressful things and failing to follow through which leads to real messes…is a terrible way to create shared experiences in life. I was unhealthy too. These were the bonds my wife and I had. Not of trust and love, but of stress and risk and pain. They are hard bonds to break.
When she offers bonding on terms of trust and love and freedom, that is change I will notice. When she no longer is comfortable seeking bonding through stress, crisis, suffering, guilt and dependency, that is change I will notice.
Thank you sharing specific examples.
As I’ve said before, my husband has told me, “we are two very different people”. I am starting to accept and internalize that more every day, but on a basic, superficial level because I don’t really think I know/understand what he is thinking or where he is coming from.
I don’t know if that is because he did try to explain himself earlier in our marriage and I didn’t want to listen or if he has never fully explained himself. Probably a combination of the two.
In our “discussions” after he has accused me of being selfish, I will ask him, “what do you want/need from me? How will you best receive it?” In response he will refuse to answer, thinking I’ll somehow use it against him?? or I’ll actually succeed in doing what he asks and then he’ll have to concede I do care?? Or??. Other times he will say, “figure it out, isn’t it obvious what I need?”
Um, no, it’s not.
I’ve come to the conclusion with my counselor that he himself doesn’t know what he wants and/or he would sense a loss of control or being the “rescuer” as Nancy shared. It sounds like her marriage dynamic has been very similar to mine.
The times he has been able to explain where he was coming from, I had been totally clueless.
So, I have been working on myself and setting healthy boundaries. I have also been trying to study/observe him as an objective 3rd party to try and learn his patterns and understand motives.
One bottom line with him is fear of failure- huge motivator for his attitude and behaviors.
So my challenge right now, as I see it, is to maintain a healthy boundary while encouraging him with God’s truth- his opinion of you is all that matters, not all the immature, ego-tripping, insecure guys you work.
There but for the grace of God…
Sue, my wife started talking about being afraid of not being good enough. I thought I’d share what came out of it. Kind of has to do with Nancy’s question too.
She asked “If I’m not supposed to be good enough to be loved, then what am I supposed to be? Everybody keeps telling me all these things I am supposed to do.”
So based on what she is saying, she doesn’t understand unconditional love. Which is something I show to her, and not something she earns. I asked her “If I asked you to think about the things people do to have a great marriage, do these things come first or second? Meaning did something come before those or does everything else come after those things?”
She could only think of after. So I suggested that if marriage reflects what Christ did for the church, this would be a very works-oriented salvation. That love that Christ gives only would come after our becoming good enough. Of course, the Bible clearly says were not good enough. But because of Christ’s love and what he chose we can be viewed by God as good enough.
She said she never considered that love was something she had to receive and has overlooked it was something I was giving. She considered it a competition. Like a fight to see who was better.
Talked about trust can be earned, but it’s the trust that I offer… It comes from me.
Love does not need to be earned, though it is also love I offer that comes from me.
I think the failure fear as far as I can see in my wife’s case, has something to do with having forgotten that I have been choosing to offer love and trust. She can’t make me do do that. It came first when we made vows. I asked her if she could imagine that if love and trust were offered first in other marriages, maybe that explains the motivation why others do so much in their marriage… Because it’s safe to do it as they have already been given love and acceptance. And if they become neglectful of the truth that the other person chose to be in the marriage, they may not consider it safe anymore.
And this analogy came to me and it helped make my point when I said it to her. I said, “If a couple in love goes out to eat at a really nice restaurant, what is the best part?” She said the food.
“And if a couple buys a new home together, what is the best part?” She said that the home is new.
I said no, “It’s that my wife is sitting across the table from me. She’s the best thing. No matter how good the food is, it’s not better than her.”
And then about the house… We live an an old fixer upper with no character…
I asked her while pointing around the house, “what’s the best thing about this house?” She said there’s nothing good about this house.
I said, “For me, the best thing is that you are here with me.”
I asked her what was the best thing about the private school where the kids attended last year? I answered my own question with the names of our three kids. And made the case that the teachers were nice and all but our kids were the best thing about that place to me.
The look on her face was “what is this that he’s saying?” I could tell she was listening and trying to understand and she said “I’ve only been thinking about the problems, I haven’t been thinking about you. Have we talked about this before?”
I was pretty excited to hear that one. And yeah like a hundred times before.
So my wife has taught me that in my case, I should understand that her ability to respect earning trust has been missing because she was not thinking about me at all.
I am trying to listen and learn. She really is afraid and actually likes the distance, she said. Whatever she did that was something she was “supposed” to do was definitely not coming from a place of safety but obligation.
We’re continuing to discuss this idea of being “good enough”.
Hi Another Husband,
Your last paragraph about creating bonding on trust and love as opposed to crisis and pain, really hit home. Thank you. I’ve often thought of us as being addicted to drama ( and when we interact with our families of origins, it’s even clearer). Now I have a more specific reason for it. It’s because we’ve been trying to love one another/ bond with one another! I’ve never doubted that my husband and I love each other, we just REALLY don’t know how.
Leslie, what should I being doing, while separated sexually and emotionally, that seeks to build bonding on trust and love, without confusing us both? Since we are still living together, it can get muddy quickly because at the moment, there IS no us.
Thanks for sharing, Nancy.
My husband is really agressive and gets angry easily. I cannot say the opposite of what he says or have a saying in anything. This is the first time (after reading your books Leslie) that I have stopped sexual relationships. For years I felt like an object cause he would yell at me or the children and get cranked up bad and then he would be all cuddly and gentle in the bedroom. But how long can we go without giving him this kind of affection without it looking like a punishment. He doesn’t even acknowledge his destructive behavior.