Dealing With A Self-Centered Spouse










Good Monday Morning friends,

I have been crazy busy this week and I deeply appreciate your prayers.  I’ve been doing grandma duty all week taking care of three little girls and their mama plus working on my new book.  I’m flying home Monday but wanted to let you know how much I appreciated your comments on last week’s blog, Should I Stay, Should I Go?

This week I want to ask you another question.  What do you think would be the single most important thing that church leadership could do to help you with your destructive marriage?  I’m curious.  I’m writing a chapter in my new book directed toward the leadership in churches so I WANT your thoughts on this.

Also, I did not write a new blog this week but want to share with you some insights from a colleague of mine, Brad Hambrick, who is a counselor and works with destructive relationships too.  He has a series of 17 short blogs on this topic and I think you will find them wise and helpful.


  1. Anne on November 12, 2012 at 8:30 pm


    Thanks for asking this question. I think pastors need training to know how to recognize the signs of all different types of abuse. How can they speak truth into people’s lives if they’ve misunderstood the symptoms and made an incorrect diagnosis? The prognosis can only be as good as the diagnosis, and as well-intentioned as they may be, pastors may have some biases that make it difficult for them to recognize that a man in their congregation who appears to be wholesome and dedicated may, in fact, be an entirely different person at home. Dealing with abusive people can be very confusing, especially if that someone happens to be held in high regard and/or is in a position of authority in the church.

  2. Anonymous on November 13, 2012 at 1:59 am

    I think that one of the things that church leaders should recognize is that there is often a mindset behind abusive behaviors that isn’t easily changed and that an abusive person can be very good at feigning repentance. Often times the abuser will decieve the leadership who will then push for reconciliation before it is safe.

    They should be watching out for wolves in sheeps clothing within their congregations.

    ps Your grandchildren are precious!

  3. Ellen on November 13, 2012 at 2:15 am

    What do you think would be the single most important thing that church leadership could do to help you with your destructive marriage?  Oh boy I’ve waited so long for someone to address this topic I’m about to jump out of my skin!  :). I don’t know that I can keep it to one Leslie,
     so please forgive me if this is too winded… 
    1.  Do NOT attempt to employ traditional couple’s counseling.  Any advice the pastor gives to the person at the receiving end of the abuse (if it is said in the presence of the abuser) can and will be used against them.
    2.  Do not advise the “victim” in the abusive relationship to follow the lead of the offender.  This person will eventually lead the entire family straight to hell.  It is the more compliant seemingly weaker party In The relationship who must learn to listen to the holy spirit and follow Him.  If the  dysfunctional dance ever Ends it is because the “victim” of the abuse assumes responsibility for themselves, the relationship, and their children.   The absolute best person in the relationship to bring about a change is the victim.   Do Not confuse an already overly confused individual by giving them false notions of hope that the abuser will change of their own accord.  There will be no prince riding in on a white horse and most likely God will not end the life of the abuser.  The church must step in to offer community to the hurting spouse.  
    3.  The leadership must be patient, non judgmental, and very caring with victims of abuse.  They should treat these people as persons coming out of a war zone who suffer from PTSD.  These spouses are suffering from shock many times and so you can not blame them or criticize them for sometimes making irrational decisions, going back to the abuser, or becoming overly emotional.  I remember once having a complete meltdown in a pastor’s office because my abusive husband took our small son to church and pretended to the world to be someone we at home knew he was not.  This was after i filed a restraining order on him.  He had absolutely no shame.  When i went to see the pastor about it he just stared at me with a blank stare,  perhaps another woman might have been able to console me a little better.  emotional wounds are just as painful as physical ones.  Would you just sit there and blankly stare at an accident victim?  
    4.  The church must find and train women who have come out of these scenarios and teach them to reach out and help others who are facing similar circumstances.  There is absolutely nothing better than getting assistance from someone who knows where you live.  

    I could go on and on but I will wait patiently for your new book!   
    Many many blessings!  

  4. Leslie Vernick on November 13, 2012 at 2:21 pm

    I couldn’t agree with you more. These things will be in my new book.

  5. Amy on November 13, 2012 at 4:43 pm

    Wow, it’s hard to pinpoint only one thing the church leadership could do to help someone caught in a destructive marriage, but I guess the most IMPORTANT thing is to become educated about the dynamics of abuse in marriage, all types of abuse.
    Unfortunately in my case after my abusive ex-husband left me almost four years ago I went to my pastor seeking help in what to do. I knew I could not nor would not go back, and the only thing he and a couple other men in the church could tell me was that my ex was truly sorry for how he had been and seemed to be changing. I as the wife somehow had the burden placed on my shoulders to make the marriage work and after all they were only words, he was not hitting me or the children so they wondered, what exactly is the problem. They felt that everyone has a temper, everyone says things they shouldn’t, but the offended person needs to learn how to continue to forgive and love no matter what, then that person will change.
    Wish it had all been so simple and wish I had known the truth about abuse a lot sooner so I had not stayed for twenty years in a destructive marriage.

    The Christian counselor I saw at the time was one of the only people that really helped me understand the crazy making cycle I was in and she helped me be able to break away from the misinformation I was being fed from leaders at the church.

    I believe too that leaders in the church are so busy trying to keep marriages together, because they want the world to see how different Christian marriages are, but it is all done at the sake of destruction to the people within an abusive marriage.

    I once said how grateful I was that the Lord was not as unloving or uncaring as some of those people in the church, because if He were like them and I had been the woman at the well, He would have just pushed me in and been done with me.

    And one last thought…there was also little support from the church for my two boys during that time their father and I were separated. The youth group leaders actually told them that they were to continue to respect and honor their father no matter, they needed to be with him as much as possible because he was their father. And I believe that was perhaps the most damaging thing someone could have told my two sons who had lived their whole lives with an abusive father.
    I once asked someone from the church if they would think differently if we were being physically hurt and they said, “of course!”

    I know how damaging two decades of verbal and mental abuse have been to me, and I realize now just how much it also affected my children, maybe even more so.

    Education is the key to leaders in the church being able to help those in destructive relationships, unfortunately I do not believe even with education about abuse will many leaders be willing to “take sides” and get involved. That would mean them taking a stand against abuse in marriage, when they in no way want any marriage to fall apart because that would make them as Christians look bad.
    I often times felt abused all over after talking with the pastor or other leaders within the church…I was just to sweep it all under the rug and not be so sensitive.

    I had a man from a church once tell me how God cares too much about marriage and would be disappointed in me if I walked out…I told this man I believe God cares more about the people within a marriage. We never spoke again.

    Sorry for my jumbled thoughts this morning.

  6. Carolyn on November 13, 2012 at 7:23 pm

    Like others, I, too, find it hard to narrow down thoughts to just one single piece of advice. Here’s my best attempt at it, though:

    Believer her — If personal support and trust cannot be extended, then at least give her the courtesy of counseling from a hypothetical standpoint. (Example below)

    I have experienced so much favoritism/bias –my husband’s word being believed over mine, it is mind-boggling to understand why this happens. In my experience, every counselor we have been involved with has been quick to buy husband’s con-game. Not one has been interested to explore beyond surface level for the truth. ?? They just accept his word without question and in turn question my word without reason. Apparently a well-constructed outward image automatically nullifies any possibility a person could be manipulative and destructive. The man I am living with, though, is either mentally disturbed or downright evil. There could be no other explanation for one who claims to be a Christian while living a double life, presenting to faces –one to the public and the other to me. I am the only one who sees the ugly, cold, manipulative side. To others he is the most friendly, caring, Biblically astute man, deeply concerned about spiritual matters. The side revealed only in our private relationship is completely opposite – deeply dishonest, calloused, entitled… plain and simply–spiritually and emotionally abusive. It took a long time to come to grips with this truth, but it was largely through the help of your books, Leslie, that my eyes were opened. For years I tried to seek help for us, but it was to no avail. The more his lies and manipulations were bought by the leaders, the more enabled he became. And (in my mix of dismay and dispair) as I frantically tried to reach out for other sources of help, husband convincingly “reframed” that picture to the counselors to mean I was searching until I could find someone who would “agree with me and say what I want to hear… “ Well, that actually is the truth – because all I wanted was to find someone who would be dedicated to seeking the truth. I thought I would eventually find that person – someone who “gets” abuse… someone who would no longer accept the conning, who would dig deeply with questions and fact-gathering, who would see through the charade and call husband on it. I thought we would eventaully be able to find healing…. our family saved. But it never happened.
    The last counselor I saw before giving up, I all but begged that if he could not trust my word, could he please at least offer counsel from a hypothetical standpoint – sharing what he believed to be appropriate, Biblical steps for a woman in an emotionally abusive relationship. This request was never honored.

    So this is my appeal to all Christian counselors/pastors. Brothers, please stop practicing favoritism. Believe your female client unless you are given valid reason not to. If hesitant to provide her complete support and trust, at least give her the courtesy of counsel from a hypothetical standpoint – such as, “If what you are saying is true, Sister – that the private reality between you and your husband is inconsistent with the humble public image being presented, you are right to take a step back. It is walking in both love and truth to do so. This is not a matter to be overlooked. Deception and manipulation tactics are grave matters if they are indeed truly happening. You are loving your husband well to not accept this. …. And then to appropriately turn things around to the other side in contrast saying, “If on the other hand, you are the one lying, Sister, about what is going on… exaggerating the reality of situations, spinning things to your benefit, and interpreting things through a vengeful, prideful heart, I hope you realize the serious spiritual ramifications of such actions…”

    Taking this approach in the very least would bring an end to a lot of enabling. The abusive husband (who knows which one is doing the lying) would hear first hand from a male third party that his wife is actually doing the most loving and responsible thing possible by stepping back and saying things are not right. If this simple approach could be the standard adopted – I believe there would actually be a chance of saving some of the many crumbling marriages within the church today.

  7. Ellen on November 14, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    Carolyn I couldn’t agree with you more. Something needs to be done.

  8. Amy on November 15, 2012 at 6:24 am

    “…abuse is a matter of personal responsibility, not a relational culpability. It results from a lack of self-control. When one person is willing to harm another to get his way, then no amount of working on “us” will remedy the problem and is a distraction from what needs to change first and most.” ~from Brad Hambrick blog post: The Situationally Explosive Self-Centered Spouse.

    I found this quote from Brad’s blog to possibly provide the answer to your question re: what church leadership could do to help someone in a destructive marriage…do not try to counsel both spouses together as if the abuse is a marital issue. Any abuse is a personal problem and an abusive person will use the situation of working on “us” as a distraction from what the true issue is.

    Wow…the Christian counselor I saw at the time my ex left me was the only one to help me try and understand that my ex-husband’s mental and emotional abuse towards me and our two sons was HIS problem, not mine. And even though yes, I could see areas in myself that I needed to work on changing/improving, me changing or respecting and loving him more was NOT going to change him and his abusive behavior.

    And perhaps that leads to another area that not only church leadership, but Christians in general can help someone caught in an abusive marriage…DO NOT place the sole burden on the shoulders of the abused spouse to keep the marriage intact and help the abusive spouse change. Place the burden of true repentance and change on the abusive spouse, hold them accountable.

    Thank you for sharing the link to Brad’s blog…reading through his 16 part series of the chronically self-centered spouse is very eye opening. And although I divorced my abusive ex almost two years ago and this information will not help me now, I pray that it will help someone else that is in the midst of an abusive marriage.

  9. Leslie Vernick on November 15, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    Thanks for all your replys and insights. They are helping me and helping one another. Hopefully some church leaders are reading this as well and your painful experiences are helping them open their eyes.

    • Bill Hall on December 31, 2019 at 1:28 pm


      I see most of the individuals replying are ladies and at the risk of assuming most of your followers are probably ladies as well, so I would like to add a little balance. First of all not all abusers are male and I speak more of emotional than physical. Marriage is a two sided relationship and this I believe is all to often over looked in both our culture and Christian counseling so insuring a balanced and open view when approaching marriage/ relationship counseling is always essential. Second as is pointed out repeatedly in God’s word almost every road to sin comes from our selfish/ self centered/ self serving nature’s so the very first place to start is a though self examination of ones self through how the scriptures call us to act and be in marriage and relationships (children, family, friends, ect…) because these external
      Relationships all affect our lives and marriages.

      It should be noted that the Bible calls men and women to different responsibilities in marriage Men are called to Love their wife’s as Jesus loves us (agape) unconditionally a often monumental task we are incapable of without His help, Wives are called to respect their husbands again an often monumental task even with His help. Why the difference because God created us different and we are to honor and cherish those differences and let them strengthen us instead of as culture tells us fight them in every possible way. Secondly going back to Genesis when sin entered into humanity the curse pitted wives against husbands and the only way we can overcome that curse is through God’s holy word and the blood of the Lamb (Jesus).

      All the answers are in God’s word…

      Thanks and be Blessed


Leave a Comment

Ask Your Question

Have a blog question you'd like to submit?

Read More

Do I Trust Him Again? He’s Doing Everything Right

Morning friend, Whew, we just finished our CONQUER membership invite for this season. The doors are closed for now, and we are all about welcoming and loving on our new members. I’m heading off to Haven House to partner with Lysa Terkeurst for her 3-day intensive retreat. It’s an honor to be part of her…


Moving Beyond The Blame Game

Morning friends, I wish I could meet all of you. You bless my heart the way you encourage, strengthen, exhort and support one another. It’s truly amazing. I’m reminded too, that Satan wants us to believe his lies. Lie number one is that we don’t matter, that our life is not significant, and that we…


What To Do When His Depression is Hurting You

Happy New Year’s Eve What resolutions are you making this year? Do you typically keep them? I dread heading to the gym on Tuesday because it will be crowded with all of us who made 2013 the year to lose weight. Research shows however, that most people fail to keep their New Year’s resolutions often…