Faith Over Fear: Finding Strength and Healing in a Destructive Relationship

May is my birthday month! I am choosing to celebrate sisterhood in 2023. As Christian women, we know that our faith is our anchor in times of trouble. But when we find ourselves in emotionally destructive relationships or marriages, it can be hard to hold onto that faith. Fear, shame, and self-doubt can cloud our minds and make it difficult to see a way forward. However, I am here to remind you that faith can overcome fear. With the help of God and our sisters in Christ, we can find the courage and strength to face even the most challenging situations. Let's take a deep breath, hold fast to our faith, and walk together towards healing and wholeness.

Question: 

Reading the emotionally destructive marriage, I, in a very long term marriage, thought I was in a disappointing one, but your questions came up with an absolutely destructive one. He has never and would never cheat, hit or speak to me in a disparaging way. There is very little concern for how I think or feel and most decisions have been his. Apologies and thank yous are not part of his dialogue. Maybe a short fight once a decade, you can't discuss or fight when one literally walks away. Wanting to be a sweet Christian wife I did not deal with this well. I lived “Count your blessings…” we have actually had a pleasant marriage and no one we know would think otherwise. Counseling brought short term results. I realize that there are many much more difficult marriages, yet my heart would love to speak and be heard. What would you say to those of us in this type of marriage?

Answer: 

Dear Sister in Christ,

I know the pain and frustration that comes from being in an emotionally destructive marriage. I'm sorry to hear that you're struggling with communication issues in your marriage. It can be difficult to recognize and address, especially when there are no overt signs of abuse or infidelity. However, I am here to tell you that your voice matters, your feelings matter, and your needs matter. You are seen, known, and heard here in this space. It takes so much courage to lean in and explore the truths in your relationship. 

I see you and hear you. Thank you for finding your brave, and asking this important question. The quiz we offer in our Quick Start guide is enlightening.

First and foremost, it is important to understand that dismissing you as a human being to cherish is emotionally harmful. Emotional violence can take many forms, such as verbal put-downs, controlling behavior, and neglect. If your husband consistently withholds physical affection or intimacy, this is a sign of emotional neglect and can contribute to feelings of devaluation. These actions chip away at your self-esteem and leave you feeling worthless, hopeless, and powerless. I am here to tell you that you are not worthless, and you are not powerless. You are a beloved daughter of God, and He wants you to live in freedom and joy. Hope is found in Christ Alone.

Let's look to the Bible for guidance on how to navigate our key relationships. One helpful passage is 2 Timothy 1:7, which says, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” This verse reminds us that we do not have to be afraid to speak up and advocate for ourselves. This passage reminds us that we have a responsibility to speak up for ourselves and others who are being mistreated. We must not remain silent in the face of injustice. We have the power of the Holy Spirit within us, and we can approach difficult situations with love and self-discipline.

Thank you for trusting us here with your question. You do not have to go through this alone. Find someone who will listen to you without judgment, and support you in your journey. Having a support system can help you feel less isolated and provide practical help and advice. Choose someone who you feel safe talking to and who will respect your privacy.

Consider seeking professional coaching. A trained coach can help you process your emotions and develop empowering strategies. A coach can provide a safe and confidential space to talk about what you're going through and offer practical guidance on how to navigate difficult situations. Look for a coach who is experienced in dealing with emotional violence and who shares your Christian values. We have 5 coaches on our team here at LV and CO that would be honored to share a coaching conversation with you. Learn more about coaching here.

Learn to set healthy boundaries with your spouse. Let him know what behavior is not acceptable, and be prepared to enforce those boundaries if they are crossed.

Remember, boundaries are about creating healthy and respectful relationships. They should be communicated clearly and consistently, and should have consequences that are appropriate for the situation. Communicate your needs clearly.

You might say something like, “It's important to me that we have open and honest communication in our relationship. When you ignore me, it makes me feel dismissed and disrespected. I want you to be willing to listen and engage in conversation with me.”

  1. Set consequences for violating boundaries: You might say something like, “If you continue to ignore me when we're having a conversation, I'm going to take a break and walk away. I want you to respect my need to be heard and valued in our relationship.”

My friend, what might be possible for you if you focused more on building your own network of friends and life rather than trying to fix or change your marriage or your man?

Focusing on building your own network of friends and life can have several potential benefits, regardless of the state of your marriage or relationship. Here are a few possibilities:

  1. Increased independence and self-confidence: When you have a supportive network of friends and a fulfilling life outside of your relationship, you may feel more confident and independent. This can lead to greater self-esteem and a stronger sense of self-worth.
  2. More fulfilling social connections: Having a diverse group of friends and social connections can provide a sense of belonging and fulfillment. You may find that you enjoy spending time with people who share your interests or values, and this can lead to more meaningful and satisfying relationships.
  3. Greater emotional resilience: Building your own life and network of friends can help you develop emotional resilience and coping skills. When you have a strong support system and a fulfilling life outside of your relationship, you may be better equipped to handle challenges and stressors in your life.
  4. A sense of purpose and fulfillment: Pursuing your own interests and passions can give you a sense of purpose and fulfillment that extends beyond your relationship. You may find that you feel more fulfilled and content when you're actively working towards your own goals and dreams.

It's worth noting that building your own life and network of friends doesn't mean that you are giving up on your marriage or relationship. It is a healthy way to prioritize your own needs and wellbeing, and to create a sense of balance and fulfillment in your life.

In conclusion, I want to leave you with this verse from Isaiah 43:2: “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.” Trust in the Lord, and He will carry you through this challenging time.

How has your faith in God helped you cope with the challenges of being in an emotionally destructive relationship? Have you found any particular Bible verses or prayers that have brought you comfort and strength?

18 Comments

  1. Sara Rapp on May 18, 2023 at 9:15 am

    My banner verses are: Romans 8:28 & Proverbs 3:5-6. Through Leslie’s teachings, I am learning to set boundaries & praying in Christ centered girlfriends. I attend Celebrate Recovery as a leader. Taking the CRs 12 step study several times has helped peal away layers of pain. Really what helps us staying in God’s word & prayer. Thank you for this page. God used it to save my life.

  2. B2 on May 18, 2023 at 10:50 am

    Thank you for sharing your heart with others, and thank you Leslie for insight into this dilemma. It’s a tough boat to be in- and good advice for you and helping others navigate these lonely waters..
    Here’s a hug!

  3. Lori on May 18, 2023 at 11:10 am

    This is similar to my story. We were separated for some time (while I took care of my Mom — so that helped him (and others) think it wasn’t about him, even though I made myself clear!). I’m back now and things are better because I did some of my work (still working on it) and he’s nicer. But, we haven’t discussed/repaired the past, or talked about the future. It has just gone back to the way it was. Me crying (almost daily) for the marriage I so want. He says he cares and wants me around but his past rejection still haunt me. I don’t want to leave either because of our history and life of nearly 36 years together!
    It seems to me that I’ve come back to the same distant marriage, but at least now we are treating each other better. However, it’s still not much of a marriage to me!!!
    What really pisses me off is that he gets the marriage he wants. I’m here, to share in the cooking and upkeep of the house, to go out with (to do things he wants to do), and to visit friends/family (they all think he’s wonderful, and I’m the problem for not appreciating such a great guy!)
    I just need some understanding and affection, especially when hurting. He says he only want to share in the happy times. So I cry by myself, to girlfriends and to counselors. What I’m figuring out is that even the happy times are clouded by disconnection and lack of caring!

    • Michele on May 19, 2023 at 3:11 pm

      Your story is my story almost verbatim right down to “he gets the marriage he wants”.
      But that’s where I decided to draw some boundaries for myself.
      -if we are not emotionally connecting, I am not interested in fulfilling sexual needs
      -i have told our closest friends the best I can, that we are in distress ( most don’t believe it) and therefore we will not be socializing together. It made me feel like I was colluding with a fantasy that everyone has about us and so now I have found some new women friends to hang with..
      Figure out what you can live with and what you can’t, then set some boundaries. My marriage still sucks but amazingly, I have found joy in the pain🤷🏻‍♀️

  4. H3 on May 18, 2023 at 1:01 pm

    This question closely describes my marriage as well. My husband has many great qualities but he is always unavailable or dismissive to me. He loves having me around but he does not understand intimacy on any level. As a result I have felt unheard and emotionally barren for many years. Couple that with verbally abusive family members and in-laws (deceased now) and I am left not knowing what a healthy relationship looks like anymore. I am learning, through the videos, about boundaries. I have not understood them before or tried to implement them. The other day we were in a store talking about our bathroom remodel to the sales person. Everything I said he dismissed either verbally or through his very moody body language. I prayed as we walked to the car. I told him that I felt he had disrespected me in front of the sales women and that he needed to respect me at all times. He did not need to agree with me but would need to show respect. He has improved but he handles conflict by just disengaging more. I’m going to dinner with the church ladies tonight and I’m signing up for any “lady only” function at the church. I’m hoping some of the ladies understand healthy relationships and I will be able to learn by observing.

    • R on May 18, 2023 at 11:53 pm

      Just an observation…Boundaries are for you, not for him. Your boundary in this case could sound like, “If you choose to disrespect me in front of a salesperson, I will walk out if the store.” But you can’t force him to be respectful to you. He might have cleaned up his act, but there’s no guarantee he will continue to show you respect. And if he doesn’t, you gave no way of forcing him to. So you have to decide where your live is and what you’ll do if he crosses it.

    • Libby on May 31, 2023 at 12:21 pm

      I get this! I remarried a year ago! I felt respected for the first time in a lot of years…after a 40 year marriage ending in divorce. Now my husband has turned emotionally detached ! Combative at boundaries and shuts down for days . There is an alcohol issue now…which I already experienced in he last marriage? Sometimes I feel hopeless but know to I have to fight! I’ll fight till God says encourage is enough …but I’m rising to protect my heart and my life . I’m 60 I want to flourish ! I want to take thee next years and make a difference in my life and the WORLD! This is tough but each day is full and f Godly mercies! I’m acknowledging your battle ..
      And mine but with a hint of POWER! 😉❤️. Love to you fellow sister❤️

      • LeAnne Parsons on May 31, 2023 at 5:15 pm

        Thank you all so much for sharing your hearts and stories with us here on the blog page. You words, and connection are so meaningful for all of us. I have just returned from a week away to refresh and found so much encouragement in this passage…
        “May we all seek wisdom as we navigate the relationships that matter most to us.
        “Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don’t try to figure out everything on your own. Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track. Don’t assume that you know it all. Run to God! Run from evil! Your body will glow with health, your very bones will vibrate with life! Honor God with everything you own; give him the first and the best.”
        ‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭3‬:‭5‬-‭11 MSG‬‬

  5. Anna on May 18, 2023 at 1:35 pm

    I relate to all of the above. I was a home school, work from home mom of 4 for 20 years. My husband was a disengaged, often angry father, who put work as his first priority. Because of my fear, people-pleasing, peace at all costs, and determination to be a godly, submissive wife, we all suffered. When my youngest came out as gender fluid 8 years ago and struggled with self harm and suicidal thoughts, as did my middle daughter, that was my wake up call. It’s been a journey of working on me and growing stronger since then. Although my relationships with my now young adult children are good, three of them have left their faith and are making choices I would never have imagined they would, and my heart is broken. I’ve owned my part and learned to love better, but my husband has never admitted his or apologized. He came to some realization that he messed up as far as our marriage recently, but I think it was because he got scared he was going to lose me. I thought it was a miracle, but things really haven’t changed that much. I have a wonderful job, and God has given me a support system that I haven’t had for a long time. My husband quit his very stressful job a couple years ago and started his dream business. I fully supported him. It has not taken off, and he’s been looking for another job. We are barely making it on my salary. I am covering his and two of our children’s health insurance. He continues to let me handle all the finances, maintain the house, and mostly take care of dinner. He helps some but makes sure I know he’s doing me a favor. There’s too much to share in this space. I do have a very good counselor, but even with that, my job, support system, and wonderful resources like Leslie, I am miserable. All our kids are gone, so it’s just us in a big, overwhelming house and farm that needs so much work. I can’t take care of it all by myself, but I can’t bring myself to leave him without any income. I know he’s struggling, but he’s got to take care of his own stuff. Just him getting a job won’t fix it, but I’m sure that’s what he thinks. I’m still so afraid to tell him how miserable I am. I wish I could go back and tell my single self that marriage is not worth it. I have no desire to try again with someone else. My relationship with my family of origin is also a struggle, so there’s no comfort there. I’m very aware of my unhealthy need for affirmation, but I’ve had so little of it for the past 28 years, I don’t even know how to receive it, and going home to him sitting on his phone or in front of the tv takes me two steps back everytime. Yet I’m still trying to meet his love language of physical touch and feeling so guilty at how poorly I’m doing it. Sorry for this entirely too lengthy post. I started and just couldn’t stop.

    • Pat on May 18, 2023 at 3:05 pm

      Oh, Anna-
      I want to put my arms around you and encourage you that the need for affirmation is what draws us to God. He is the only one who knows us completely and therefore can affirm us fully. We were created to receive and give affirmation from Him and others. I seems to me that praise is affirming God, who He is and how He acts. And isn’t one of the strengths of CONQUER, the affirmation shared among the members. I know we can seek affirmation in misguided and harmful ways, but it is okay to have compassion towards a starving person even if it is yourself. I pray this brings the comfort it is intended to.

    • Alice on May 18, 2023 at 6:11 pm

      Please consider joining Conquer. You need support. I’m glad you wrote a long post that you needed to get off your chest. You’re hurting. We’re listening. Please ask the Lord for your next step. What is 1 thing, even a small thing, that you can do, to set a boundary for your self, or a ladies group you can join to gain support and friendship? Fortunately, we can find love and connection outside of our marriage!!

      • Kim on May 18, 2023 at 9:32 pm

        Alice , Anna and others needing affirmation, there is a reason why the husband’s number one duty is to love his wife sacrificially as Christ loved the church, giving himself up for her. Love is not a transient feeling or action, but a way of life. You are not receiving the active sacrificial love, patience and kindness that God designed marriage to give you. It’s two sided and requires both spouses to participate. Is he cleaving unto you? Is he becoming one with you? Has he left his former primary relationship with his parents in favor of his new primary relationship with you, his prized and beloved bride? Check out Mark chapter 10 I believe. And Genesis on the first marriage according to God’s pre-curse perfect design plan. I’m praying for your hearts to be healed. You never need to submit to emotional neglect or abuse. It’s anti-Biblical.

    • Sarah on May 20, 2023 at 11:49 am

      Don’t be sorry for sharing. It’s a good thing to say the truth. The truth sets you free. Here’s a prayer over you…that the Lord would lead you through his Spirit and the counsel of others on how to seek the truth and walk in it. That He would set you free from misery and into abundant life. That you could seek Him for the courage and obedience it will take to choose different ways that lead to life. God bless you and your family!

      • Anna on May 23, 2023 at 7:50 am

        Thank you, Sarah, for that beautiful prayer!

    • Hope H on May 30, 2023 at 8:36 pm

      Your story is deeply sad and I know parts of it myself. One boundary I drew was sexual intimacy. It is the fruit of emotional and relational connection and where that is absent, it is normal and right to let one reality match the other.

      It is my understanding that the physical touch love language is not sexual. My counselor told me she has seen people manipulate their spouses by demanding sexual intimacy based on this.

  6. Kim on May 18, 2023 at 9:35 pm

    Also 1 Corinthians 13 for the most comprehensive definition of active love…

  7. Anna on May 18, 2023 at 10:04 pm

    Thank you, Pat, Alice and Kim. I did Conquer for a year. I listen to Leslie’s podcast, and Lysa Terkeurst. Read their books. I have a codependency support group and a great therapist. I’m not very good at being compassionate with myself, though. And to focus my attention on God and His character. I feel like it would be easier if I didn’t have to face my husband’s indifference every day, but that may or may not be true. I know I can’t enable him, but I’m still trying to figure out what that would look like.

  8. Tracy Calahan on June 3, 2023 at 11:03 pm

    I am so very grateful to have read this blog and your ladies’ comments, as I can wholeheartedly relate to every one of you. I have been married for almost 8 years now and I can honestly say that I do not even know the man I married. The things I have found out I have had to pull teeth and learn from his Mom. He has a lot of childhood trauma that stems from his Mother’s poor choices in raising him which he has chosen to bury with her (as she has stage 4 cancer) instead of trying to talk to her about his issues and heal them before she passes. He has no respect for women (I did not know this before marriage as we got married very fast) I now understand why. He is very closed off and will only talk about superficial things. This has caused some major trust issues in our marriage because of his lying and my not knowing the truth about his lies. He is completely fine if I take care of him “like a mother would a child” and also fill his needs sexually whenever HE fills the need. It is His world and I am to just “live in it” and cater to his needs. I set boundaries a year ago and things go well for about a week then it goes right back to the same thing again.
    I thank God for answered prayers because I found Leslie and this group. I am daily praying for guidance from the Lord as to the direction of my marriage because as I told my husband as long as he continues to not deal with his trauma we will not be able to have a healthy marriage. I am sorry for my long “venting” post. I appreciate all of you and your vulnerability and advice as it helps to know I am not the only one in a very lonely marriage.

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