How Can I Implement Consequences When My Husband Is Abusive?

Morning friends,

It’s been Nana camp again for this week in July. And it’s been fun. We’re going horseback riding tomorrow but the kids have been having a great time on our backyard zip line. What kid wouldn’t? It’s even fun for the adults, although I will spare you the adult version.

Here’s the kids having a ball.

Thanks for all your amazing support and encouragement to one another on this blog. I wish I could hang out more here but I do try to read most of your comments. This week’s question goes along with our question last week about restitution.

Question: I've read some of your books. I wholeheartedly believe that I deserve to be treated better than I am. This crazy cycle isn't ok and it must stop one way or another. I'm on board with that much.

My trouble is that I need some help thinking creatively about what natural consequences might be. It's easy when it's a little kid. Example:  “You know the rules, until you can respect the furniture and sit on it properly (rather than jumping) you may not use it.  Here… sit on the floor to have your lunch and maybe tomorrow you can use the furniture again properly.”

What do you do with a husband and that crazy cycle?  I can go toe to toe when I have to, but really what I want to do is run far, far away.  In these times, I want nothing but out of this relationship.

I desire to be treated properly, but don't know another reaction other than fight it out (which gets sooooo old) or flee. Those are my two standbys. However, I don't like it (actually it angers me) that I don't know any other reaction.  What actions could I take instead?  Can you give some practical examples of how to dance differently?

Answer: First of all let me commend you that you want to dance differently and you’re not happy with your own “reactions” although fleeing might be perfectly appropriate if you need to.

But let me develop the metaphor of the dance. If you were dancing with someone and he repeatedly stepped on your toes, what would a “natural” consequence be? Especially if you already kindly asked him to be more careful, or to stop dancing that way? If he refused to change his behavior, then you could continue to be a “victim” of his poor dance steps, or you would have to dance differently yourself if you wanted your toes to stop hurting.

That might mean you choose to stop slow dancing with him or you let go of his hands and step back and dance separately. If he pulls you back into the embrace of a slow dance then you could stop dancing and say, “I won’t close dance with you because you’re stepping on my toes. That hurts me and I’ve asked you to stop and you haven’t. Until you learn to dance with me without stepping on my toes, I won’t slow dance with you.”

Now it’s his turn to make a choice. Either he will stop dancing altogether with you, dance separately, or learn how to dance without stepping on your toes. Meanwhile, he may criticize, scream and/or blame you that you’re just being too sensitive, unreasonable, un-submissive, mean spirited, and sinful because you won’t dance with him like he wants. (This illustrates the entitled mindset at its craziest).

This is where victims of abuse tend to get fuzzy headed and more easily manipulated. You do want a close relationship with your spouse (dance closely). As Christians, we believe that is God’s will and what we promised when we got married. Therefore, we can start to feel guilty pulling away or putting boundaries down on close interaction, especially when our abuser accuses us of wrongdoing. We self-examine, self-reflect and wonder to ourselves if we are too sensitive or too selfish.

So often you try harder and go back to dancing close, but when he steps on your toes again and you can’t take it anymore, you blow up (fight) or run away (flight). This pattern repeats itself again and again as you get lured in or dragged back into the same old dance where your toes keep getting stepped on.

You asked for some practical ways to implement consequences when your husband is abusive toward you. You don’t mention specifically what is happening so I can’t suggest specific strategies for your case but here are some general principles about implementing natural consequences.

It’s important that you not punish your spouse (as a parent might punish a child). That is not your role and it is inappropriate.

Consequences are meant to wake a person up and help him to see more clearly. Click To Tweet

The pain of one’s sin is meant to teach a person not to repeat the same things over and over again. The Scriptures are clear, “what a man sows he reaps” (Galatians 6:7). When a man repeatedly sows discord, abuse, deceit, enmity, strife, and pain in marriage, there are natural consequences. He loses the benefits of a close marriage relationship.

If he didn’t experience that painful consequence and you pretended that all was well between you, that would enable him to stay deceived into thinking that he can act sinfully without suffering any negative consequences. That is not reality, nor loving. Painful consequences have a way of helping a person change his or her sinful ways because he or she doesn’t like or want the PAIN of the consequences.

Unfortunately, I think this is where many Christian wives (and some husbands) have been misadvised by church leaders. Abused spouses have been counseled to show the virtue of long-suffering, sacrificial love, forgiveness and grace while still being abused, lied to, and ignored. Somehow they are supposed to continue to provide the relational and sexual intimacy found in a healthy, loving marriage when that marriage is broken and needs repairs.

This traditional counsel fails on two counts. First, it encourages the victim to lie and pretend to prop up a relationship that is unhealthy, broken, and sinful.   That’s not good for her or for her spouse. The Bible says that love rejoices in the truth. (1 Corinthians 13 ). Second, this counsel fails because as she lies and pretends, it enables the abuser to stay self-deceived into thinking his behavior is not that bad or that it’s her fault he acts that way or that it doesn’t matter how he treats his wife, he’s entitled to the perks of a good marriage because she’s my wife (property), God hates divorce, and therefore she owes me. That is not biblical wisdom, walking in the truth, or healthy reality testing.

The following are some natural consequences you may implement in an abusive relationship.

  1. Call the police and press charges if he is physically abusive. The longer you make excuses or put up with it, the more aggressive he will become. A night or time in jail helps someone see that what they are doing is not only wrong, it is illegal and you will not allow yourself or your children to be physically abused.
  2. When he becomes verbally aggressive, end the conversation. Simply walk away when he begins his screaming or verbal assault. Remind him that you will not allow yourself to be talked to that way. Do not debate or try to justify your boundaries. If he follows you, go to a bedroom and lock the door. If he breaks it down call the police. Always make sure you carry a cell phone with you and have it preprogrammed to 911.
  3. If he verbally assaults you in a closed area such as a car, turn on the recording feature of your phone, refuse to drive with him, and drive yourself separately in the future because he can’t control himself. He loses the privilege of your company when he mistreats you.
  4. Exit the situation if it is escalating. If you need to leave the house because you feel in danger, whether emotionally or physically or sexually, you need to have a safety plan in place. That might mean putting a spare car key in the garage or under a planter, packing a suitcase and hiding it in the trunk or garage, making sure your children know that when you say a certain phrase, they all exit the house and get into the car. If you’ve been through the cycle, you can tell when he’s getting himself worked up. You don’t have to stay for the blow-up stage. Leave. The consequences for his inability to control his temper and his tongue (or his hands) is the loss of your company (for an hour, for an evening, for a season)
  5. If someone repeatedly refuses to listen and you are in a position to do so, separation can be a very effective consequence for this kind of behavior. It has the potency to “wake him up” and let him know that he cannot continually act abusively towards someone and expect that they will still want to be in a loving relationship with him. Separating often begins to open the abuser’s eyes for the first time that you are a separate individual with your own thoughts, your own feelings, and your own needs. Before you return back into the relationship, however, it’s important that he not only “see” what he’s done wrong, he’s gotten help in respecting your “no” and ability to tolerate and manage his own negative emotions.
  6. End the relationship. Some Biblical scholars disagree on whether or not abuse is a biblical reason to dissolve a marriage. Certainly, it would be a last resort after all other steps have been taken. But divorce is a legal document indicating that the marriage is dead and a natural consequence of an unrepentant pattern of this kind of behavior. When someone repeatedly abuses someone else without repentance, without remorse, and without change what are the alternatives? Continued abuse or ending the relationship? Sometimes the abuse doesn’t stop, even once someone is separated. Even after a marriage ends abusive behavior can continue through continual legal harassment, child custody disputes, verbal threats, and withholding of finances.

In addition, here are some things you can say when your spouse starts his tirade. You mentioned that your pattern typically is to either “fight it out or flee”. Instead, try saying one of these phrases and then walk away.

“Just because you think that way doesn’t make it true” or “I’m not going to argue about that”. Or “That wasn’t appropriate or a nice thing to say”, or I don’t deserve to be spoken to that way.”

Please understand. Those statements will not transform your spouse but it will open his eyes a bit to you as a separate person who is not going to allow herself to be bullied, badgered, manipulated and mistreated. As you gain respect for yourself and handle yourself in godly ways, you will exert a powerful influence on your husband and children. And, those are good things.

As I’ve said many times before in this blog, you can make a bad relationship better all by yourself by not escalating the conflict, not retaliating, not repaying evil for evil and not engaging when someone is pushing your buttons. But as much as you desire a good marriage, you cannot make a bad marriage a good marriage all by yourself.

In closing, here just a few verses from Proverbs that tell us the results and consequences of living with a difficult/destructive person.

22:3 A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished.

22:8 He who sows iniquity will reap sorrow.

23:9 Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words.

23:10 Cast out the scoffer, and contention will leave; yes, strive and reproach will cease.

24:25 “Make no friendship with a man given to anger, nor go with a wrathful man, lest you learn his ways and entangle yourself in a snare.”

Friends, what other kinds of natural consequences have you put in place to stop enabling abusive behaviors to continue.


  1. Michelle on July 10, 2019 at 4:58 pm

    Thank you so much for this post today. I have implemented so many of these natural consequences and unfortunately my husband has chosen not to see the abuse and manipulation. After a seperation three years ago, he was arrested for domestic violence, we went to counseling after I lifted a Civil Protection order in place for over a year. He was meeting with a mens group, our pastors and so many people thought he had changed, that it woke him up to the severity of the situation. I was committed to reconciling our marriage, we renewed our vows in August of 2017. Things were going okay, I knew in a matter of weeks/months once I allowed him to move back into our home that his heart hadn’t really changed. He was just “checking off the boxes” to get his family back and normal back. I kept praying and asking God to make my path clear if I should continue to enable the behavior for the sake of marriage and young children or if I should leave well. Shortly after we were back home as a family again the crazy cycle was in full force, in addition, to selfishness, manipulation and pride he has spent 5-7 years in and out of the hospital. He has had multiple medical problems that included countless procedures and surgeries…which led to a dependancy on the pain medication on/off. After meeting with our pastor and trying to keep some outside accountability in place…he didin’t want any part of it long term. We were living in crisis for months, the anger and spiritual abuse were hitting an all time high. I was completely drained and had nothing left. I had reached the end. As of March this year, I chose to seperate again and I have told him just weeks ago that I want a divorce. I can say now to any woman reading this today…sometimes the most loving thing you can do for your spouse could be the absolute hardest thing. So many times it would have been easier to allow him to come back home, to jump right back into the crazy cycle and pretend that things are okay and that it really isn’t that bad.

    I don’t blame my husband for everything, and I have committed to our friends and family that I will not slander or demean my husband to our children. My husband has good in him, the man I married was a good man that loved the Lord.

    My husband had a horrible childhood and most of his issues stem from that time in his life I believe, BUT hear me loud and clear, my husband has a choice to allow those things in his life to shape him into a better person as he processes and deals with the pain, the hurt and the ugly from the past that he had absolutely no control over…OR he can allow it to make him angry inside and use so many methods of self protection and self preservation that keep everything out…even the love that I know he so desperately desires. I pray for my husband daily, alone and in front of our children.
    I want my children to know how much I love their daddy and how broken my heart is through this process of leaving well. (Until I started following Leslie, I didn’t know that I could leave well…and still love my husband.)

    Please if you do anything today, take sometime to look back in your journal, prayers or ask a friend. How bad is it? I can tell you that if you are reading this today, you are treasured and loved by your Heavenly Father and the way your husband or boyfriend is treating you where you feel unsafe, emotionally fearful or left thinking am I really the crazy one, maybe this is all my fault…IT IS NOT OKAY.

    Reach out, speak up and run with all you have left to Jesus feet. He will meet you right where you are and He will answer your prayers. He will help you know what step to take next. Maybe you don’t have anything left, maybe you feel completely lost. Find a counselor. Most cities have a board of mental health and always have a counselor on staff. FInd someone you can speak with and be honest. I will continue to pray for you. Thank you Leslie for speaking up and giving hope and a voice to those who feel as though they have lost all hope. I hope to encourage others someday as well.

    • JoAnn on July 10, 2019 at 7:41 pm

      Michelle, your story is already encouraging, and I thank you for writing in. Your courage will be rewarded, and may the Lord grant you a rich portion of His grace.

    • Hope Mucklow on July 11, 2019 at 7:41 am

      Michelle, oh my. You have endured so much. Focus on those children of yours. And thank you for writing. I completely agree with what JoAnn says. And you are absolutely right. Press on my sister.

    • Linda Forry on July 11, 2019 at 1:12 pm

      thank you Michelle for sharing your struggles and heart. May God bless you and your family in this new phase of your life. I have a similar story in that my husband of 50 years needs me so he is seemingly making some good changes. He too is a good man but not a Christian.

  2. Deborah on July 10, 2019 at 6:26 pm

    Thank you so much Leslie for sharing your insight. I came across your website and blog two weeks ago, or rather God led me here in answer to a cry out for help. Reading this blog and comments have helped me feel not so alone in my struggles here at home. I truly was increasingly thinking I was going crazy. I am constantly feeling guily and “not good enough” as a wife. Since I set a boundary for myself in asking (demanding?) that my husband sleep in a different room three weeks ago, I have been treated first with multiple gifts of apology, then adult-like temper tantrums, and currently the sternest of silent treatments. Today I woke up thinking I was definitely in the wrong (why though??) until I read your blog. Thankfully God is leading me through this and reminding me to rely on Him and not my customary feelings of guilt. This blog in particular helped me realize that my boundary-setting is not only OK, but necessary for my spiritual, emotional, and mental health. Thank you.

  3. Janice D on July 11, 2019 at 6:43 am

    I have realized that by separating I have respected my husbands deepest desire,which is to be unaccountable to me.Despite his year long campaign claiming he wants to reconcile,I truly believe this is the best way to honor him.He is now reading books on marriage and quoting the Bible at me “ God hates the putting off of a spouse”.He fails to see the 26 years of our marriage as him putting me off every time he chose to treat me as less than his wife.I have no wish to control or manipulate him which is why I stay separated and at peace.I am grateful for this safe place and just like Deborah was led here by our loving Heavenly Father.It has been a hard journey with much grieving along the way as well as joy and contentment as the fog continues to lift.The bravery demonstrated in the stories here encourages me to continue to ask,seek,knock knowing the lover of my soul delights to show me the way,the truth, and the life.Jesus is becoming more precious to me and I cling to him. I pray for my husband,that the Holy Spirit will guide him,convict and counsel him.I fear my husbands “ learning” is now focused on proving me the sinning spouse and him the sinned against spouse.He has demonstrated no insight into his own personal struggles and character flaws.

    • Annie on July 12, 2019 at 12:34 pm

      My husbands deepest desire is to be unaccountable to me…your sentence resonated with my situation although I also would add unaccountable to anyone as he wont let anyone speak into his life whether friend, family, author, counsellor

      • JoAnn on July 12, 2019 at 2:53 pm

        Someone said that a life unexamined is not worth living, and that is so true of those who will not see their sin and repent of it. A very sad state to be in.

    • Aly on July 12, 2019 at 3:19 pm

      I’m sorry for the continued pain through the separation. At least you are at a distance and finding space for your heart and healing.
      Are you surprised by his predictable pattern of turning truth upside down? As painful as it is to see one continue to spin and distort , running from an ounce of humility, it should possible bring relief that you have continued to walk in the best way for your freedom.
      As you said he is seeing things that you are the one sinning against him … ?? Yeah, right (ugh) you are sinning against him because you won’t enable his sin and character issues to continue to be destructive.
      (Typical unchanged hard hearted posture of him)

  4. Hope Mucklow on July 11, 2019 at 7:49 am

    Janice, Amen and Amen. Press on as well my sister.

  5. Sheep on July 11, 2019 at 8:36 am

    Ugggg. I just had a book ad from focus on the family pup up in my Facebook feed. The ad said…

    “Her husband’s infidelity didn’t mean the end of Tina Konkin’s marriage. Her willingness to answer the question, “What role did you play in this?” saved her marriage. Buy the book today!”

    Can we as Christians stop saying things like this? I think I know what they are trying to say… but can we please make better choices with our words? They make it sound like she is figuring out her role in his adultery. Unless she went to the bar to pick up women FOR him, or drove him to the cheap hotel and rented it for him, she did not have a role in his Adultery. That was HIS sin choices that took him down that road.

    I hope they are saying that she looked at her role in underlying marriage problems, because that is something everyone should do, none of us are perfect. But can we please stop making it sound like the victim of someone else’s sin is somehow responsible for them?

    • JoAnn on July 11, 2019 at 11:02 am

      Sheep, I agree 100%. We all need to “sweep our own side of the street,” but blaming the victim is not ok. Committing adultery, or any other kind of sin is a choice made by the sinner. It’s a story as old as Adam: “that woman You gave me, she made me do it.”

      • Sheep on July 11, 2019 at 11:50 am

        And “It was the snake”. Interesting that God didn’t let any of the blame shifting effect His response

        • JoAnn on July 11, 2019 at 6:12 pm

          LOL. That’s a good observation. He still held them accountable, and we are pretty well stuck with the consequences, until we learn to cooperate with God and enter into His purpose. For freedom Christ has set us free. Amen!

          • Free on July 12, 2019 at 7:09 am

            Sheep very, very few people can ever imagine, let alone begin to understand the depth of what we have suffered. I think we have to brush off most of the relational advise we come across. It just doesn’t apply.

  6. Don’t fit the norm on July 11, 2019 at 8:48 pm

    This was helpful. Could there also be a list of consequences for covert abuse? What about consequences when he is not verbally assaulting or physical or angry? The abuse that I receive is quiet yet involves neglect, blame-shifting, minimizing, throwing bible verses on me, not taking responsibility for actions, selfishness and childishness. I don’t think he would ever raise his voice much less his fist. He uses calm and quiet words of shame instead. And when I call that out, he is shocked and confused and doesn’t see what he is doing wrong. He isn’t malicious- he is immature and relationally dumb. We are in-home separated while he recovers from his sexual addiction. But honestly the emotional abuse and deception is almost worse to me.

    Most of the lists and posts around various sites about abuse seem to be the anger related ones. Yet I know it’s abuse I experience, the crazy making symptoms are there.

    • Free on July 14, 2019 at 5:01 pm

      I don’t believe he isn’t malicious and is relationally dumb. He knows exactly what he is doing. He has you fooled. This is classic abuse found on the power and control wheel.

      The first thing I would do is think differently. Yes, he knows what he is doing. Yes, he is a grown man who chooses to be abusive. Yes, he is mature and relationally mature. Yes, he is a con man, manipulating you and pulling it off without stopping him. Don’t believe for a minute he doesn’t know what he is doing. Yes he does. It is calculated abuse to support his delusional perspective of reality he created.

      Now, you live in the real world, not his. So what do you want to do in truth and reality? His crazy world isn’t for you.

      • Don’t fit the norm on July 14, 2019 at 6:39 pm

        I know you want to be helpful. But this isn’t. Yes, I understand what you are saying. Yes, I’ve read tons about abusive behaviors and wrestled in my thoughts and prayers for over a year about this.

        I forgot to add an important component in my attempt to the keep my comment brief- a mental disability. He knows he has it. He doesn’t understand that he needs to learn to cope with it. He has let me be the one to cope with it.

        Not every person who does these behaviors is malicious and calculating abuse.

        • Don’t fit the norm on July 14, 2019 at 6:52 pm

          I would also like to add that I was abusive towards my kids years ago. I parented them how I was parented. I was verbally and emotionally abusive through harsh discipline, name calling, shaming words, anger, fits of rage, etc. I was definitely an abusive person. I hated how I acted when I was angry but I honestly believed that I had no choice. I wasn’t the same person in public as I was at home. I fit the destructive person well.

          But I wasn’t calculating how to abuse them. I had excused my behavior in my mind. I had decided that I couldn’t get any better. I had believed lies about what made good parenting. I was grossly immature. But I was never calculating how to get by with controlling their lives or how to abuse them and get away with it.

          I firmly believe that there are calculating abusive and destructive people in this world. And I firmly believe that I have been abused by a couple of them. I also believe there are people that are destructive and abusive because they are foolish and immature and they need to grow up and process their pain and learn how to be an adult.

          Thankfully, God challenged me and brought me to my knees and grew me up. Through individual counseling and counseling with my children, our relationships are repaired. I’m no longer abusive. I learned a new way to live.

          I would love to see this happen in my husband’s life as well. But I know he has to choose it.

          • Nancy on July 15, 2019 at 6:42 am

            Hi Don’t fit the norm,

            Yes, the Bible differentiates between someone who is a fool and someone who is evil.

            There will be a big difference – as boundaries are set, and requirements are made – in how a fool responds verses how an evil person responds.

            There are both types of people represented here on this blog. My h was a fool.

            If you don’t think you are in danger then you can implement Leslie’s suggestions without fear of physical harm.. But of course, there will be plenty of other fears to face as you respond to Jesus.

            Go back one post and read through. We had a whole discussion about ceasing to educate him on how to be a husband.

            If you hang around here you’ll read lots of tactics on dealing with covert abuse.

            It IS crazy making but the good news is that Jesus comes to free the captives – He will lead you in guarding your heart against the crazy making.

          • Nancy on July 15, 2019 at 7:15 am

            Also on what ‘sea lioning’ is – an ‘excellent’ covert tactic.

  7. Free on July 12, 2019 at 6:58 am

    I think Leslie nailed it with items 1 thru 6. The only thing I would add is to tell one or two trusted people the truth. Even the strongest person can be brain washed and manipulated by their abuser. A person outside of the relationship can be a much needed reality check.

    I found that even something I said in passing would put a look of shock or fear in my trusted person’s face. I would think, “I didn’t even get to the rough stuff yet.” They meanwhile, saw the big picture and could quickly identify the seriousness of my situation.

    So my answer of how to create consequences includes telling people. Tell family, friends and loved ones. Reach out to your neighbors for support and most importantly not only call the police but, press charges! Don’t violate the protective order if you have one. Let the legal system come down hard and heavy. For many that is their only hope of coming out of denial and seeking help.

    • Annie on July 12, 2019 at 12:40 pm

      Once I started sharing with safe people it has been very affirming to have them nod in agreement when I explain how I tried to deal with issues in our marriage and also shake their head or laugh when I repeated his responses. There is something very revealing about saying things out loud instead of churning them over and over in your head.

      Should have done it a long time ago rather then ‘ protecting his reputation’ and trying to appear to have a perfect marriage aka ‘protecting my reputation.

    • lisilou on July 12, 2019 at 8:18 pm

      Agree that talking to others is very helpful and is also a consequence. I did not realize how bad things were until I started being honest about what was happening and sharing with safe people. Even now, years later, things come up and it is revealing that these people who confronted him are “toxic” to him so he cannot be around them. If he is unwilling to face the people who cared for me when he was behaving his worst, I feel that still makes him unsafe. It would show restitution if he were willing to admit that he had been belligerent and difficult with those who were trying to help. Instead, he saw it as an unjust attack of him and his character. That entitlement mentality is a beast.

      • Autumn on July 14, 2019 at 5:03 pm

        It seems he just changed to a different form of abuse. Repentance looks very different. Are you happy with his new abusive ways?

  8. Ann on July 12, 2019 at 12:06 pm

    Discernment is key.
    Yes, if he has roots and behavior and growth in his life to take responsibility for he needs to do that and he is the only one who can.
    I have a friend whose husband needs to take responsibility for those things in his life (past porn, issues from his home growing up, some type of affair, current question). I get that. I see her own lack of responsibility in living as though she is not needing to grow or address anything in herself in life. This is a lack of responsibility in her own life unrelated to him (lack of humility and openness to growth and unwilling to look at her own roots).
    My growth happened when the pain got deep enough that I knew I could not continue as things were and I began to heal in my heart from not only what had been happening in the marriage but the deeper roots in me that were tied in with my lack of boundaries and self respect. I began to realize what I COULD do whether he changed or not and I found more and more options the stronger I got. It has been in one sense a slow process but also a good one. I am in a much better place.

    In the past early on or before my growth point, I noticed my sister in law saying once about her husband or someone ‘he wouldn’t get away with that’ and I sadly thought: “how does that even work?”
    I saw her hold up her hand once and say “talk to the hand” and I have used that one. (she has a good marriage by the way).
    The first thing I began doing during yet another crisis: THE crisis that changed everything for me, was I STOPPED. I stopped taking responsibility for my husband’s frustration. I had stepped in between him and the kids and had been speaking for him (because of his words and attitude) and buffering for him. I began to stop that. In the long run I could see the truth is the truth and it is better to let it be. If he’s being a jerk, then, voila, let it be clear so we can all walk in truth. Anything else muddles things, gets me in the middle, and then I became part of the problem because of my faulty help.
    The first boundary I set was that I would no longer listen to negative words about our son. I told him I would leave the room pleasantly and come back quietly and we could then discuss solutions or talk about something else. How FREEing for me. Yes, I wish I would have realized it years earlier. He basically stopped – not at a heart level but outloud. I had been letting him dump garbage into my yard for years and I didn’t need to. I could not stop him but I could stop me.
    It has been a process.
    I learned to speak up: “I don’t want you to throw my things away. You’ve broken trust with me in that area. I do not trust you.” (He stopped. I watched for real results over time and trust regrew to a good level in that area. Did realization on his part grow at a heart level – no. I am walking in reality of that.). This week I saw an item in the garbage and because of restored trust chose NOT to ask him about it before the garbage went out; I chose to trust him. I asked him later and he said it was a broken item and I had felt it probably was. I do also know he went through the freezer to throw out items while I was away the other week so I know things with him are honestly limited as well.
    In the last year my husband made yet another decision where he ‘moved on’ from a job. This is a pattern. This time I maintained a kind heart and did give a wise input as usual BUT I also stayed back and let the plates fall and did not seek to stop them. The reality is this is who he is and that is the truth and truth is good. He has to make his choice.
    He looked at a job possibility last fall and I spoke up directly and opposed it because he has not taken responsibility for growth in his life and it would have hurt the organization. I am honest with him in saying why.
    He looked at a job position in January and I said no because of the timing since we are in a season of my seriously speaking up right now (see below).
    I am aware that my husband is not living in a way that is responsible for his roots, for the impact of his behaviors, or for his growth. This is the truth. I would say he is trying to make me happier and control himself more. Notice “make me happier” – yes, he is still putting it on me and not truly looking at himself.
    Things are much milder and I am in a season of speaking up and insisting on being heard…I sensed the Lord lead me into a counselling situation last year and every week I am pleased.
    I have learned to weather storms.
    There is a major choice he made the other year that needs to be addressed and I confess that though I am much stronger and clearer and have grown a lot I feel intimidated by that one yet know I will need to address it to have a clear heart. Since I have been clear with him, this one involves going to a board to make my statement and is a harder bridge to cross for me yet. I feel stuck on timing and how. I’ve learned that keeping it simple is usually best. I need to get over the hump on this one, God help me.
    I don’t know if writing this out will help anyone else; this is just an overview of my process.

    • JoAnn on July 15, 2019 at 2:38 pm

      Thank you for writing all that out, Ann. Your relationship is still difficult, but you are growing in grace and wisdom, and the Lord is clearly guiding you on this journey. Your husband is no doubt benefitting more that he realizes. I appreciate that all that you have learned along the way is a benefit to all of us. Thank you for offering your experience to us.

  9. Ann on July 12, 2019 at 9:05 pm

    What do you do when your spouse is not only angered by your consequences and boundaries but actually tries to retaliate by using them against you? For example, my husband has proven himself to be unsafe with the kids (emotionally and occasionally physically). I don’t feel comfortable leaving them alone with him for any extended period of time. The kids (6 & 9) have also expressed that they don’t feel safe being with him without me present. This only makes him angry and he accuses me of creating a false narrative and convincing myself that it’s true. My family lives several hours away and occasionally the kids and I will travel during the work week for a visit (we homeschool). Last weekend, he told me that I was no longer allowed to travel alone with the kids unless he could also take them on trips without me. He said this was now a “boundary” for him and he was asking me not to cross it. He says if I want him to respect my boundaries, then I need to respect his. I realize this is just a terribly manipulative attempt to keep me under his control. Trips to see my family are a life-giving escape from the dysfunction in our home right now and I’m just not sure what to do next.

    • Autumn on July 14, 2019 at 5:09 pm

      Ann, what do you do? Leave the man. He is a danger to you and your children. Get your affairs in order, make a plan and flee. If you up the consequences he may get physically dangerous. Your kids deserve a safe home to grow up in.

    • Free on July 14, 2019 at 5:13 pm

      What to do next? See a lawyer, your local domestic abuse center, report his comments about him restricting your activities to child protective services. Start finding safe people to give you shelter. Gather records. Stash some cash. Make safety bags overnight backs. You will need support to leave these kind of abusers. Organize your team and leave once.

      Boundaries are just going to get you killed. I would switch to compliance until you can get a plan and a team in place. You must leave this man!

    • Ann on July 14, 2019 at 6:00 pm

      Autumn and Free – Thank you. Yes, it’s become clear that leaving is necessary and I’m in the midst of preparing and working towards that. I’ve got excellent support from my family as well as several professional counselors. Reading Leslie’s book about 8 months ago was eye-opening. I’ve since been seeing a therapist weekly, working on my boundaries and prioritizing keeping my kids and myself well. His abuse is covert, manipulative and narcissistic in nature. He’s never hurt me, physically. I’d been so hopeful that things would improve and that he would chose to learn and grow. Sadly, it seems he’s not capable of that. And that’s heartbreaking.

      • Autumn on July 14, 2019 at 6:13 pm

        I am so thankful that you have a team supporting you. The road ahead will require extreme bravery on your part. Once you leave, you will get so much stronger. A heavy fog will lift from your brain and you will feel the spirit holding you tight and filling you with peace.

        Christ came to set us free. (Galatians 5:1)

        • Libbie on July 15, 2019 at 4:51 pm

          Autumn, I’m having trouble getting the “fog” to lift. I moved out from my husband in February of this year, and still find myself being controlled by him, excusing his behavior, feeling sorry for him, etc. I still keep in close contact with him because of a small child we have together, so maybe that is why. He still talks of reconciliation and hoping for a chance to show me that he has changed and can treat me better. I don’t have the nerve to say that I may not see things that way. I still feel so confused.

          • Sheep on July 15, 2019 at 5:49 pm

            It can take a while for the fog to clear, especially when you are still in close contact with him. You said this is because you have a small child together. I understand what that is like. I still have 6 children at home. My wife chose to move out a year ago rather than deal with her infidelity and abusive nature. We are now almost divorced. Obviously we have to be in contact because of the kids, but I try to limit that as much as possible. I would encourage you to put as much distance between you and him as you can. You can tell him that you only plan on discussing things with him that have to do with your child. The rest of life is off limits. You really need some distance to help the fog clear.

            It also might help if you tell him that communications all need to be in written form. There are a couple of reasons for this.
            1. It is more difficult to make someone feel sorry for you when you are writing something down. The can’t see or hear what your reactions are, so they can’t change their argument mid talk to adjust to your reactions.
            2. It just takes longer to write things and it will be more work for him just to communicate. If he is lazy, it might limit that communication.
            3. If he wants to reconcile, he can put it in writing. He can pour out his feelings to you and he can also say what his concrete steps are going to be to SHOW that he is a changed man. If he is serious, he can do this without any encouragement or coaching from you. If he is truly repentant, he should be willing to do this just because it is the right thing to do, not because there might be a chance of getting you back. He can do things to SHOW you he has changed without you letting him know that. Once again, he should be doing those things because they are the right thing to do.
            4. When things are in writing, obviously there is a written record if you need it in the future.
            5. I have found that it is really helpful to later, go back over what an emotional abuser says, line by line. When it is written down, you can take apart what they have said and analyze each sentence. I have found this to be very telling about what they are actually saying and it makes it much easier to spot manipulation. When you can dispassionately look at what they are really saying, it is very helpful in recognizing the manipulation.

            My wife still pretends like everything is fine. When dropping off the kids or when we have to be together, she wants to chat and to listen to her you would think that nothing ever happened. If I were to participate in that “conversation” it would be even worse. So, I use the grey rock technique. Simply this, when I am around her I make myself as interesting as a grey rock. I respond only enough to be polite, and I don’t volunteer information or conversation about myself or my life. I don’t as her questions about hers.

            I understand how hard it can be when they pour on the charm or they act like everything is fine. I also really understand what it is like to have my thoughts on reconciliation change. I prayed, hoped, cried, and begged for reconciliation for what seemed like an eternity. Then I found EDM and instantly realized that it was ME that was being abused. Even with that it still took a long time to get to the point of setting the boundary that I would not settle for less than a full commitment to fidelity and an end to the abuse. In the end she said that nobody can promise to be faithful, and that she is not an abuser. So she chose to move out instead. At this point we are weeks away from our divorce being final, and frankly I don’t want to reconcile anymore. I have found freedom and peace for the first time in a long time. Would I still be willing to reconcile? Probably, but that would be a really long journey for her to take on. She would have to show total repentance, accept full responsibility, be accountable in every area of her life. She would have to figure out how to tell and show me that she has changed and that it is now God that is in control of her life and not her. And she would have to do all of this with little to no encouragement or coaching from me. I know I have told her plenty of times what she would have to do for reconciliation to take place. I don’t feel the need to repeat myself anymore.

          • Nancy on July 16, 2019 at 7:55 am

            HI Sheep,

            When she drops the kids off (or you pick them up) and she begins ‘small talk’ why not simply say, “sorry [ insert name] I can no longer pretend” and walk into the house.

            This way, you are taking control of your time and energy, instead of quietly being a ‘grey rock’. Plus, this might be helpful for your kids to see her behaviour consistently called out….

            Just an idea.

          • Sheep on July 16, 2019 at 8:54 am

            Hi Nancy, actually, I’m planning on doing something like that once the divorce is final. I am just one of those people that take my vows and commitments very seriously. I feel like I can’t go quite that far yet because we are still married (even if it is only on paper). Please note that I don’t necessarily recommend this for others in abusive situations, I just feel like it is “right” for me at this time. I’m not in danger physically or emotionally anymore and at this point it is more of an annoyance than anything. It also make me see how truly lonely and desperate a narc can be when their supply is taken away and they don’t know how to have friends because they can’t be a friend and they can’t bond emotionally with anyone.

            It’s sad, really

    • JoAnn on July 15, 2019 at 3:17 pm

      Ann, There’s big difference between your boundary and his: yours is for protection, and his is retaliation. He probably isn’t going to understand this, but for your own peace of mind, it’s important for you to be able to maintain your position. You have worked so hard to recover this marriage, and I grieve for you that it has come to this. As you have encouraged so many others, may the Lord be your guide and encouragement as you take your next steps.

  10. Robin on July 15, 2019 at 12:26 am

    How can I implement consequences when my husband is abusive? I’ve been divorced almost 5 years. After I read Leslie’s books I was determined to be strong and stand up to him.
    Every boundary I set caused more intense anger and control. After I left the home I felt guilty for awhile wondering had I been loving and kind enough? After this 5 yrs of counseling I’ve been working hard at- sadly but true I realize it’s really not safe to have consequences with some abusive men. Everyone that knew me, was afraid that something was going to happen to me and rightly so. Perhaps if I had started boundaries earlier in the relationship it might have worked. But he was used to having so much control, I was not able to be successful in setting a consequence . My counselor finally told me she wouldn’t counsel me if I got back in the car with me; as that’s where he did alit if his dirty hidden work where nobody but me saw it.
    I definitely don’t feel guilty at all today. He made a choice to not accept any help, and I moved out until the judge had him removed and I moved back into my house. Some men definitely need the hard line. My only regret was I didn’t do it sooner.

    • Free on July 15, 2019 at 6:21 am

      Robin, I couldn’t agree more. The big distinction for me terare thems Leslie developed to compare relationships as difficult or destructive. I see consequences as applicable for difficult marriages. However, for destructive marriages all efforts should be focused on a well orchestrated out escape plan.

      The process of leaving can not be a back and forth ping pong, kinda leaving, kinda separating emotional thing. Because each time you come back and forth it just emboldens the abuser. The returning victim thinks they are reconciling and the abuser feels more invincible! They up there strategies and the abuse gets worse, either more overt or it morphs into a new form.

      The sooner one gets out of the relationship the better. It takes a team of people, legal support, the power of the holy spirit and more bravery than you might think you are capable of exhibiting. It will be painful, but never as painful as staying in a relationship with a person who is sinning so severely against our God by mistreating you. Staying in such a situation gives Satan rule in a grandiose mockery of God’s precious design for marriage.

      • Nancy on July 15, 2019 at 7:12 am


        My marriage was destructive, not difficult. Applying consequences ( and requirements) was exactly the way to go.

        Physical danger cannot be the only criteria for destruction.

        Just because a person does not cross physical boundaries does not mean their words and actions are not destructive to their spouse’s Personhood.

        Covert abuse is absolutely incideous.

        A fool will wreak havoc with the minds and hearts of those close by. That is destructive – to all elements of a person except to the body. And that just adds to the confusion and destruction.

        They tell themselves that it’s not so bad because they are not in physical danger, or being called names. Meanwhile, they are losing their minds.

        I wonder how many suicides could be a result of such abuse?

        • Free on July 15, 2019 at 8:01 am

          I agree to flee both covert and overt abuse. The best consequence is your removal from the relationship and its affects upon you. Yes, we can psychologically protect ourselves through detachment and boundaries. But only the abuser can stop the abuse.

          I don’t differentiate between covert and overt, physical or emotional abuse. Who started that differentiation? Abuse, in all its forms is terrible,wrong, and damaging to our body, mind and soul. It can not be tolerated. Having said that, working around and through the problem of being in partnership with an abusive person takes time, wisdom, money and often professional counseling.

          • JoAnn on July 15, 2019 at 3:31 pm

            Free and Nancy, there’s a point to be made here, and that is whether the marriage is destructive or difficult isn’t really the main criteria for whether to go or stay. Nancy has stayed and her marriage is recovering. The real issue is what is the Lord telling you to do? Some here have felt the Lord telling them to stay for a while, then eventually got clear to leave. Others needed to leave right away, and some have been able to stay well. We all have different situations and we must move forward in the power and strength of the Lord, trusting His loving care for us. I see that the really crucial point is to develop a deep and trusting relationship with the Lord, allowing Him to guide the way to move forward, and when we trust Him, He moves mountains to take care of the wounded ones.

          • Nancy on July 16, 2019 at 8:23 am

            HI Free and Joann,

            Maybe I misunderstood you Free, when you said that you see consequences as applicable to difficult marriages and that for destructive ones, all efforts should be made to leave.

            That was the sentence I was responding to because it is completely contrary to my experience.

            I guess I should have asked a question instead of making an assumption. So, what do you think about a situation ( like mine) where boundaries and consequences were applied, and the abusive person then responded to The Lord? I have assumed by your statement above that you would conclude that this was not a destructive, but a difficult marriage… Did I conclude that correctly?

            I agree JoAnn, the most important thing is to lean into The Lord, educate ourselves, connect with ‘wise others’ and walk with Jesus.

  11. Ann on July 15, 2019 at 6:41 pm

    Wow, again! Don’t Fit The Norm and the other Ann (above), described even more of my story! When I tell people, they too get that shocked look. I wonder what is it that I am really living?. I go through extreme guilt and feel like I must have lied after each exposure but know I have only told a small part! Reading other’s stories on here and finding they are quoting my life word for word at times is helping me realize I am not the crazy one or delusional and making this stuff up! Thank you everyone.

    • Autumn on July 15, 2019 at 7:55 pm

      I think the irony is she does for the norm. Abusers are open pathological, meaning their behaviors repeat and are predictable. So her abuser is very typical and normal within the parameters of defining abuse.

      • Autumn on July 15, 2019 at 7:56 pm

        Fit the norm

    • Ann on July 17, 2019 at 12:48 pm

      Yes Ann, I noticed there was another Ann! :)!

      • JoAnn on July 17, 2019 at 11:42 pm

        Two Anns…Maybe one of you could add an initial, or some other way to distinguish yourself. That would help the rest of us.

  12. Free on July 15, 2019 at 7:21 pm

    JoAnn I respectfully disagree with you. I think the “let God lead me” answer keeps a lot of Christian women in bondage. There is nothing Christ like about abuse. It has no place in marriage. We all know that. Chrisrianese rationalizing is my so many Christian women stay in abusive relationships. The use fantasy thinking and call it spiritual. Dreaming and praying for change, healing, and transformation can lead one down the trail of deep denial.

    I think ensuring abuse is illogical. I know I only endured it because I took a vow before God, promised to obey and submit to my husband’s authority. I promised to stay through sickness and health. I got sickness and lots of it! It was my legalistic spiritual beliefs that kept me bound to dangerous and evil fool.

    So, I think we need to omit spiritual disclaimers about led to stay and realize God doesn’t want any of us to be abused. Staying is our choice. God will never direct us to be harmed. I agree that a when and how needs to be determined and that God reaches out to us during our victimization.. However, I don’t believe for a minute that we live in the fullness Christ intended when we allow ourselves to be mistreated.

    • JoAnn on July 15, 2019 at 11:40 pm

      Free, I don’t disagree with anything you said; however, I do think it is a mistake to categorically encourage everyone who is in an abusive marriage that she (or he) has to leave asap. The goal here is to support and encourage one another, and as I’m sure you know, for a person to get to the point of being able to make that decision is hard and takes time. Learning to lean on the Lord, and seeking guidance from people who are qualified to help are an important part of this process. Yes, our message is that no one deserves to be abused, and that God doesn’t want a person to remain in an abusive relationship, but how the victim gets to the place of being able to take that stand is going to be different for everyone. Having a genuine relationship with the Lord is so very important as part of this process, which is different from listening to well-meaning Christians who don’t have a clue what they are talking about.

      • Free on July 16, 2019 at 3:53 am

        JoAnn, I agree with you too. Don’t you think most of the people on this site are already close to the Lord? I think most who find and follow Leslie’s teachings already agree with her worldview, I don’t know that they need to be encouraged to be more spiritual. In fact, I think it is their spirituality that has sustained them so far.

        I think they need affirmation that it is ok to not submit to abuse. It is well documented that Christian women stay in relationships with abusive partners longer than any other demographic of people. I find this concerning.

        • Nancy on July 16, 2019 at 9:36 am

          HI JoAnn and Free,

          I think that it’s important to use proper terminology. Walking closely with the Lord is vastly different than using spiritual language to minimize, justify and deny. Jesus takes no part in the latter.

          But in the former, He moves mountains.

          I don’t think everyone on this site is ‘close to The Lord’…I say that because I wasn’t when I first came here. I believed in Christ but was not obedient to Him. (I’m assuming JoAnn that what you mean by being ‘close to Him’ is synonymous with responding to Him).

          Obedience is about responding to Him. That is vastly different than having head knowledge of God, or even knowing Jesus as Saviour.

          For me this journey was about responding to Jesus as The Lord of my life, not just my Saviour.

          • JoAnn on July 17, 2019 at 11:57 pm

            Nancy, you are right. So many people have a relationship with the Lord that is ….can I say? shallow, or as you said, they know Him only as Savior. He calls us to a much deeper relationship with Him, one of dependance and obedience and trust, and that is mainly reached through trials and learning to know Him through those trials, which is the message in Peter’s epistles. When we pass through the fiery trials, the only things that get burned are the ropes that bound us. (See Daniel, chapter 3) It is sad that so often the voices of well-meaning Christians speak so loud that it is hard to hear the still small voice of the Lord. We need to learn to tune in to His voice.

      • Robin on July 16, 2019 at 2:02 pm

        I also appreciate hearing both Free and Joanne’s comments. I have been listening to Free for several years and appreciate her wisdom, experiences, and knowledge of abusive men. I appreciate very much her strong stand on understanding their true motives and how the family will pay for their constant destruction. But I also think Joanne had a way of giving some balance. It definitely is a process to get to the place as Free stated — knowing this is NOT the abundant life God has for me.

        • Free on July 16, 2019 at 4:45 pm

          I admit to be blunt and rough around the edges at times. Years of abuse has caused me to have something called economy of language. In other words, get straight to the point because you never know when you will be allowed to speak (breathe, eat, sleep) again. Every word becomes vital and I don’t do fluff well. Having said that I appreciate all our contributions and styles. I enjoy reading and thinking about what the group explores.

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

            Hi Free,

            I think your ability to be direct and succinct is a blessing.

            What can sometimes ‘get me’ is a categorical statement, like I hi lighted to you in my July 16, 8:23am post on this thread.

            I made an attempt to communicate with you further about it by asking you a question, but you have chosen not to engage.

            That’s entirely your choice of course.

  13. ben on July 16, 2019 at 2:44 am

    Wow! Great article as always.

  14. R on July 16, 2019 at 10:07 pm

    For the first time, I have put up a clear boundary. I’m afraid it’s something that won’t sit well with the church elders if I have to enforce the boundary. I’m scared because I can’t imagine losing my church, but I also can’t imagine continuing to bow to his every self-serving desire. The boundary involves standing up for my kids’ interests, something he has never done.

    I should say he’s not overtly abusive and possibly has a mental disorder. He is very very selfish and not concerned with others’ welfare unless it affects his own.

    • Aly on July 17, 2019 at 6:29 am

      I’m sorry for you about the fear you have about losing your church.
      If you do lose your church because you chose to give a healthy and loving boundary in your marriage dynamic, then maybe it’s not ‘your church’ after all or where you need to be concerned with the loss?
      You speak of a general boundary so I don’t have much information.
      Sometimes the things we fear the most is important to examine because maybe it’s out of proportion or not in its proper place to where God wants us growing and learning.

    • Moon Beam on July 17, 2019 at 6:52 am

      R, have you done any Google searches about Narcissistic traits and personalities?

  15. Ann on July 18, 2019 at 11:21 am

    Sorry for the confusion. My “Ann” has the gravatar picture, blonde with denim jacket on the rest of my comments. On this blog post I goofed up when I commented
    and without thinking used a different email address without the gravatar. Sorry!

  16. Beck on September 23, 2019 at 12:53 pm

    Thank you Leslie for your response and for this topic. I have a situation where I got a legal annulment in PA because husband would not consummate marriage and romantically rejected and neglected me immediately following wedding. I saved myself for my husband thinking we would have a wonderful Song of Solomon marriage the way the Lord intended. Immediately following the ceremony, he said he had a mental block and did/does not know why…even to this day. After 3 years, I felt so used and betrayed and devastated from the rejection. I felt like his mom/caregiver and housemate instead of his wife. I could not pretend any longer no could I allow him to reject me any longer. He would not even kiss after wedding. Annulment was just final in April. I am soooo broken hearted and devastated. He doe not show empathy or understanding of what he has done.

    My question is: Would you count this very rare situation as a form of abuse? Is neglect a form of abuse? If not, it sure feels like it. I was out of my mind the entire time with disbelief, anger, hurt, and despair. I thought he had anxiety and that his health was the reason too, but clinical psychologist says he is just not interested and that he was not honest about his aversions prior to wedding. I am sooo ill from rejection and feel like a troll and that my life has completely burned down. I did not want to get an annulment….but I COULD NOT let him pretend that he is a godly husband to the world, nor allow him to ignore me, shun me, and not cherish breaking his promises to me. I wanted to be a mom and he would not even attempt Step 1. Is this considered emotional abuse?

    • Leslie Vernick on September 23, 2019 at 5:24 pm

      Yes what you have experienced is emotional abuse – both the deceit and the indifference. You were right to get your marriage annulled so that you could move on and stop pretending or enabling his pretense.

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