How Do I Do The E Step In CORE And Still Have Boundaries?

Morning friends,

We did it. This past weekend we had an amazing virtual conference with over 600 women from all over the world, GROW STRONG TOGETHER. Usually, I do conferences in person but this crazy year it was just not wise nor possible. But with the technology available, we were able to connect, dance, cry, share, and learn more about God and one another. Thanks for your prayers.

Today's Question: I am stuck on the last step of your CORE Strength model. My husband is emotionally abusive. Does not allow me to be sick or help me get through it by going to get medicine when I am vomiting from a reaction to a new medicine. 

We are farmers. My body has been broken a few times while working on the farm but it is harvest time and he will not listen to my doctors telling me not to be part of the harvest. He is demanding I help. 

How do I be empathic and not allow him to continue to abuse me? When I am empathic, I understand he needs help and has none and thus I allow him to abuse. Can you give me some help?

Answer: The E step of CORE states, “I will be Empathic and Compassionate without ENABLING destructive behavior to continue.” This is one of the hardest concepts both to grasp and to implement for kind and caring Christian women.  

These are the three biggest mistakes I see victims in destructive relationships make.  

1. Minimize the emotional abuse and not do their own work to have boundaries or implement consequences on destructive/abusive behavior which only keeps the destructive dance going.

2. Get furious at the emotional abuse (rightly so) and then use their anger as a weapon to retaliate. This changes the destructive dance but makes the destructive pattern much harder to identify. To outsiders, it starts to look like you’re the abusive one, especially if he’s more covert. Or they label it mutual abuse.

3. Recognize that they are being abused, but their compassion fools them into believing that they still have to take responsibility to fix someone else’s problem, thus negating their own boundaries and well-being.  

From your short question, I don’t know where you are in this process of waking up and doing your own work but it looks to me that you get snagged on mistake #3.

Let me explain. The R step of CORE Strength helps us with this. The R step states, “I will take RESPONSIBILITY for myself and be respectful towards others without dishonoring myself.” 

You have recognized that your body is not capable of doing farming work any longer. Your doctors have told you not to help with harvesting because of this. Your husband says he NEEDS your help regardless of whether or not your body will be harmed. Your compassion for his problem (harvesting the crops), is causing you to feel RESPONSIBLE to fix HIS PROBLEM by casting aside your own boundaries and dishonoring yourself. 

Let me unpack this a bit more. You have set a boundary for yourself on your doctor’s advice. “I can no longer help with the harvest.” This boundary creates a problem for your farmer husband during harvest time. He needs help.  He can’t do this work all by himself. Thus he pressures you to cast aside your own boundary and care more about his needs than yours. He apparently does not have empathy or compassion for you or your illness. Only his needs matter.

In real life, there are times we put aside our own needs to meet someone else’s urgent needs. We might forsake sleep in order to care for our newborn who is crying. We might sit at our parent’s bedside while they are dying, neglecting to exercise, or eat properly during this crisis. We might skip going out with friends when we see our child needs help with homework or family laundry really needs to be done by tomorrow. We care and love, and that involves sacrifice at times. That is a normal part of family and relationship life.

However, we must also count the cost of this sacrifice to see if it’s a necessary and/or a worthy sacrifice. Jesus tells us “Greater love has no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend” (John 15:13). Jesus laid down his life for our good, our salvation. He didn’t just let his life be taken for no good reason. Click To Tweet

Sometimes in our compassion or wrong Christian teaching, we have laid down our life for foolish reasons and the Bible warns us against doing that. For example, Proverbs 6 tells us not to sacrifice ourselves financially in order to co-sign on a loan for someone who asks. Why not? That sounds like a perfectly Christian thing to do. Yet the Bible strongly says that kind of sacrifice only enables the irresponsible person to continue their pattern of irresponsibility and dependence. That is not only harmful to you, it’s harmful for him or her.   

In the New Testament, Jesus tells a story of 10 bridesmaids who all went out to meet the bridegroom but only half of them brought enough oil and allowed the ones who did not have enough, to experience the consequences of not being responsible for themselves.  

When five of the girls ran out of oil, they asked their other five sisters to share. What’s a good Christian girl to do? We assume it’s to share. In the Biblical story, they did not share. Instead, they told their five sisters whose oil lights were getting dim, “Go into town and get your own oil. If we give you ours, we won’t have enough for our own needs.” Sounds selfish to our good Christian girl ears. Yet Jesus did not scold these five girls, he commended them for taking responsibility for themselves by having enough oil.  

Your husband has a problem. He can’t do all the farm work on his own. He knows this. You know this. Yet he does not plan for the harvest. He does not seek a hired hand or another friend to help him. He’s used to depending on you and he’s used to you giving in to his “need” and sacrificing yourself. I know you wish he cared more about you but from the little you wrote, he doesn’t have empathy or compassion for you as a person. You are a worker bee to help him do what he needs to get done.

Let me ask you a question? Who is responsible to meet his need for harvest help, you, or him? Let me help you slice through the confusion here. He is responsible to meet his need for help, and you are responsible to meet your need for the safety of your body, mind, and spirit. That’s the R step of CORE and it helps clarify ownership and who is responsible for what.    

Now let’s move on to the E step. You have empathy that he has a need for help. He can’t harvest the land all by himself. But you are not his only option for help. If you died suddenly or were in a car accident guess what? He’d figure out how to harvest his fields without you. He’d ask a fellow farmer or a buddy for help, hire someone, or realize that he can no longer farm as a living.  

When you are coerced or manipulated to step in to help during harvest, you are enabling the pattern of his depending on you to fix his problem. Then your body breaks down and he doesn’t show you the empathy or care you desire. You don’t say whether he’s indifferent, emotionally absent, or cruel. But the result isn’t just in your body, you’re having emotional pain as well.  

Friend, the only person who can change this dance is you. As long as you’re willing to violate your own boundaries and go out into the field, that’s what he’ll expect and demand.

However, you can compassionately with empathy say to him, “Hey harvest time is coming and I know it’s hard work and you can’t do it alone (EMPATHY).  I can’t help you anymore. It’s too hard on my body (YOUR BOUNDARY).  I’d encourage you to start looking for some help so that you won’t be stuck doing all the work by yourself at harvest time this year because I will not be able to do the harvest with you.”   

This is his work to do and if he refuses, then you only enable him if you step in and sacrifice yourself to help. If you need to go to a friend’s house or a hotel during harvest time to stay strong with your boundary, then do it. He needs to know you mean business and will not cave in no matter how helpless he feels or how pressuring he gets.

And….if there truly is no one else in your entire community to hire or help him, then you both have to face the tough reality that farming is not something you can do anymore and decide what your next steps are.

Friends, where have you confused having empathy with taking responsibility to solve or fix someone else’s problem?


  1. homesteading heart on October 28, 2020 at 1:27 pm

    This is great Leslie. I struggle so much with this too. Thank you.

  2. Connie on October 28, 2020 at 8:57 pm

    I get where she is coming from. I’m also a farm wife, and there really is no winning. I had to stop helping because his treatment of me caused my health to go down, and I did stop. Now I get reminded how disappointed he is in me because I’m not much use and cost too much in medical expenses. He now hires a woman to work for him, and they get along real well. 🙂 He decided awhile back that he didn’t need to take a lunch to the field anymore. He just wasn’t that hungry. Turns out she brings him lunch. I don’t say anything because then he’ll just find another lady fix. I know that to him I represent mommy and responsibility. She represents freedom and excitement. The grass on the other side when you don’t feel like tending your own lawn, you know? If I think I can do something about it, then there would be two of us living in fantasy land, right? Smile, nod, and ask God what I should do next. He’s God’s kid and I’m so done with trying to fix him.

    • Nancy on October 31, 2020 at 2:52 pm

      Oh ouch Connie 🙁

      It’s gotta hurt to watch that everyday.

      You asked ‘if I think I can do something about it, then there would be two of us living in fantasy land, right?’

      No, I don’t think that’s right. You absolutely can do something about it. Be committed to truth (it hurts to watch one’s husband have an emotional affair), be open to the Holy Spirit on how to respond to that in truth, take responsibility for the care of your heart, and be empathetic to his foolishness without enabling his bad behaviour.

      I’m glad to hear that you’re done trying to fix him. This can be a major turning point for you.

  3. JoAnn on October 29, 2020 at 10:44 am

    Leslie, to answer your question, “where have you confused having empathy with taking responsibility to solve or fix someone else’s problem?” Because I serve as a counselor for my church, I often deal with some pretty difficult situations. I had to learn to not carry people’s problems around with me, nor to believe that I was supposed to “fix” them. I like that you told the poster that getting help is her husband’s responsibility. In many situations, people know what they need to do, they just need someone to empower them to do it. But I learned to see myself as a facilitator, not as fixer. Setting a boundary between what is my responsibility and what belongs to the other person is a skill to be learned.

  4. Nancy on October 31, 2020 at 8:42 am

    God’s timing is amazing. For the past couple of weeks The Lord has been talking to me about ‘Bob and Nancy’s’ story (ironically!) n the Boundaries book. It’s around page 160. Bob comes into the therapist grumbling about how much he ‘has to do’ around the house on the week ends. The therapist challenges that Bob is choosing to do it. Bob replies, if I don’t she will be angry. So what? the therapist replies, that is her anger, she is responsible for it. Yes, says Bob, but I have to live with it. No you don’t, replies the therapist, you can remove yourself.

    Here’s the part that got my attention. Bob wanted Nancy to WANT LESS instead of having to take responsibility his own boundaries.

    Here’s the kicker. Like Leslie says, getting the help is your husband’s need. He is responsible for his own needs. We are each responsible for our needs.

    The way Bob is advised is this:
    Tell her what you are willing to do and then let her know that the rest is up to her. Bob was advised to say.

    « I can give you a certain amount of time and you are free to be as creative as you like in getting the rest done. You can hire someone, you can learn to do it yourself, or you can decrease your desire to have it all done. I will give as I CHOOSE, the rest is up to you. »

    When we meet someone else’s need, it is a GIFT that we give OUT OF FREEDOM.

    Do not give out of compulsion says Paul, for God loves a cheerful giver.

    To the writer of the question. It’s a lot easier to wish that someone else would change than to take responsibility for our own property. Focus on your own property and take responsibility for yourself. If you can give cheerfully by making him a nice lunch, on Mondays, then do that. Figure out what you can give out of the abundance of your heart, and give no more than that. Stand firm in your limitations. That is what honours God.

  5. Mandie on December 2, 2020 at 4:03 pm

    Thanks, Leslie. This is just what I needed today. It gives me a lot to think about so since I’m the middle of reading this article, I just got an earful about my weight and eating habits. I’ve been feeling the tension buildup since we just visited my family and my husband doesn’t get along very well with some of them and he usually has a blow up at me shortly afterwards. It’s like misplaced stress that causes him to get really controlling of me and the kids. I definitely want to be healthier but I blew out my knee and am recovering from surgery so I feel like I’m doing the best I can right now especially in the midst of an autoimmune flare up. Can’t wait until I get the clearance to be more active again and lose the couple pounds I gained from being more sedentary. What I hate, though, is how he starts going off on me after I tell him how his words hurt. Trying to put that boundary up, but he doesn’t stop saying hurtful things and follows me if I leave the room. Any advice for escaping the rant when it’s not really possible to leave the house with the pandemic?

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