How Do I Stay Distant Without Being Cold Hearted?

Morning friends:

I am so excited to invite you to participate in my next FREE live-streaming seminar on Wednesday, September 17, from 7:30-9PM ET. Maryann Modesti Esquire is an attorney who specializes in family law in Pennsylvania. She and I will be talking about crucial legal issues that people in destructive marriages need to be aware of when they are considering separation or divorce. We will also answer your questions LIVE, so please click here to sign up and mark your calendar.

If you need to build CORE strength, I will also be offering a 2 session CORE FOCUS GROUP during the day, on Mondays, September 8 and 15.   This is the very first time this group has been offered during weekday hours for those of you who do not feel comfortable participating in an evening session.  Please click here if you’d like more information.


Today’s Question:  This is a follow up question from the blog two weeks ago on Four Ways To Create Emotional Distance in a Destructive Relationship.

She asks:  How do you detach or distance without becoming cold or hard-hearted? It seems the more I pull away, the tighter my husband tries to hold on. It is so exhausting, playing this tug of war.

Also, how do I differentiate between acts of kindness that are the shaky beginnings of real change and being fooled by token acts of kindness that are deflections from working on the real issues? My husband has also told me that I don’t ever give him the benefit of the doubt or acknowledge his changes. I try but sometimes I just don’t see it or it doesn’t seem to last. Then it’s my fault because I wouldn’t give him a break. I also really liked the “Stay Well, not bitterly” advice. Very wise and encouraging but can you give me a few more tips on how to do it?

Answer:  First I want to take the pressure off.  Not everyone can stay well and that’s why we must not dictate an identical biblical path of change that every person in a destructive marriage must walk.  As I said in last weeks’ blog, living with a destructive and angry individual can take a huge toll on you physically, mentally, emotionally, relationally and spiritually.

I’ve worked with women who could barely get out of bed due to severe autoimmune disease like fibromyalgia  and when they finally had the opportunity, support, or resources to leave their spouse, their body began to heal.

Sometimes the price is too high to stay, or it is not possible for you or your children to stay well. Your body is breaking down. Your spirit feels depressed or suicidal. You are given no freedom to be separate, to grow, or to thrive on your own.  Perhaps you’re drinking too much or popping pills just to be able to live in the same house with a destructive person. In those situations for your own safety and sanity and that of your children, you may need to consider your other healthy option  – to leave well.

For many people in destructive marriages, how much they can handle and how bad is it are not easily discerned. Therefore most people’s first choice is to try to stay well, but your question is how to do it? You also asked how do you emotionally distance yourself from your spouse without becoming hard-hearted or cold?  That is the essential component of being able to stay well.

Many women do not use their words and body language effectively to communicate clear and consistent boundaries.  They’re uncomfortable using their voice or when they’ve tried, they’re dismissed, mocked, or overruled.  Sometimes when they speak up for themselves they’re told they’re being mean, selfish, or sinful.

When this happens again and again we feel angry and it’s tempting to stop talking, shut down and become resentful and bitter.  Our heart gets cold and hard. We no longer use words, but our body language communicates loud and clear, “Don’t’ mess with me!”

The other problem a woman experiences when she doesn’t express strong negative body language is that often her husband starts to think everything is better between them.  He tries to get affectionate, expects sex, and can’t understand what’s wrong? Why have you pulled away?

Therefore if you want to stay well, AND not get stuck in bitterness and hard heartedness yet you do want to emotionally distance yourself, you will need to practice living from your CORE – so that you are:

– Committed to honesty – no pretending

– Open to the Holy Spirit and wise others to help you grow

– Responsible for yourself and your own responses and respectful towards others without dishonoring yourself

– Empathetic and compassionate (where appropriate) without enabling destructive behavior to continue.

To do that successfully you will need to continue to use your words to communicate why things aren’t better between the two of you.  You will need to use your words when you don’t’ want to engage and why you have emotionally distanced yourself.  I know – this grows tiring because he’s used to ignoring your words or discounting them. It may feel easier just to look angry and get cold and resentful.

To not do that you will need to stay focused on your CORE, no pretending, responsible for yourself, respectful towards others, and empathetic and compassionate without enabling.  Here’s an example of what you might say with your words:

“I understand you are hurt that I don’t want to have sexual relations with you right now. That would be hurtful to anyone who is married (E- Empathetic without enabling). The reason I cannot return to our bedroom is because I feel distant from you. I talk and you don’t hear me. I tell you what hurts me and what bothers me and you don’t care and you don’t stop it. I am a person too.  Why would I want to be with a man who clearly shows he doesn’t care about me?  If I say yes to you, I dishonor myself and end up feeling like an object that is used rather than a wife that is loved.” (No pretending).

You can deliver those words in a neutral voice tone with polite body language. That is emotionally and physically distancing yourself without having to be hard hearted or cold or bitter.

When he approaches you again for something wifely, you can say something similar, “I don’t know how to meet that need of your without pretending and lying to myself and that is something I refuse to do anymore. Nothing has changed in our relationship and I am more than willing to do my part, but I cannot do your part.” 

Boundaries and consequences will show him much more clearly what the problem is between you instead of a cold and hard heart. 

The second part of your question is how do I handle it if he shows acts of kindness? Do I believe that these are small efforts toward real change or manipulative tactics to make me back down and dance to the same old dance?

Most of the time you won’t know for sure.  I would encourage you to give your spouse the benefit of the doubt and reciprocate to the measure of their effort.  So if your spouse brings you flowers, smile and say “thank you.”  That was nice of you to think of me.

Being kind towards him or even grateful he did something wonderful doesn’t mean everything is better or that there are no more problems in your marriage, or you don’t’ have to go to counseling anymore.  It just means you acknowledge that he is making an effort  to think of you and you acknowledge or appreciate that effort.  Only time will tell whether his efforts continue, especially if he expects his beginning efforts to be nicer to make huge differences in your relationship with him.  Flowers, dinner and a movie, or cleaning the toilets are wonderful gestures but they alone don’t heal years of deceit, abuse or infidelity.

In Chapter 11 of my book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, I talk more about how to stay well or leave well.  You may also want to view my short videos Why Consequences Are an Important Wake Up Call for Destructive Spouses and What to Do when There is No Change.

Friends, what have you done to create some safety of emotional distance without  becoming cold and hard hearted? 



  1. Sheila on September 4, 2014 at 12:00 am

    I’m reading your book because I have been touched by your email posts and am also recommending to another friend who I feel will benefit from reading it…most important is that in reading it you find someone who REALLY GETS IT…what you’re going through and how it affects you…EUREKA!

    • Leslie Vernick on September 4, 2014 at 12:31 pm

      Thanks Sheila

  2. Teris on September 4, 2014 at 4:38 am

    This is perfect, Leslie..Thank you!

  3. Liz on September 4, 2014 at 11:32 am

    i have chosen to stay for the time being and I treat my husband politely and basically treat how I did before, but without the intimacy. No matter how sweet he is sometimes, I have learnt that he is not to be trusted. We haven’t discussed the status quo, but he seems to accept it and so therefore I cannot question what he gets up to. It is a strain to live like this, but at least there is surface harmony, most times. i make myself do kind things for him so that i do become cold hearted. It also stops him finding continual fault with me. I wish I had some support from others, but no-one seems to understand what he is really like. My church is happy if i don’t talk about my problems and as long as we stay together!

    • Leslie Vernick on September 4, 2014 at 12:34 pm

      That is so typical. As long as you stay together and look good so that others aren’t uncomfortable, many Christians would rather you pretend and placate than tell the truth. But once you’ve told the truth and they are uninterested in being a witness or a truth teller to your spouse, if you are going to stay well, you need to find a difference source of support.

    • Not Alone on September 4, 2014 at 4:42 pm

      Liz, I think you must be my twin! I could have written your post word for word. What keeps me sane is finding a support group outside of church. I am just finishing up going through “Mending the Soul” with a small group. It has been so helpful. Getting out of the house to walk, playing Christian music, writing notes of encouragement to others, and just pursuing my relationship with the Lord in playing out my life for an audience of One have kept me heading in the right direction. It is truly a moment by moment journey, but knowing “I am His and He is mine” makes it well worth it.

      • Also Not Alone on September 9, 2014 at 11:45 pm

        Amen. Perhaps we’re triplets!

  4. Pam on September 4, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    Leslie, Your advise is so wise and practical especially in the midst of such mind games and confusion. I have read your book and was able to just be honest with my husband, keep healthy boundaries and detach from his emotional abuse. It was very hard! But I was able to do it with the Lord’s help. A much better option than shutting down or acting emotionally crazy myself. After a year of maintaining some sort of distance (and sanity). My husband (now ex) ended the marriage and had an affair at the same time. It was very hard but…I no longer have to live like that! The sad thing is that the church was no help to me. I am so glad there are such wise counselors like you who can help! Thank you and God bless you!

  5. Liz on September 4, 2014 at 5:43 pm

    Thank you, Leslie, you are so right, they know about the porn, unfaithfulness and violence and have not challenged him in any way. I am struggling to find support. When i mentioned briefly to an overseas firend that I felt the lack of support, she said that I must just look to the Lord for strength. I felt just a bad Christain after that commen, but I have not stopped reading and praying everyday. I do look to the Lord and without Him I would probably have been a total mess, but i also need a little human kindness and compassion.

    • Teris on September 5, 2014 at 11:52 pm

      Liz….I’m so sorry that your church won’t support you! We left our church because I knew I wouldn’t be supported there! I never said anything to the leadership, I knew it would be a waste of time because they had the opinion that it’s BOTH of the spouses fault when a marriage is in trouble…I’m at a new church now, and I know that I will be supported if a separation is needed! Take care of yourself…and ignore bad advice from “friends!” My best friend that I’ve known since I was a teen makes excuses for my husband, and then tries to tell me about other women who have it “a lot worse than me!” Helloo…you’re my friend and you can’t support me? You’re trying to minimize my hurt by telling me that I don’t have it so bad? Well…I do NOT need fried ships like that! I prayed for God to send me a friend who would understand how I felt, who would be there for me…and he did! And I’m so thankful to Him! Just keep talking to your Heavenly Father and asking Him to guide you…and find someone that you can confide in…will be praying for you!

  6. amb on September 4, 2014 at 6:49 pm

    The same happened at my church. We actually got kicked out, but no real help or empathy. Just judgments and accusations. Fortunately, I was able to determine a support system before getting suspended and we are allowed back with no real changes. I just pray he stays away from me. When he doesn’t and things go wrong I take a walk.

  7. Cora Landis on September 4, 2014 at 7:16 pm

    I like to refer to Proverbs 25:22 – heaping coals of fire on his head. The Bible does say the Lord will reward us. It is hard to do because in today’s world we are taught to look out for ourselves. In God’s world he wants us to look out for the needs of others. We can’t do that unless we are drawing our strength from Him. I’ve learned there is no way we can do any of this, including Leslie’s CORE, in our strength. We need the resurrection power of Christ to make it. Rely on it – He will not fail you!!

  8. HisEzer on September 5, 2014 at 2:09 am

    For myself (and probably a few others here), “acts” of kindness have come to be clearly recognized as part of the destructive pattern… i.e. they are regularly used in a manipulative way to guilt me/us into overlooking hurtful deeds and “moving on.” Some husbands even do them to gas-light their wives …(Chinese water-torture type kindnesses)… Some do them to deceptively throw off onlookers who are getting too close to the truth about them…. (Trojan Horse type gifts… Public kindnesses performed with intent to construct false appearances… those kinds of things).

    In my view, it is possible to know if a kind deed is manipulative or not based on the fact a kind deed is really NOT a kind deed if it is starkly absent of more important and truly NEEDED things accompanying it… When needed things are purposefully left out, a kind deed becomes destructive … like offering a ride to a woman whose car is broken down on the side of the interstate, appearing on the front end to be helpful, but then not letting her out of the car until 100 miles later… Her original problem has been compounded ten-fold… She wasn’t really helped after all). Kind deeds without accompanied love, humility, and ownership of wrongs are really in truth forced substitutions for apology which come with a high price: You better accept this and forgive me or else! I have learned this the hard way. I have learned that it is in the inconsistencies that the truth of dishonesty is found… (brain-twisting paradox) Where pride and entitlement reigns, destructiveness will continue to flow…
    And…I have come to recognize that evil is often in its most evil form when presented as gifts and sacrifices…

    Some might be able to sincerely express appreciation for kind deeds. In my own situation, however, that would be enabling. It would be equal to approving dishonesty and manipulation. I know this without a doubt. So, this is an example of what I say if/when “kind deeds”are offered (they are diminishing considerably now that our children are grown and thus are limited to holidays when they are home to see the performances): “If you wish to keep doing that (act of kindness), by all means feel free, but know I will not in good conscience be able to express appreciation for it – as I would like – or suddenly start acting as though all is well between us when it isn’t… All is not well because the actions needed for reconciliation continue to be purposefully neglected…

    Just the facts. No emotion. Straight-forward. Based on what God says about His own perspective regarding the presentation of offerings when wrongs are knowingly being left undone, my conscience is clean taking this honest route…. I am open, however, to being corrected if I am misinterpreting the Word or doing something believed to be relationally unhealthy/hurtful to my husband…

    • Leslie Vernick on September 6, 2014 at 12:43 am

      Well spoken. For some – without the long history you have, may start with expressing appreciation for initial acts of kindness, but you know what you know over time. It’s much easier to bring flowers than say “I’m sorry and repent.” When the heart isn’t changing but the offerings are given, God says it doesn’t impress him and it need not impress us either.

    • Ann on September 6, 2014 at 3:45 am

      Thank you His Ezer, you expressed that so perfectly; I am in the exact situation as you. An additional reason for N-husband’s acts of kindness is to (in his mind only) is to use it to placate so he can go on a trip or spend a large amont of money or whatever he is wanting for me to not object to something perfectly objectable.

    • Lynn on September 19, 2014 at 4:37 am

      His Ezer. I to have seen this putrid pattern in my 32 yrs of marriage. Acts of kindness, but things really needed left undone. The gaslighting mind games of all that leaves my head and heart spinning, and angry. This is one of the many failures of mine. The anger of it ALL….. I react and have abused back with words I’m ashamed of. I’m so frustrated with our marriage and his godliness (fake)….. It has taken this long to realize that this is not me…….my 3 grown children seeing their lack of relationship with him and comments they make about him has been so validating to me. All I can say is that I can relate to what you say, it is just one more peace of the puzzle. Too bad it takes decades to put together after the damage has been done, and the kids are grown.

  9. Kathy on September 6, 2014 at 3:26 am

    After reading the comments about the token gifts, I agree as well. My husband has always been a charmer with the gifts. I’m curious, do you think they really know what they are doing when they buy things, ect. For us? Are they really trying to make up for their bad behavior in another way instead of I’m sorry? Thanks

    • Ann on September 6, 2014 at 3:56 am

      Hi Kathy, I believe they know exactly what they are trying to achieve by buying us gifts. Everything is very calculated by them. I stopped accepting cards & gifts, because I realized they were “hooks” to keep me from addressing his abuse or leaving. One time, after he was horrible to me, he bought flowers since it was Valentines Day (I did not give him anything), he said to one of the children, “at least *I* did the right thing (because he bought flowers).

  10. Ann on September 6, 2014 at 4:00 am

    Can the comment box be made larger. My comments are jumbled or poor spelling which I can’t see to correct.

    • Leslie Vernick on September 8, 2014 at 8:20 pm

      Well check into it.

  11. HisEzer on September 6, 2014 at 6:34 am

    Thanks, Heather. I’m glad you are encouraged. And to Kathy’s question of, “Do you think they know what they are doing… are they trying to make up for their bad behavior in another way of I’m sorry?

    Because every man and marriage is different – unique to its own set of personal dynamics, I cannot say what applies to everyone. All I can say is what I have come to discern in my own situation. It appears the purpose of my husband’s “kind deeds” are mainly a combination of two things: a means to appease his guilty conscience after destructive behavior …. while at the same time to disturb me and transfer to me my own experience of guilt should I refuse to accept his “sacrifice,” forgive, and move on. It is all pure manipulation… So, yes, along with Ann, I believe he knows exactly what he is doing. He knows how hurtful I find it when he forces forgiveness through substitutionary actions. He knows it because I have told him… I told him I don’t want kind deeds when he has wounded me in some way – that it only adds to my pain – that what I need most is to hear him own his choices and to ask my forgiveness … I explained that when substitutionary acts are used, I feel that forgiveness is being demanded rather than requested. I told him I feel manipulated… No matter how many times I calmly implored for him to hear my heart and understand this perspective, he never cared or expressed any concern …

    It is a calculated choice to close one’s heart to the appeals of another – particularly one’s spouse – and, instead, implement the very actions understood to be hurtful.

    • HisEzer on September 6, 2014 at 1:13 pm

      And just to provide better clarity… my husband’s kind deeds were never in the form of flowers or gifts. That would be too representative of a loving gesture. No. They were always things like cleaning the kitchen sink, unloading the dishwasher, folding a load of clothes… some sort of household chore that takes 5 minutes of effort. It was done to force me to have to say, “Thank you.” or else come across as ungrateful. So… picture the scene: Husband is caught in lies… or husband just finishes verbally and emotionally abusing me over something… Rather than coming to me with empathy to take ownership and say, “I’m sorry, will you forgive me,” that never happens. Instead, he starts doing something which forces me to have to show gratefulness to him. (If you could be a fly on the wall to witness it for yourself, you would see just how evil it really is).

  12. Love on September 8, 2014 at 10:16 pm

    My husband and I are in councelling at the moment. For many months I have struggled with not being cold and hard hearted. I have desired to do this Gods way.

    I read your book The Emotionally Destructive Marriage which has helped me alot. I took steps to sit down with him and tell him that I could not take this anymore. I told him if this keeps going on I will leave or emotionally distance myself from him.

    I distanced myself. I am still distant but not as severe as I was. I prayed and asked God for direction. He led me to a wonderful councelor and also to a man councelor for our marriage. I am seeing Gods guidance in our situation. This is my last effort to save the marriage. If it dosent work, well I have tried my very best.

    I have stuck to my boundaries. I have also been very honest, even though he hasnt listened. He now listens in the counceling room. Having a mediator has been worthwhile, but he can come home afterwards and be sarcastic about some of the things said in the room with the counselor.

    I have found being honest and real about where I am at easier as time in recent months. It was very hard at first but it is the only way I can survive at the moment, is to be honest.

    I am severely depressed and have been for two weeks or so now. I take steps towards independence and then something happens and he does his usual guilt trip thing and I recoil back. I am taking baby steps towards being my own person. I feel like I have a mountain to climb. I see things very clearly and I see his controlling ways and his subtle abuse. I see feel him clinging to me, I feel like Im suffocating. He will not let me be free of him. I have to be there for him 24/7. The picture I have is an octopus wrapped around me, or I see my husband hand just touching me or reaching to touch me constantly. He does not let me be my own person. He thinks he does but he does not.

    I have some big things that I have to change… just a little at a time

    Thanks for this article I have found it very encouraging

  13. Lynn on September 9, 2014 at 4:31 am

    So amazing to hear all this! My ex husband, who still tortures me even in my dreams, did all this to me. He would gamble $2000 behind my back, feel guilty and bring home dinner or flowers. As the gambling got bigger, the drug use got worse, the lies were more convincing and the gifts turned into major things like a new BMW! I was blind, but now I see! I’ve been so wounded that everyday is still an upward battle. If there is a prayer chain, please pray for me.

  14. Sue on September 9, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    benefit of the doubt and reciprocate to the measure of their effort. So if your spouse brings you flowers, smile and say “thank you.” That was nice of you to think of me.

    Being kind towards him or even grateful he did something wonderful doesn’t mean everything is better or that there are no more problems in your marriage, or you don’t’ have to go to counseling anymore. It just means you acknowledge that he is making an effort to think of you and you acknowledge or appreciate that effort. Only time will tell whether his efforts continue, especially if he expects his beginning efforts to be nicer to make huge differences in your relationship with him. Flowers, dinner and a movie, or cleaning the toilets are wonderful gestures but they alone don’t heal years of deceit, abuse or infidelity.”

    Thank you for sharing this Leslie.
    It validates exactly what I am doing in my marriage.
    I have decided that I am just making myself miserable by walking around angry and bitter all the time.
    My husband adamantly refuses to discuss any of our issues but will gladly discuss our daughter, work schedules etc.
    So, I have decided to being kind and polite towards him if he is going to reciprocal.
    But, if he chooses to make a mean-spirited comment, mock or belittle me than I will withdraw from the conversation.
    I am attempting to set a clear boundary with him.
    The way I look at it, I’m clearing up any confusion and not giving him ANY ammunition to use against me.
    He may try to blame me for his foul mood, angry words and bad attitude, but I will know in my heart that I’m not the one to blame.
    Time will tell how this all pans out, but for right now I am able to stay well and live with peace of mind.

  15. Elizabeth on September 9, 2014 at 8:17 pm

    This cycle is well documented in Domestic Violence literature. It is the abuser manipulating the victim into “the honeymoon” phase. He hovers her (like a vacuum cleaner) back in with charm, gifts and insincere contrition just enough so the cycle can begin again. Google honeymoon period and abuse and you’ll find that this is a pattern.

  16. stuck on September 10, 2014 at 2:32 am

    Praying for u lynn. Wow and more wow. My friend told me to check out this website and now I know why. I am appalled by my not realizing how many wives r dealing with this. My husband did the dishes or wipe the counter thing all the time. Then I would get scolded for not being grateful. In front of kids as well. But I never connected it all. Gps systems, laptops would all come after him spending thousands on himself but I never connected it all. He accuses me of so much even when I show him proof I did nothing. Why do I need to show proof to. Husband of twenty years? Can’t wait to read the book. Thank u for removing blinders through words

  17. kathy on September 14, 2014 at 12:30 am

    what do you do when your husband has aplogized for certain incidents and only when in the counselors office and has had less blowouts but wants sex from you? It would “appear” like he is changing because of the anger being under control, but I still sense the attitude when we talk about it. He says that he has been told that he over reacts. And then asks about times when I have seen him bite his tongue in anger (even tho he holds it in and walks away) He is good in a lot of other ways. It gets sooo confusing. He really wants to be intimately close because we have not been due to the boundary I have set. But I feel pressure and I start wondering if I am being distant and cold hearted because I still have this sexual boundary up. Any advice?

    • Leslie Vernick on September 15, 2014 at 10:08 pm

      Since he only apologizes in the counselors office – are you saying to yourself it’s insincere? Perhaps he’s only becoming aware of things in the counselors office. HOwever, Self-control is an important part of anger management. The fact that he’s holding his tongue or biting it is better than vomiting it all over you. He is also becoming aware that he “over reacts” and hopefully he will work on why and how to dial it down. I think you need to figure out why this sexual boundary is in place? Usually women put a boundary there when your marriage is in such a bad place that you feel like an object or prostitute and by participating in sexual relationships you are dishonoring and hurting yourself, or when he has a history of being unfaithful, unwilling to deal with it or get help and you don’t want to get a STD. If your marriage is improving, you say he’s good in a lot of other ways, he is getting help for himself, is this boundary still something you need to keep in place? If so why and that’s what you can share with him. If not, then perhaps you need to use your words to express what’s needed for you to feel more safe in order to feel intimate with him.

  18. kathy on September 14, 2014 at 12:38 am

    I am struggling with guilt for holding a sexual boundary with my husband. we were separated for 4 months and now are back together. hesitantly on my part, but the school year was starting and the kids needed to be back in the home. Anyways, we have been going to counseling and he has apologized for certain incidents but still seems to make excuses a lot and gets angry at me for even telling him that I noticed he was biting his tongue in anger(even tho he didnt act out) He has tried to vioate the sexual boundary with me a few times and I made it very clear, no more. But now I feel like because it seems like he is behaving, I should have sex with him. Its so hard to know. Any advice?

    • Leslie Vernick on November 12, 2014 at 3:31 pm

      Kathy, the sexual boundary is not something (hopefully) that is permanent but for a season to wake your husband up to the reality that you don’t get to have the perks of marriage when you take none of the responsibilities of it. Or “I can’t feel loving and affectionate towards you when you treat me like you do.” As you say your husband is beginning to change and exercise some self control (who doesn’t feel angry at times – so the fact that he feels it but is trying not to act out is a step forward), you’ll have to decide when or if you are comfortable resuming greater intimacy again.

      • Confused on March 19, 2016 at 6:21 pm

        I am having this same issue right now- I separated for 6 weeks from my husband last summer and when i did that he finally agreed to get some counseling for us. we met with our assistant pastor for a few sessions- during that time he made some effort to be receptive to the counselor but I couldn’t be completely honest and did not tell the counselor I felt pressured to move back because everytime I would see him he would corner me look me in the eye to intimidate me and asked me “when are you coming home?”

        But now I think whatever change he made was to just get me back in the house. I I think he still thinks most of the problem is me- ( i have anxiety issues that started 2 yrs into our marriage)..after I moved back in he has also been exhibiting some self-control over his angry outbursts but I still feel so controlled- silent treatment, orders and intimidation…but I started to have sex with him again because I felt I should give a little since he was….but now I wonder….I still feel manipulated but incredibly guilty for holding the sexual boundary….

        and btw- the issue of abuse was never addressed in our sessions…it was approached more as an”anger issue”

  19. anniehall on September 16, 2014 at 11:24 pm

    Two years ago I woke up! For 14 years I was asleep (denial!) as a codependent spouse, responsible for fixing all problems in marriage AND maintaining a ‘happy Christian face for all, especially in front of the children. But when no one saw, I cried and cried. I never realized that my husband’s carelessness, indifference, bitterness and loveless attitude towards me was sin and actually abuse, until I read it in Leslie’s book. So, thank you Leslie for giving me words for my feelings! and tools for life! and providing options for life.

    Emotionally and physically he has turned his back on me for many long years. I tried to make it better and had numerous talks with him , wrote letters to him, pleaded with him for us to ‘make it better’ and organized counseling sessions with various psychologists and counselors.
    Then one day, I realized ‘I can’t make it happen, and he won’t’!
    When our pastor said that there are 2 things one cannot do alone, namely 1. be a Christian, and 2. be married, I was shocked in my own stupidity, because I thought I could make our marriage work on my own!

    Since then, God’s orders, for now, has been for me to do the ‘staying well’ thing. At times very difficult, because the hurts keep on coming and I am still living in it. But I am moving towards healthy…

    So, when it was my husband’s birthday, I asked God how I must deal with this in an authentic way without being fake.. As my daughter is in high school and still living at home, I knew I had to honour him and set an example to her, but did not know how, as there is no real relationship between us anymore, we just ‘live together’.

    And our Creative God said: ‘Treat him as you would your butler!’ At first I was shocked, taken aback, and then God asked me how I would treat my butler( if I ever had one), and immediately it came to me: I’ll treat him with respect and kindness, and I’ll thank him for what he does around the house …and the care he gives to the car and the garden etc…., as this it what my husband does well….So, that is what I did! Gave him a pair of leather working gloves and a card. And I could do it with joy and peace in my heart!

    So girls, invite the Lord into the most complicated situations, and allow God to give you advice! Our God is so creative!. And thanks again Leslie for restoring my hope

    • Leslie Vernick on September 17, 2014 at 3:05 pm

      Love that. Thanks for sharing

      • Lynn on September 19, 2014 at 4:01 am

        I’ve worked with women who could barely get out of bed due to severe autoimmune disease like fibromyalgia and when they finally had the opportunity, support, or resources to leave their spouse, their body began to heal.

        Sometimes the price is too high to stay, or it is not possible for you or your children to stay well. Your body is breaking down. Your spirit feels depressed or suicidal. You are given no freedom to be separate, to grow, or to thrive on your own. Perhaps you’re drinking too much or popping pills just to be able to live in the same house with a destructive person. In those situations for your own safety and sanity and that of your children, you may need to consider your other healthy option – to leave well.
        I’ve worked with women who could barely get out of bed due to severe autoimmune disease like fibromyalgia and when they finally had the opportunity, support, or resources to leave their spouse, their body began to heal.

        Sometimes the price is too high to stay, or it is not possible for you or your children to stay well. Your body is breaking down. Your spirit feels depressed or suicidal. You are given no freedom to be separate, to grow, or to thrive on your own. Perhaps you’re drinking too much or popping pills just to be able to live in the same house with a destructive person. In those situations for your own safety and sanity and that of your children, you may need to consider your other healthy option – to leave well.
        That is me. My fibro is complicated with diabetes, I have a hard time walking. I started a job this fall, 3 hr. I can barely do it,, on my feet. I took the job so I could be independent and get away from the house. (Hubby words at home.) I have know for years for me to live well is to leave. I have had many reasons that I have stayed. The biggest one is supporting myself and my 10 year old. But……My body and mind can’t take it anymore, I have no relief from my pain, and for the past 8 months I sob at least once a day, every day. I feel after all this time, I’m at a point of no return. How do I separate and support us. Worst yet, what if he gets my son, because of my health and low functioning. The truth is that the path that I will take is one I fear the least…. I t has always been staying.

        • Lynn on September 19, 2014 at 4:21 am

          I am back at replying on my own comment. I am new here. But not new to Leslie’s book The Emotionally destructive marriage. I love your book Leslie. I am not computer savvy so I don’t know how to put comments in quotes, and is it just me or is the comment box teeny weeny hehe. I can’t preview what I’m writing, Anyway its good to be here. Let me know if I am posting in the wrong place. and that there isn’t a bigger box somewhere…..

          • Leslie Vernick on September 20, 2014 at 5:09 pm

            YOu have it write Lynn. We’ll see about improving our responding box.

    • Leah on September 21, 2014 at 2:53 pm

      Thank you! The butler comment was extremely helpful.

  20. Shellys on September 29, 2014 at 4:31 am

    I had an “in house” separation for one year before finally realizing that no change was going to occur. At that time, we sold our home so that each of us could purchase our own places. At no time did my husband recognize his destructive behavior, or attempt to make amends for the damage caused by 27 years of control, dishonesty, infidelity and cunning manipulation. I had prayed many, many years for clarification, for peace, and for healing of our marriage. Finally, when the cycle of abuse/honeymoon/abuse became more impossible to endure, I began to pray that God would release me from the prison of hope that held me bound. I was a lay leader of a ministry, mother to three precious children, and anxious not to disobey God or bring dishonor to the Kingdom. One of the factors that helped me the most, other than godly friends and counselors, was a daily journal that I kept. After every one of my crazy-making conversations with my husband, I would document the discussion. I then could see where he had hijacked the argument, twisting my words. This gave me clarity. I had counselors and friends tell me that what they were witnessing was abuse, but I still could not bring myself to believe them, or more importantly, believe that God could release me from the trap I was in. During the in house separation, I moment by moment gave every word spoken and my every action to the Lord. He alone gave me the strength to bite my tongue, to react calmly and reasonably, and to set boundaries. I’ll never forget the day I boldly asserted that I would no longer be handing my self employed income to him. We were legally separated, living under the same roof, I was paying half the car payment, making the meals, cleaning the house, loving the children, and he accused me of “robbing” the family! He was livid. I held firm, and that stand gave me a little more strength. I wanted to model godly patience and kindness to my children as well, so that when I left, I would know that I had done everything humanly possible to live in peace with him. I didn’t do so perfectly, but the fact that I knew I was behaving in a loving calm manner in spite of his behavior and his furious attempts to bait me, gave me a measure of dignity that I had lacked while I was begging him to “hear” me. I was still heartbroken to have to finally actually separate. It has been two years, and it has not been easy. But my friends remind me of how far I have come. God has been faithful, and although I still struggle with fears over finances and the future, He has provided for me in ways I could not have foreseen. The church I was going to at the time of our break-up, missed the mark, urging me to preserve the marriage at all costs. But God has seen me through that as well. I have enjoyed holidays with friends free of tension and ruined days for the first time in decades. It has been a journey for the kids to begin to see things clearly, but my relationship with them is beginning to heal, as they see me in a new way.

    • Leslie Vernick on September 29, 2014 at 1:31 pm

      Sounds like you began to live in CORE strength and for you it made all the difference in your own self-repsect, even if your husband didn’t like it, you did.

  21. Beth on October 23, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    I have been so encouraged by reading all your stories and about how you have all tried to live God honoring lives in the middle of the craziness!!!! These core guidelines for maintaining integrity and being honest with yourself first has been so strengthening!! Like so many of you have done, I’m having to implement boundaries and stay heart soft towards my hubby. Not an easy thing to do. Just the thought of setting that up makes me feel nauseous and my palms are sweating just even writing this stuff down!! I have cried and laughed reading these blogs over the last couple of months and you have all given me a little piece of strength to be able to do what I have to do. Thank you

  22. John on November 18, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    I have one very strong criticism….its time to stop making abuse gender labeled. The reality and actuality women are abusers as well. The men don’t come out and the lie is that women are victims and men are abusers. That is not truth. And like Leslie says emotional abuse can have far more damage and lasting effects. Stop the lie. Now more than ever women ARE the initiators of abuse. Emotional and physical and within the entire prism. My wife was arrested for it and still claims victimization and me as the abuser and ALL FORMS OF SOCIETY, FAMILY AND FRIENDS BELIEVE IT because I’m the male. Please get rid of the labeling and assigning. I am sure I’m speaking for millions of men if they read this!

    • Leslie Vernick on November 18, 2014 at 4:58 pm

      John, I don’t think anyone on this blog would hold to the idea that women are only victims and men are only abusers. This site happens to resonate more with women who have been victims and the majority of questions I get to respond to in this blog are from women married to destructive husbands. However, as a counselor and coach I have seen plenty of abusive women, my own mother being one of them, so please know that I am well aware that abuse is not gender specific.

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