It's the second week of July – my sabbatical month and I am really enjoying the break. I’m back to painting, which I really enjoy, reading, and taking long morning walks (before it gets too hot to go outside). All these things feed my soul which fires up my creativity.
One of my coaches, Susan, will answer this week’s blog question. Susan has been on our team for over a year now. She is such a wise and gentle soul, who knows what it’s like to be in a destructive marriage and not just to get away from abuse, but to steward and feed her own healing and growth.
This week’s question: I recently emotionally separated from my husband, in order for me to be able to grow in healthy ways. I've also quietly moved out of our bedroom into an empty bed in the house, but we remain in the house together. Our home is toxic. My question is, what do I do when we're in-house separated, but he makes it impossible to make decisions for our kids and home together? He finds ways of putting off decisions endlessly that the kids and I need to make… sports camp, going out with friends, driver's ed, missions trip, playing a school instrument, etc etc.
How can I run our home and make necessary decisions, when he intentionally sabotages each one, typically blaming me or the kids because we were “disrespectful “?
Answer: Thank you for asking your question. I believe others are dealing with a similar situation and can benefit from your vulnerability. I noticed that you specified that you had emotionally separated from your husband because of toxicity in the home. I agree, that detaching from a destructive person is a good way to support yourself if you are looking to grow in healthy ways. I want to note, that healthy detachment and unhealthy detachment look different and have different results.
I am unclear about what you mean when you use the term “emotionally separated”. The reason I bring this point out is that you stated you quietly moved out of the bedroom. No matter how long you have been married, moving out of the marital bed deserves a conversation. Have you talked about the problem that caused you to separate within the home? Perhaps you have a reason for doing it quietly or perhaps moving out without communication was an attempt at detaching from the relationship.
[Tweet “Healthy detachment still allows for kind, respectful communication but grants an emotional release of the outcome.”] Maintaining the ability to have some level of conversation is important as long as the two of you are sharing a home and raising children together. While it takes skill and practice to converse effectively, you can only control your part. In other words, if your husband is not willing, you will not be able to make decisions together.
However, you can still apply good communication skills and choose how you are going to show up to talk with him. If you are noticing that he delays making decisions, you may decide to be clear about the deadline. You might even notice out loud to him that he seems to delay making decisions and get curious with him as to why that seems to happen. Let him know that you would like him to contribute to the decision; but if he delays longer than a certain date, you will make the decision without his input.
For example, you might say something like, “I noticed that you have delayed in responding about the decision we have to make about camp. I am wondering what is causing your hesitation. Do you have questions or concerns you would like to talk about further? I really do need to give an answer by Friday so Johnny can participate.”
Your tone of voice and the words you choose are important in order to come across as kind, respectful, and curious. I can’t guarantee your husband will respond the way you want, but a good outcome would be you applying good, clear communication which is in line with the character you would like to display. He may feel disrespected if you disagree with him or he doesn’t get his way, that is the case with some people.
Since you are your own person, you might disagree. [Tweet “Disagreement is not equal to disrespect.”] However, you are responsible for yourself, so you can choose to disagree in a respectful way. Remember, you are not responsible for how your husband feels about that. This is what detaching in a healthy way looks like; you take responsibility for your part and let go of the rest.
I am not certain about other ways he sabotages decision-making in your home. I can guess that he might refuse to compromise when there is a difference of opinion. Again, you cannot control his behavior, but you can be clear about what is happening and what needs to happen to reach a decision by the deadline. Asking good questions, listening to differing opinions, and validating input are good communication skills to apply.
A question you might ask is, “With regard to this decision, what outcome would you like to see happen for our child?” This will help shift the discussion from marital conflict to intentional parenting. If your husband is generally a good father, you can appeal to his desire to love his child well by saying something like, “I know you care about our child’s wellbeing, delaying this decision is not what is best. How can we come together to do what is in our child’s best interest?”
Even so, he may be unwilling to work with you to reach a decision. Going through this process will help you determine if parenting together with your husband is even possible. If you determine it is not possible, then you have a decision to make. You can continue on with the struggle while caring for yourself and your child well or you may decide to parent separately with outside mediation or legal assistance. Your situation is a difficult one. Gaining clarity, by taking responsibility for your part and accepting the truth about the situation, is an important place to start.
Beloved reader, what challenges have you faced when learning the skill of healthy detachment? Be well!
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That your husband says he feels “disrespected” might be a sign that he is disrespected in other places- like work. My husband was greatly disrespected at work and then began to bring that need for great respect and affirmation home. I did not understand what was going on. A therapist told me that he is a Narcissist. I don’t know if that is exactly the case but reading about Narcicism and then giving him much greater affirmation, appreciation for everything he does, verbal compliments, etc. has helped. I moved back into the bedroom and assured him that I am committed to the relationship. This was done prayerfully and was hard because he was not speaking any of my love languages. He was withdrawn. But I know that my love comes from our Heavenly Father and I want my kids to have an intact family so I prayed and went back in. It is a journey but we are together and while not perfect, my marriage is not worse. God is at work in both him and me.
My prayers go out to you, Karen! Staying well in a destructive relationship is not easy. Please stay close to the Leslie Vernick & Co community for support. We understand and we are stronger together!
That’s wonderful. I’m so glad that worked for you. Praise the Lord!
I struggle with ‘need theory’ (you say he’s brought the need for affirmation home’).
Doesn’t elevating a desire to a place of need, make it a lust?
Your husband can want affirmation but when it’s a want then that leaves the option open to say ‘no’ in any given moment. When we elevate those desires, in our heats and minds, to NEEDS then it becomes much more complicated to say ‘no’ to.
Affirmation is not a need it’s a desire. A legitimate desire.
Once we elevate it to a need we’ve now crossed into the realm of worship. Dangerous.
We NEED to think carefully about the words we use because out of the heart the mouth speaks.
Beautifully put, Nancy. Thank you!
Good point here. I think my other concern is that if he’s truly a narcissist, there’s never going to be enough affirmation. There will always be demands for more. But perhaps that’s not what she’s dealing with here.
I would just caution that he shouldn’t be mistreating his family because if something that happened at work. He needs to manage his own emotions and not take his frustrations out on his family.
I don’t know if you’ll see this or not.
I want to add my perspective as a mom who chose to stay in the midst of a destructive marriage when my H had an epiphany of his abusive behaviors. Like most moms in these kinds of marriages, I felt damned if I stayed and damned if I left. (His epiphany didn’t last long as you might guess; I do think it might have been at least partially sincere but without his narcissistic defensive structure, he was just in so much pain when he realized he was in fact a very bad father and husband – the complete opposite of what he what been telling himself. He just could not handle the awful reality and when back to his old narrative). But now that 2 of my kids from graduated from high school, I can see that our dysfunctional home hurt them badly, especially my son. I’m not trying to shame you for your choice but divorce can be a safeguard for innocent children.
My husband was one who would refuse to make a decision yet constantly work to sabotage my decision making process. When it came time to decide where our son was going to attend high school, I decided to work out the logistics and then presented it to him as a fait accompli. (Respectfully, of course!) This worked very well, and had the additional benefit of waking him up to the fact that his constant criticisms were sabotaging his children as well as myself. I was quite pleased with that, as well as being pleased with myself for making a good decision about my son’s schooling!
Thank you for encouraging us all through the sharing of your experience, Lisa M. Congratulations on your successful outcome of keeping your integrity!
Thank you for this post. I am now divorced and struggling with parallel parenting. During the protective order court cases and the divorce court cases, I kept asking the judge that he court order a free co-parenting app so that all communication between my ex and me would be documented. The judge finally ordered a co-parenting app after the divorce trial in the final divorce judgment. My ex has refused to respond to the co parenting links I have sent him so I texted him and the youth pastors of the churches where my teens signed up to attend camp to let him know that our kids would be attending camp. He didn’t respond so I used the wording in this post to send a follow up email. The purpose of this is mostly to document his continued refusal to parallel parent and refusal to communicate with me. I highly recommend paper trails when there are safety issues and high conflict. Even before he was removed from the home with a protective order, I would email him well-worded emails so that my communication with him was documented. I continued these types of meticulous paper trails through all the court cases. Since safety issues continue, I send a copy of my emails to individuals in my support network in the event that my kids’ and my safety is compromised. That way skilled professionals are aware of all of my communication with my ex. One other tip: Your gut instincts are usually right. I needed to wait until my kids were old enough to articulate the abuse before seeking a protective order. This is due, in part, to the fact that my ex had and has a high profile job in the community and he had convinced most everyone that he was a caring dad and I was emotionally unstable. My kids and I have lived on miracle after miracle through many God-size challenges that continue. Keep crying out to God regarding the next steps. He will not fail you or forsake you!!!
Thank you, Ann, for your recommendations. Destructive relationships are hard; we are stronger together. Praising Him for how He has met and guided you through real tough challenges! God is good indeed!
Thank you for sharing this!
Very well written.
Even though I know I should communicate more with my husband in these ways (whom I can’t emotionally connect to), it is difficult because Aspergers and other language based issues make it hard for him to understand. This is one issue. The second is that he contemptuously talks to me, cuts me off, ignores (stonewalls) and everything turns into an unpleasant conversation where he is contemptuous and doesn’t understand basic requests or questions.
Jesus’Princess, Yes, a person who has Aspergers does tend to have difficulty with relating to others. You can still chose to communicate effectively, even if that ends in you authentically and respectfully stating how his reactions are harming the relationship and truncating important conversations. If you haven’t already, it may help you to learn about Aspergers challenges in order to know how to relate more effectively as well as maintain compassion for your husband. The part that you have no control over are his desires and actions to learn tools to help him function better in relationships. You face a great challenge and my prayers go out to you!
I know that it is very difficult to live with someone who is on the spectrum. God bless you, dear one. I do remember someone here saying that she found. book about how to live with someone who has Aspergers. Perhaps you can do a search for support groups and/or books for help.
Jesus’ Princess, neurodivergent relationships can be very tough. (Married 30+ years to my aspie husband.) NT/AS challenges are not the “typical” marriage/communication challenges–and some specialized help is really needed. A great resource that has helped me lots is Dr Kathy Marshack – https://www.meetup.com/Asperger-Syndrome-Partners-Family-of-Adults-with-ASD/ – A treasure trove of free teleconferences, FB live events, and discussion boards on learning more about Aspergers. You’re not alone and there’s hope! Blessings to you and hope this helps! .
if you are being treated with being cutoff or interrupted, try stopping the conversation and say : “excuse me, I was talking, “and then continue. do it until the other person learns that you will not put up with that behavior. or dealing with the contempt: you can say something like: “why are you giving me that response? do you have a comment?” then they also might go into a passive aggressive mode. dealing with all of this uses up our good energy! don’t take it personally and it is not your fault that another person is behaving in these ways.
The situation described above is very familiar to me. I was in-house separated from my former spouse for several months, and I needed to make a safety decision to step away from the marriage entirely. We have three young children, and making parenting decisions will be necessary for the next 20 or so years!
One dynamic I faced when in house separated was that I brought questions to my former spouse that did not need to be made by him (What would you like on the meal plan for this week? What instrument will the oldest child play in band?) The relational dynamic that had been set up between us was one similar to CEO/Administrative Assistant; I brought the information to him and he made all the decisions. I learned how to pause before asking for his input, not because I wanted to be the CEO, but because I knew the whole dynamic needed to change; we needed to be partners. I started pausing to ask myself what the equal partnered question would be. And now, in our co-parent (parallel parenting) situation, it continues to be necessary. Learning this was so empowering! Instead of “what would you like on the meal plan for this week?” I got the courage to share “I’m going to the grocery store Tuesday to get things for the next 4 days. If there is a meal or snack you would like to eat this week, let me know before you head to work Tuesday. I’d love to get it.” Or instead of “What instrument will the oldest play in band?” I got the courage to share “Our oldest will have band this semester. They have chosen to play the trumpet. I checked out the options for renting or buying and here’s what I have found. The trumpet is needed by Monday, so I will move ahead with a plan by Saturday. I know you have a busy week. If you have any preference on which way we move forward, let me know by Friday?”
(I was also often met with the dynamic of me sharing that I wanted option A, so he would choose option B, or make his own unreasonable option C so as not to choose the same option as me. Therefore, I was careful to phrase things in a neutral way.)
Not sure if these examples and lessons will be helpful for anyone else. Yet I hope they are! I have grown so much healthier through this tough experience. It’s hard; really hard! Yet I love who I am and who I am becoming. 💞
Wow! This is so similar to my experience!! Even down to the detail that I too have learned that i can’t share my preference about something, bc he’ll intentionally chose the opposite. It’s helpful to read the details of how your convos used to go, and how you’ve learned to navigate them in a healthier way. This is very eye opening! Thank you for these suggestions! I’ve tried giving deadlines for decisions about sports camp and band, etc but he twists it into saying I’m trying to control him, and that I’m threatening to make a decision whether he’s decided or not. It really puts me in a sticky spot, where i don’t know how to proceed. Do i keep the deadline (at least a few days away), provide him the resources to research, then move forward even if he continues to say he’s not ready to decide (& he’ll say if i make this decision without him then I’m being disrespectful and untrustworthy with finacial decisions). It seems impossible to make decisions with him.
Molly, there is an excellent Christian-based book by Townsend and Cloud called “Boundaries” that teaches you how to keep boundaries. It goes well with everything Leslie teaches. I recommend it. In a nutshell, boundaries work by us telling the other party if X happens then I will respond with Y. It’s never telling them what they have to do, but only informing them what YOU will do. And the most important part is to follow through with your own word. He can be a liar. He can be whiny or complain that you kept your word. But that’s truly his problem, and it’s not your right or responsibility to take on his problems..
Thank you for sharing your experience, Sarah! Your words will be helpful for many, I am sure. And I am delighted to hear you share that you love who you are and who you are becoming despite being in a very challenging marriage. Blessings to you!
Thank you for the encouragement and clearly shared examples.
I’ve learned the same thing you did and yes, it is empowering!
I also live in a home physically separated from the kid’s dad. I try to live as if he is an ex-husband. This situation is easier at this point of homeschooling than a full divorce.
This is not an easy situation at all though.
We were in full time ministry for many years and as I was taught and believed, did everything to release him to his part of the ministry and pick up all the pieces he didn’t want to deal with or didn’t have time for. I was a submissive wife, almost always, ranking myself under my general.
I love this ministry with Leslie and have been so blessed.
I would caution with in house separation (or even full separation) of being “too nice” when communicating. I honestly have not found the balance, so I don’t have all the right answers. There is definitely respect and control we need to display as we should for any other person.
Being careful not to feed his NEED to be the highest ranking and or most important in the home seems important. It tends to lead to more selfishness and doesn’t usually aid in seeing the need for humble humility and respect on his part.
I would say it doesn’t work – to feed the NEED (as you call it) to be highest ranking- because it’s not a need at all.
It’s a desire that has crossed the line into lust. That’s likely why feeding it doesn’t work.
Feeding sin will grow it. Plus it’s unloving.
I’ve learned the same thing you did and yes, it is empowering!
I was led to the post this morning, on “How do we co-parent, when he won’t decide?”…. Personally speaking, my husband & I have two grown children, with children of their own now. We’ve been married for “48 years!”…. And it’s been “HARD!”…. So much to my story, but I’ve “chosen to stay in this marriage,” with “Dr Jeckel & Mr Hyde,” with the “intention of being spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically, & financially,” healthy!”…. And “apart from the LORD,” & a “solid, biblically based support group,” to be “really healthy in all these ways”…. Regular “Christians,” truly, don’t know or understand the dynamics of “the abuse, emotionally/ physically”…. I just sent the following email to my dearest, longtime friend, who was actually with me when I first saw/met my husband. Neither one of us were “born again,” at the time, however, we both came into a relationship with Christ over 43 years ago & have grown spiritually together!…. The LORD had used my precious friend to listen, encourage & pray for my husband “all these years,” of which Im eternally grateful, however, to actually “read & hear” the thoughts & hearts of other women in similar circumstances strengthens my hope when I see/hear healthy examples of communication, etc…. So, here’s my text this morning to my friend regarding my response to Leslie’s most recent email to me. Please pray that I’ll take the necessary steps to be actively, consistently involved with this ministry…. “I’m struggling again,” with “same old issues/ programs,” with, “my beloved,” which, this past week, “has been rough, again”…. I’ve been “led again,” back to remember, “Christian Leslie Vernick?”…. There’s a “string of teaching you tube,” subjects, the most prominent one that “speaks to my heart,” is, the meaning of “CORE,” & “application!”…. And, as I read the
personal comments of other women in difficult marriages such as mine, “oh my goodness!”…. One woman said, “my husband is the CEO & I’m the administrative assistant!”…. That’s me!…. So, I “KNOW I NEED TO ACTIVELY JOIN THIS GROUP,” but I keep hesitating, literally for years!!!…. And, “as I was reading through the comments,” I saw the person whose husband has “Aspergers,” which there was an online link I thought might be helpful to you.”…. ❤️🙏🏻…. All that being said I realize if I don’t follow through with being involved with this support group, nothing will change…. I already know & clearly realize I can’t change “my beloved,” however, in many unhealthy ways, “I’m allowing him to change me,” & “that is NOT good!”… Oh how I continue to “deeply appreciate your understanding & heartfelt prayers,” throughout “all these years”…. I will “also continue to pray for God’s divine interventions,” in your prayers as well”…. HE ALONE IS ABLE TO DO ABOVE & BEYOND WHAT WE CAN ASK OR THINK!”…. To “HIM be ALL glory, honor & praise!”…. ❤️🙏🏻
Sue I hope you join CONQUER when it opens in the fall.