Morning friend, I’ve just returned from a busy two weeks of speaking and traveling. I spoke to over 350 men and women at the American Association of Christian Counselors conference on rebuilding broken trust. This year, more than in previous years I felt an openness and acceptance that some marriages cannot be fixed. Not because God can’t heal but because people are not willing to do the work to truly get healthy.
Thursday, October 5th, I will be doing a free workshop: If He Doesn’t Hit You…. is it still abuse? God Cares. During the workshop, our doors to CONQUER will open and if you’ve been waiting to join our amazing community of women, now is the time.
Today’s Question: After 27 years of marriage to the same man, I have recently realized he has been emotionally and verbally abusing our kids and me. The facing of this reality is so very humiliating. The epiphany came to me while he was away for a Men’s Intensive – a “breaking free” weekend.
Up until this weekend away, he had been impossible. A year ago, I told him I believed we needed to separate. The next day, he claimed to have seen the light and promised I would see how different he was going to be. He was better for a while, and then he was back to demanding selfishness and pride. Expecting sex every day and acting as though he was entitled to whatever he wanted. Getting angry when something doesn’t go all his way. Belittling, gaslighting, and just mean.
A month ago, I told him again: I believe I need to separate from you. We have been in marriage counseling for 5-1/2 years! He just did not understand. And that lack of understanding was hurting us.
While at the men’s intensive, he began texting me these powerful statements: I’m so sorry. I’ve been a jerk! God is opening my eyes and I’m so sick to my stomach realizing what I’ve done to you and the kids. A lot of texts. He told me he sobbed. He asked – when it was over – for permission to please come home and sleep in another room just so he could serve us and try to repair all the damage he says he’s caused. Wanting to serve us is definitely different from the past.
After much prayer, I allowed him. He has been home 3 nights and so far, he’s a total servant. Cooked supper, washed dishes, won’t let me do any work after he gets home because he wants to serve me. Mowed our yard for our son. Asks me several times a day what he can do to help me.
I’m committed to guarding my heart this time. I was prepared to file for divorce due to the abuse. My question is how long is it fair to hold out? He says he doesn’t want me to feel pressured at all and he is happy to sleep in another room for however long I need because he understands now that it’s what he deserves and that my heart needs to heal.
Shocking. How long – if he continues this way – is long enough to let him back into my heart and bedroom?
Answer: I don’t know that I can specifically give you an answer to “how long” but if it’s alright with you, I’d like to share with you some of my thoughts and concerns as I read through your question.
First: You said after 27 years, you finally realized what was going on had a name. Emotional abuse, and…. discovering that truth felt humiliating. Why do you think you were unable to see or name the truth earlier? You always knew something was wrong. You asked for a separation. For what reasons? And then you said “he saw the light and promised to change…” yet didn’t stay consistent. What “light” did he see?
The reason I’m asking these questions is that I think it can be very helpful to put more specific language to what’s wrong, and what needs to change. “Seeing the light” or “woke up” or I’ve been a jerk God’s opening my eyes,” are starters to a much lengthier conversation that you and your husband still have not had.
His new actions are a great start. He says he wants to serve. No strings attached. No demands. Super, …for 3 days so far. Here’s the thing. One of the attitudes you mentioned which was harmful in the marriage is his entitlement He felt entitled to get what he wanted, when he wanted, and entitled to punish you when you refused to comply (he would call it submit). This is a huge red flag indicating an abusive marriage and I’m not sure why, after 5 ½ years of counseling, this problem was never named by your counselor. You said, “your husband didn’t understand?” What specifically didn’t he understand? Did he not understand he felt entitled to demand you do what he wanted and felt entitled to punish you when you didn’t deliver? Did he not understand he was selfish and prideful and sinful and harmful to you, your kids, and your relationship? What didn’t he understand when you told him ouch, stop, you hurt me or you said no? What specifically didn’t he understand that he seems to understand now? Is he willing to explain that to you now?
I’m not saying his repentance at this men’s conference isn’t genuine. It seems that it touched him deeply. Besides his new “servant-like” actions, what self-awareness and self-reflection did he get regarding the way he harmed his family by his beliefs, attitudes, and actions? I’d love for you to sit and listen to him share what God told him during this conference that finally got his attention. What specific areas did he realize he caused harm to those he said he loved? The more he can use specific language for what was sinfully wrong in his treatment and attitude toward you and the kids, the more likely he will be responsible for not repeating or excusing it in the future.
Second: what do you think was going on with you that made it hard for you to face the ugly hard truth of what he was doing? And, when you finally found words for it, you felt humiliated by it? He felt entitled to demand and abuse you when he was unhappy or didn’t get what he wanted. But what was going on with you when he did that? Did you think this was normal? Did you feel you had no choice? Did you believe God wanted you to submit, even when it included abuse of your kids and you? Have you explored that a bit? Right now, do you feel like a fully mature adult who has her voice and choice including your “no” when you don’t want to do something he wants you to, like having sex?
From reading through your question, I don’t think your first area of focus should be your marriage or opening your heart or having a sexual relationship. Rather, I believe it would be more fruitful for you both to work on understanding your individual mindsets and beliefs that got you where you were, as well what impact his long-term abusive behaviors have had on your mind, soul, body, and heart.
When someone is unhealthy or toxic, that person cannot create a healthy relationship. When two people are unhealthy (even when in different ways) you cannot create a healthy marriage.
I hear you. He wants to stay married. He wants you to give him a chance to prove to you he’s changed. You’re not so sure. I’d say give it at least 6 months to see if this change is sticky or temporary. His change should be because he is sick of the man he was and wants to be different, not to get you to change your mind and take him back. You’ll only learn that if you give it time to play out.
The pathway toward creating the possibility of a strong, healthy marriage is for you both to do some of your own individual work to understand yourselves better. Is that happening? Then you will have greater clarity on what you want and don’t want going forward and can articulate it with words to see if that is possible.
Friend, when you have been asked to give it “time” to prove that repentance is genuine, what kind of things have you done to #do your own work to get healthier and stronger?
Ask Your Question
Have a blog question you'd like to submit?
Morning friends, Thanks for your prayers. This season is exceptionally full and I need them so that I practice what I preach and take good care of my own self. I’m sick again which is unusual for me. Nothing serious but I’m usually pretty healthy. I think I’m just a little worn down. In…
Morning friends, I wish I could meet all of you. You bless my heart the way you encourage, strengthen, exhort and support one another. It’s truly amazing. I’m reminded too, that Satan wants us to believe his lies. Lie number one is that we don’t matter, that our life is not significant, and that we…
I am so thankful for you. I want to ask you to do something for me. Pray. I am beginning to write my new book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage and I am tempted to be overwhelmed and scared (as I always am when God takes me way out of my comfort zone). It will take…