I am traveling this week, so I’d appreciate your prayers.
Question: The reoccurring theme over the last 3 years in my marriage has been that I have failed to communicate in a proper way or have been misunderstood, to the point where my husband's anger gets the best of him.
I'm not allowed to ask if we can take a step back when I realize that the conversation is getting too out of hand, because I am told that I am focused too much on his reaction and not enough on what he is saying I am doing wrong. I feel with each passing day the patience he has for me and my communication is diminishing. It feels as though he is already annoyed at me before I even open my mouth because he instantly assumes that every conversation will turn into a fight.
However, to me, it seems as though he gets annoyed every time I open my mouth. Even when I try to be calm and civil and don't react to his anger, trying to communicate in a better way, it is almost like I am not even being heard.
I'm treated more like a child than a wife, and I'm not sure what I can do. I don't exactly know where to go from here. I am really struggling and keep praying that I could just change my communication so the issues in my marriage would just get better, but things feel like they are just getting worse at this point. I really just need some guidance.
Answer: I’m sure you are more than confused and frustrated by all of this. Let’s take a step backward and look at the larger picture of your marital history which may lend some clarity to what’s happening in the present.
You said this has been happening over the last 3 years of your marriage. How long have you been married? How was your marriage different before these past 3 years? Was it better? Worse? What happened over the last three years that changed for you? For him? Or has this been the pattern in your marriage, and you’ve been married just 3 years?
If your previous marital history had good connection and communication together then it’s important to figure out what’s different now. For example, is it possible he might be having an affair that he’s hiding? An addiction? Aggressive, abusive behavior often starts while hiding something. The addict’s strategy is to distract and deflect, making you look like the aggressor for asking questions or challenging things, for example, how he spends time or money.
Is there something that has changed for you? For example, you’ve been more passive and accommodating in previous years of marriage but you no longer want to be that way, so you are asking more direct questions and refusing to be passive about things that bother you. Or perhaps he was more passive and accommodating and just went along with you before, but now he’s trying to stick up for himself, albeit in an unhealthy way? Or is it possible that he’s held a lot of resentment towards you for something in the past and it’s coming out sideways in hurtful, demeaning comments?
I’m going to give you two different pathways to consider going forward. The first one is if you’ve been married only 3 years, and this has been the typical pattern in your marriage. If that’s the case, then I’d encourage you to stop your side of the destructive dance you’re in with him. Instead of trying to explain, justify, argue, or defend, simply stop. You know the conversation is not going anywhere positive. You see it. It is destructive. Stopping means stopping your side of the dance and starting something different. For example, instead of arguing, or trying to justify or explain, you might say, “I agree with you. (Press pause for a bit until he realizes you’re saying something different.). “Our communication style is dysfunctional and destructive. It’s not just you who feels it. I feel it too. It’s not just you who is frustrated. I’m frustrated too. Where do we go from here because neither one of us is happy, neither one of us feels heard or valued.”
If you’re not able to say that directly because you already know he’ll just shut down or blow up, write it, send it in a text, put it on his pillow, or on his desk. See what happens next. Is he willing to hear you? Does it matter to him how you feel, or is it just about how he feels? Is working on your marriage something he’s willing to do? If not, then that gives you important information. Right now you have the opportunity to do your own work to heal and grow regardless of what he does. Doing that buys you some time to decide what you want to do regarding your marriage. Remember, when one person changes, the dance does change, although you’re not guaranteed a positive outcome.
If this destructive pattern is more recent, and previous marital history had mutual caring, reciprocity, and respect, then something has happened or is happening that hasn’t been talked about. After you’ve done your own soul searching, if you don’t think it’s you that’s changed, then you can say something like. “I see that we’re both unhappy here and can’t seem to be able to talk about anything together over the past 3 years. I don’t know what’s going on but we haven’t always been like this. We’ve had (how many years) of a pretty good marriage, at least from my perspective. Now it feels like you can’t stand me and everything I say is wrong. What’s going on? I haven’t changed but you have. What’s going on?”
Be careful. What’s going on may be something awful that he’s afraid to tell you about or has been hiding from you. He’s afraid of your reaction and/or ashamed. So, before you have this conversation with him, I’d encourage you to share your concerns with a trusted counselor, coach, pastor, or good friend so that you have your own support during the fallout. I’d also encourage you to pray, ask God to prepare your heart for anything and to anchor you in his truth so that your husband’s words don’t do more damage to you, even if they damage your marriage.
The Bible tells us, “As much as it depends on you, be at peace.” (Romans 12:18). God calls us to be peacemakers by initiating an honest conversation to define “what’s wrong” so that “what’s wrong” can be repaired. You don’t know if he’ll be honest with himself, or honest with you. But by doing your own work first, you’ll have peace that at the end of the day because you know you did what you could do, to bring more peace to your home and relationship. Yet, the Psalmist also cries out ”I search for peace, but when I speak of peace, they want war.” (Psalm 120:7).
You know your marriage is destructive. You have tried over and over again to talk about what he’s doing or what he’s saying. He blames you. Instead of repeating that same dance, talk about the pattern. “Before 3 years ago, we had this pattern, now we have a different pattern, what’s changed.” Or if this has always been the pattern, understanding the pattern is his way of maintaining control by keeping you confused, defensive, and blamed. You don’t have to take the bait anymore, now that you know what’s happening.
I’d encourage you to read the blog I Need Tools To Not React.
Friend, when you’ve found yourself in a destructive dance with someone, what did you do to change your own dance steps?
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Such a good answer! In my first marriage, after about 20 years of this and about 30 years ago, I had no clue, there were no Leslie Vernickses or books or anything. Well, one book, “Men Who Hate Women and the Women Who Love Them”. One day in the library it was as if a light drew me to that book. It was in a part of the library I never went to. I took it out and hid it, and was shocked. It didn’t have much in the way of advice, though. My h would get me into the bedroom to ‘talk’, and it would go on for hours while the baby cried, the dinner needed cooking, etc. And, I was always wrong. It went on for hours at night, in bed, too. Until I cried, then he would suddenly see the light. One day I cried out to God, asking what to do, and I heard an almost audible voice say to shut up. Huh? Communication was important, wasn’t it? And God said, “This never goes anywhere, it is not healthy communication, just refuse to engage. So the next time he called me to the bedroom I said NO. Politely and quietly. It was like a bomb went off. Easter Sunday noon, and he RAN to the phone, called the pastor and said, “Come here right now, our marriage has just fallen apart!”. No pastor or couselor in those days understood this dynamic, so it was always my fault that I wouldn’t talk to him. To this day, he tells people, “She wouldn’t talk to me anymore” and gets all the sympathy. One night in bed he tried to talk again and I said no again. I added, “You won’t let up on harassing me until I cry, whether it takes 5 minutes or 5 hours. He looked at me and said, “Well of course. Don’t you know that when I can make you sick or cry that makes a man of me?” And rolled over and went to sleep. I wrote it down immediately in my journal because I knew he’d never admit to saying it, and then I would doubt myself. Another time he looked at me the same way and said, “Connie, don’t you know you’re always wrong?”
My added advice is to be sure you know that God is behind you, that it’s what HE wants. For me, that’s the only way I don’t flounder and go back, let myself get sucked in again. They are sneaky and in our own understanding and strength we tend to be pushovers. All h… can break loose and it’s hard on the children, but it’s worse if we don’t. They say if you want to do an intervention on an addict, if it doesn’t work the first time, don’t bother trying again. Then they know you’re not serious. I think this is similar.
I am married to a trial attorney. He loves to argue. There are many days when everything I say is contested, countered and refuted. I too, am “always wrong.”
It has been a long road and I am still on the journey, but here are some things that have helped me.
1. First, Know that you are loved by Jesus. You are precious and you are NOT always wrong.
2. Find friends outside your marriage. Join a women’s Bible Study or a ministry group. Build support for YOU, places where you are appreciated and know that you are not always wrong.
3. Pray for your husband. Ask God to help you forgive him and to release you from all the hurt and anger. And to convict you of how you need to “change your dance.”
4. Read Leslie’s books. Join Conquer. Use Leslie’s advice to not JADE. Do not justify, argue, defend or explain. Say it once. Then quit.
5. Understand His insecurity. It is his insecurity that requires him to put you down in order to make himself feel important and “right.” He is a wounded person. Are there other ways, healthy ways, that you can affirm him? As I faced this, I realized that I am not a very affirming person. It is easier for me to be critical or silent. Maybe that’s true for you too. Are there ways that you can be more verbally complimentary and affirming? Even a thank you for the ordinary daily things that he does, or for being here, for supporting his family. Affirm everything good that you can.
6. You might also find some help from Patricia Evans books on Verbal Abuse. She explains how words can be abusive. It might help you to understand your conversations more. I have found it very helpful but not found it to end the problem.
7. However, Saying “No”. Or “No. I really cannot talk right now.” will sometimes end the current battle. It may not eliminate the next one, but it may be the right response at some points.
8. I think the suggestion to send a note, text, or to email instead of talking is a good one, that has sometimes worked for me.
9. I have also said to my husband, “I need the good John (use his name, and look at him) right now. I need you to be your best self.” Or “I need a hero right now. Can you be my hero here?” Sometimes that has helped.
10. I am now reading two books by Dr James Wilder. “The Pandora Problem” and “Escaping Enemy Mode.” Wilder is dealing with problems in the church, not marriage, but understanding Enemy Mode and thinking of people as being in “Enemy Mode” has really helped me to see my husband and other people differently, to not take their words or behavior personally, and hopefully to help them step out of Enemy Mode and back to being the Heroes and Protectors that God intended.
I hope these thoughts help someone. Please reach out to me if you want to support each other further in this. Leslie’s staff has my permission to extend my email if requested for further conversation. And Leslie, I would love your thoughts about some of the Enemy Mode ideas. I think they are very helpful. Love to all of you. ♥️
You have helped me a lot!
What does one in this situation do when they have tried everything possible on their side of things? eg Been to multiple professionals to improve communication skills only to be told that your skills weren’t lacking in the first place but (as there is nearly always room for improvement) you keep working with the professionals to fine tune communication in every way you can, where you even work in the therapy field and are highly educated and experienced in helping others to communicate (including with partners). But where “just simply stopping” the communication isn’t working because your husband controls things like all your finances, where you cannot “just go out and get a job” because you have health issues have prevent you from working, where you can’t “just leave” whether it be because your health issues and where you live, means there is no support for you to be able to leave (eg no homeless shelters set up for people with physical disabilities and no government programs to help disabled people fleeing abuse), or even for those who HAVE left but their husband has taken the children and live in the many parts of the world where abusive men are given custody over good, loving, fit mothers, leaving you have to communicate with your husband/ex-husband and being totally at his mercy if you even get to see your children (despite him mistreating them). What does one in this dire a situation do to get communication happening?
This isn’t a hypothetical – this is my life and my children’s lives. Authorities won’t intervene and my ex-husband still puts on his act as the “upstanding citizen and good christian man” no matter how much the children have reported abuse and neglect. The kids have directly informed the authorities of abuse, my ex-husband has openly admitted to authorities about some of the milder forms of child abuse and neglect, and yet he is just offered help and support to “improve his parenting skills” while I have been demonised for nothing other than reporting my ex’s serious abuse of the children and me to the authorities.
The authorities won’t intervene and I don’t want to lose my child that my ex-husband has under his total control, so how do I change my communication to get him to actually communicate with me?
Hurting mom: I’m so sorry for your experience. I believe you. Your question is how do I change my communication to get him to….actually communicate with me? I think that ship has sailed. He doesn’t want to change or learn to have a healthy relationship with you. It doesn’t serve him. It serves him to “look good” not change to be good. Jesus said it best in Matthew 7 when he tells you – after you’ve worked on not judging, after yo’ve worked on treating others as you’d like to be treated, after you’ve worked on taking the log out of your own eye, and nothing changes in the other person or relationship – hear his own words: “Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.” (Matthew 7:1-6). Follow the BIFF method of communicating with this kind of person. BRIEF, INFORMATIVE, FIRM and FRIENDLY. Here’s an example. Hi there, I am unable to switch weekends with you for next week. I’ve already made plans for the kids that can’t be switched. Take care. XYZ.
There are no easy answers here. You are in an extremely hard place. But it would be wise for you, I think, to contact a local shelter or call the domestic violence hotline and find someone you can talk your situation through with. Even if you have to start by just finding one small thing you can do to improve your situation, it might give you the momentum to see other things you can do or other resources you can reach out to.
I’m planning to separate from my verbally and emotionally abusive husband. We have two school-age kids. He’s very controlling and very possessive of me and the kids. I am struggling to find the safest way to separate. Should I just tell him I’m going to move out? If I do, he will for sure get really angry and stop me from taking the kids with me. If I leave with the kids while he’s not home, he will become more angry when he comes home and finds out that we left. Any words of wisdom from anyone who’s successfully left their abusive spouses?
I’m so sorry for the situation that you are in. A couple of years ago, I was in the same situation. On a side note: My Christian friends, and my Christian family, had been ‘advising’ me for years to stay, and pray for the best. My atheist family doctor, and an atheist girlfriend, urged me to leave ‘without notice’. (And take two weeks to copy and prepare documents, find a safe place to go to, etc.) The latter advice literally saved my life.
To the moderator: Yesterday, I sent a reply to the above question. I would like to add to my reply:
“And I wish you God’s guidance in this, and wisdom. Finally, I would also like to thank Leslie for her wise, life-restoring, and often even life-saving words and ministry.”
I would call the DV advocates for advice on this..they have resources to help and usually know the guidelines in your area about leaving with kids. You may need to speak with a lawyer first to know the legality of leaving with the kids.