I Need Tools To Not React

Morning friend,

I’m so thankful for this community. I love how you are interacting with one another, encouraging, supporting, and helping. We cannot do life all alone, and we do grow stronger together.

Question: My husband is such a cunning man. He goes out of his way to portray me as a bad mom and that he's the one taking care of our kids by himself. He enjoys the sympathy of people even at my expense. He deliberately starts arguments or triggers me when there are people around so that I retaliate, and he acts innocent like I'm just randomly shouting at him.

How can I live with him without falling for his tricks and his traps? Please suggest strategies to keep me from retaliating and reacting to him.

Answer: I’m sorry for what you are going through. For now, it sounds like your desire is to stay married, but you’d like some better strategies to take care of yourself. From what you’ve described, I’m not sure it will be possible for you to live with him safely and sanely long-term. But I will give you some strategies. Try them and see what happens. If he escalates his destructive/abusive tactics when you try the things I share, then that’s your answer. It won’t be possible to stay long-term. 

Before I give you these strategies, let me tell you why it’s important that you practice them. From what you tell me, your husband is intentionally creating a narrative in front of your children and others that he’s the good guy, you’re the crazy one. He’s the sacrificial, hard-working dad, and you are the reactive, sinful, or even crazy wife/mom.

You are cooperating with that narrative by reacting negatively to his tricks and traps, especially when you do so in front of the children or others.

Therefore, it’s crucial right now that you learn to stop. He is not going to stop provoking you, but you must stop reacting and retaliating when he does it or he will demonstrate exactly what he is trying to prove. The worst-case scenario is that you react and hit him, at which point he will call the police and accuse you of abuse. You will be arrested, and your children will think you are the dangerous one. Trust me, over the years, I have seen exactly this scenario happen and it’s tragic. Please don’t let that happen to you and your children. Plus when you act out in front of others, he now has witnesses to validate his narrative. 

To stop reacting you must begin by taking full responsibility for you. Only you can manage your triggers, your emotions, your hands, your tongue, and your temper. Throughout your life, people can and will provoke you. Yet, you are still responsible for how you handle yourself when that happens. Here are a few ways to help yourself when it happens.

Observe versus absorb. Picture yourself like a Teflon shield when he’s flinging his cruel arrows toward you. Observe them coming at you, but the Teflon deflects them. Ping, ping, ping. They are not absorbed into your psyche. They bounce off. You see what he’s doing and you don’t react. Inside you even might chuckle a bit while noticing how he’s trying to create drama for you to react to. Take slow breaths. Use soothing self-talk such as, “I can see what he's doing. He’s trying to make me react. I’m not going to let him. I’m observing, not absorbing. I choose to ignore him.” Then, walk away. 

Practice JADE. This requires that you learn to detach and disengage from trying to get him to do anything you ask. You no longer ask him to stop provoking you, to understand how you feel, to care about your needs or feelings, or to validate your reasons for something. 

Here’s what JADE stands for. Stop justifying, stop arguing, stop defending, stop explaining. Each of these four things happens in normal conversations with people. But you’ve learned again and again that you do not have normal conversations with him. If you keep trying, it wears you thin and gets you to your breaking point where you react and explode in frustration. Don’t let that keep happening. 

Instead, you are going to have to stay, at least to yourself, “I accept he won’t understand. I accept he doesn’t care. I accept he won’t stop and doesn’t listen to me.” I get it, it’s not right or fair that he doesn’t. And I’m not saying you have to like it, but you must accept it. The most important thing you need to do in these moments of utter frustration is to take care of yourself so that you do not react to his indifference and feed his destructive narrative of you with more concrete evidence.

Last, go outside and find a grey rock. Try provoking it. Argue with it. Demean it. Spit on it. Kick it. What does the grey rock do? Nothing. It does not respond or react. When your husband starts up, you go grey rock. Picture yourself like that grey rock. Do not give him any energy, any narcissistic supply, any ammo to use against you. This requires that you learn how to calm yourself down internally using deep cleansing breaths and calming self-talk. 

One more thing. You have limited capacity for any of these things. These tools only work so long before you get exhausted and let them go. Therefore, you must have boundaries, both external and internal. Boundaries around what you will and will not listen to, what you will and won’t talk about, how much time you spend together, etc so that you don’t allow yourself to reach capacity and have a meltdown. 

Living with this kind of person takes its toll on you in the long run. These tools are meant to give you a reprieve so that you don’t react sinfully in the moment, and not be a permanent way of life. I’d strongly encourage you to get support through a counselor or coach so that you can develop a safety plan for yourself and your children and a longer-term strategy if he escalates.

Friend, what strategies or tools have you used in order to stay calm when provoked or triggered?

35 Comments

  1. Magi on May 4, 2023 at 8:23 am

    After prayer and fasting, I’ve been able to not react or respond to my demon’s tactics.

    • Leslie Vernick on May 4, 2023 at 12:40 pm

      Thanks Magi for adding those “tools” – we don’t like to think of prayer and fasting as tools, but they are God’s gifts to us to center our mind, heart and body, and fasting is a wonderful discipline to learn to say “no” to ourselves (with food), which is what we must learn with not expressing certain emotions, we must also learn to say no, to our sinful reactions and not allow them to be in charge of us.

      • Sheila Rupp on May 25, 2023 at 8:40 am

        Thanks for this post. I feel so bad for reacting lately and the guilt of knowing I need to have self control is taking me to my knees. This is a visual picture God gave to me… He is a consuming fire… I visually saw in my mind Shadrach, Meshack and Nebednego in the firey furnace. And we know who was with them…. they came out without one hair unhinged! This showed me Jesus is right there at that moment of having my buttons pushed. (And, yes! This is a “sign” of infidelity. You’re in the way of what they want to do. But, it is also narcissist feeding. I am determined with God’s grace and strength to respond the way Jesus would. I see that wall of fire about me.

        One of the repetitive things that has happened in almost 5 years of marriage is every time I ask a question I am denied or he is totally indifferent to the answer. This has led me to feel like I will never be right.

        Leslie tells us to set boundaries. Mine will be to stop asking questions.

        I too have come to the place where I am having to accept this is not the marriage I desired to have.

        I am checking into housing for myself. I pray God leads me through this red sea experience.

        Blessed be

        • Karen on May 27, 2023 at 1:42 pm

          Thank you so much for sharing this. I love the image of the firey furnace. Thank you.

    • Kari Romoser on May 25, 2023 at 11:44 pm

      I’ve been thinking about fasting too. Thank you for sharing that! Thank you, Leslie, for this! This is my life….

      • Loraine on June 6, 2023 at 9:37 am

        Hi ,
        These posts today really struck a cord .
        An old one but none the less a part of my life that was torture with some lasting consequences.
        I had a “ very successful “ husband , two sons and “ all a woman could want “. So they said .
        But what went on was an escalating abuse , text book style that did not end till I said enough !
        The only thing that helped me get out of the vicious cycle was a piece of advice I’d like to share here and similar to what Leslie has written about .
        I was told to stop reacting ; and boy does it take practice! Give yourself grace in the practice to get it right and to get to the place where as he is yelling, ugly , snarling – whatever it was – is to simply look at him with no emotion . no response and view it all as a movie playing out somewhere in front of you.
        It gave me a peace and clarity when I was finally able to stop reacting .
        I was told he’d either get better or worse as a result .
        He got worse. Abusers live to host you into their ugly world and sadly find satisfaction in it.
        I eventually left but it took me way too long .
        The damages were bad , consequences worse .
        I’m now so glad to be out of that but it was hard , long suffering and my life was torture for awhile. .
        The longer you wait the worse it gets if he is an abuser.- the law intervening is not where you want to go – trust me.
        He may get better if you stop reacting , he may not – if he doesn’t after 6 months – leave , go and retrieve your self worth and dignity.
        You’re the only one that can do that for yourself.
        Gods grace is good and although it’s a long road , today is the first day of the rest of your life!

        • Wendy Latty on June 6, 2023 at 11:23 pm

          Thank you Loraine. I’m so sorry you had to go through that but also so happy for you and where you are at now.
          I am currently gathering back my dignity. Finally said enough. Have given some time and am clearly seeing there are none of the healthy relationship traits. I am moving forward. Not without feeling fear and confusion and doubting myself but I’m standing strong and taking the next right step.
          I have two girls and said No Way will I cower anymore and let them think any of this is normal , healthy, or ok. I taught them how to negatively react— I taught them how to become the grey rock—now I am showing them how to leave in wisdom; find safety and support; drawing close to the Lord; getting involved in healthy supportive communities; getting counseling; getting reflexology; studying taking classes and doing what I need to in order to renew a professional license so I can start working again; getting my hair cut and hi lights; wearing makeup and dressing my best every day! My oldest has told me a few times since we left how proud of me she is. That means so much. I see them having breakthrough because I am willing to focus on my own healing!! It’s like an oxygen mask on the plane. First put yours on then help your child or you both pass out. Your own healing is the best message of hope for others.
          Wherever you are at in the journey of figuring this all out it’s ok. Keep taking the next step.

    • lynette Thomas on January 17, 2024 at 9:46 pm

      Very important and wise! I have experienced this kind of provocation too..Thanks Leslie.

  2. Caroline Abbott on May 4, 2023 at 9:51 am

    Wow, great post Leslie. I have never heard of JADE before, that is awesome. Learning that I am responsible for my own reactions was a huge step for me. Sadly, when I stopped reacting, his abuse escalated…which eventually led me to seek divorce. The turning point for me was reading a little booklet called “You’re reactions are showing” by J. Allen Petersen. I realized that while my husband’s actions were sinful, my reactions were just as sinful. I recommend it. http://www.carolineabbott.com

  3. Heather Ferguson on May 4, 2023 at 10:04 am

    Thank you for this post and the tools you shared. I can relate to this and really needed to read this today! It’s so difficult to stay calm when I’m provoked or triggered by my husband. I am an easy-going person, but he can certainly press me to my limit in a big hurry! Without even knowing about the grey rock tool, I was doing this for the last few years I was living with my husband. I finally realized that I could not go on like this any longer and left him 1-1/2 years ago. I had no other place to go so I “escaped” to Florida and my parents let me live with them until I could get on my feet. So far, my husband is not consenting to a divorce. He told me recently that I need to be “held accountable” for not living up to my marriage vows. At least there are a thousand miles separating us, but I will not be totally free until I can get a divorce. Thankfully, we never had children, so I feel fortunate in that regard.

    THANK YOU so much for the information, encouragement and support of this community! I wish I had found you a few years ago! God bless you!!

    • Leslie Vernick on May 4, 2023 at 12:38 pm

      Heather, I don’t think you need “consent” to get a divorce anymore. So what is holding you back?

    • Connie on May 4, 2023 at 8:44 pm

      You didn’t ‘vow’ to live in the same house as he, but he vowed to love and cherish you. So who broke the vows?
      JADE is a god tool. They thrive on your emotional response. Like a boy tormenting his sister, or a bully at school.

  4. Andrea J on May 4, 2023 at 10:36 am

    Wow, I wish I had this 3 1/2 years ago. Yet it’s very timely that I have it now dealing with difficult people and my husband started messaging me again and this way I don’t need to react to his. It’s like it gave me permission to finally stand up for myself yet not in the way I used to. By having a reaction I having boundaries. by following the method of JADE I have a new tool in my toolbox.

  5. JoAnn on May 4, 2023 at 11:04 am

    What causes me concern here is that he is building evidence against her so that if/when she does file for divorce, he can have custody of the children. That might be why she feels that she needs to stay in the marriage. To the writer I would add to what Leslie wrote that she must spend time daily in the Lord’s presence to find that calm place inside, where the power that raised Christ from the dead is available to her. If you have a trusted friend you can pray with, that is especially helpful. The Lord sees what is happening, and His grace will guide you.

    • Lesya Lyseiko on May 4, 2023 at 1:16 pm

      Thanks. Very well written! ‘To spend time daily in Lord’s presence to find peace inside ‘.

  6. Sarah Pickette on May 4, 2023 at 11:53 am

    Truth proclaimed, Leslie. Thank you!!! It was through this ministry, this tactic…my tactic…was realized…for 20 of 31 years of marriage. As I began to realize and stop my own sinful behavior, believing it was the best, right way (JADEing), the LORD started changing my attitude and awareness. I owned myself as the LORD intended and desires me to be. I had a choice to learn new, necessary tactics. Reality became my awareness and I did have a choice to learn and change. It is in HIS power and strength to surrender my SELF to HIS WHOLE SELF. In the last 2 years, my growth, confidence, and practice amped up, revealing distinction in myself and my marital relationship. I am not my husband. He has the same Jesus qualifications and choices I have. It revealed MY enabling and overfunctioning that fueled his choices he refused to believe existed, but they did. My healthy, relational separation to communicate improved and increased. His did not. It’s tragic. He still doesn’t see it and cannot understand why we divorced. It’s the virus of viruses that robs, steals, and destroys relationships. Marriage is God’s relationship of relationships on earth and His ultimate relationship with us as the Lamb and His Bride. This represents Him in entirety, His example given and offered as His passionate love for us. I desire refueling every day with Him, no matter what the circumstances. Let’s keep locking arms, sisters, by inviting Jesus into the details of our lives and showing us His best way that FIRST glorifies Him and transforms us and affects others.

  7. Dianna on May 4, 2023 at 1:49 pm

    When he gets mad and wants to argue, I learned to become quiet and tell him I will not argue with you. It is hard at times but I am able to keep myself from saying something that I will regret later on. As God to help you with this, He will show you what to do

  8. Beloved on May 4, 2023 at 2:13 pm

    JADE is a good technique.
    There’s also Don’t DARE
    Defend, Argue, React,Explain.

  9. Dawn on May 4, 2023 at 3:12 pm

    It was only when I CHOSE MY REACTIONS using this technique that I realized how desperate my husband was to be the “victim”/good guy in our relationship. Your writings and blog posts have been part of my healing Leslie… when I used this technique I had my answer and detached completely from the abusive marriage.

    My only way through the later abuse was with Jesus by my side. We had been through seven years of “repairing” the destruction of his secret sex basement life. He stayed deep in his deceptive lifestyle and finally walked out on our family two years ago.

    Now…my New Life is peaceful not perfect. I have a close and intimate relationship with our King in heaven that allows me to work on my own needs for betrayal trauma re recovery.

  10. Carol on May 4, 2023 at 9:36 pm

    I am familiar with JADE and that I should not be reactive , but I really appreciate the advice in this post that gives such good examples of how to.actually apply them in the here and now!

  11. Sarah on May 5, 2023 at 11:45 am

    Thanks for this article. I heard of JADE probably a year ago, through Leslie and team, and have been trying to put it in to practice. It’s a great reminder along with the other tools: observe vs. absorb, go ‘grey rock’ using deep cleansing breaths and calming self-talk. I’d like to grow in that, as well as boundaries (realizing he won’t respect my boundaries, so I suppose it’s just up to me to set them and carry them out. I’m working on this with my therapist.)

    I also really appreciate the realistic perspective that these tools are useful for a time, but not to be used as a permanent way of life. It’s not sustainable. This was affirming to me because I feel like I can do these but then still sometimes respond to some incredulous accusation. I’m becoming more and more accepting of the fact that this isn’t ‘just a time’ – it’s been years, a decade even. And it is getting worse, it is having a negative impact on our four kids, and myself. I’m stronger than I was a few years ago but still have times when I spiral out.

    Thankfully, even this morning, I’m being reminded to pray and turn it over to God. My 10 year old is really upset and bothered with Dad’s negative talk towards me, and this morning I could remind him it’s not worth his emotional energy, even though the behavior is wrong (I want to affirm that my kids recognize the bad behavior for what it is, without putting down their father or being demeaning to him, but don’t want them to grow up thinking this is an acceptable way to treat your wife, or anyone.) And then just took 15 seconds to pray with him in the kitchen.

    So thanks for your continued support for us with these challenges.

    • Lynette on May 6, 2023 at 8:09 am

      Hi Sarah, your comment speaks to me. The abuse in my marriage was a silent one. He lived his life on his own. Joined the family at the meal and was present – and that was about it.
      He provided but didn’t support us. He has physical limitations due to chronic disease so compassion was always out there for him. I enabled him for decades.
      His silent outbursts ( angry the lights weren’t turned off or dishwasher wasn’t loaded right etc) were keenly felt. I didn’t know what to say to our girls without putting him down so I said very little. But I know they absorbed the contempt that had grown in me.
      I love what you do for your children and wish I had done that.
      To speak as an observer . To pray with them. Wow, lovely.
      I’m learning so much from Leslie and from others like you.

  12. Mesie on May 8, 2023 at 1:14 am

    This happens today! I failed even though I mentally tried to prepare snd new it was coming. He dragged my dad into it and that’s when I lost it! I’m tired. So tired. I needed reminding that I need to just walk out of the room when si don’t have enough ener to be a rock!

    • Leslie Vernick on May 9, 2023 at 6:45 pm

      Don’t be too hard on yourself. We can look at these things as opportunities to learn, instead of failures. You learned you have limited capacity. you learned that when he targets your dad it’s especially provocative. You learned that you’re very very tired. You learned you can’t engage when those things are in place and must leave the room. That’s a lot to learn from one incident.

  13. Kay on May 9, 2023 at 8:28 pm

    I have read this post three times today (it was saved in my inbox). So very helpful. Leslie, I have become a different person in the last year through your ministry. I am so thankful!

  14. Joy on May 11, 2023 at 4:17 pm

    Thank you! My therapist sent me this blog. This is so helpful! I tend to freeze, like afraid to get up and walk away. I really want to get the heck out of there but That will infuriate him further. So I sit with my head down or sometimes stare at him sort of blankly. I rarely say anything. Eventually he gets it all out and walks away. Many times though he’ll come back to it.

  15. Mysie on May 28, 2023 at 10:56 pm

    I have been in an abusive relationship for 10 years. It was physical, mental and emotional abuse. I’m still in it and don’t have guts to move out because of the fear of I will be able to provide for my kids and meet their needs. I have back pain issues and few health problems. I believe most of them are from what abuse I’ve faced post marriage.
    I’m from another country. My husband is on work visa and I’m on dependent visa. Initially I didn’t have work authorization. By the time I got it, I was pregnant with my second child. I couldn’t go for work as my husband said he can’t pay for day care. All the years I stayed at home he used to say I’m useless and not worth anything, that my place was under his foot and that I need to be beaten badly and set right, that I’m living in this country at his mercy as I’m dependent on his visa, and that he’ll throw me back in my home country and will defame in amongst our relatives, friends and church members. He did defame me in my home country when we visited last time. He insulted me badly. His parents encouraged him to abuse me more. In every way. They put false accusations on me and said they are real believers and that they are in ministry. And they would say that I’m not at all a good human being. I’m the worst and don’t deserve to be their son’s wife. They brain washed their son against me. He totally believed them and obeyed them. He threatened me that he’ll leave me if I opened my mouth and brought me to USA. When I got married to him 10 years back, he was already in a little debt which multipled a lot over the years because of his financial indiscipline. He is manipulative and doesn’t speak the truth. He fights to win when he’s wrong and loses his temper over small things. He tells kids that I’m a bad mom and that I don’t deserve to stay with them. But my kids realize a little that their dad is wrong in some way but don’t understand the major aspect as they are still 6&7 years old.
    I know that the Lord doesn’t like divorce. And I struggle not knowing properly what the Bible says about divorce. I have work authorization and started working recently. It’s a very menial job. I can’t work any job as I’m on a dependent visa work authorization. Our green card is in process but I don’t know how long it will take to get it. It usually takes many years as the process is slow. He verbally abused my parents badly. Recently I lost my dad and he became all the more abusive towards me. I’m afraid if I’ll be able to feed my kids, meet their needs and provide them. And I don’t know what is process of getting help here. I don’t have enough finances to atleast support myself and my kids are very precious to me and I fear how much I’ll be able to take care of them. I don’t have support back home in my home country from my family if I go back. I’m afraid to go back as my in-laws will take advantage and get me and my husband separated in a malicious way and will fight every bit to take kids too. And I can’t leave my kids into their hands. They are not good people. They may not treat my kids well. And I can’t live without my kids. I’m only looking to the Lord for a solution.

    • Leslie Vernick on May 28, 2023 at 11:08 pm

      Mysie, I’d encourage you to call the local domestic abuse hotline at 1-800 799 SAFE. They can give you information on what your legal rights are here, how they might help you. Perhaps they can give you the phone number of an immigration attorney who can also advise you on your next steps forward to get safe. You do not deserve to be treated this way and God hates what is happening to you. He will help you and direct you to the right people. Do you attend a church? Would it be safe to confide in one of the female leaders there to get some support?

  16. Terri Lisenbe on June 7, 2023 at 6:10 am

    My heart goes out to each of you overcoming this time in life. We are over- comers! For me and after 20 years of living in an abusive and unloving marriage and life style- it was definitely a process. We were definitely in a cycle and I had to figure out my part of the cycle and disengage. Stop the cycle. My part of the cycle was defending myself verbally and eventually taking wrongful responsibility and apologizing for something I did not do.

    There were constant accusations- that I was not teachable, submissive, prideful, strife filled- all of which were not true and in fact true of him.

    So I stopped engaging and defending myself. I saw it that if I was defending myself or trying to “make him see” that I was a good person, with a good heart that Mean Spirit is what I call it was on top of me. And in charge. My battle is not with people per se but principalities- spiritual and when a person is being unkind, accusing and abusive they are cooperating with the wring spirit. And if I am engaging with that spirit it is on top of me and having too much success in my own life. Every person has their own choice- to cooperate with God and good or not. We cannot control other people.

    I did discover that my participation and reacting was very hurtful to myself and that my words and actions were between me and God. God who is so loving and merciful and who truly wants life and the vest best for us. That it is not okay with God to be treated that way or to live our lives being hurt. He wants more for us. For all parties but everyone has a choice.

    For me- something very important was and is to remember what is true and stay in as much truth as possible. Otherwise I could get sucked in to the junk. Also, stay connected to God and get to know Him as loving and kind and gentle Father and let Him comfort, and help and strengthen and give wisdom and insight. And then to hold onto my joy. That mean spirit that a person is operating by hates joy unless it is their idea.

    One thing I did do and took a lot to begin to do that is speak the truth and then turn around and walk away. . The reason it was hard is because I was so used to allowing myself to be accused, yelled at, demeaned that it was like being hit with words and I had allowed it fir so many years- endured it- that I was the only one who could stop it for myself.

    I hope this helps someone to be stronger, wiser, more encouraged to walk forward, to love and to take care of yourself.

    Leslie’s book The Emotionally Destructive Relationship was a vital and saving part for me along with a supportive counselor and friend and just walking daily with God by my side.

    I cried out to God, He heard my prayer, He answered me, He delivered me ( with my cooperation and help), He healed me, He set me free and He is restoring my life.

    I cheer you on- start loving and trusting yourself. Abuse is not okay!!!

  17. Terri Lisenbe on June 7, 2023 at 6:22 am

    P.S. sadly my mother operates by that same mean spirit and so for me -even at the age of 60, I have to remember and navigate through this time daily. And live my life the best way that I know how. For me- It is a life long process of coming out of the junk and living healthy. It is a choice and a decision daily. And along the way I have to be kind and merciful to myself. I wish you the same.

  18. Suzanne on June 9, 2023 at 5:37 pm

    OK, this was part A which I have finally mastered (more or less).
    How do I manage part B: the adult children’s memory of my ex-husband being the calm, mature one and me being the reactive, unhinged one
    as I took his bait and reacted to his manipulation, mind games, gas lighting and blame-shifting?
    The legacy of him being calm, cool and mature lives on, despite my adult children seeing me now as a healthy, healed
    adult.
    Anytime I try to explain what happened in the past, the kids say, “you know, daddy never says anything about you”
    It cuts me to the core because they have no idea of the tortured life I lived with their father behind closed doors. His
    performance to them and the rest of the world was flawless; worthy of the highest Oscar the academy of false personas could award.
    I am lost as to how to insert reality into this fantastical past that was created.

    • Leslie Vernick on June 10, 2023 at 3:30 pm

      Suzanne, it sounds as if your adult children do not want to hear or “see” your version of this story. Kids need (if possible) a good relationship with both of their parents. Even if your husband was a lousy husband, was he a decent dad? Your kids experience of him may have been very different than yours. As you have calmed down and gotten healthy yourself, concentrate on your relationship with them without needing them to take sides or validate you and what you went through. If you can let that part go, it will result in a better connection with your adult kids.

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