Merry Christmas Friends,
I hope you are ready. If not, then let it go. It’s time to stop being frantic and remember what Christmas is all about.
Over the past few weeks I’ve answered several questions about boundaries and consequences. And, from your many responses, some of you are waking up to the idea that its okay for you to have personal boundaries and to implement consequences if someone chooses to disrespect them. Today I want to summarize this whole idea of boundaries and consequences why they are so important to healthy living and healthy relationships.
What is a boundary? Think of a fence around your house, with a gate or two that you can open or close or lock if you need to. This fence creates awareness of where something begins and ends. It helps my neighbor and me know what house I need to clean and what house he or she needs to clean, what lawn I need to mow and what lawn he or she needs to mow. In a pinch we may help each other out, but our property lines are clear. If my neighbor just walked into my house and helped himself to whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted and that bothered me but I never said anything, I would be guilty of not having good boundaries.
Personal boundaries help us clarify things, such as what we are responsible for and what are not responsible for. If my neighbor disrespected my feelings or my fence and walked into my house, I may have to set a firmer boundary such as putting a lock on my gate or a deadbolt on my door.
Boundaries help protect us. For example, our body has a fence around it called our skin. We have only a few openings, our nose, mouth, eyes, ears, and private parts. Our body is ours to maintain (unless we are an infant or incapable) and nourish. Our body is separate from other people’s bodies. If we are healthy, we ought to be responsible about what goes in to our body and what we do with our body.
It’s amazing how God has wired our body to be self-protective when things try to invade our body. When I put my contacts in if there is the tiniest hair or piece of dust still lingering on the lens my eye knows it and blinks, keeping the contact out. In the same way that my eye rejects the contact lens because it contains something harmful, our body often warns us that we are in danger or something toxic (physical or emotional) is happening around us. Our muscles get tense, our heart pounds, our skin crawls, we throw up. These are God’s internal warning bells for you. Something’s wrong. Pay attention.
Why are Boundaries Necessary in Relationships? When Christians talk about having personal boundaries in relationships, they are sometimes accused of being selfish or uncaring or putting up walls. They’re told that they are self-protective or self-sufficient or not trusting God. That’s not true.
Personal boundaries are necessary so that we take responsibility for ourselves and exercise good stewardship over our body, our time, our energy, our talents and our money. We are not God – with unlimited resources, omniscience, and omnipresence. We are finite, limited, fallible human beings. God knows that. He made us that way. We need not feel ashamed by our limitations.
For example, would you give someone unlimited access to your ATM card? Of course not. Why? Because your funds are limited and if he or she empties your account to meet his or her own needs, wants, or foolish financial choices, then what? You won’t be able to be responsible for your own financial obligations. Therefore you keep your ATM card in your wallet and your password a secret. That is a boundary – a fence around your ATM card and bank account. You may choose to be generous or even sacrificial for a friend in need, but you decide how much.
If your friend is reckless and foolish with his spending, you are not responsible to bail him out of his own messes. His messes are meant to help him learn to take responsibility for himself. However, if he told you that you were selfish or self-protective or not trusting God because you had a boundary around your ATM card, I hope you would realize he is talking nonsense. He is trying to manipulate you into having no personal boundary when you know you must say no or not now, or not as much as he wants.
In the same way when you have a fence around your time or your energy or body because you are trying to be a good steward of these things, don’t feel guilty because you aren’t able to do everything that the people in your life want or ask or need. Even Jesus accepted his limitations as a human being and disappointed people because he didn’t always do what they wanted.
Boundaries in relationships help us take ownership: One of the biggest problems in maintaining healthy relationships is the lack of ownership. We don’t take ownership of our own feelings. We are not authentic. Instead we placate, please, pretend or pass off responsibility saying things like “It’s your fault I feel so mad.”
We also don’t typically own our own wrong-doing and confess it. Instead we blame-shift, minimize, rationalize, lie and make excuses. And we don’t want to own our own limitations. Instead we over-function and end up feeling like victims (telling ourselves that we had no choice) or resentful martyrs (because we said yes when we wanted to say no).
Having a clear understanding of our boundaries changes that. Boundaries help us own OUR feelings, OUR thoughts, OUR needs, OUR desires, OUR beliefs, values, and attitudes, OUR behaviors, and OUR words. They are 100%, ours. Our boundaries help clarify what we have to work on (ourselves), and that we are not responsible to manage the thoughts, feelings, values, words, or behaviors or another adult person anymore than we are responsible to manage what they put into their mouth to eat.
Knowing our boundaries helps us communicate with people more clearly. I feel ________. I was wrong for ___________, please forgive me. No, I can’t do that for you. Please stop screaming at me, I feel scared. People may not always like our feelings, thoughts, values or limitations but if we want a healthy relationship with someone, they must be respectful of them. The Bible tells us, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no.” (James 5:12) Mixed messages happen and negative feelings build up when we say yes when we wanted to say no.
Two unhealthy relationship patterns that become destructive have to do with lack of good personal boundaries. The first is where one person in the relationship refuses to take ownership for their own thoughts, feelings, words, attitudes or actions. Instead they are always blaming their partner or making excuses. They believe everyone else is responsible for how they feel or act. That is not true but when you live this way you and your relationship is incapable of changing or healing.
The second relationship pattern that becomes toxic is where one person assumes responsibility for the thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and actions of another person – somehow thinking that it is their responsibility to fix or change him or her. When you work harder at managing someone else’s life and you are not being a good steward of your own, you are not healthy.
In summary: It’s important to have boundaries and know what they are. It’s important to share those boundaries with the people you have relationship with. For example, if I get sick when someone smokes a cigarette in my presence or I find it unpleasant, it would be important for me to communicate that fact to him or her. I can’t control whether or not they respect my boundary, but if they choose to smoke, I can choose to leave their presence. That is being a good steward of me, not trying to control them.
In the same way if I’m becoming weak or sick or harmed (emotionally, mentally, physically, financially, or spiritually) because of someone else’s negative behavior, I can ask them to stop or to change but I cannot control their behavior or change them. However, what I can and must do is to take care of me including removing myself from his or her presence if necessary.
That brings me to consequences. Consequences are part of God’s plan to help people learn to take responsibility, to be good stewards of our lives. Paul wrote, “Whatever a man sows, he reaps.” (Galatians 6:7) This farming metaphor made it crystal clear to the people in biblical times that if you didn’t take ownership of what seeds you planted you shouldn’t expect to reap good crops.
God told the Israelites “Because you have forgotten me and cast me behind your back, you yourself must bear the consequences of your lewdness and whoring.” (Ezekiel 23;35).
Negative consequences result from not taking ownership of your finances, your health, your feelings, your mind, and your part of relationship maintenance and repair. When we over-compensate for someone’s irresponsibility or sin and remove or mitigate the negative consequences we are enabling someone to stay deceived and shirk responsibility. They will continue to believe the lie that they do not have to take responsibility for their own choices. That’s not good for them, for you, or for the relationship.
Friends, share how you have learned through negative consequences of your own to make important changes in your life.
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Thank you Leslie! Your materials, blog, etc. have helped me tremendously!! Indeed life-changing. God bless you and your ministry.
Very well written article. Very true and I need to start having boundaries with people in my life and quit being afraid to speak up and tend more to my needs and emotional and mental health.
I allowed my husband to pressure me into marrying him. I saw red flags and God allowed me to see them. I ignored them and allowed my future husband to get his way. He did not respect my wish to wait for a period of time so that we could prepare for our wedding spiritually. We hurried through pre-marital pastoral counseling (a big mistake) and in a matter of a few months, I had to plan a wedding. I almost backed out once and I should have. I allowed my now-husband to have his way when I KNEW that God wanted to show me some things. Now, my marriage is broken and I have seen a totally different man from the man who courted me and pursued me. The consequences of my wrong choice are deeply hurtful and I have suffered greatly. However, through counseling and through striving to forgive myself and my spouse, I am gaining ground and coming to realize that I have to go through this valley of suffering and I have to grow from these negative times. I have sought God more and I have repented of ignoring his guidance. Thankfully, I have found resources and help on this path of suffering. My abusive husband and I are separated now for six months. He is in denial and suffers from some serious health issues. I have learned that my spirit is truly forgiving and gracious and I have to remember to keep the boundaries that are established and not give in to my “giving” nature. Ultimately, my spouse will either be forced to get help for his destructive behaviors or he will live separate from me. OR he may choose to get a divorce. That will be his choice and I will not try to stop that from happening. I’m leaving it in God’s hands and am honoring God by not accepting the sinfulness from my spouse to continue or reoccur. Each day is getting brighter. Leslie, your writing and videos have helped me enormously! I thank you for your book (The Emotionally Destructive Marriage) which I have read and underlined and am reading again! It’s a life-saver!
I can’t bear the thought of boundaries right now. I agree completely with you but how do I keep existing when that conversation above is turned around so that the subject is used against me? My son (16 months ago) married a young woman with NPD (who has a severely narcissistic mom.) She has been counselled to set severe boundaries and since she can’t control her mom, she sets them against me. I think we were a perfectly normal family with close relationships (not perfect…just close and loving and who were there for each other…a family who enjoyed each other) until the engagement happened…overnight we became the family from hell. How do I cope? How do I love them? It hurts so much. I am terrified of Christmas Day and of their coming and wrecking everything for the rest of us. But I will miss my son if he’s not here so I don’t want to tell them not to come. Deep down I believe that this may be the last time I see them…
Your situation mirrors ours as it was ten years ago. Three grandchildren later, we have no contact with our son an his young family. We also were a close family broken apart by a NPD daughter inlaw.
I just want you to know there is life after an adult child walks away. Things had to get so horribly bad with ongoing drama and us walking on eggshells, that we had to put up boundaries. Life is so, so, much better now. We wish them the best, but in the end we had to learn trying to keep up with their ever changing drama and “rules” was costing us our health and mental well being.
Ann and Darla
Everybody gets to have boundaries, and consequences. Honorably allowing a son to grow up and “leave his father and mother” is really hard but biblical and essential.
I am a wife who gets all the blame from in laws. It is much easier to blame me than to name the truth of their own failures. As part of his recovery from a 30+ year porn addiction, my husband is trying to face the reality of his whole life, including his relationship with his parents.
This was a near daily addiction that started in early childhood in their home with their pornography, and yet I am the problem: I have put a wedge between them, it’s all me.
Do your daughters-in-laws really make up your boundary crossings or are you possibly assuming a closeness with your sons that was never really there?
My husband was very pleasant and distant and fake with his parents all his life and they never really knew him. Now that he is trying to really be known, they have rejected him and blamed me.
Please be careful. I have six sons myself and am trying to tread very softly, in all this. My gut is to respond in kind (nasty), but then I think of my own future daughters-in-law and all I’ll have to answer for…
I agree with Caroline’s comments, and would like to add that I think there is some misunderstanding stated here about boundaries, when Ann says she cannot bear the thought of them. Boundaries are a good thing. They are, as Leslie stated, a healthy limit – *of our own* – not something someone else puts up. So, along that line, owning our own feelings, not focusing on someone else’s and what they should or shouldn’t be doing is the point. How do we be loving, what do we need to do in the situation. Instead of what we think someone else needs to do. Asking God and really listening and looking for answers to this question until we find them. Some respectful exploration into what the sons & daughter-in-laws want or need or are thinking might be helpful.
Darla and Ann I can related to your comments above. It is very difficult to set healthy boundaries with my adult son and his wife. My son and I did have a very close relationship which has deteriorated over the past few years. I still walk on egg shells and have to be very careful what I say BUT I have been able to find the strength to tell my son that I will not allow him to disrespect me in his words and actions. It is difficult to watch my son and then the grandchildren slowly drift away due to the insecurity of my daughter-in-law. We became “second class citizens” as her family is the first choice for all special occasions. The grandchildren I love with all my heart clearly favor my daughter-in-laws mother. My daughter-in-law would have it no other way and my son refuses to “cause waves” with his wife. So, my challenge to myself is to daily focus on God for my self-worth to not look to anyone else for acceptance and affirmation.
Please help me solidify in my mind the difference between the need to set boundaries and your prayer of surrender posts.
I stayed in a physically violent and intensely emotionally abusive marriage for 40 years because:
-I surrendered to God to let HIM write the story of my life and He is sovereign and doing right is more important than being happy
-my husband was a pastor/missionary so I didn’t want to “ruin” Christ’s testimony
-for the sake of my 7 children
-I was taught Bill Gothard’s idea of total submission in everything or else I would cop Satan’s direct attacks because I’d stepped out from under the umbrella of my authority.
He WAS pulled from ministry and had 6 years of counselling and accountability, but then he got worse, so I left 2 years ago.
This question still nags at the back of my mind, though.
Joy, You are surrendering to Christ – not to an abuser. God calls us to live in truth, in the light, not to participate with the unfruitful deeds of darkness. In surrendering to Christ you may have to give up your desire to have a great marriage, to be well thought of by others in your church, to have the safety and security of a two parent family but you will be walking in the truth and in the light of what God says is his ways. As I’ve said before, God does not value the sanctity of marriage MORE than he does the safety and sanity of the individuals in it.
Thank you so much for clarifying the difference for me. I immediately wondered how to reconcile the prayer of surrender with setting boundaries to protect my sanity and psyche from regularly disturbing, emotionally confusing, unsettling interactions with my spouse. I keep thinking if only I could stop feeling, responding, or engaging with him, by surrendering all my expectations and desires to the Lord, as you speak about in the prayer of surrender, I could live in a more stable, consistent god honoring way. I have been married 29 years and it has been a nail biting, roller coaster ride of stable times punctuated regularly by unpredictable changes in him without little outward provocation (at least none he is revealing)outwardly. He says he is not aware of these shifts in him and wonders if I am paranoid, overly sensitive, exaggerating so as to find fault in him, etc. Later after much stress and sometimes chaos in our relationship, he reaches the same conclusions as me, saying “I know you are right and speaking the truth, but I don’t know what to do about it. Please be patient with me. No-one is perfect. Look at how anxious and uptight you get when these interactions play out.” The funny thing is Leslie, he never acts this way in front of other. Not once in 29 years. Everyone thinks he is so calm and stable and nice. When I try to speak of my distress about the confusing and shameful aspect of our relationship, (as I have tried to with some people close to us both, they just don’t see the problem, or think it is so trivial it shouldn’t be disturbing me so much.
I have read Stop, You are Driving Me Crazy and your books as well as Patricia Evans books and I know that I am not crazy. This is a real thing and is more serious than I believed it to be, not less. I still am unclear though about the right action to take because my spouses actions are always indirect and covert. He is much more a “hit and run” kind of person who looks at me after impact, and says “what happened to you, why are you upset??”
Is the prayer of surrender the best remedy in this situation? Is it the only thing I can resort to?? Is the Lord using this frustration to refine me, and mature me?? I am becoming less and less secure in my own skin and much less comfortable around other people than I have ever been. This lack of victory or even progress over so many years makes me feel unfit to serve in ministry without feeling like a hypocrite. Please help Leslie. I simply do not know how to make sense of my situation and what the real truth behind this dynamic is.
The prayer of surrender will be effective for a moment until you can decide what the next thing is you must do to regain safety. Let me explain. If someone is attacking me, when I say the prayer of surrender it doesn’t mean that I don’t protect myself, it means that I accept that this is happening to me right now, in this moment and I let go of my desire/demand for it to be different. Once I accept the truth of what’s happening, then I am given wisdom on what to do next.
So often instead of acceptance, we live in denial or fantasy “this isn’t really happening,” or “I must be misreading it” and before we know it we are beaten and bloodied because we refused to accept truth – that we are being stalked, or attacked or in danger and therefore didn’t do what we need to do to be wise.
As I used the prayer of surrender in the snow storm in my car, I had to “accept” that I was powerless over the storm, or the plane, but I was not powerless over my car and how I drove and I was not powerless over my attitude. Once I “let go” of my desire to get to the airport on time, or the tv studio, it actually enabled me to drive more safely and pay attention to the road because I wasn’t fretting so much about not getting there.
Gothard’s teachings have led many families into a cult mentality. A Christian family can become a tiny cult all on it’s own.
Your husband needed you to believe the truth and stand up to him when he was so wrong. That’s why God made women so smart and so strong and put us right next to our husband!
It is certainly not your fault that your husband made such rotten choices but we all have a responsibility NOT to wink at evil. This is part of having good boundaries.
To surrender to the sovereignty of God means we choose to do what is right before God and what others choose to do in response is out of our hands.
I can be a “good wife” and still be abandoned and divorced because my husband is a human being with free will. I do not have control over his soul, or he mine.
my situation mirrors yours in 3 of your 4 bullet points (my spouse is not a pastor) but due to denial he will most likely NEVER own any of his sin/and therefore NOT have any counsel nor accountability. due to whatever reason(s) he is escalating more seriously and more frequently. how do we get an answer from Leslie Vernick herself ?? I need to know the answer to0. Thank you for asking this important & pertinent question.
I’m not sure the question you want answered Margie but I do answer questions in my blog myself (although I can’t answer every question asked, I try to cover the issues asked) and if I can add value to the dialogue in the blog responses I try to as I am able. So ask your question directly and hopefully I, as well as this community can chime in. Merry Christmas all.
One more thing. Is doing “right” submitting to abuse at the hands of a person who claims to be a Christian? To cover for his sin? I think not. Go back to my blog on 2 Peter on how we are to suffer and when we are to suffer. If we suffer for doing right – holding an abuser accountable for his actions, that pleases God. God does not call us to be passive in the face of evil.
Wow how this spoke to me. My husband has been having an affair and our family is in a state of emergency. My children are 12 Andrew 14. They understand what has transpired and want me to forgive and allow him to stay in our home. After all the deceit I can hardly stand to look at him. Your words related to consequences and boundaries helps me to understand it is OK for me to feel the way I do. Consequences are from God for those who naked bad decisions. With much need for prayer. Ruth Ann
Negative consequences and mercy and grace are not incompatible. God in his mercy gave negative consequences to the Israelites so that they would wake up and repent. That is his mercy. He could have just wiped them off the planet.
Got it now! Thank you for your quick reply … and on Christmas Eve too! I so wish our paths had crossed years ago. I’m grateful for what I’m learning through your teaching. It is restoring my sanity.
Gratitude, is the best word I can think of to express regarding the truth’s for life that Leslie has been gifted to share publically with anyone who is willing to listen. There are many denominations in which leadership manipulates scripture and instead of empowering indiviuals, it subjects them to a set of doctrine that is power over and destructive. I remember a time when I wore a bullseye on my forehead and moved around as target practice. Anytime I had a moment of clarity where I thought, this is crazy, this is drama/trama, I gotta put on my PF Flyers and get moving, sure enought I could rely on everyone around me to do the Big Kybosh speech. Guilt, guilt, guilt were their weapons of choice, until one day I relized I was the walking dead. Thank you Leslie.
My husband is in denial about his emotional, verbal and financial abuse. We are currently separated but not with a legal agreement. There are issues of control over finances and the he misuses boundaries to remove access to money and claims there is “out of control spending” going on but will not really listen to budget needs. God has blessed him with a succesful business, so we are not in need or in debt. He has always been known as”tight”. He works in financial/accounting and feels disrespected when I question him or when I spend $1.00 more than he thinks I should. When I am putting up boundaries and consequences over his behavior, he thinks he needs to do that to me, but it is about the control. How do you help them to see the truth? Or knowing that he probably won’t, what should my response be?
My experiences here are the same as everyones except my ex husband wasn’t a pastor. The guilt I felt and still do, but to a lesser degree, is horrible. I’ve learned through The Holy Spirit, that God doesn’t want us to “live” and suffer this way. When I was on the verge of suicide one year ago, I, through deep christian counseling and spiritual reflection, came to understand that my life and individuality is a gift from God….His gift to ME….wether married or not….it’s mine. In accepting this reality I also came to understand that this gift is to be nourished and taken care of. I wasn’t showing God the respect and love He deserves by me allowing my husband to do what he was doing to me.It showed God that I didn’t respect this gift from Him! This revelation was what made me aware that God doesn’t want us to live with this abuse. I did everything imaginable in this 23 year marriage to get help and healing. I set boundaries and he didn’t like them so he just rolled over me like a tank.I chose to leave as he was not doing anything to change… always blaming me. He was getting worse. He has a lack of humility as he only wants to hear from people who will agree with him and he has no takers. So he filed for divorce and left the counsel of the church and isn’t attending there anymore. He’ll go off and try to find another church that will “listen” to him. This is what he does. He looks for ones to lament and feel sorry for him I cannot make him do anything. It has to come from him. God is there for him but God doesn’t inflict His will on him. He has some mental disorders but he’s still accountable for his behaviors to God. He’s in denial and I’ve trusted him to God for his healing. I’m at peace with my decision to have left though it’s tough somtimes. I am confused Lesley as I wonder how a man (or anyone) that is a professed christian since he was 19 (he’s 63 now) can treat someone with the emotional, verbal and scriptual abuse consistently, and be one. We can’t judge hearts but we can discern what comes from the tongue and it’s actions! These men are so sweet and wonderful “out and about” especially in church, but when they’re behind the four walls of their homes….abusive. This shows a choice. They are accountable for there actions. How can they then be a true footstep follower of Jesus? Your books and blogs are what’s pulled me through… giving me the so needed answers. May God Bless you Lesley and all here and have a Holy Christmas with God’s love surrounding us today and through our journey.
Wow Mary, good job to standing up as Leslie encourages us to do where there is no genuine change. I am sorry for al you,ve been through, but proud to see a sister stand up for herself, and working hard to find the hard answers to this issue of continual abuse. Your words are words of power and strength and resolve to live a life of personal responsibility and helps those struggling with healthy boundaries and what that looks like. Well done, and I,LL be praying that you find God is our continual provider and answer…….
Thank you Robin
God is good and your support on this is what each and everyone of us here needs.Boundaries can be difficult to implement especially if one hasn’t done this in the past. My divorce was final on Jan. 8th. Very painful for me. Neither of us believes in divorce but he filed in Oct as a way to manipulate me with control. He thought he could file and I would run back, but he was wrong as my boundaries I set were never addressed or respected. Still aren’t as I write this. I told him last week that until he stops e-mailing me with hateful, hateful,ones,I was no contact. These e-mails are no different than what I endured by his tongue for 23 years when I was with him. He has a couple personality disorders and with the verbal,emotional,and spiritual abuse I took all those years, I will not take it now that he divorced me. He has been e-mailing me all week…over 65, that let me know that ” a wife is supposed to be a husbands helper” and he’s doing everything now. He never did in our marriage so this is new for him. He has never had to totally take care of himself like he does now and he’s 63. He’s caustic and being very mean now. My boundaries are not what he wants to hear. He doesn’t understand them as he has none! I will stand on this but it’s hard for me as I love him but am watching him deteriorate emotionally and spiritually as he will not humble himself to God for the necessary change for himself. He BLAMES me and my grown children along with my dear neighbors who assisted me in leaving back in July, as the reason for our failure and all his problems since. All not true. Part of his disorders… never taking any responsibility. He is alone in the true sense and will continue to tumble until he comes to the foot of the cross to Jesus. God as so blessed me since I left. He hasn’t been blessed at all. Interesting that we are divorced because of his choice but continues to e-mail me as if we’re still together. If he ever really changed and implemented the necessary changes that Lesley talks about in seeing change, repentance and all other things, yes I would look at reconciliation. I’m realistic and with his age, still being very caustic, not having had any therapy ever, and not ever wanting any, takes zero accountability, he just wants me back and move forward NOT looking at the past…….it’s not going to happen. That would be disrespectful to God’s gift to me. Can’t do that. My walk with God is truly forming now. Love all of you here. Keep the faith as my sweet father used to always tell me.
Hi Leslie: Just want to thank you for your strong and Biblical stand about boundaries in marriage and within families. I’ve talked with many women these past few weeks with hurtful relationships with sons/daughters in law, plus abusive spouses. I was asked to speak on domestic abuse in Christian homes at two conferences this past Spring, and also spoke on it in Beirut. Your clear teaching on not accepting or excusing sinful behavior is life-giving to so many. May the Lord abundantly use your writings around the world to bring freedom and hope to so many women, in every culture, you seek God’s comfort and guidance for their lives. Love in Christ, Poppy
Thanks Poppy. I appreciate you.
Please pray for me!!! I am an ENABLER! I am married to a narcissist! It has taken over a decade to discover this truth. Through good Christian counseling, losing my home, my cars,credit and nearly my son and my sanity….. I am at a crossroads. I first saw Leslie’s books at a Christian counselor recommended to me by my current Pastor because of my “anger” issues during marital counseling. She was the first to suggest he was NPD but because she hadn’t met him I didn’t fully explore the diagnosis. You see my husband is tall, handsome and charming to all who meet him. He was a successful pharmaceutical sales rep for years and flew under the radar with his NPD. He is faithful at church, went to most marital counseling sessions and is a “nice guy”…kind to everyone he meets. Even when he admitted to forging my name to buy property and almost going to jail or stealing from my bank accounts because I separated my finances because of his financial infidelities, I was told that our problems may be from my lack of submission to him over the years. He told my parents I was bipolar and because of his crazy making I questioned my sanity becoming more and more depressed. No one could see the emotional abuse he committed against me! They did see my anger and when I tried to tell anyone who would listen what he was doing ..I was labeled a bitter wife. My aha moment came when my Mom gave me an RBC ministries booklet on emotional abuse that opened the door for me. When he got fired from his job almost 3.5 years ago he decided to become a commission only financial planner refusing to even search for a job to contribute to the finances and provide for me and our boys. All that I thought I knew about my husband was not reality. As I look back, he has always had visions of becoming a millionaire through his business ventures, thinks he is more business savvy than most (even if he makes less than 10k per year over the last 3 yrs), spends money on his “needs”(Mercedes with cash from a settlement when our home was going into foreclosure) while I put all of my money into trying to keep the things we had built over the years to no avail. HE BLAMES me for losing it all!!!! Our sons are suffering the loss of the only home we ever had, the bitter fighting between us and the security they felt of having two parents who loved each other. One has been talking suicide since age 10. Sadly, my husband was raised by a narcissistic father who stole he and his brother from their mom while visiting. His Dad is a community leader and a serial cheater ( why his first wife left him) who brings his mistresses around his immediate family and his wife submits to these abominations. You ask WHY am I still married to him?! I love my husband, I am a Christian who believes in the marriage covenant but I am now seeing that the well meaning counseling from Pastors, elders and marriage counselors set me up to believe that I had control through prayer and submission. I still struggle with this today. I struggle with is my husband mentalIy ill, unsaved or just plain selfish. I am reading The Emotionally Destructive Marriage and I am trying to reclaim my hope through a voice that is not born of anger and bitterness. I didn’t get here overnight but now I am on the road to recovery with my sons trying to set boundaries and maintain them. I’m seeing how I’ve contributed to this emotionally destructive relationship and taking one step at a time to remove us from it. I know that submission and prayer can help BUT only if it is to The Lord, my God first. I will not continue to let my husband abuse his authority! I choose myself and my boys first and I will love my husband from a distance and leave him with God to deal with. I heard Leslie say on a talk show something like :You can make a bad relationship better by yourself but it takes two to make a bad relationship good. ROMANS 8:28
I can relate to all of these replies. Such sadness in “Christian” homes. Since reading Leslie’s blogs and the comments, and since my own “christian” husband’s lies and cheating have taken a life form of their own (and yet he refuses to leave or sign divorce papers – ‘until he is ready – and I can’t make him’ he says with a sneer), I wonder just how many “Christian” families are what they seem. I have uttmost respect for my son-in-law who is working very hard at overcoming weaknesses in his life and isn’t ashamed to proclaim his need for Christ in his everyday life. I would love to hear stories of other men that are truly representing Christ in today’s world. It isn’t about how perfect they are – it is about how willing they are to surrender their weaknesses to Christ’s strength.
On the other side of this thought is – (as an enabler myself) what are we as women doing to enable this behavior – in our sons and in our husbands? How do we turn this around?
I wonder if God will allow me to divorce him because of his refusal to go to individual counseling, get a job that will allow him to provide for our family or take accountability for his actions (especially the ones that led to our losing our home). I feel deeply wounded and wonder if I can ever trust him again even if he eventually is remorseful and repentent. I also don’t trust my judgement regarding relationships because I didn’t see what was right before my eyes. I am still praying for God’s answer and timing. Leslie…how do I maintain realistic boundaries with a NOD?
What is a NOD?
Not sure what you mean Helen?
Thanks Leslie, Any and all analogies help reinforce what needs to be done and the Biblical use of boundaries and consequences. It didn’t help the marriage, but it has done wonders for me.
Leslie, I have a question. I hear alot of women talk about fleeing from their homes and moving out, but Ive never heard anyone mention using a Protection Order, to remove the abusive spouse so the spouse that is seeking help and growth can stay in the home. I realize using a Protection Order can increase the liklihood of danger from a socialpath/narcissist abuser. I just wondered what your perspective was on using a Protection Order. I would like to remain in my home, as my business is in our home. He has total access to all our finances and money, and gives me none. I feel this might serve as a greater consequence, as many that I have given, have not awakened him to the reality that there are laws to protect women and I plan to use them and pursue those, if necessary.
Thank you!! Robin
and in addition to that, I wonder if it’s necessary for a woman who has worked hard at stopping the abuse without much cooperation, needs to pay for the consequences of the abuse- by moving out. Shouldn’t the consequence be his to pay??
The only way someone can get their spouse to move out if he or she is not willing to move is through a court order which usually results from an abusive incident. Otherwise the courts determine that both people live in the house and both own the house and one person cannot force the other out. Therefore if you no longer want to “live” under the conditions that are in the home or marriage, a woman’s only option to implement consequences is to find herself another place to live. Unless, of course there has been abuse then the consequences would be either jail, or a protection from abuse or both.
Protection orders can work only as long as the abuser respects the law and is not suicidal and homicidal because if he is, he cares little if he breaks the protection order because he won’t be going to jail. That doesn’t mean she shouldn’t get one but she must also be extremely mindful of how to keep herself and her children safe in every way possible – alarms on her home, security system, dog, self protection classes, not taking the same route as usual, etc. However I have seen women use a protection order for the very reason it is in place. As a very clear, legal boundary that what he has done is not only unacceptable to you as his wife, it is unacceptable period. It is illegal, against the law and there are consequences.
Robin: My own experience: I was able to get a temporary restraining order, barring him from the home or from me physically. I was a stay-at-home mom of two young children, and was not going to leave my home, and my husband (now ex) also refused to leave. I made a list of all of the abusive behavior (one physical incident with me, yelling and beating on my car, steroid usage), and put all of it in an affidavit. The judge signed it, barring him from the property and from access to our children until our first hearing.
What happened in my own experience was the more we set boundaries and the more we stand on the truth of God’s word in regards to mutual love and respect, and the more we show ourselves as confident and not willing to back down and live a subservient life to the abuser, things can get really bad before they get better. They are used to getting their way through control, and when I refused to back down, he didn’t know what else to do, so the true narcissistic self appeared. Seek good legal advice and more than anything, do not be afraid. 2 Timothy 1:7 was my verse, “God did not give us a spirit of fear, but of power and love and self-control.” Make your plans and stand against evil. It was a long road and still is, but my young children are already healing and are healthier because of the stability of our life without him.
Sydney, thank you for sharing your experience with getting a restraining order from the court, keeping him out of the home. Can you further share what happened after first hearing?? Did judge grant an extension on the restraining order, keeping him out of the home, after the hearing, because of his abuse or were you forced to leave? Thank you, Robin
Robin, You would think that the consequence for an abusive spouse would be that they must move out, but that isn’t necessarily the way it is. I now live in a 1 bedroom apartment and X lives in a 5 bedroom home–alone. He is now making all of the updates to the house that I wanted to do while I was living there, but it was never important to him then. Now that I’m gone he is doing the work and blaming me for it never getting done. His lies never end.
We all wanted that perfect loving husband. I too said yes to please someone who lacks empathy and used me to feed his insecurities. I didn’t understand the importance of personal boundaries. When the time came, I had mixed feelings about staying in our home. I thought it would be best for my young boys to stay in the only home they knew. He played mind games with me. I realized I had no control over the situation and did not know the right answer. I surrendered to Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit. Today, I have my own new space that is HOME to me and my boys. I still want that loving relationship with that poor mixed up man and I have to remind myself it doesn’t exist with him. I always wanted a white picket fence around my home. I have it now, protecting me and my home. I start each day by thanking God and asking God to show me how to live each day, one day at a time. I love when He comes over and rings my door bell, because it is my very own door bell. Another, boundary he cannot ignore. Thank you Leslie for reassuring us and reminding us that the signs we see are Gods signs and that only God can show us down the right road to happiness.
Thanks for your comments.
Could you explain what you meant when you credited Leslie with saying, “the signs we see are God’s signs?”
My husband keeps telling me that I need to let God work more deeply in my heart, get a part time job, more involved in ministry, get out more with friends, etc. rather than focusing on the things I know are harmful to me in many ways (although not physically) I tell him that the things I see and the affirmations I find in various places are from the Lord, and not to be ignored or swept aside as insignificant. He acts like I have nothing better to do than focus on his faults and that I am OCD when I won’t ignore them or get over the impact on me.
I wonder when my husband will reap the consequences or reap what he sows. Our 21 year marriage has been pretty bumpy the last 4 years. He moved out Dec.1 with a friend and came yesterday-Jan. 4 to pick up some personal items to move into a shared townhouse yesterday. I know financially this will affect all us, we have 3 children. He moved because he will not accept that I say he’s verbally abusive. So I guess he will live in denial forever? It’s so frustrating. He also left for 2 days last February and was threatening again in July. Now I don’t remember what his reason was at those times. I have posted before that he has narcissistic traits. So his reactions seem to fit this personality type.
I think my dilemma is whether to file anything legally. He said he wants a separation and then divorce, but he hasn’t served anything to me yet. He’s financially controlling. My concern is he will stop putting enough money into the checking account. He said according to his attorney I will be getting less. And that’s probably true. I don’t know yet, just want to make the best decisions possible.
Melissa – consult immediately with an attorney who will help you make a wise choice right now.
Thank you Leslie. I have a consultation this Thursday. I’m getting support and advice from other women that have traveled this road. It’s helpful and scary at the same time.
I’m adding to comments from above. I need to update a few things in my situation, and would greatly appreciate feedback.
To summarize, my husband left our home Dec. 1, 2013. We have 3 children 18, 15 and 11 and a 21 year marriage. I did consult with an attorney a few weeks ago. I could have filed for child custody and child support. He is still supporting us. I chose to wait and see. This last Friday my husband sent me an email telling me God has revealed to him about our marriage. He’s telling me he wants to come home and show me he can be the husband God wants him to be. Says he’s fully committed to working it out. This is also after reading the book “Liberated Through Submission” by P.B. Wilson a Christian female. This book was recommended by a family relative. I’m reading it as well. I guess the part I’m having trouble with is for the married woman. I feel she’s saying the husband has the final say in decisions. The wife should be able to voice her opinion but since the husband is the head of the household, ultimately he is responsible for the family. And the husband is to submit to God. I don’t think she’s saying women are doormats, but I’m concerned I really won’t be heard. It doesn’t feel like a sense of mutuality that Leslie talks about.
My husband is saying all the right things in his emails. He’s involved himself almost overnight with a Love and Respect class being taught at our church. And he wants me to attend with him. He has literally done a 180. He sent me a text yesterday saying he felt it was God’s will that he come home. He feels like we could work on the marriage better if he were here. He was asking to come home yesterday after saying in emails he would give me time and support and not rush me. I reminded him of this and he said sure, no hurry and he was also putting himself out there for saying he wanted to come home now. He’s telling me he’s scared to come home too, which seems contradictory. I don’t really think he understands my fear of him. The concern he might become spiritually abusive is pretty real now.
I said this is sudden to tell me this on Friday and want to come home Sunday! He’s asked me when he might come home, honestly I don’t know. I said possibly at the beginning of February. I know it’s really too soon to see real and lasting change. He also wants me to set up counseling with a male christian counselor we saw in Aug. 2012. I haven’t asked exactly what he expects from this. He is also set to deploy in July for a year to S. Korea. He requested these orders earlier this month. As far as I know that won’t change. He would like to have our marriage at stable place before he leaves.
This is too much too soon. His emails sound too good and when he talks I feel the truth comes out. His rush to come home, etc. I wonder if he could have planned “all” of this out? I know that’s quite amazing if he did. He left our home last February for 2 nights. I found out he contacted a female co-worker after he left. His response was he thought it was over? So, now that he’s been gone almost 2 months and prior to understanding God’s will. I have real concerns if he’s been faithful to our marriage. I feel like it’s something I really have to ask.
I have always wanted to reconcile our marriage. This change in him is certainly welcome if genuine. And I don’t want to dismiss any real work or change God might be doing in him.
Melissa, I think you need to trust your “gut.” He is moving too fast, and his manipulative personality is showing through. I think the best thing would be for you to “court” each other for at least 6 months, along with marriage counseling, but there needs to be the condition that you have to be happy with the counselor as well. Not all marriage counselors preach the same doctrine. Your gut is telling you right.
Melissa. In my mind, yet I don’t want to make decisions for you, you answered your own questions. You said, “this is too much too soon” and “he wants stability before he deploys”. That is an awful lot to ask in a very short period of time. He is already deciding which counselor you should see. He is reading patriarchal material which leads to spiritual abuse in many cases. Has he asked you how you feel? What you think you should do? I don’t know your husband but it sounds like a new wave of abuse could be starting. It is just a matter of time.
X throws around a lot of “it’s God’s will” stuff, but when that doesn’t work he starts the verbal abuse again. Then goes back to “I know God wants us together”. It is a vicious cycle, with no real ongoing change. If you want to make your marriage work, PROCEED WITH CAUTION. I have heard of so many awful things happening when a couple gets back together too soon. I will pray for you.
2 months is too short, I believe. Have you seen a broken heart over the pain he has caused – true godly sorrow, hating his sin as God hates it? Is he respecting your desire to wait? A truly repentant heart will welcome any consequences.
Just a note about the “Love and Respect” seminar – before I left my phsically/verbally abusive pastor-missionary husband, we sat through that, but something didn’t ring true. After each session, we’d come home and all I’d hear was, “You are not respecting me. You never respected me. God tells you to respect me. See the problem with our marriage is YOU.” The trouble with that accusation was, to please God, my life’s goal was to be a sweetly submissive wife in the midst of the extreme abuse.
Then it hit me. The speaker keeps mentioning a “good-willed man”. My husband was not good-willed, and he used that whole seminar as a perpetual weapon for years after.
I’ve read through these replies and relate so well. I noted in another blog that after reading Patricia Evans’ book, The Verbally Abusive Relationship and later the Boundaries book by John Townsend that I needed to try using a boundary regarding my husband’s extreme verbal abuse. We’ve been married 57 years and since his retirement, he’s become even more abusive, insanely jealous, accusing, controlling, etc. I finally told him I would no longer submit sexually until he changed. However, the abuse only got worse, and he moved into the guest room, threatening to leave, as he was “alone” anyway. He finally did more (800 miles away to his home state). I had the house door locks changed and also have ADT. However, he returned after being gone only two weeks and broke into the house while I was away (through a back window). I filed a Protection Order against him after he left again, but he refused to obey it, kept calling, writing and threatening to return. He returned a month later and again broke into the house while I was out. I called 911 when I saw his truck in the driveway and he was arrested, jailed overnight and had to go to court the next day and again three weeks later. He was warned at court that if he returns to the house again, he’ll be sent to jail for nine more days. He sent a note to me via our daughter and said he wouldn’t have put a dog through what I have him! I thank God for the peace and freedom I now enjoy and pray my (sick) husband will now leave me alone until I can file for divorce.