Our nation is in turmoil. We are grieving, scared, and not sure what the outcome will be. Some of that will depend on our next steps forward. I wrote this essay in response to the George Floyd murder and invite you to read it. Click here to view the post.
Question: I’m married to a wonderful man who is a great provider and all the things anyone could ever want in a husband.
He’s caring, has a great job, makes a great living, thoughtful, generous, kind to me, and others both in public and behind closed doors. He’s successful, smart and is a great father.
He’s all of these things…..until he’s not……. sometimes even wavering between being wonderful and demeaning in just a few hours!
That same great husband and involved father is critical of me and others, condescending, acerbic, and demeaning and has been verbally abusive in different degrees throughout our relationship. At first only occasionally and sporadically and now it’s the norm. Day to day his personality can change by the minute.
Conversations (if you can call them that) go around in circles and simple everyday interactions can be so confusing.
The “great dad” facade is confusing to our kids the older they get and are subtly subjected to it as well. One minute he’s harshly “helping” with homework, the next he is praising them. The unpredictable and inconsistent moods, double standards, constant passive-aggressive comments, and verbal jabs are EXHAUSTING!
I’ve read so many books (yours included) on the subject of emotional and verbal abuse, narcissism, and different personality types trying to make sense of my life over the past 12 years….yikes! (15 total) which looks perfect on the outside but is toxic on the inside.
While he’s not physically abusive, there have been so many verbally abusive instances, more than a share of big blow-ups, many mid-range rants (with a little bit of truth but still completely bizarre) and way too many odd and underhanded passive-aggressive comments over the span of our relationship. With that said, we also live a great upper-middle-class life with many friends, a supportive family, nice things, vacations, etc. I’ve documented, journaled, researched to the point it has become my norm! The books, articles, YouTube research, etc. etc. all hit close to home…. way too close!
I’m at a point where I need to confront him and possibly make some major changes. I know what I “should” do but there are so many factors involved.
I’m a stay at home mom to 3 amazing children. Currently, we have 2 houses (in transition from one to the other an hour away which is a whole story within itself) and of course, have built a beautiful façade of life. I’m at a point where I can’t (emotionally at least) move to the new house until I know that he will change and that I want to stay married.
I’m at a breaking point where part of me just wants to throw in the towel, talk to a lawyer, move on and learn from the past giving my children a respite from the dysfunctional way he treats me. My faith is the only thing I’m hanging on to right now. While I’m at a point where I still truly love him and can see us working it out, I’m also losing the love and desire to make it work on a daily basis. His reactions to things recently as well as my feelings as I accumulate all my journaling and research from the past are daunting and discouraging. I’m trying so hard to do the right thing for our children as to not damage the future that is possible.
Answer: I think your dilemma illustrates well that not all abusive individuals look like monsters nor do they behave poorly or abusively all of the time. Sometimes they can be very wonderful to be around…..until they’re not.
I have a few questions I’d like you to ponder. Was his Jeckyl/Hyde persona present early on in your marriage or is it more recent? You wrote, “at first only sporadic but now more the norm.” Domestic abuse has a progressive pattern of increasing in frequency and intensity over time. Therefore, I’d like you to answer these next four questions:
1. When was the first time this kind of behavior happened? Dating? Honeymoon? While pregnant with your first child? Only in the last half of marriage? Recently?
2. When was the last time this kind of behavior happened? Yesterday? This week? This month? Last year? A long time ago?
3. What was the worst thing that he has done to you or the children? Often times it’s the most degrading or humiliating, not always the most violent or dangerous.
4. What is a typical time?
These questions were first introduced by Lenore Walker, an abuse specialist, and they help us quickly identify patterns of increasing frequency and intensity over time.
What pattern do you see when you answer these questions? Have you ever told him these critical, demeaning, harsh, crazy conversation behaviors are hurtful to you and to your marriage? Have you stood up for yourself or your children when they are being treated this way and if so, what has been his response? Does he hear you? Blame you? Withdraw? Does he get more acerbic? Use the Bible to spiritualize his headship, authority, and abuse of power?
Every one of us had good sides and bad sides. Each of us can, when provoked or disappointed or stressed out behave towards those we love in sinful ways. However, the main difference between a healthy individual and an abusive individual is that a healthy individual does not feel entitled to act that way, nor do they feel good about it. When they are confronted with their sinful behaviors or see that they have hurt those they love, they usually apologize, show empathy for the pain they’ve caused, and work hard not to repeat those sinful attitudes or actions.
An abusive person has a different mindset and heart. Although he may have a good side, he (or she) rationalizes, justifies and excuses their sinful and hurtful behaviors. They believe they are entitled to lash out and punish you when you have disappointed them or aren’t doing what they require. They believe they get to make the rules for you to follow. They believe they are entitled to judge, condemn, and criticize others because their pride puts themselves above you and as a god. Therefore, they aren’t accountable, nor do they need to be teachable. Why would they? They know it all and are always right. You can’t have a calm discussion with these individuals or give constructive feedback because your thoughts and opinions are worth-less than theirs.
It’s crucial that you (and people helpers) understand these mindsets and heart issues are not marriage problems but they always cause marriage problems. Marriage was designed by God to be a safe and trusting partnership in which to raise children who are loved, healthy, and safe.
Marriage is the one relationship where we should be able to trust our spouse not to do us harm. When that doesn’t happen and harm is repeatedly caused, what’s the other spouse to do? Endure and enable sin to flourish? Not according to the Bible. Click To Tweet
Instead, we are to expose the unfruitful deeds of darkness and speak the truth in love (Ephesians 5:11; 4:15). We are to humbly speak up (Matthew 18:15-17; Galatians 6:1), and have appropriate boundaries and consequences for the harm caused. This is not punishment. That’s God’s job. This is living in reality. The Bible says, “What a man sows, he reaps” (Galatians 6:7). When you repeatedly sow harm, damage, destruction, deceit, and indifference into a relationship, you don’t reap trust, affection, intimacy, and safety. That’s like saying if I act like a fool and jump out of the window, God’s grace should void the laws of gravity so I don’t suffer the harmful consequences of my actions. God does not negate the effects of his laws like gravity, even when we’re sorry we jumped out the window. Some consequences are permanent.
Therefore, you do have some tough choices and continued growth to do right now. You know what you “should” do but if you do the right thing, you’re afraid of the ramifications. You’re afraid your kids won’t get to grow up in a beautiful home with all the perks of their current lifestyle. You’re afraid you might have to go back to work to help support them. You’re afraid their dad could become more cruel or vindictive. You’re afraid that after keeping up this lovely image for so long, you might not be believed. And, you might be right.
But then again, what happens if you do nothing and maintain the status quo? Is that healthy? Is that godly or right? Is that teaching your precious children to walk in the truth and the light? Is it teaching them how a man treats a woman and how woman allows herself to be treated so that they go on to repeat those patterns in their own lives? Is it teaching them to live in fear and to keep quiet to maintain a certain standard of living? One of my mentors once said, “golden chains are no less chains than chains of iron.”
I do hope your husband sees himself clearly and repents. The only hope for him to do that however is if you get brave enough to tell him the truth with love. Like the children’s story, The Emperor’s New Clothes, all the Emperor’s most trusted advisors were afraid to tell him that he was naked. Unless we have loving truth-tellers in our life, we can all be easily deceived and self-deceived (Hebrews 3:13). As his Biblical helpmate, you have a unique role in his life to speak into his character and behaviors in a way that no one else does.
I encourage you to plan for this important conversation. Prepare, get yourself read, prayed up, and strong. Collect and use your documented evidence. Invite a trusted pastor or counselor to be with you if you feel uncertain of his reaction. Make sure you have a safety plan in place, just in case your husband’s anger escalates and you and/or your children are in danger.
This is hard and we’re here for you. Let us know how it goes.
Friends, when you’ve had to stop pretending and speak the truth in love, what did you do to prepare yourself and your safety plan?
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