My whole family is rude and disrespectful. What can I do?

Hi friends,

I feel your prayers for this new book I’m birthing. Thank you so much. It is such a discipline to park my bottom down in my chair for hours at a time during the weekend just to write and pray and think, especially when I sit most of the week for counseling and coaching clients. My computer is not working well, so we finally decided it was time to invest in a new one. I got one that has a screen that works outside so I’m excited that I might be able to write some of my book sitting on my deck. That way I won’t spend the ENTIRE summer inside.

Here is a sneak preview of the results you will get from reading my new book on destructive marriages.

You will gain:
Clarity – to see what’s wrong and why trying harder in the traditional wifely way won’t work in this kind of marriage.
Confidence – to know God’s heart for marriage and gain confidence about how he wants you to love your husband well (even if you don’t like him) and what that looks like biblically, and it doesn’t mean allowing him to continue his destructive behaviors toward you.
Courage – so that you will be empowered to take firm and godly action to protect yourself and your children as well as maximize the opportunity to wake your spouse up to his destructiveness and change.
Competence – to know exactly what steps to take, when to take them, and how to implement them in order to maximize the opportunity for true healing and restoration of your marriage.

Continue your prayers friends. I desperately need and value them.

This week’s question: My family consists of my husband, 3 adult children and one teenager. My 33 year old daughter, 21 year old son, and 16 year old son are all at home. The verbal abuse coming from all directions is just too much to bear. I know that there are two sides to every story, but I tell you, the name calling and the disrespect is too much. I can’t do this much longer. What can I do?

Answer: I’m sorry to hear that you live in a warzone. Understand that this is very toxic to your physical, emotional and spiritual health. When you say that you can’t do this much longer, I’m assuming you mean you can’t continue to endure this treatment much longer. Good. That will give you the strength to make some drastic changes.

I know there are always two sides to every story. I don’t know fully either side, so I’m going to give you some general principles and steps to follow.

First, what’s your part? Why are you allowing yourself to be treated this way by your grown children? What kind of consequences have you implemented as their mother when they talked to you this way as they were growing up? Have they learned it’s acceptable to talk to you with disrespect and use abusive language?

Ask yourself why you’ve been willing to live like a prisoner in your own home? After you’ve done some of your own soul-searching, you need to have a talk first with your husband and then with your children. With your husband, start by saying something like this:
“I cannot live with all this abuse in our home anymore. I can’t stop you from treating me disrespectfully, but I think the children feel it’s OK for them to do because you do it to me. I know I’m not perfect and may do things that aggravate you and them, but I will not tolerate any longer the verbal abuse and disrespect from you or the children. If they don’t stop, I’m going to ask them to move out and I’d like your support. From now on, when you talk with me like that, I’m going to go out for a while. I’ll be back when you can calm down and talk with me constructively.”

With your husband, after you give him the warning, the very first time he gets abusive, leave immediately. Call him from your cell phone and tell him that, when he can calm down and talk respectfully, you’ll be back. Drive around for an hour, go to the mall or a coffee shop, and call back and ask if he’s calmed down and ready to talk respectfully to you. If not, stay out and do not return or call him until the next day. Soon he will learn that his anger get’s him nowhere and you won’t allow yourself to be a target for his fits of rage.

Before you have that conversation with your husband, you need to make a plan just in case you need to spend the night somewhere. I don’t know your extended family situation or financial abilities, but make sure you have the things you need packed in your car so that you don’t have to return home.

With your grown children I might say something like this with a calm voice tone:
“I love you and have been willing to sacrifice many things to help you get on your feet so that you could get a good start in adulthood. But I will not longer sacrifice my health and well being. I am sick of being verbally abused (give specific examples), and I will no longer allow you to live in my home if you choose to continue to talk to me in that way. If you don’t stop immediately, you will have to find another place to live.”

Do not argue and do not back down. When they slip and start up with you, put you open palm up in the air like a stop sign and stay “Stop it!” If they stop, say “thank you” and walk away. If they continue, then remind them of the consequence. If they don’t stop, tell them they have 2 weeks to find a new place to live. And…you must stick with it.

With your 16 year old son, you will say something similar, but instead of telling him he will have to move out, implement the gift of consequences. In other words, when he chooses to talk with you that way, you will not allow him to use your car, or you will disconnect the computer, or cell phone, or whatever works to get him to understand that you mean business. You should do this for only 24 hours. When he is respectful to you for 24 hours, he gets his privileges back.

If your husband won’t cooperate in implementing these consequences with you, then the other option is for you to move out temporarily until the family understands you mean business.

You will have to be firm on changing your part; no pleading and no arguing, just consequences. You cannot change your children or your husband. The only person you can change is you. But as you change, you are creating an atmosphere where it’s more likely that they will make better choices which will be good for you and good for your family.


  1. Anonymous on June 5, 2012 at 6:35 pm

    I was a child in a verbally, mentally and sometimes physically abusive household, so I can relate to the family dynamics you describe. I left the family as an early adult and have minimal contact with them. My two brothers, 40+ and 50, still live at home with my widowed mother, never moved out on their own, and have minimal to nonexistent work histories, no friends, and have done nothing productive with their lives. Yes, that sounds bleak, but you are doing neither yourself nor your children any favors by continuing to live this way. In particular, your 33 year old and the 21 year old should already be out on their own. No excuses about the tough job market! The outside world doesn't tolerate or reward bullying and abuse the way an abusive family does- they (and you) are in for a long, hard road in life if this isn't put to a stop now. You deserve better, and they deserve to "reap what they sow", just like every other adult, which is what they are. The adult kids need to move out now regardless of their behavior, and you need to move out now if your husband/children won't let you enforce this now. Please love yourself, use the backbone that I know you have, and learn to live with peace instead of with turmoil and pain. I will pray for you.

  2. Anonymous on June 12, 2012 at 12:30 pm

    hi leslie,
    i agree with you that there is a need to stand up to the verbal abuse in her home. i also agree with your counsel here but i have a question. Where is the grace? I understand that grace does not mean letting sinful choices go but rather addressing them because we love the other more than we love our own comfort or power or position or whatever it is that keeps us from confronting. Yet consequences can be a way of controlling anothers behaviors, which leads to performance based families rather than grace based families. Is it a matter of the heart? Is it a matter of demanding change rather than inviting change? Can you clarify for me?

  3. Anonymous on June 13, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    I left the first comment originally, and I am responding to the second comment. I agree that grace is needed in this situation, but I suspect the one who needs it is the woman who posed the question. I doubt her family is in mental turmoil or losing any sleep trying to decide how to demonstrate grace to her. The abusers in her family are focused on themselves, and she is also focused on them- how is that for control? And who is controlling whom? Abusers will try to make the abused feel responsible for causing the abuse- and will further complain that the abused is trying to "control" them if the abused speaks up or enforces consequences. This woman appears to be unable to live in peace in her own home because of the behavior of others, including two adult children who should already be out on their own. Abusers simply do not think the same way as normal people. When you ask a normal person to change a behavior that is hurting you, they listen respectfully and make reasonable changes- when you ask an abuser to change, they just pile on more abuse, because they don't care about your feelings and value their own selfishness more than the relationship. This woman is already suffering- let's not pile it on by suggesting that she "needs to be more loving", "needs to do more to understand", "needs to try harder", or "needs to demonstrate more grace". What I would like to see her do is honor her own feelings, including those of anger and disappointment, and believe that she is God's precious creature and that He does not want her to be treated like this. Out of that will come real grace for her family- the grace of accountability and empathy.

  4. Marina Ratmansky on August 7, 2012 at 12:47 am

    Yes ,I agree,there is no exuse for abuse. As I teach my clients, you have to disengage the moment the verbal abuse starts. Say, “Do not talk to me this way, I do not like it!” and leave the room. Even if they start to scream at you, do not engage, just leave. After a while they will get that something has changed in you, and the change in you may bring a little change in them. May God grant you wisdom, strength and courage to do the right thing.

  5. Jan on June 8, 2024 at 2:36 am

    The next time the 21 or 33 year old are rude or disrespectful to you KICK THEM OUT. Take your 16 year old to therapy. Stand cup for yourself with all of them. Tell your husband you’ve made a marriage counseling appointment and a lawyer’s appointment and let him pick which one to keep- marriage counseling or divorce.

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