Setting Boundaries, Entitlement Thinking and Demanding Respect


Hi Friends,

Thank you for all your helpful comments on how the church can be more helpful in situations of abuse and destructive marriages. I am on the final stretches of writing this book and I am very excited to see how God is shaping it and putting it all together. I do not think you’ll be disappointed. I have one more week to get all the details together and a little bit more to write. Pray that I get it all done and can still enjoy my Thanksgiving.

I’m still recuperating from Grandma duty. My old body just doesn’t bounce back like it used to and caring for those three precious girls was a joy but exhausting.

Here’s a question I want you to respond to for me on this blog. Whether you decided to stay or whether you decided to leave your destructive marriage, how have you dealt with the grief that life, your marriage, and family life did not turn out the way you had hoped it would?


This Week’s Question: My husband says that he is put into a kind of uncontrollable rage when I disrespect him because it is his god given right as the husband to be respected. Last night I told my husband who has physically struck me in the past that I felt unsafe in our marriage and that I thought it was necessary that we lay some ground rules and boundaries specifically to be enforced during our times of arguing and fighting so that we can keep each other accountable.

He resisted in agreeing boundaries were the issue but finally agreed. I told him that a universal boundary should be absolutely no physical striking or threats of physically hurting of any kind toward one another. To that he said that his boundary equivalent to that was “no disrespect/raising my voice to him.” He said that when he is disrespected, he feels he is being verbally abused by me and it feels as terrible as I feel when he slaps me on the arm/leg/head.

In theory this sounds “right”. He says that I am making a double standard when I put a boundary on his behavior but that he cannot on me. And yet, something does not seem right at all about what he is saying. I agree that disrespecting your husband is as sinful as physically striking your spouse in anger. Is it biblical to see these exactly the same in terms of setting “off limit” boundaries in disagreements?

Answer: Your struggle to think clearly in this muddle is common to women who live with abusive men. I want to help clarify some important truths.

First your husband’s rage and subsequent acts of violence toward you are not uncontrollable. His behavior is always his choice. I’m sure he has experienced disrespect from other people in his life – his employer, a rude driver, your children, a friend, an enemy. People sin against us all the time in many ways and sometimes we do get angry. However, that doesn’t mean we hit them. In fact, isn’t that what we teach our children NOT to do when someone takes their toy or makes them mad? We don’t hit people when we’re mad. Period!

Let me ask you a question. Does your husband hit other people in the arm/leg/head when he feels disrespected? What do you imagine a police officer would say if your husband used that as his excuse when he hit someone who disrespected him in traffic or at the mall?

Hear this important truth. Your husband hits you when he is mad because he chooses to and you have continued to enable him by not enforcing legal consequences that would protect you from this kind of abusive behavior.

He says that it is his god-given right to be respected. It’s also your god given right to be loved and cherished. When he fails to love and cherish you and you feel hurt or angry, do you hit him?

The second truth I want you be crystal clear on is that you will fail your spouse and he will fail you. Sometimes these failures are big but often they occur in little ways. He doesn’t love me like I’d like or she doesn’t respect me like I want her to. The truth is, our spouse doesn’t always give us what we want even if what we want is a good and godly thing. Hurt and disappointment occur in every marriage and we can feel angry.

But is the right answer to treat our spouse with abusive behavior or abusive speech when they don’t give us what we want? Jesus says “never!” The Bible labels that kind of behavior sin and selfishness and is never justified.

The truth is no one gets everything he or she wants all of the time. Part of growing up and maturing is learning how to handle ourselves in a godly, mature way when we are disappointed, angry and hurt when we don’t get what we want.

Your husband’s entitlement thinking has deceived him into believing that since he’s entitled to be respected, he’s entitled to hit you when you’re not complying with what he wants. That is absolutely not true. How do other men handle being disrespected by their wives? They might pray for their wife. They might talk with their wife. They might get counseling as a couple. A much healthier response to his disappointment or hurt when you don’t respect him is for him to say, “Honey, that hurts me when you talk to me that way. Would you please stop?” Or even, “When you talk to me that way, I can’t hear you. I’m ending the conversation.”

As far as boundaries – you’re right, you will never feel safe to have a conversation with your husband let alone disagree if you fear for your safety. In the same way, if your husband fears your tongue and being disrespected, it’s hard for him to share his honest thoughts and feelings with you.

However, I’m not sure of his definition of disrespect. You were very clear with your definition of what you want stopped, no physical threats or physical violence. His definition was fuzzy – “No disrespect or raising your voice”. Does that mean that when you feel strongly about something or disagree, you can’t speak with an elevated voice without him feeling disrespected? Does that mean that you cannot argue because he will feel you don’t respect his opinion? Does that mean you have to agree with everything he thinks because not to will feel disrespectful to him?

You need to ask him to define for you the behavior that feels disrespectful to him. Is it calling him names? Is it swearing at him? Is it rolling your eyes? If you know what it is specifically, then you can decide whether or not you can agree to stop or change it. If you don’t know what it is, then the rules always change and he can feel disrespected just because you open your mouth in protest.

Finally, a first step boundary or safety plan for both of you might be that when either one of you feels unsafe, the one who feels unsafe can stop the conversation and the other person will respect that boundary and stop talking.

If it continues to be unsafe to have difficult discussions together and you have important things that need to be decided, then you will agree together to engage the help of a counselor to help you learn to speak safely and respectfully with one another and to handle your disappointment in a more godly way.



  1. Ellen on November 19, 2012 at 9:39 pm

    Here’s a question I want you to respond to for me on this blog. Whether you decided to stay or whether you decided to leave your destructive marriage, how have you dealt with the grief that life, your marriage, and family life did not turn out the way you had hoped it would?

    Hi Leslie,
    I think that back when I was confused about my husband’s behavior and didn’t know how to deal with it I would say that grief was a major part of my internal world. Please understand that my husband deep inside, I believe, still has the same core issues. The difference is that I have changed and that has made all the difference. I have learned how my own codependent behaviors actually fueled his arrogance, selfishness, and pride. I learned to get my own emotions in check and not let him overpower me. I learned to listen to my gut and leave a conversation that becomes abusive. I learned how to take the lead and not let him lead me to do things that are not good for me. I believe his decisions are mostly rooted in pride therefore are not necessarily good or right. I learned how to expose his behavior yet extend grace at the same time. (I am still working on this one). I see him for who he really is, a very broken individual trying to hold on to any shred of dignity he can. After way too many years of living in the grief of a miserable marriage with no real help from Christian counselors or the church, our marriage is finally working. No counseling. No church intervention. Just following the advice of someone who has gone before me who figured it out. I am not so nieve to think the problems are over. There will be difficult moments ahead. Every day things come up but I handle them differently. The difference is that now I can manage it better using the right tools to deal with the domination, childishness, pride and all the rest.

    I am no longer grieving but there are plenty of wrinkles from many many tears over the years. I have a career and plans for the future. I am taking care of myself financially, emotionally, physically, spiritually, relationally, and every other way. He can no longer isolate me. I have lots of friends. This would never have happened if I waited for my husband to “see the light” or for my church leaders, or Christian councelors to rescue me. They never did. But God did. He showed me how to navigate through this. I believe there is much work to be done in the church regarding destructive relationships. Thank you Leslie for stepping up to the challenge.

    • Beth Ramirez on November 22, 2012 at 4:35 am

      I am so amazed that you have learned to respond in healthy ways in an unhealthy, challenging environment. I have such deep appreciation and respect for the way the Holy Spirit has guided you and revealed truths in these murky waters. You are being given wisdom because you humbled yourself and were open to be taught. You got past your place as the victim, and learned how to be the victor by forgiving and loving unconditionally and setting firm boundaries to protect yourself and keep an oppressive person in check for his best interests. What a miracle that you were brought through this difficulty with your heart intact. I thank God for His working all things together for your good and I thank you for sharing all you have learned. It is truly an inspiration.

    • Leslie Vernick on November 22, 2012 at 2:41 pm

      Ellen, I love what you are saying. You recognized that although you did not deserve this kind of treatment, there were things that you did that allowed it grow, and get worse. When you learned what those things were and stopped doing them, he lost some of his intimidating power over you. You don’t have to let someone control you. As you get stronger and healthier, the destructive person doesn’t have the same power and that definitely is a game changer.

    • Terri on November 26, 2012 at 3:30 am

      I can relate to Ellen. The church and counselors have failed miserably to help in my situation. I’m still grieving and trying to learn to new things.

    • Kim on October 31, 2013 at 12:42 pm

      I can relate to all of what you just stated and have taken some of the same steps. I fled from my spouse years ago with my children in the middle of the night. For me, it was something you would read in a book or see in a movie…it just wasn’t happening to me. It was the hardest decision I ever made, especially since my loyalty to marriage is in concrete. I IMMEDIATELY went to work on FORGIVENESS! I knew, that I knew, that I knew, that FORGIVESS would be the WIDE OPEN DOOR to my healing and the healing of my children!!! After leaving, the knots of confusion began to come untied. I had a rock to stand on…I found those files in my head that were titled, “Moral Absolutes”, “Right and Wrong”, “What God thinks about you”, etc.

      Although I have not arrived, I am running the race!I have obtained a higher education, I am on my way to becoming financially independent, and most important…I do not walk with God and hold His hand…I run to God and cling to His entire being!

      There are still challenges in dealing with my children’s father. He has not changed…I HAVE…and continue to do so because of my relationship with Christ and with others who know Him.

  2. Wendy on November 20, 2012 at 9:51 pm

    My respose to your question is letting God love me.
    This ment that I needed to find a church that had support for me and telling a few key people I could trust the truth about my life. I had to trust that God was there for me when I could not see Him. I read books on my issues of co-dependancy insicurity, fear and denial.I listen to great women like you who tell me Iam worth so much more and I can get the wisdom I need to handle any problem. I beg God to allow me to love other women who are hurting and he has honored that request this makes me feel stronger and that my life counts for something.I pray for my Husband and ask God to give me love and forgivness for him every day. I purpose to put God first every morning.I hang bible verses about how much God loves me on my mirrior so I can see it every time I pass.
    My husband and I are looking at a divorce and this is so painful but God has shown me how much he loves me. For 23 years I waited for my husband to change and to want to love me. At first this was so hard to accept I geuss I believed that he would one day learn to love but he did not.I watch my daughter suffer trying to feel loved in life after being unloved by her father. I watch her raise a beautiful baby boy that has also been abandond by his father. These are very hard truths to face every day.But I can say that I am more at peace now than ever for I live in the light of the truth. We give every day to God aks him to help us forgive and beg him to use us even though we are so broken and he does.I love my savior so much never has he been so real to me and my daughter.
    Every day the devil tries to steel my joy but every day I say to him, Greater is He who is in me!!!

  3. Michelle Parker on November 22, 2012 at 2:51 am

    Hi Leslie,
    When I left my husband,due to the deception/drug addiction/manipulation, the grief was so unbelievably deep. My heart physically hurt. Our youngest child was 6 months old. I often think of that time as dying to my earthly dreams. My eyes became more fixed on preparing my family (children) for eternity. Much less focused on happiness while I am here on earth. It was like dying to self and becoming more christ centered. I listened to helpful teachings and worship music daily. God did the rest of the work in me.
    Your book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship helped me identify the patterns that kept me going back into the relationship. I was able to identify that he was not truly sorry/ words were taking the place of action. It has been 41/2 years. My days are not easy as I raise my 3 children, but I have such emotional tranquility. Peace has replaced turmoil and fear.
    I love going to church to worship God’s power, and to take time to listen to the Word. The church that I attend has Celebrate Recovery which offers a support group and great teaching. However, there is no outreach for single parents. Imagine doing what you did this weekend with your grandchildren all by yourself all the time. That’s how it is for many single parents. The church seems more equipped to serve traditional families, and does not easily include broken families.
    Knowing that Jesus died for the lost and broken encourages me.
    I was recently able to attend a women’s conference at America’s Keswick, and was grateful to hear your message in person!

  4. Katie on November 25, 2012 at 12:22 pm

    At first as a young bride of 21-years of age because of codependency I accepted the verbal abuse from my husband. I had grown up in a physically and emotionally abusive family so the verbal abuse seemed normal to me. Part of what kept me married was fear of the unknown for our children and me.
    As a child I experienced the death of my father. I couldn’t bare our children not having their father in our home due to divorce. I continued in our marriage because I did love my husband and he loved me. Our childhood had left us with emotional wounds we took into our marriage. Years of counseling showed us we took our pain out on each other. I read many Biblically-based marriage relationship books. I took several Bible studies. My husband did the same. The abuse wasn’t constant but I was growing weary. I did eventually realize though that all my efforts/”works” did not cure my husband! In fact, he, after 25 years of marriage chose adultery. Before I found out about the adultery I asked him to leave due to the increasing verbal abuse toward me. At this time God allowed my husband to experience discontent, rejection and guilt in the adulterous, failing relationship! He began to attend the mens’ Celebrate Recovery (C.R.) group at our church for anger issues. Once the adultery was exposed he moved over to the mens’ Celebrate Recovery group for sexual addiction and betrayal. He now had the blessing of support and understanding from men just like him. He is no longer isolated.
    I was depressed, in shock and numb. I began attending Celebrate Recovery also for biblical support as a betrayed wife. I moved on to the C.R. women’s group for codependency. We continue to stay in the recovery groups four years later! My husband has remained repentant before God and faithful to me. We each are supported by others who point us to heart change through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Knowing he was loved by God was the missing piece of the puzzle. He read the book, “He Loves Me” which powerfully tells the Prodigal Son story and it changed his life!
    Today we are more happily married than I ever thought possible in spite of his job loss, etc. Jesus’ grace has given us new hearts of love, compassion and forgiveness toward each other. We will celebrate our 32nd anniversary soon. We’ve accepted God’s will for our lives as we’ve come to know our Heavenly Father’s love. In turn, we now help other men and women who struggle with codependency, anger, and sexual addiction by pointing them to Christ.
    “Love never fails.”
    Thank you for your ministry supporting women!

  5. Leanne on November 27, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    For me, it was not just grieving the loss of my toxic-to-me mother, but it became apparent that she also lied to the rest of the family circle and family friends about her abusive and toxic behavior in her last visit. So I realized I needed to let them ALL go. Everyone, that I had ever known through my biological family – I had to let go of in order to reduce and eventually eliminate the attacks and in order to protect some of them from the toxic behavior they would experience/witness if I were to be in touch with them. In my case, after we dropped mother off for my sister to take – I first grieved by crying – deep, physical, heaving cries to release some of the pent up emotions, pain and sorrow and unspoken retorts. In the time following – I still felt the Lord would only want me to talk about specifics with her – if or when the timing was right, however, it became apparent that – at least to date, years into healing, the timing is not and may never be right. Further grief-release-healing came in a variety of ways. I was still working outside the home when the “stopping it” moment occurred for me, so on my hour commute I would listen to Christian Radio and bury myself in worship music and Bible teaching. I worked with the children at our church for the children to do a performance- primarily using Hebrews 12:1-3
    Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great
    cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that
    hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let
    us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2
    fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of
    faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross,
    scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of
    the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such
    opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow
    weary and lose heart.
    Even as I paste it here, I see its relevance in an even stronger way (How Great is Our God!). IT WAS NOT EASY! Keeping my eyes fixed on Jesus was helpful to keep in mind and also Proverbs 3:5-6 – as I held on to the words to trust in Him with ALL my heart and lean not on my own understanding – because finally seeing the unlove CLEARLY— made no sense. These scriptures were from Him to me during the greatest months of my brokeness. The Lord gave me lots of other verses – as I prayed, participated in Adult Sunday School, attended 2 or 3 worship and Bible teaching services each week, participated in women’s bible studies — the more I was in Him, the more He was giving to me. Although those two verses were two biggies for me – they may not be the same he did or will give others. Another one He gave me was Matthew 34-37 “Do not suppose
    that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not
    come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn
    “‘a man against his father,a daughter against her mother,
    a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law— a man’s
    enemies will be the members of his own household.’“Anyone
    who loves their father or mother more than me is not
    worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more
    than me is not worthy of me.

    I was in my car alone when I clearly felt the Lord asking me if I loved my mother MORE than Him. While my immediate response was “NO!” — of course He knows our own hearts better than we do ourselves and He was right. My grief and emotions were stronger over my realization and confirmation that she did not really love me (was too broken in her own history TO truly love anyone) than my comfort and joy at the knowledge the that Lord loves me with grace and mercy. The Lord needed me to see how much negative emotional energy I was using each day on the effects I was allowing to be injected into my very soul from her, rather than keeping my focus on Him.
    After that, the Lord repeatedly told me to extract myself from my biological family. I was no longer taking calls from my mother, but I was initially taking calls and emails from my sisters and I was still sending gifts. He would tell me again and I dwindled down to gifts ONLY to my two nephews. What a patient Lord we have, as He told me again “EVERYONE.” He knew what I needed to heal. I did not. I did not really understand why he was extracting me completely and I know with much anger and hatred, those family members can not comprehend. I had to no longer care whether they comprehended, I had to care whether I was being obedient to the Lord, who was clearly guiding me through my grief, pain and emotional suffering. As I increased my obedience to Him, the healing really began. Others need to know, that perhaps for some it comes quickly, but not for all. This extraction and grieving and above all – OBEDIENCE to the Lord – took me YEARS, not hours, days, weeks or even months – it took YEARS. Over time I realized it was my belief in the lie in our world, that I grew up with of placing the second instruction from Jesus ABOVE the first. The Lord corrected me in this as well. We are to Love the Lord our God FIRST as he states in Mark 29-31.

    “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this:
    ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
    Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with
    all your soul and with all your mind and with all
    your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your
    neighbor as yourself.’There is no commandment
    greater than these.”

    While “Love your neighbor as yourself” IS important, if we put it as the FIRST commandment, then we are prone to be putting other sinful men/women first; to fear ‘man’ (including woman) first; to start believing man’s words as more important than God’s word; to start believing that any path, that any “neighbor” is on towards God is acceptable, so as not to seem unloving — even when all those paths to God that ‘man’ has created – can’t, in truth coexist; to start to believe that anything our own parents (or siblings) tell us about what we should prioritize -is true (so as to honor them)— until we learn from the Lord that loving Him, MUST come first for ALL else in our lives to fall into place — even the grieving times over the loss of destructive family or friends, as well as the loss of the destructive lies we learned along the way.

    So… in short summary — my most effective method of grieving was by realizing the need for change and accepting the needed changes as revealed and taught to me by the Lord—through His Word…and many words.
    I’m not done yet 🙂

  6. Leanne on November 28, 2012 at 3:20 am

    OOPS – I originally started to answer this question about my first marriage but ended up talking instead about the more difficult ‘divorce’ from biological family and friends. This raises a valuable point to ponder anyway – in that I have to wonder how many others also wedded someone that disrespected them – BECAUSE of a pattern they had experienced with someone in their childhood years. It may not be a parent and siblings as in my case, but it may be anyone with whom they had a destructive relationship pattern in formative years. Anyway – I was also married – just out of college – to a ‘broken’ man, that I thought I could fix with enough love — and we had a destructive relationship. This was in large part because I did not feel worthy of someone who would treat me better – based on how I felt treated/minimized/diminished from my own family members, who – even if not, perhaps, toxic to others were and are toxic to me.
    After my escape/separation from this man, I cried; I doubted and questioned myself; I spent time talking to others who had also had destructive relationships as well as those who had NOT; I joined a singles club and made friends with women as well as men. I went to some Al-Anon meetings and learned about co-dependency. I looked into therapy and support groups of various kinds. I continued to look for a church – but at that point in my life was not finding a good Bible teaching church. I spent a lot of time at my job, working with students and helping them. It was helpful for a time to focus on THEIR needs. I joined volunteer groups, my favorite of which was teaching English as a second language. I called family and friends when I felt weak. I took some post-graduate courses and worked to learn new things of interest, including by example positive quotes from famous people, like:
    “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent” (generally, but debatably credited to Eleanor Roosevelt.)
    At times I allowed myself to be very weak and contacted my husband (eventually x-husband). Since he never really changed, this usually helped me to once again rejoice in being safely apart from him and his unexpected rageful times, but to also process more sadness and grief that a loving, ‘normal’ relationship or marriage, was just never going to be possible with him.
    I talked to the Lord often, and often felt guilty believing that the Bible instructed us to NOT divorce. I struggled, terribly, when my separated husband developed a new relationship and ended up living with this other woman-prior to our divorce. Even though his choice ‘allowed’ me to progress in the divorce – I still struggled. My husband / x-husband would often threaten suicide; often quote from the Bible – to use it against me – even though he was an agnostic. I had to work hard at not taking responsibility for his choices, and not allowing myself to be manipulated by his words. I made mistakes at times, but in time gained strength again and increased my self-reliance…(until I grew in the Lord more recently and increased my Lord-reliance.)
    In sum – I told others about what had happened, I strengthened my resolve over time to CHANGE the pattern and stop repeating the destructive cycle, and I engaged in relationships with others. If I had known the Lord then, as I have come to know Him now – I would have spent much more time in prayer and in His word in the Bible.

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