We had a great launch for our CONQUER membership. Hope you joined. More than ever, as Christian women, we need to put our brave on and speak out against abuse of all kinds and the power structures in our society and churches that keep women stuck, scared and silent. It’s tempting to depend upon good Christian brothers, pastors, husbands to protect us, but I think it’s time we learn to protect ourselves.
Today’s question: What if the emotional and verbal abuse isn't from your husband, but his family instead? What if he doesn't know how to handle his family to protect his wife and kids from the abuse, but thinks he does?
Answer: I’m sorry that you are going through this. In a healthy relationship when something bothers you and you say “ouch”, “stop”, “I don’t like that” or “that hurts me” the other person listens, reflects and usually stops doing what caused you pain. In unhealthy relationships when you speak up for yourself, you get blamed, accused or attacked. Or you might get punished by the withdrawal, silence, and disapproval from the person you were hoping would hear your complaint.
You say your husband’s family is emotionally and verbally abusive towards you and your children and your husband isn’t stepping up the way you’d like him to in order to protect you and the kids. He thinks he’s doing something but from your perspective he’s failed or he’s not doing what you would do or would like him to do.
Perhaps he’s already learned that trying to talk with his family about things is like spitting in the wind. It usually comes right back and hits you in the face. Or maybe what they do doesn’t bother him like it bothers you so he wants you to just ignore it and “tolerate their behavior and turn the other cheek.”
Let me ask you a question. [Tweet “If you deeply cut your finger and you needed stitches but your husband didn’t think you needed stitches what would you do?”] I hope you would be a good steward of you and get yourself to a doctor and tend to your bloody finger. You say that you and your kids are being repeatedly injured by the words and actions of his family. Despite what your husband has done, nothing has changed. What’s your next move?
It should be to take care of you and your kids, not try to get your husband’s family to change their ways. That means you need some boundaries. Here’s an example. If your husband’s family smoked cigarettes in their home and you did not want you or your kids to be exposed to secondhand smoke here are your options.
Choice #1 Speak up. “Hey family, I know it’s your house and you choose to smoke but I don’t want to breathe in second hand smoke while we’re here. Would you please smoke outside?” And if they are willing, then you can hang out. But if they’re not willing to change their ways then you can make a second choice.
Choice # 2 Set a Boundary for yourself. “Hey family, since you do not want to smoke outside, the kids and I won’t be coming over to your house.”
I understand Choice # 2 of implementing boundaries may cause some friction between you and your husband if he is used to just “going along” and not speaking up or standing up for himself or for you. However, if you can do this for your own self in a strong, yet loving and respectful way, you might be the role model your husband needs to see to become healthier himself.
I know you long to have him be the protector and go-between for you with his family, but you do not have to continue allowing yourself to be repeatedly abused by them.
Friend, when you’ve had to take ownership of your own safety and sanity, what boundaries did you create to steward yourself?
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Above Edit – We protect ourselves from her.
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What a blessing that you are able to share the burden with your brother. This is good training for his sons on how to honour their grandmother without subjecting themselves to harm.
We honour my abusive mother-in-law by regularly sending money to my brother-in-law, who pays all her bills. She doesn’t know that we do this. My husband now speaks to her from time to time on the phone. For now, that’s all we can do.
I need to reread Boundaries in Marriage. It’s been nearly a decade and I could use a refresh. His family is actually pretty nice to me, but he has “inherited” a trait from his mother that’s exasperating. If he thinks it up or imagines it, it is real to him. For example, he has a designated catch-all area. It’s his space and I don’t mess with it or say boo about it. But, because he knows I dislike clutter, even though I say nothing and am kind to him about it, he imagines that I say mean things to him about it. Just the other day he was ranting about how I always complain and b-word about his stuff all over. I could protest, but in his mind he is speaking absolute truth, so it isn’t worth the arguing. I hate it when people think ill of me, especially when it is untrue and unfounded, but this is something I’ve lived with for over 20 years.
In my early days of marriage, I thought it was my fault and if I could just be perfect enough he wouldn’t have anything to complain about. Well, that proved futile and unrealistic, and downright exhausting.
On major accusations, I will speak up and speak truth, but on these little stupid rants, I just walk away, but lately I’ve been feeling more affected by them…and his sarcasm. He complains I don’t communicate well with him (a lot of times I tell him things but he doesn’t listen and then tells me I never said anything). In recent years I’ve made sure he has heard me to the point of him repeating it back to me, but then he’ll “forget” and say I never said anything to him. Of course I can’t prove that he really forgot or he’s just being a jerk about it. Anyhow, yesterday, I went over the plans for today with him and he snapped at me that he already knew them. *facepalm Another instance is I may mention someone we know and he’ll be like “Meredith who?” So, next time I’ll be like “Meredith Ford, you know, the lady with the basset hounds,” and he’ll snap, “I know who Meredith is!!”
It’s the darned if you do or don’t.
He’s like this with most people, not just me, so I know it’s just who he’s choosing to be and the bad habits he’s acquired and his own low self-esteem. It isn’t “bad enough” to separate or divorce, nor do I want to, but I do dislike the idea of having to endure this for the rest of our marriage. Counseling? It’s one of those he does and says the right things, counselors pat themselves on the back, and things go back to “normal” after a while.
He also likes to gaslight and trample on my moral values. For example, for a while he’ll support my faith, then for a while he’ll be sarcastic and rude and nasty about it. He knows I hate low-brow comedy and smutty innuendo stuff, but he’ll play it loudly and laugh a hideously loud high-pitched laugh, shove his phone in my face to watch to the point of following me as I do my chores, then getting upset if I don’t laugh with him. It’s dumb. It’s immature and dumb. But I need to gain solid grounding again. I’ve kind of let it get to me.
Boundaries it is.
Boundaries is the place to start. Reduce your communication significantly. Don’t anticipate him not knowing who you are talking about, for example. Let him do his part of the communication.
I would not let him get away with putting words in your mouth. Simoly say ‘I did not say that’ and walk away. Stand firm and do not allow yourself to be pulled into anargument.
I found out that at times all my husband was looking for was to ‘engage me’. Just don’t engage. Keep communication minimal and direct.
I already do. If we aren’t talking need to know news or his interests, we don’t talk. He doesn’t seem to care much about my thoughts and doings. Sometimes I can express my ideas and thoughts. He genuinely seems interested. But, later I find out he “forgets” or retracts.
Hi Libl. I live with some similar behaviors and am hugging you from afar and wanting you to know that you are valued and you deserve to be be treated with dignity. In some of my boundary studies I came across the term “pleasant” which seems to encompass many of the desired behaviors that I am seeking and lacking with my spouse. I like, “When you are ready to be pleasant let me know,” leave and do something fun or go to another room in the house for awhile. After some time, I do a check in…just being in his presence and see if he is ready. (After 20 years, I can now ask for an apology and get one. This was unavailable to me for many many years.) Still seeking tools myself too but I like this one. If he is ready, praise and maybe a kiss, “I like hanging out with you when you are being thoughtful. Thank you!” Know you are not alone. Can be very draining work. I’m trying to build a greater support group around me so that I can replenish my energy and joy. -Common Ground