Ten (10) Indicators of Successful Marital Counseling Post-Abuse

Hi Friends,

Thank you so much for your continued prayers. Last weekend I was speaking in New York and I could feel the power of your prayers while I spoke. It was amazing and God surely used my simple words to powerfully touch people’s hearts. I was truly blessed.

I am headed to California on Sunday for an author’s retreat and then time with my 3 favorite little girls. Pray for safe travels and I would especially ask that I would be able to upgrade my ticket on that last Sunday night as I am flying the red eye flight home and it’s always a killer.


Question: Can you give suggestions as to what to look for regarding “success” in couples counseling? I am in a marriage that is destructive. For months I went to individual counseling, and really was on a trajectory toward separation/divorce.

Surprisingly my husband agreed to couples counseling. He almost immediately took responsibility for abusive behaviors toward me (which for 16 years he's denied) and his angry rants ended simultaneously to beginning counseling. I am grateful for the changes, though leery–how is it so easy now that there is a “watchful eye”.

I feel that in an effort to validate my husband, too many issues are normalized—and my husband walks away believing that our troubles are part of common every day married life. I feel as if couples counseling is a threat to the work I have done as an individual to be honest about how poorly I was treated and gain the fortitude to no longer accept it.

Answer: It is very interesting how much self-control someone can have once the abuse is disclosed and he is in an accountability relationship. However, that does not mean that the underlying entitlement thinking or other problems that caused the blindness and denial to go on for 16 years have been adequately confronted, talked through, or healed.

From what you said, once you decided to leave the marriage he said he would do marital counseling. But he’s never done his own work to explore what was behind his abusive behaviors and destructive attitudes, even though he has stopped his rages. It’s like an alcoholic who stops drinking but never does the work to understand why he was drinking in the first place or the damage he or she has caused to others. Yes, the drinking is over – and that’s a good thing, but some of the same problems are still there and still unresolved.

Now that you are in marital counseling with him, the counselor is exploring things that were problems in your marriage. The counselor is trying to get your husband to express some of the things he was unhappy with. However, without first adequately addressing his abusive behaviors and attitudes and the damage that’s caused you and your marriage, things can start to get very fuzzy. It can start to feel like you are being held responsible for his unhappiness and the problems in the marriage that triggered him to abuse in the first place.

In addition, marital counselors attempt to stay neutral and not take sides, but when they do this where there is a history of abuse, without realizing it, the counselor is taking sides. By not first validating the pain your husband has caused you, and speaking about how unacceptable his behaviors were, both you and your husband are left with the impression that the marriage counselor doesn’t think what happened was all that serious or did not damage the relationship all that much.

I believe that any couple attempting to reconcile their marriage after abuse will at some point, need to have some joint marital counseling but not until they have each processed their own issues and they are also able to safely and sanely talk about what happened in the past with the abuser taking full responsibility for abusive behaviors. That does not mean that the non-abusive spouse doesn’t have problems that have contributed to the marital unhappiness, but that those problems were not a cause for abusive behavior and attitudes.

Here are Ten (10) Indicators of Successful Marital Counseling Post-Abuse.

1. The past is the past. It has been talked about, grieved, repented of, forgiven, and owned. The past is not currently happening in the present.

2. Both people in the marriage can freely bring up hot topics or difficult feelings in their marriage relationship with safety. No shaming, no retaliating, no minimizing or blaming.

3. Both people would be open, and willing to learn how to be a better spouse and build a healthier relationship. They would feel free to disagree with one another and there would be a teachable attitude on both of their parts.

4. Time outs as well as other boundaries would be honored and respected. If one or the other was having a hard time communicating effectively, they would wait until things cooled down or they could get back in to see the counselor.

5. Both partners would now take responsibility for the maintenance and repair of the relationship and other family responsibilities.

6. Power and responsibility would be shared. There would not be a double standard where the rules that applied to one person in the marriage didn’t apply to the other.

7. Trust is being rebuilt in the here and now. It is seen as precious and safeguarded.

8. If there is a slip, or a repeat of past history or other serious sin, or even a reminder of it, the person responsible would acknowledge it and take corrective action, whether that means apologize and make amends, or get back into counseling in order to stop a further downward spiral of the marital progress.

9. A person’s feelings would inform him or her, not control him or her. Self-awareness, self-reflection, self-control and self-correction would be part of their daily habits.

10. They have invited several close friends or family into their lives to help them grow and keep them accountable.

Friends, what other indicators would you look for? And, if you have had successful marital counseling post abuse, what was the single most important thing your counselor did that helped?

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  1. Lynn on October 22, 2014 at 9:14 pm

    I have been married for 30 years to a man who, I believe, has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. A few months ago, we began counseling with separate Christian counselors who are part of the same practice. Multiple experts say that couples counseling for abuse is not advised until the abuser has taken responsibility for his behavior and is able to demonstrate changes in the thinking and attitudes that led to the mistreatment. More recently, I came into contact with a secular counselor who advises couples counseling for treatment of NPD, but she acknowledges that this would require a very skillful counselor and would involve individual sessions as well, with both parties seeing the same counselor. I’ve heard so many stories like this one Leslie shared, in which the couples counselor doesn’t “get” it and makes the situation worse, so I’m hesitant to go that direction. However, those with NPD are generally quite skilled in putting forth a positive face, and his counselor is mostly just hearing his side of things now. It seems to me that a counselor who understands NPD will see through the bluster and know what he’s dealing with and how to treat it, but apparently very few do.

    I’m interested in hearing others’ experiences with counseling for destructive marriages. What worked and what didn’t? Thanks!

  2. Linda Jo on October 22, 2014 at 9:29 pm

    Thank you Leslie for this thorough list of success indicators. I’m curious, what is you opinion of Marriage Intensives, like National Institute of Marriage’s 4 day group intensive? They boast of a 84% success rate based on couples still being married 2 years post counseling. I value your opinion.

    • Leslie Vernick on October 22, 2014 at 11:06 pm

      I think the National Institute of Marriage’s 4 day intensive can be a powerful help to couples who are stuck in neutral, stuck in poor communication patterns, or loss of love. I don’t think they would be adequate for couples where there is abuse and chronic destructive attitudes.

      • Ann on October 23, 2014 at 2:15 am

        I spoke with Focus on the Family’s marriage intensives and they told me that our problems (history of physical abuse & sexual addiction were more than their intensives were prepared to handle.

  3. CBPP on October 22, 2014 at 11:11 pm

    Your list paints a very good word picture of realistic expectations! Often as long-time relationship accommodators , we do not realize we have the right to be treated, not only decently, but with honor. Your list is really laying out how to honor your spouse and the marriage relationship. It could easily be rewritten with only changes in a few verb tenses and adverbs to become ” 10 Indicators of Healthy Marriage”.

  4. Linda Jo on October 22, 2014 at 11:28 pm

    Thank you Leslie. Are there some questions we can ask potential counselors on the phone to see if they have experience working with couples in an abusive marriage? I’ve wasted alot of money on counselors who do not recognize abuse or are afraid to call it what it is. Maybe this is something you can comment on at another time.

    • Tott on October 20, 2019 at 2:30 pm

      One thing I did to weed out untrained counselors was to ask questions like these:

      1. I believe I am in an an emotionally abusive marriage based on x, y z behaviors. Now that I’m seeking counselling, what would you recommend for us? If the counsellor recommends meeting together, pass.
      2. Do you know “Why Does He Do That?” by Lundy Bancroft? This seems to be a very familiar and respected book for abuse. If a counsellor hasn’t heard of it, pass
      3. Do you experience with domestic violence? If so how have you been able to help? According to the National DV hotline, emotional abuse is a type of DV so a counsellor well versed in the matter should be aware of that and able to speak to his or her experience if applicable.

  5. Sue on October 23, 2014 at 12:49 am

    Does this ever happen? Do men actually, honestly complete all these indicators in counseling? It almost seems to me that the type of man who would meet these indicators would be the type of man who wouldn’t be abusive in the first place. I guess I’ve just known too many jerks and been in a destructive marriage for so long that I find it difficult to believe that men can be decent, loving and kind.

    • Leslie Vernick on October 23, 2014 at 2:26 am

      It’s rare but it has happened. But it’s also important not to have false hope. Change is hard work. It requires someone to look deep and long within their own heart and history and change.

    • Caroline on October 24, 2014 at 5:53 am

      Sue it has happened in my marriage and without typical counseling. My husband was an emotional-anorexic-porn-addict-jerk who used contempt and isolation to keep me begging for scraps of relationship for twenty years. He has done a 180 in the past few years and it was really through the reading of dozens of books together, attending a two day marriage conference which included less than five minutes of informal conversation with the counselor speaking at the conference (Dan Allender), and hours and hours and hours of conversation between just the two of us. I am the most shocked of all at the level of empathy he is now capable of. I really think the original purpose of marriage was to be self-repairing: as iron sharpens iron. But, I think we get so afraid of losing something we can’t take a risk and truly love our spouses (with BOLD LOVE). We so easily lose sight that this thing we have been holding fast to is hardly worth keeping at all.

      • FREDERICK G Sibben on November 15, 2019 at 10:59 am

        PRAISE GOD!!!!

        The Holy Spirit Dwells Within Us…

  6. Joy on October 23, 2014 at 2:53 am

    I was in an emotional and physically violent marriage for 30 years to a missionary/pastor husband before some of my grown children convinced our sending pastor to look into their claims. He was educated in abuse enough to pull us off the field and start intensive counselling. First he met with each of us separately for over a month to ‘gather data’. – checking out that the accusations were true, judging the sources of problems and giving my husband a full hearing and gain his confidence. For my sessions, I felt I was fully heard, validated, encouraged, then given a safety plan of escape if needed (and it was!). Then he met only with my husband for several months, sometimes many times a week. He had me keep a log of triggers and incidences – all to prove the abuse to my husband who was in angry denial and still believed all problems were from me.

    After he’d started making some headway with my husband (which included some backing the bully down), we met together in addition. He would ask about a situation that had just happened and get my side in front of my husband and sort it out until my husband understood what he’d done and asked my forgiveness. Over and over. He untwisted the submission, her body is mine, servant verses my husband used. The pastor came down hard on him, yet always left him with hope at the end.

    Eventually, my husband (after maybe 2 years!) started catching himself and genuinely apologising on his own and he became very pleasant to live with.

    In looking back, I believe that it was all conforming to the expectations of those he respected and who could give him back his missionary status. And he knew he was fully accountable.

    We were allowed to come back to the field under strict limitations – none of which he followed. Within a year, the abuse was back to what it had been previously and even now extending out to hurting people around us to whom he was claiming to minister. A half year later, I definitely was fearing for my safety, so I separated. Within a few months, he’d lied about me to everyone, got into a romantic relationship, then divorced me, even though he knew I intended the separation to be temporary until he could prove he’d changed.

    It was encouraging to me that abuse follows such universal patterns that our pastor/counsellor could predict what my husband’s response had been to any situation before I even told him. I will forever be grateful for that pastor literally saving my life and for his taking the time to educate himself about abuse . . . because 99% of pastors have no clue. Their counsel is for the husband to work on his anger and communication skills and for the wife to submit more.

    • Dianna on October 23, 2014 at 3:16 am

      Thank you or telling your story in effective, honest, godly counsel w/ your pastor. So good to hear of such depth, love, godliness and effort for truth and helping to overcome evil in your marriage.

      So helpful for your telling about the full outcome, also. Sobering but sooo educational.

      I hope that your life has moved on well in God’s leading and truth.

    • Teris on October 23, 2014 at 5:29 am

      Joy, so you’re saying that you feel your H didn’t really change inside,but just changed to please those people he respected? That’s scary that he was able to do that. L

      • Teris on October 23, 2014 at 5:30 am

        Leslie, I hope you can answer this…But have YOU personally seen a person that is abusive, change their behavior and really show true repentance that lasts??

        • Leslie Vernick on October 23, 2014 at 12:08 pm

          I have. I hope to get a man that I worked with to do a live streaming event with me at a future date. His wife would be a part too. I think their story and journey would be encouraging. They are still working on things but definitely making progress.

          • Teris on October 27, 2014 at 5:12 pm

            Yes, that would be very encouraging!

        • Cindy R on December 23, 2014 at 11:06 am

          Really, they do exist? I was thinking it was like a unicorn, we hear stories of them but no one has seen one.
          On a more serious side how many that have been abusive have you seen change permanently?
          My h is showing some changes but of course I have zero tolerance right now for anything. He is however saying things to people in the vein of he has done some abusive things and he has changed but I don’t believe he has changed or that we have marital difficulties because I don’t trust him. Pretty sure that is just more of the same old abuser speaking and not evidence of real heart change.

    • Andrea on October 23, 2014 at 4:36 pm

      I am glad that you had such a wise pastor!! Someone like that is very hard to find!! 🙁 Your experience with him changing and then turning back into the same dangerous person again is exactly what I am currently fearing and my parents are the only ones who see the validity of my fears–and no one will listen to them because ‘they are your parents’! 🙁

      • CBPP on October 23, 2014 at 5:48 pm

        Andrea, I am glad you at least have your parent’s validation!! God is always with you but you are not alone in this world without some support and validation. Those who would so easily dismiss you and your parents are not worth catering to for their acceptance. They may be your lifelong church friends and church leadership but there is a wrong spirit there, if they can so easily ignore your plea. Trying to work with them will be futile and maybe even damaging.

        I speak from experience as I turned to church leadership. I thought they were the only ones my husband would listen to, as he did not have any other voice in his life that he listens to. I only asked them to help us get to another counselor, as the one we were with began to have an “emotional affair” with my husband. She begin to change her tune and tell him what he wanted to hear. As he began to listen to this new tune, he was validating her need to be needed. Ends up she had some borderline and narcissistic behaviors. One of the leaders was a physician who thought he could handle it. Wrong!! It backfired on me. They sent me to the psychiatrist. But God prevailed in this and the psychiatrist nailed the diagnosis, not what they wanted, in one hour — “Adjustment reaction to bereavement”. My behavior was based on grief over the relationship being such a state. It was hard to be sent but I was validated. I ended up being emotionally abused and betrayed by the church leadership, as well. The physician, who was also our family doctor, even violated HIPPA, patient – doctor communication, as he spoke to the “old” counselor without my permission of things we spoke that was a part of an office visit.

        So, Andrea, evaluate who these people are in your life that you are looking to for advice or acceptance of what is going on behind closed doors.

  7. Dianna on October 23, 2014 at 3:21 am

    Thank you for your question! Such needed information. I wish I had this understanding thirteen years ago.

    Thank you Leslie, as always, for your complete yet concise explanation. I found it especially helpful in the early part of your post regarding counselors’ approach and motivation.

  8. Teris on October 23, 2014 at 5:25 am

    My husband and I tried couples counseling…and after the 3rd session, I knew it was a mistake. Looking back now, we should have chosen a new counselor, because “Richard” was the counselor my H had seen the previous year, when I begged him to go to counseling…so they already had a “bond” and I could tell that “Richard” wasn’t taking me seriously, because my H is a really nice guy, and can be quite likable and charming…he has the “poor, goofy me, I’m trying but just can’t get it right” routine done pat! After 5 sessions, my H wanted to stop counseling, because he felt we didn’t need it, that we could work on our problems ourselves! Not true, but I knew I was wasting my time, so I agreed that we stop.
    My H is now in counseling, after it set some boundaries, and have stayed firm on them! I talked to this counselor before I recommended him to my H…I liked what I heard, he doesn’t believe in “labels” he believes in a sinful, hardened heart, and believes that that needs to be addressed before anything else. The counselor wanted me to attend the sessions with my H, but I said “No thanks!” After I see significant change in my H, I might be interested in attending counseling then….or maybe not. I’ll have to pray about it first.

    • Lynn M on October 23, 2014 at 4:41 pm

      Hi Teri’s, you said that you set boundaries and stuck to them. What were the boundaries, and what did you do?

    • Lynn M on October 23, 2014 at 4:47 pm

      Also, I think we’re married to the same guy. That’s the exact routine my husband have our counselor and she was eating out of his hand, treating me as if I were just not Boeing understanding enough.

      • Teris on October 27, 2014 at 5:34 pm

        Lynn M…I read Leslie’s book in June, and it was such a relief to realize that I didn’t HAVE to have sex with a man who had cheated on me, and showed no remorse…well, he said he was “sorry” and that I “needed to get over it because he said he was sorry!” I felt so used by him every time he wanted sex….and I had told him this repeatedly…All he ever said was “I’m sorry you feel that way” and would then want sex…so I clearly saw where he just didn’t care about me, or my emotional needs at ALL!!! I first worked on my CORE, and I then asked my husband the questions Leslie had in her book…and it got me no where…he hardly responded. So my next step, when he asked me for sex was to stand up, and calmly tell him pretty much what it said in Leslie’s book. That I want to feel emotionally close to him, and that I would love to have a sexual relationship where I feel safe and protected and cared for…but instead I feel used, and that is not what God wants for me and this marriage….and I don’t feel that I can be sexually intimate with him any longer, not until I can feel these things. I then told him that I’ve told him many times that I don’t like sex any longer, that I feel used, and honey, you didn’t seem to care….” My husband just said “I understand” and that was it. Since then ( that was in June) he’s asked me twice when can we have sex again, and I tell him when I feel safe, loved and cared for. And the I leave the room. I also refuse to hold his hand out in public, or sit close to him in church, I stopped wearing my wedding ring, etc….and I also told him that I’m seriously thinking of separating after the first of the year, unless I truly see him working to change his behavior. I gave him a date and I’ve stood firm on that for months now and when he brings up the future, taking a family vacation, buying a new car, I calmly tell him that we can’t plan that far ahead because we might be separated by then. He tells me, “We are NOT separating!!” And I respond with, “Yes, we will have to if things haven’t changed by then.”
        So now my husband is in counseling…He started over a month ago….I refused to go with him, even though the counselor asked if I would come also. I feel that if I see significant changes in my husband, I can always go with him later…but at this point, I’m not interested in “working” to save my marriage…I’ve “worked” to save my marriage for the lat 4 yrs after his emotional affair! It’s now up to my husband to decide if he wants his wife and family. And I’ve told him that. I’m pleasant to him, I’m trying to live well, as Leslie has said. I hope this helps you…I think we all have to decide what will work best for us…

        • Lynn M on October 28, 2014 at 10:51 am

          Thank you Terris, this helps. I’m down to not much left to withhold as a consequence. As part of his withdrawal for me, my husband began to withdraw sex about four/five years ago. Given our current state I can’t imagine him asking for it now. I have refused to plan a family vacation though he is desperately trying to plan trips right now because that is what he insists will fix things. I have stopped attending church with him because he is catholic and I have asked for a small compromise for years because I find no joy, fellowship or spiritual nourishment in the catholic worship. The only thing left for consequences is to stop cooking his meals. But that would hurt the kids. I have given so many ultimatums — do this it’s your last chance — and he makes a minimum token effort but never real change. About the only thing I left left is to “officially” state I’m not attending church with the family and I will find my own spiritual home, which I so desperately need, and give him a date I will officially pay my lawyer’s retainer fee and begin proceedings. I hate to do the church thing because then he can easily say our marriage broke up because I was hostile toward the catholic faith. Thank you for your perspective. It is very helpful. I actually haven’t read Leslie’s book, but watched all her videos and read here. I ordered her book this morning. In interested in what the “questions” are that can be asked.

        • Leslie Vernick on October 29, 2014 at 3:45 pm

          Sounds like you have done a great job at being clear, consistent and continuing to offer him a path to true reconciliation if he wants to go there.

      • Vicki on November 1, 2014 at 5:20 am

        nearly 30 years of marriage. There’s so much more I could write, but I’ll end here. God has taught me so many things since I left and I’ve really grown in my faith. I still don’t know what our future holds…I’m taking it one day at a time. Take good care of yourself! We are in this together. So thankful for Leslie’s ministry!

  9. Joy on October 23, 2014 at 11:28 am

    Yes, I’m afraid that’s what happened. We went 2 years with him being so thoughtful and patient and the opposite of what he was while abusive. That’s why the church allowed us to return to the field.

    But I believe the 2 key factors were 1) the accountability disappeared and 2) it wasn’t a true heart change.
    I frankly was surprised he reverted to old behaviours so quickly, blindly denying it when I tried to gently mention it.

    • HisEzer on October 23, 2014 at 9:40 pm

      So sorry you experienced this, Joy, but you have identified well two key factors many of us can fully relate to. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Joy on October 25, 2014 at 1:29 am

      (Sorry – that was a response to Teris above.)

      • Teris on October 27, 2014 at 5:49 pm

        Thanks Joy….Yes, unless there’s a true heart change…I don’t think any change will last at all….

  10. Sue on October 23, 2014 at 1:49 pm

    Leslie, do you agree with this?: “I talked to this counselor before I recommended him to my H…I liked what I heard, he doesn’t believe in “labels” he believes in a sinful, hardened heart, and believes that that needs to be addressed before anything else.”

    • Leslie Vernick on October 23, 2014 at 9:16 pm

      Yes I believe a hard heart needs to be addressed in counseling however just be careful because what all too often happens is that the counselor sees the husband “trying” and the wife refusing to “believe” him and then labels her as the one with the hard heart and the focus begins to be on on her and why she isn’t forgiving, or forgetting, or giving him a second chance, or why she is so ungracious, or unsubmissive, rebellious or hard hearted.

      • Lynn M on October 23, 2014 at 10:48 pm

        That is EXACTLY what happened to me.

        • Candice on January 25, 2015 at 8:25 pm

          Me TOO!

      • Teris on October 27, 2014 at 5:59 pm

        I agree Leslie, and that’s why I refused to go to counseling with him…so far, the counselor told my husband that’s understandable, because I’m going to have to see change in him, not just words. And I’m prepared for the counselor to start to see me as the “rebellious or hard hearted wife” and that’s ok…I know it’s not true, and most importantly, my children can see that it’s not true…So I have two things going for me..God and my children 🙂 It also helps, in a weird way, that my H has not been totally honest with his counselor…he’s had two emotional affairs during our marriage, the latest one four yrs ago…and he refuses to tell the counselor about them, because it’s “in the past” and he needs to work on who he is now….I disagree, but it’s my husbands call…IF he does get to point of telling his counselor, I will then feel that he has truly changed and has put away his pride….if he doesn’t tell his counselor, and I do go into talk to him, as the “hardened, bitter wife” I will be sure to bring up the affairs…to let him know that severe damage was done to our marriage, and my H has never shown true repentance….either way, like I said, God knows my heart, and I rest in that. 🙂

      • Mich on November 17, 2014 at 10:42 pm

        Cloud and Townsend deal with that well in Boundaries in Marriage. The case study of the wife who protests her husbands rage and is asked repeatedly by the counsellor / author how she feels (because she keeps responding by what he does not how she feels when he does it). When she gets clear that she is scared, the husband is made t hear that.

        I honestly despair of some counsellors. They don’t listen well and miss critical things – conveniently perhaps due to their own fears? One of the best in the business though is Oprah’s pal Iyanla Vanzant – see her on Youtube on Iyanla Fix my Life. OK it’s not purporting to be Christian, but she talks ownership, responsibility, ‘languaging’ (helping people to voice, rather than enabling them to keep silent about their choices), confession and forgiveness. She often works with several individuals within families on a 1-2-1. There are no fairytales but she does help people start to get real.

    • CBPP on October 27, 2014 at 7:12 pm

      I totally agree with checking out the counselor first. See my story under CBPP byline above, dated Oct 23.. There are MANY counselors, master’s and doctorate level, that do not really understand narcissism and all the things YOU know because Leslie has laid it out so well. I hope since Teris checked out the counselor, and he does not like “labels” that if she does end up going, that this counselor will not view her a the “hardened, bitter wife” ( a label). But most of all, Teris is prepared to accept if that does happen. And she will stand strong, knowing who she is in the Lord.

      • Lonely wife on December 23, 2014 at 10:50 am

        CBPP…It’s hard for me to know what Tom, my Hs counselor is really like, since I’ve never met him! My H tells me things that Tom says….like he said “If your wife is angry, then that is sin.” BUT my H has a way of twisting things around to benefit him…so who knows what Tom REALLY said? My H has told me that Tom is very direct, pulls no punches with him, so I hope that’s true. I do plan on going to see him sometime in the next month or two….just so Tom can put a face with a name…and also to let him know that I DO want to save my marriage if it’s possible, but that I won’t be a Peacefaker any longer!
        One interesting thing my H did say that Tom said…and again, who knows if this is true…my H IS passive aggressive, and might be trying to discredit Leslie, since I’ve referred to her and her books many times…But supposedly, Tom said he hasn’t read her books, but he’s familiar with her work, but doesn’t agree with her! I told my H that that is too bad, because he could obviously learn a lot from Leslie! Again….who KNOWS if Tom really said that though? When I meet with him, I do plan on asking Tom about it though…if my husband denies saying it, I will then know he lied to me…again!

        • Leslie Vernick on December 23, 2014 at 1:15 pm

          IT’s good to check out what your H says his counselor said. It is often twisted or not true.

  11. Sue on October 23, 2014 at 1:52 pm

    Joy: I assume your (ex?) husband is no longer on the mission field? And kudos to your pastor for calling him out on his abusive behavior. I think every woman on this blog would love to hear someone say that to her husband to finally feel validated and not blamed.

    • Joy on October 24, 2014 at 10:37 am

      We both continued living in this country, but he was never re-instated into missionary status or taken back by the mission board. We returned to be helpers. Yet he continued to have people call him “Pastor” and turned the little ministry he was given in someone else’s church here into his own little kingdom. When I left, he was asked to leave the church, so he went to another city, played the victim card and was allowed to preach, lead singing, etc in the services. However, within 6 months, he was kicked out of that church and now attends no church. Sometimes it’s being in the “good old boys” club that abusers hide behind. Sometimes it’s being a “man of God” – “one of God’s annointed” that enables them. And it’s always the wife’s silence for fear of not hurting the name of Christ or having God being displeased with them because they are not submitting unquestioningly to his every whim and narcissistic demand to keep control..

  12. Lynn M on October 23, 2014 at 4:57 pm

    This is all really disturbing, to see how hard and how rare is it for these men to change. We have been I. Counseling three times
    , the last time for a year. The counselor actually watched my husband get on his hands and knees in front of me in a session and clasp his hands together, mocking me and saying “here it is. My apology. I was a bad husband. I’ve been a bad bad husband. That’s what you want to hear, isn’t it? You just want me to tell the whole world what a bad husband I am”. He was mocking and sneering at me. The counselor did nothing. The abuse happened right in front of her. Since no couples counseling has worked, he just kind of mocks my insistence now (since I have had the revelation that is behavior is abuse) he go to therapy to work on his stuff. I don’t see much how that he will understand that all his behavior is linked, and he had been incredibly destructive. I just keep hearing that I can’t appreciate how nice he’s being now, and I just can’t forget. For those of you who have gotten your husband to to see that therapy is necessary for them to heal, how have you done that? How do you get them to see how destructive their behavior has been?

    • Joy on October 24, 2014 at 11:22 am

      You can’t MAKE your husband do anything. You can only change yourself by choosing to no longer enable the abuse.

      • Lynn M on October 24, 2014 at 6:05 pm

        Yes. Part of my personal journey right now is learning to let go of the things I don’t have control over. Thank you for that thought

    • Liz on October 28, 2014 at 10:44 pm

      We too have been in counseling 3 or 4 times always initiated by me. I finally quit when, after a year, nothing seemed to have changed. The counselor saw outward changes and my husband said he has done everything and it isn’t enough. Now I’m the bad guy and when I set a boundary, he lost it, and went back to all his abusive tactics to make me back down. Finally, I have filed for seperation and the tactics continue. He is super nice and does things for me then got mad when he saw I hired a lawyer after I told him I was going to file for seperation. Now that we are a week away from a court date, he says he will do anything I want. I might just take him up on that and tell him I am continuing the process of seperation but if God chooses to work a miricle, I am open to reconciliation after I am convinced of true heart change and after some time apart. If he continues to get angry about that, I know it was all a ploy to keep the power and control by not being forced to leave.

      • Lynn M on October 29, 2014 at 10:05 am

        I am always amazed at how similar the stories are. Mine too showed the outward signs after a year and says the problem is just that he can’t please me. Heir power and control tactics seem nearly impossible to escape. And when you realize how few actually change, you see your reality: stay in a situation that feels unbearable, or fight an exhausting fight to leave, when you are already emotionally drained and beaten down and have no strength left. What makes it all so tricky too, especially for me, is that my husbands rage is buried down so deep and it is so expertly masked by his “nice goofy guy” exterior, he can go very long periods of time pretending his anger isn’t there, and it appears to be gone. I’ve been fooled into the hope of believing it won’t happen again so many times. Good for you for proceeding with the lawyer and separation. I think that’s my next step too

      • Leslie Vernick on October 29, 2014 at 3:40 pm

        I think that’s a wise choice. You want to hope that this time he “might be sincere” but you still have to wait and see the evidence.

  13. Shellys on October 23, 2014 at 8:09 pm

    Have a wonderful time in California Leslie. I will pray that it is a lovely, renewing time. We appreciate your wisdom and faithful counsel so much.
    Thank you so much for this post, and for the encouragement to hold true to our convictions. My husband has always refused to go for counseling. However, sometimes when we reach a crossroads, and it looks like I am really serious about filing for divorce, he dangles the “carrot” of seeking help. He’s clever, as he knows it will keep me in hope for a few weeks. This week, when he was supposed to have his first session with a skilled male counselor who understands emotional abuse, he “lost his phone” and missed the appointment.
    I sometimes torture myself wondering if I should have stayed and endured the distancing, belittling, minimizing, justifying, and misleading that was our daily relationship. Your checklist makes things so clear again. My husband could say the words “I’m sorry. I was wrong. I sinned”, (and it was good enough for the church), but when pressed, he would claim it was “in the past”. He could never discuss why he did the things he did. When I tried to, it would make him angry. So angry we once nearly drove off the road.

    Being validated – having our husbands admit and own their own destructive behavior, and sincerely seek to repair the damage, is a necessary part of feeling whole again – if we decide to stay in the marriage.

    Thank you for reminding me that repentance means that you are able to own your own sin, accept God’s forgiveness, and talk about it without anger or resentment. In order for a marriage to have a God honoring redemptive quality, the sin of the past has to be a part of the story of our life together.

    • Lynn M on October 23, 2014 at 8:43 pm

      Shellys, are you still in your marriage, or did you leave?

    • Leslie Vernick on October 23, 2014 at 9:11 pm

      You’re welcome. I think not only women, but counselors and the church needs to understand what it takes for real healing to take place. We are not to be like the prophets in Jeremiah’s day who “Healed the wounds of my people by saying peace, peace, when there is no peace.:

  14. Linda Jo on October 23, 2014 at 10:26 pm

    My (ex)-husband has been in and out of counseling for the 16 years of our marriage and he STILL didn’t get it. Even when I walked out for the 3rd and last time, he didn’t get it. (That he’s controlling, unsafe to communicate with, and abusive.) So what I’m saying is, even if he AGREES to go to counseling doesn’t mean he’s going to change. After 16 years, I finally was at peace with a “Necessary Ending” (the title of a great book written by Henry Cloud.)

  15. Shellys on October 24, 2014 at 12:18 am

    Hi Lynn,
    I did leave. We have been legally and physically separated for two years. There’s a feeling of responsibility for the sanctity of marriage, even though my partner did not respect our vows. It’s hard when your husband continues to insist that he does not want a divorce, and claims that you have broken your promise to even consider it. I appreciate the honesty of the other women who have posted about the danger of reconciling when there has been no real repentance. I know I would be right back into that heartbreaking cycle all over again. How to forgive and remain loving and godly, while at the same time having the strength to say “enough” is a balance that I struggle with. I am gaining strength, though 🙂

    • Lynn M on October 24, 2014 at 10:33 am

      Thank you for sharing your story. I too hear that about the vows. And u told him u has given that great consideration but that I felt HE was actually the one who had broken the vows because he promises before God to love, honor and cherish me, and he has not done that. I hope God gives you continued strength on your journey

      • Lynn M on October 24, 2014 at 10:34 am

        (Please excuse all the thumb typing errors!)

  16. Sue on October 24, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    Leslie, I agree that the 10 indicators are necessary for healing a destructive relationship however there is no mention of God, Jesus or the power of th Holy Spirit. I don’t believe achievement of the indicators is possible without the power of the Holy Spirit working in the marriage relationship. That is what I am believing in for my husband and I. God is a God or miracles and redemption. He raised Lazarus from the dead and He can do the same for marriages. Our hope is in Him.

    • Leslie Vernick on October 24, 2014 at 8:15 pm

      You’re right, we cannot have a change of heart without the power of God and the Holy Spirit. But a change of heart with no change in behaviors (unless you die right after conversion) is no change at all. I think what the readers are looking for are what John the Baptist calls the Fruit of Repentance – in other words, not just a change of heart, but also a change of habit. These are also worked into us by the power of the Holy Spirit but also by our willing cooperation and consent (see Ephesians 4 – put off and put on passages). When an abused women keeps hearing trust God and pray, and her husband claims to be a Christian but has no humility, no repentance and no change, then his words are meaningless.

  17. Virginia Knowles on October 24, 2014 at 8:02 pm

    Leslie, thank you for doing this extensive. I wrote an article on why couples counseling is not recommended for abusive marriages. It has a lot of links to other domestic violence articles and other resources. ~~ Virginia

    • Leslie Vernick on October 24, 2014 at 8:12 pm

      Thanks for sharing your resource list with us. I too have an extensive list of resources on my FaceBook Fan page on Domestic Abuse this month. Glad we can share.

      • Virginia Knowles on October 24, 2014 at 8:27 pm

        I just wrote a quick post with the link to your month long series. 🙂

        • Leslie Vernick on October 25, 2014 at 1:36 am


  18. Marian on October 25, 2014 at 4:11 pm

    You continue to bless each post! I am a grateful participant of one of your groups. The principals prepared me to live with conviction to maintain healthy boundaries.

    I am grateful for the work God did to allow me to end 10 mo. restraining order and return to my marriage the past 4 months. I did not think I could believe in my husband again. Humility is the #1 trait demonstrated that helps me rebuild trust. He prayed and worked hard to get his family back and continues to be in accountability. Men’s abuse recovery was key! I am comfortable confronting when needed. Waiting for God to move was key for me.

  19. Teri on October 25, 2014 at 6:42 pm

    A divorced and remarried woman named Sandy Wallace has written a book called “The Divorce Journey”. I had trouble picking it up because I can’t stand the word “divorce”. It offends my sensibilities and it used to scare me. I felt like one who would be counted among the ‘failures’ in life. I finally picked it up and she is helping me walk into a ‘new and adventuresome me”, as well as directing readers that we don’t have to break vows in a divorce.I can still learn to love this man with an agape love. I can honor him as a child of God, and when I’ve processed the bitterness and hurt, I hope to extend to him mercy and compassion, but that doesn’t mean I must be in relationship with him. I really feel sorry for this man who I am divorcing after 39 years! In her book, Sandy wrote something that hit it on the head for me. She said she had worked with many spouses who so dearly wanted to be loyal to their vows. But, she recognized that in fact, the abusive or dismissive partner just isn’t interested. For someone like me who wants so much to be validated, why would I continue to seek validation from one who can’t even validate himself, and who simply is not interested in me or marriage. That hard truth was rather liberating. I guess I was ready to hear and accept that many men simply are not interested in commitment. They just aren’t interested. I spent many years trying to be “interesting” enough to be loved. Do you think it’s time to move on and learn to love and validate myself with God as my core strength? Me too! Blessings to all you beautiful people!

  20. Shan on October 27, 2014 at 9:15 pm

    I agree with some of the others, that you would need a counselor with experience in abuse and also the abuser has to go there with an attitude of being open to change. So many times the abuser is going to counseling to get you off his back (check it off the list) or prove himself right, so it will not work. I had a pretty good counselor, she saw right through his charms but she was not able to make much progress because he was not there with the right attitude. We were both furious by the end of each session and both decided it wasn’t helping and stopped going and eventually divorced.
    I would have sessions alone with the counselor every other week and she would say to me, this is really bad! I would say I know, that’s why I am here! It was so frustrating for everyone. One time my husband said “Well if I criticize someone I can follow that up with 3 compliments and that makes it ok”. And the counselor is looking at him like he is from outer space and trying to come up with some response to that. And I am thinking ok you have done nothing but criticize me for 2 years, so there is a 6 year period of time coming up with nothing but compliments? 🙂

  21. IZHH on October 28, 2014 at 3:07 pm

    Does anyone out there know of a good counselor near Greenville SC who understands emotional and verbal abuse or NPD? My husband is undergoing neuro feedback therapy and wants to return home. I don’t trust him and need some help. Thanks.

    • Lynn M on October 28, 2014 at 3:53 pm

      I talked with a counselor who attends my mothers church in Charlotte. Rodgers christian counseling. She had Leslie’s book on the shelf, and she gets it. Charlotte’s not too far, or she may know someone

    • Leslie Vernick on October 29, 2014 at 3:48 pm

      YOu might contact Freda Crews who is the host and producer of a Christian television program A Time For Hope in Greenville SC. I’ve been on her show a number of times and she is well connected in the Greenville area. She would know of a good counselor who gets it. She is a counselor but retired.

      • iZHH on October 29, 2014 at 9:29 pm

        Thank you so much I will check on these contacts.

  22. Irene on October 29, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Married and together for 13 years, separated for 27. Husband has died, now having all these horrible memories to work through. Praying that through counseling I can get to number nine and move forward with peace.

    • Leslie Vernick on October 29, 2014 at 3:39 pm

      You can get through this. I’m glad you’re going to get some help for yourself.

  23. irene on October 29, 2014 at 5:13 pm

    thank you God bless your ministry. Perfect timing and encouragement I need to continue on this recovery jpainful recovery journey.

  24. Anne on October 31, 2014 at 3:20 am

    I am also interested in knowing the answer to this questioned posed earlier in the comments: Thank you Leslie. Are there some questions we can ask potential counselors on the phone to see if they have experience working with couples in an abusive marriage? I’ve wasted alot of money on counselors who do not recognize abuse or are afraid to call it what it is. Maybe this is something you can comment on at another time.

    • Leslie Vernick on November 2, 2014 at 11:55 pm

      I will do a blog post soon about the things you should ask potential counselors before your first appointment as well as to what to say when you’re uncomfortable with the way things are going in the session. Stay tuned.

      • Anne on November 3, 2014 at 2:49 am

        Oh…thank you Leslie. I look forward to reading it.

      • HisEzer on November 3, 2014 at 1:11 pm

        I know what my first question to any prospective counselor would be: Do you read Leslie Vernick’s books and articles and support her approach for dealing with destructive relationships?

    • Virginia Knowles on November 3, 2014 at 12:04 am

      If a counselor says a domestic violence issues is a “parenting” or “communication” problem – that’s a red flag. If the counselor is known for advocating separation or divorce only for adultery, that is also a problem.

  25. marriage therapy on November 6, 2014 at 10:09 am

    Nice sharing

  26. Linda Jo on November 12, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    They need to be up front with that and disclose that fact before couples waste $5000 on an Intensive.

  27. Dee Bea on March 19, 2015 at 3:51 pm

    #1 The past….It has been talked about…”
    Healing will not happen unless the abuser can talk about the past behaviors. – They resist this but if they understand how important the transparency is to you trusting they are owning the past it should not be a problem. It’s so much easier for the victim to let go of the past if there has been transparency and an understanding of what happened in the past – otherwise – it stays in the presence, albeit “swept under the rug” only to create an undercurrent (or riptide) of distrust that will soon drown any hope for a better relationship.

    • CBPP on March 20, 2015 at 1:51 am

      Dee Bea, you have nailed it!! 1) If they are willing to accept responsibility for what comes out of their heart , which is the source of their words and behaviors and 2) If they realize the impact it has had on others (empathy), 3) If they are willing and able to verbalize their regret for the destruction and its impact on lives , then there can be healing, both in the abuser and the victims. This is the essence of confessing your sins one to another that is the most freeing thing to a soul.

      These points are taken from the book The ONE MINUTE APOLOGY by Ken Blanchard, a very short and very easy read. If you search ” one minute apology summary” you will get more information. Recently I hear of the book THE FIVE LANGUAGES OF APOLOGY. that sounds good, but I have not read. .

  28. […] From Leslie Vernick’s webpage […]

  29. […] is from a post by my favorite counselor, Leslie Vernick.  I wanted to post this on my blog to check whether my marital counseling is on point but I also […]

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