Good Monday friends,
I have some exciting news to share with you. I have been invited to be a regular blogger (2 x a month) for the Association of Biblical Counselors. I am going to be blogging about the same topics that I’ve addressed in this blog for years, but gearing it toward counselors and pastors who need to know how to address the issues of domestic violence, verbal abuse and emotionally destructive relationships in a biblically wise and competent manner. Rejoice with me how God has opened this door for me and pray that I will stay focused and close to Jesus in the blur of opportunities. My first blog will begin in August and if you want to read it, you can find the site at www.christiancounseling.com
I’m leaving on Thursday to visit my daughter’s family and spend time with my precious granddaughter. It is their third anniversary and so I’m giving them time together before their new daughter arrives in October. I will get my blog out to you – Hopefully Monday with a photo of Amaya and me.
Today’s Question: It took me many years to know (almost) for sure that my husband is emotionally abusive. In the beginning of our relationship it seemed like a fairy tale. I wanted to make him happy. I catered to his every need. I do want to add that I was not a Christian when we met. I would look for love any way I could get it and thought that usually meant through sex and being servant-like to guys.
So my husband seemed wonderful and made me feel secure at first. But soon that all changed. I was a stay at home mom and he took control of all the money. He refused to buy me pads or anything to use for my period. He would not give me money to do laundry at the laundry mat. He had to come with me to the grocery store. He refused to pay the bills but bought himself whatever he wanted. He told me I was too sensitive and that I always make him out to be the bad guy. He lied to me about small things and big things and said (and still says) that he has never lied to me and that I always think the worst of him.
Once I became a Christian a light went on in my head. I was worth something. We have been married 16 years and have two boys. My oldest son wants me to leave. He says “mom he treats you (us) terrible.”
I feel like I am crazy one minute and then the next minute I know that it’s emotional abuse. This morning my husband said, “You seem to think I lie to you all the time when I have never lied to you.” He can seem so calm and in control at times and so out of control others. He will not listen to me and when I comment about his behavior or something he said, he tells me That’s ridiculous.” Or “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Am I crazy or what? What are my next steps?
Answer: It feels crazy doesn’t it? My heart goes out to you and anyone else who lives this way. This doesn’t sound like a healthy marriage but more like a POW camp. But here’s the deal. Nothing will change if nothing changes. That means that if you want something to be different, you will need to initiate some changes. Why? Because the way it is right now is not only toxic for you and your boys but believe it or not, it’s destructive for your husband as well.
First it’s important for you to get some good Christian support. When we are isolated, the words of an abusive person ring truer than when we have other voices to listen to. I just finished reading a book called Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption. It’s the true story of Louie Zamperini, an Olympic runner. who was a prisoner of war during WW2. Isolation was one of the tactics used by the Japanese to mentally and emotionally break the soldiers down. When they weren’t allowed to communicate with their fellow prisoners of war and receive support, comfort, and validation, it was impossible for many of them to stay strong, hopeful and even sane.
But another important thing I realized as I read this book is was the Japanese soldiers who treated American prisoners inhumanly didn’t feel good either. Lording over someone and being cruel doesn’t only dehumanize and degrade the victim it dehumanizes and degrades the person doing the abuse. For the best interests of everyone in your family, it’s time to initiate some changes.
There is a tremendous imbalance of power and control in your home. Your husband has all the power and control, you are the slave. He controls the finances, he controls the mood of the home, he controls what you do, where you go, and even tries to control what you think and how you feel. That’s why you are constantly questioning your own thoughts and feelings and ask yourself “am I crazy?” For example, he twists reality (saying, “I’ve never lied to you”) but your own gut and experience tells you something very different. That’s crazy making and not God’s best for you, or for him.
Several weeks ago in this blog, I wrote about mutuality in marriage. The title of the blog was Who has the Final Say? God’s design for marriage is to be a partnership, not a dictatorship. When you became a Christian you began to experience your true value and worth. Now it’s time to learn to live as if those things are true.
When you know and believe that you are a loved, valuable, worthwhile human being and live from that core place, toxic people lose their power to manipulate you. They can’t control and intimidate you as they once did when you felt worthless, dependent and needy.
From this new place you can invite your spouse into some needed changes. If he refuses, don’t beg, plead, or badger or argue. Simply step back and allow him to experience his own core loneliness, unhappiness, and misery without taking responsibility for his feelings.
Here is an important insight that may help you understand your husband’s behavior. When a man doesn’t feel good about himself he often gets mean. This doesn’t excuse his behavior but if that’s one of the reasons he’s behaving the way he is, you might want to ask him to answer a question for you. When the time is right ask him,
“What is the single most important thing you want to be as a husband and father?”
His answer may surprise you. I doubt his response will reflect his current behaviors. I’ve never met an abusive man who said, “I want to be cruel, a dictator, a liar and someone who scares his family”. Deep down, most men want to be more loving husbands and fathers but don’t know how.
They get caught in their own internal lies, shame and self hatred over their inadequacies and failures (real and imagined) and usually do not know God’s forgiveness or the way out. Remember, that does not excuse his mean and controlling behaviors toward you but it may help you feel less crazy and enable you to actually feel some compassion (versus resentment) toward him as you speak up and require him to treat you and the children differently.
Next time he is disrespectful, abusive, or controlling, lovingly but firmly invite him to live up to his core values and treat you and your children from the person he wants to be, not how he feels in the moment. If he refuses, (which he very well might do), then he not only looses the opportunity to grow as a husband and father, he loses the closeness and fellowship of his family. Unfortunately, sometimes consequences, including separation are the only things that will wake him up enough to begin to want to change. Actually doing the hard work of change will be his next challenge.
That’s why you both need the support of loving people to help you on this journey. There is no short cut to growth and healing but it is God’s will that you both know him and mature and live in the truth of who He is and who we are in Him.
Press on dear one. For your growth, for the wellbeing of your husband and the future of your boys and family, take these next courageous steps and see what God does.
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Very, very good post. I'm in the seperation phase of my marriage. My husband still seems to not know how to be a loving husband and father and he sometimes puts the responsiblity on me to tell him how to fix it or what to do. I refuse to do this anymore, as then I'm labeled as the mother and controller. If he wants to be those things he can seek the help he needs to find out how to change and what to do. It is very discouraging, because it has been a long time. I don't want a divorce, but I also am tired of my non-christian husband having the opposite values of me and blaming me for his issues. If he lies it is because I'm hard to talk to or critical. If he drinks it is because he is stressed out, enjoys it and our problems stress him out. If he does anything he says he takes responsiblity for it and he says that he knows that it was wrong now, but he still throws in some blame on me. He also doesn't fully try to change his behaviors. It is so depressing that our marriage is probably going to end. I can't change him. I have done my part and I'm still inviting to him, but it has to come with some boundaries. I'm very resentful towards him. I need to have more compassion. There is only so much one person can take though. It is so sad that my husband had to follow his dad's footsteps and be an abusive husband and cheater. I pray that God will soften his heart and that he will surrender to God. It would take a miracle. I really want my marriage to work, but maybe God has something different in store for me. It is really hard to know what GOd wants me to do. I'm stuck in the middle right now between divorce and staying together. I just don't know what way God is leading me. If i knew I would do it. My husband begs and begs to stay together and says this and that, but I don't see a real desire for change even though he says he is and wants our relationship to work.
Yes, an excellent article, Leslie. My story is pretty similar. It was a shock when I finally figured out he was never going to change and it had absolutely nothing to do with me. That was the day I realized I needed to be responsible for myself and my adult disabled son who lives with me. My spouse is not a Christian. Because I am a Christian, I never believed in divorce. I thought, if you just try harder, God will honor that and make a miracle happen. But we have free will…my spouse has free will…and he chooses not to follow God's plans for him. I realized that, although I am the one initiating the divorce, he (in sorts) abandoned me (the marriage) a long time ago, emotionally, financially, partnering, etc. While I have wrestled out with God my decision regarding initiating divorce, I have peace with it. I have to say, though, it is hard to be around other Christians who don't understand verbal and emotional abuse and believe that you should never divorce unless your spouse has cheated on you or is an unbeliever and doesn't want to be married to you. So I am still struggling with how to respond to those people in the church, yet get the support I need.
I praise God you will be writing for Christian Counseling. It is needed so much as we who have been abused don't understand the coping mode we are in and that as Christians divorce is the best whether our Christian brothers and sisters understand. Thank you so much for your wisdom, love and being used of the Lord.
The Bible says that "mans' hearts would grow cold" referring to "end-times". So, we've got to look at our spouse as Jesus, understand we are not carrying the Cross alone, thank God for sisters-in-Christ as each other and Leslie, and press on. His 'yoke is easy; His burden is light'. We are loved by our God who is going to not let any of His sheep perish. We honor Him by our patience and humility. May the Holy Spirit continue to cover us. Amen! [and let us MAKE it a great day].
Leslie! That was AWESOME!! Everything ~ From the story of the POW to the use of compassion instead of resentment !Just JESUS JESU JESUS all the way through this 🙂
Your vitality and wisdom at it's peak Leslie. I know this will help alot of women!
I loved it when you said ask him “What is the single most important thing you want to be as a husband and father?” & … "I’ve never met an abusive man who said, “I want to be cruel, a dictator, a liar and someone who scares his family”. Deep down, most men want to be more loving husbands and fathers but don’t know how.
Thank you for your insight and practical ways you give us, to deal with our crazy lives !