Topic: How Do I Live with a Tyrant?

Good morning friends,

I’m so excited about the new webinar series that I’ve started. It will begin this Wednesday night, February 15th at 9pm ET, 6pm PT and go for three weeks. This Wednesday I will be talking about Getting Rid of Stinkin’ Thinkin’. February 22nd will be on Managing Negative Emotions and February 29th will be on Building Healthy Relationships. Each 45 minute webinar will be followed by a 45 minute question and answer session related to the topic. It’s not too late to join us. Click here for more information or to register.

This week’s question: My husband is basically a good man. He is a school teacher and the music director/organist of our Church. He can be patient, kind, loving and always deeply spiritual. He can also be demanding, tyrannical and irrational.

He blames everyone and anyone for any problems that arise. It is a knee-jerk reaction to even the slightest, most inconsequential of events. If one of our children falls down, his first reaction is to scream an “I told you so” at them–never is his first reaction one of concern for their well-being or safety. He expects our older children–living away from our home with lives of their own–to always be at his beck and call. If he wants them to do something for him, it does not matter that they have jobs, plans, etc. He refuses to be told no, and, everyone cow-tows to him just to keep him on an even keel and avoid the rants and literal rages that he has demonstrated.

While he is a school teacher, his passion is the piano and he is an accomplished pianist and composer–just not as revered and accomplished as he would like to be. Whose fault is that? It’s his parents; his father for having a health crisis when he was younger or his mother for not knowing or doing enough to promote his career. The children and I are also to blame because he has to work a “meaningless” job to put food on the table.

He takes no responsibility for any failure, real or imagined, in his life. He doesn't seem to have any concept that not everyone's life revolves around him and that people are allowed their own lives and opinions. He is negative in all aspects of his life- except, of course, if it relates to music. While I could write pages about this aspect of his personality, suffice it to say that he will always see the dark cloud around the silver lining. He is also very vocal about his negative thoughts and when he's challenged, he plays the victim and accuses the challenger of attacking him. It's to the point where conversation with him is seldom initiated because we all know what his reaction will be. Want his opinion? Just think of the most irrational response, and go with that.

He is like a petulant two-year-old who demands his own way and nothing is ever right for him. Even if you do something considerate to try and make life easier for him or take care of something that he hadn't time to do, his reaction is never one of gratitude–there is always, always, always a negative reaction. Things are still done or taken care of for him, but it's never brought up to him and, if he does notice, it's never mentioned.

While we all love him, he is driving a wide and very deep wedge between himself and the rest of our family. It is very difficult to live with someone when you are walking on eggshells at all times. I am not looking to leave him or my marriage. I am looking for help in how to live with him and how to help my children live with him. I do not want my children to grow up like their father.

Answer: I feel a little confused. You say that your husband is basically a good man: patient, kind, loving and always deeply spiritual. Then you go on for several paragraphs listing all the ways he is not patient, loving, good or spiritual. Perhaps what you mean is that your husband can be charming and act loving when everything is going his way and everyone meets his needs and expectations in exactly the way he wants. When that doesn’t happen (which is real life), watch out!

Now your question: how do you live with someone like that and how do you help your children live with someone like that? The best answer I can offer you is you can only live with this (if you choose to) with a good support system and lots of grace and truth, with no expectations of a meaningful relationship or mutual give and take.

I am reluctant to put a label on anyone, but your description of your husband’s behavior is typical of someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. A craving for admiration, an attitude of entitlement and lack of empathy for anyone else’s needs are usually the big red flags. You can “google” it and read more information on it if you want to see if it fits.

Let’s start with grace. In order to live with someone like this, you will need to learn to lean hard into God’s loving grace knowing that when your husband doesn’t treat you well or love you like you wished he did, you are still deeply loved and valued by God. You will need God’s grace to continually forgive your husband and keep a clean slate of the wrongs he does against you so that you don’t become hardened by bitterness and resentment. Your husband will never apologize or take responsibility for the wrong’s he’s done which makes it that much harder to forgive and let things go, so your strength must come from outside yourself. It can only be from God.

You will need God’s grace to biblically love your husband when you feel like screaming at him and grace to not repay evil for evil. Jesus calls us to love our enemies, but we rarely have to live with our enemy day in and day out. To live in a relatively conflict-free relationship with your husband, you will need to accept that you will always be more the giver. God sees how much you give whether or not your husband notices or appreciates it. You will need His eternal perspective on your marital loneliness and suffering because you will feel unheard, unloved and unvalued much of the time, which may tempt you to seek other male companionship.

You will need grace to not judge your husband and have contempt for him as a man or as a person, even though truth tells you his attitudes and actions are sinful. Grace keeps us humble, reminding us that we too are sinful and have our own brokenness. Grace keeps us mindful of the logs in our own eyes before trying to remove the speck in our spouse’s.

You will also need to stay focused on God’s truth to stay healthy emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Your husband blames and shames and it’s tempting to believe his harsh words. Don’t do it. Listen to what God says about whom you are and not your husband’s words. You will need God’s truth to explain to yourself and even your children that sometimes their father acts selfishly, and it’s not wrong of them to say “no” or to ask him to consider their needs, and not just think of his own (Philippians 2:4).

Truth will help you know when boundaries are important and how to set them. For example, when he begins his angry tirade you might stop talking, turn around and walk away. If he continues, leave the house. When you return you can say something like, “I can’t listen to you when you scream at me.” Keep it short and simple. Or say “I don’t want to feel angry and hateful toward you so I’m leaving until you can cool down.” Then do it.

You will also need truth to guide you when to confront your husband’s sinful behavior and how. There may be a strategic or teachable moment where you could say something that may cause him to press pause and think about his actions. You want to look for those moments and ask God to give you an anointed tongue.

We are to speak the truth in love to one another, but it’s tempting to either placate this kind of person or eventually get sick of it and blow up, only to later feel guilty, regretting your reaction, which only adds more fuel to his fire. Wear truth as a necklace and she will teach you when the time is right to speak. Hard words need not be harsh words.

For example, when he’s inconsiderate of your needs or your schedule, you could say, “I know this is important to you, but this is important to me so I have to do this first.” Your goal in this kind of statement is to remind him that you are a separate PERSON with your own needs, feelings and thoughts. You are not just a slave or a robot or a “wife”, but a person and, even if he doesn’t value you, you are going to value yourself.

You said you don’t want your children growing up to be like their father. Children do learn a lot from their parents, but their father isn’t their only influencer. You have a huge impact on your children, and the way you interact with their father will say a lot to them about not only who he is, but who you are. If you act as if he’s right and he’s entitled to act this way, they get the picture that men get to have their way all the time and that’s “normal”. Therefore, it’s important to speak truthfully to your children about things such as, “I think sometimes your father can be self-absorbed and not realize that you have your own plans. It’s okay to remind him that you can’t always accommodate him and stick to what you need to do for yourself.”

You say your husband is deeply spiritual. Galatians 5:16-26 speaks about the person who lives in the spirit and one who lives in the flesh. Perhaps in a moment when your husband seems open or more in tune with God, you could ask him which one he inhabits most often. Or when he is most negative or critical say, “You don’t seem to experience God’s joy or peace very much. Why do you think that is?” Your words will have little impact on him, but God tells us that His words are powerful and don’t return void. They have the power to cut right to the heart (Hebrews 4:12). Ask God to use His Word, even those in the lyrics of the music he plays each week at church, to cause him to see the truth about why he is so critical, so miserable and so unhappy.

Lastly, don’t forget you do need good relationships even if it’s not in your marriage. Seek out healthy girlfriends that can encourage you, love on you, pray for you and hold you accountable to be the kind of person you want to be while living in this difficult marriage.

Friends who have walked in this woman’s shoes, please share your words of wisdom here with her.

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  1. Anonymous on February 16, 2012 at 11:12 am

    You are not alone….and I don't just mean the Omnipresence of our Abba Father! I am with you, understand you and I am so sorry to hear of your painful journey. It is like living as a single parent. I know and have known for 20 years.
    BUT, be if good cheer! God's grace and mercy and Truth give us the Victory! :). God's power is made perfect in our weakness and if this is driving you to your knees and into the loving arms of Christ, dwell there – not on what you see at home. This is spiritual warfare for claim on your family. Defend yourself and your children! Sing, play, post, speak the Word out loud all day long, intermingling It in as many conversations as you can. Your efforts will not change your husband, but it will change your perspective.
    I am blessed to know that I am not alone either. I will pray for you in every "encounter" here at our home.
    With Joy for the Journey!

  2. Anonymous on February 17, 2012 at 1:13 am

    Wow! I can so relate. I once thought my husband was loving and kind until I prayed for God to open his eyes so he might see Jesus. God instead opened my eyes to see the abuse I was suffering.

    My christian friends told me that because my spouse was not a christian, I could not ask him to act any different.

    For years I struggled and prayed and did what I could. Leaned on God more and more.

    I eventually left him 4 years ago and have since learned about Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which seemed to best describe him, but for some reason it still did not quite fit. I went back to the transition house for more emotional help, when I was lead to read a book "The Sociopath Next Door" It was in this book that I found the best description for his behaviour. He so accurately fit the description of the inert sociopath, with some of the characteristics of some of the other sociopaths described in the book. It was so enlightening for me to see that I was not crazy.

    Leaving him was the best thing I did for me, since it was only then I could get the healing I so badly needed. While in the relationship I felt like someone who was so badly beaten emotionally that I could no longer defend myself. For some reason in the beginning of the relationship and onwards, I did not think that as a christian I had the right to defend myself. Turn the other cheek was what I was always told.

    in the relationship, I never really felt loved and often I felt that my husband would go out of his way to make my feel unloved and dangle other women in my face, even though I never actually caught him in bed with another woman. Or had evidence of that nature. He was very heavy into porn and made me feel that I was a reject for not looking like a perfect 18 year old pin up girl, at the age of over 50.

    The pain is still intense, but I feel more loved today than I ever did in the relationship. God has shown me so much love over the last few years that I cannot even describe it. He is so wonderful and so amazing. He even gave me a Valentines present that only I would recognize as such and it was the best ever.

    I have 3 beautiful children, but they are damaged because of what I allowed to go on in the relationship. Fortunately 2 of them are walking with God and the other knows God but is not walking with him at the moment, and part of that I feel has to do with what I put up with as a christian.

    I realize now that "Why would anyone want to become a christian if it means putting up with abuse."

    The best thing about this relationship is that I had drew closer and closer to God because of it. It was the only way I could survive. God is still working on healing me, and there is still some hidden pain. God keeps bringing memories of some horrible abuses that I have forgotten and now that I have had some healing, cannot believe I even put up with. I guess I wanted and needed love so much that I put up with far too much even in the beginning.

    Sorry for the rant, but this hit too close to home and was exactly how I felt and saw things before God opened my eyes to look closer.

    Today I am working on healing and forgiving, healing and forgiving. I think there is still much to forgive including myself for being so naive, but God is helping me in this area too.

    I am just so happy that God's love is perfect and we can learn from Him.

    I thank you Leslie for the work that you do and for seeing clearly what God has to say. You take the best of God and the best of your knowledge in counselling and put them together in a way that helps those of us who are living or have lived in emotionally destructive relationships. You remind that the way I was treated was not OK. Thank you for that.

  3. Anonymous on February 20, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    I've been thinking about your response to this woman all week. There are some hard choices & actions that you suggest. Personally I don't know if I could carry them out; maybe, maybe with God's help?
    But what I appreciate about this particular piece of advice is that you hold no truth back; you don't sugar-coat the hard truth & you don't toss in a pat Bible verse answer as if that will solve everything.
    Even though my own situation pales in comparison to this woman's, you have given me some good, balanced food for thought.

  4. Anonymous on February 22, 2012 at 4:41 pm

    I believe my father also had Narcissistic Personality Disorder, so I can relate to your story from the perspective of your children. I have found books by Renee Pittelli, which are written from a Christian perspective, to be very helpful in my healing. I would also like to suggest, from the perspective of a child who has been there, that you not enable your husband's behavior. It is not un-Christian to enforce consequences on someone who is sinning- your husband voluntarily undertook marriage and a family, and he is still accountable for meeting his responsibilities and treating the family with compassion. As to his resentment at needing to work a "meaningless" job to provide for you all- he would presumably still need to work even if he wasn't married with a family. Please care enough about your children and yourself to stop settling for crumbs.

  5. Anonymous on February 26, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    What if it is the mother and there are young children involved?

  6. Anonymous on February 29, 2012 at 5:58 am

    I too am married to a man with Narcisstic Personality Disorder. We are both Christians and have been married for 25 years. For 25 years I struggled with a difficult marriage not knowing why. My husband was diagnosed with ALS(Lou Gehrig's Disease) a year ago and his tyrant, self absorbed, demanding behavior escalated so high that I had 3 nervous breakdowns and my heart beat is now irregular. Through therapy, I learned that the "issue" we had during our marriage was largely contributed to his NPD. It is a relief to know what the issue is. However, implementing boundaries and consequences is excruciating. I must follow through for myself and for my daughter. Unfortunately, he will never see things through others perspective to be able to offer compassion to our family. It is truly a loss and disappointment for me and my two daughters. The illness just compounds the loss. I am committed to him and am learning how to live with the difficulty. Just finding Leslie's site and books is an answer to prayer. I feel a warm sense of support and affirmation that the boundaries I am setting are biblical and best for all of my family. Including my husband.

  7. BetsyLee on October 29, 2013 at 3:43 pm

    I have been in a relation with a sociopath since I was 16 yrs old. He was the only guy I ever went out with and even then it was atrocious. He lied, cheated, dumped a drink on me, but of course always apologized and sent roses! He didn’t have a job (he was 22), but would find one thru an employment agency that HE had to pay a fee for and then lose quickly thereafter because he just didn’t “feel like” going in. He did go back to college when we got married, invested in real estate, but made a shambles of that & ended up losing them all to foreclosure. In the 30 years since then (yes, I am 50) he has lost so many jobs that I could not even count but of course it is never HIS fault. He was in sales so he traveled Sun.-Thurs., which he said was req’d but in reality he CHOSE to be gone that long because eventually it all came out that he had been living a double life. In retrospect, much longer than anyone ever dreamed! I had been finding histories on his company laptop of him accessing homosexual hookup sites, watching videos, sending messages, and eventually finding pics of HIM advertising his “services” on Craigslist. He went to the pastor, who provided free visits to a counselor, but during the initial session where he was supposed to be coming clean, he lied & said he was staying at his sister’s house when in reality he was at a cheap hotel posting ads for strange men to come knock on his door for sex! In the past year since then, my 3 kids (10, 12 & 16) had moved out for awhile & then ret’d home, only to find him going out drinking every single night to the point of total intoxication and STILL engaging in the homosexual ads. It is horrible to think that I have invested my entire adult life in someone who is the epitome of selfishness. And the damage it has done to my children, especially my oldest teenage son, is simply irreparable. He HATES this pathetic excuse of a “man,” and often suggests that one night he would like to give him a shove down the stairs. Frankly, I don’t blame him and in reading Leslie’s advice to this woman, believe that it is next to IMPOSSIBLE to living with a selfish monster such as him. I hate him with every ounce of being in me for wounding the ones I love & cherish so much. I truly wish he would die & put us ALL out of his misery! He is a shell of a human being with no soul, no empathy, no respect or consideration whatsoever for anyone but himself. Take it from someone who has lived over 30 years with one — my wise old counselor so many years ago, whom I did not heed the warnings of, was absolutely spot on: Sociopaths *do* *not* *change*.

    • Leslie Vernick on November 3, 2013 at 1:25 pm

      It is true – some people do not change – they have no interest in changing – only fooling people into thinking they’re changing so that they won’t have to pay the consequences for their foolishness or sin or because they don’t want to come clean and face the truth about who they truly are. In either case, it’s vitally important that we learn to distinguish from people who truly do want to change and are struggling with actually doing so and those who are pretending change and have no intention of doing so – and it isn’t always so easy to see, but one of the marks to look for is humility and honesty and accountability. If those 3 aren’t there – then I wouldn’t hold out a lot of hope for someone changing.

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