Topic: Is this an emotionally destructive relationship?

Good morning friends,

Hope you had a great weekend. This was the first weekend in a long time that I did not have a writing deadline to work on and it felt wonderful. I cleaned closets, rode my scooter to the park, read and was still. I need those lazy days to recharge, don’t you?

Several years ago I discovered a poem at an airport bookstore and I’ve reflected on it since. I want to share it with you.

I Will Not Die an Unlived Life

I will not die an unlived life,
I will not live in fear
of falling or catching fire.
I choose to inhabit my days,
to allow living to open me,
to make me less afraid,
more accessible,
to loosen my heart
until it becomes a wing,
a torch, a promise.

I choose to risk my significance,
to live so that which came to me as seed
goes to the next as blossom,
and that which came to me as blossom,
goes on as fruit.

Dawna Markova

Does this poem resonate with you too? Tell me how.

As I’ve pondered and prayed about my next “writing project” (I have lots of ideas) I have felt lead to narrow my focus. I am going to continue to address the issue of emotionally destructive relationships, this time specifically in marriage.

Pray for me as I start a new book on this important topic. I receive so many blog questions on this area that I want to expand and share more about how people who are living in these relationships find grace and peace and safety and sanity in the midst of darkness, oppression and sin.

This week’s question: I just read your book about Emotionally Destructive Relationships. I’ve been feeling emotionally abused by my husband for the past 7 or 8 years. We’ve been to counseling to little avail. I am now on medication for depression. I’ve been taught that the only reason for divorce is adultery, so I’ve been feeling very stuck.

Almost every day I get a lecture about how I communicate and instructions on how I could have said things better, in a way that doesn’t push his buttons. I can’t be myself and I find myself guarded with what I say and always expecting a lecture. I try to let it slide off my back but it’s getting to me. I used to explode a lot when he said demeaning things and insulted my intelligence. Now that I’m on the medication I can keep my emotions under control better, but I’m wondering if I should continue to put up with this. If affects our kids. They hear their father talking to their mother in very condescending tones and it’s not healthy. And sometimes they hear me sobbing or yelling when I can’t take it anymore.

Here are some of the phrases us uses with me:
“You didn’t bother to….”
“I don’t understand why you want to lose.”
“You are a very unique woman”
“I’m waiting for you to get your head out of the sand.”
“That isn’t very smart”
“You’re not paying attention”
“This does not bode well for getting good results.”

It’s not just the area of communication where he acts controlling. He doesn’t want me to make any decisions on my own. I can decide regular daily stuff, but anything new or different he demands he be consulted. He gets very upset if I circumvent his authority. Here are a few examples. He got upset with me telling our daughter that she could go somewhere without consulting him about it first. I went to pick out new glasses after my prescription was filled without asking him first. I invited my parents to come take pictures of my daughter and her date for the prom without letting him know first. Even though I apologize for these misunderstandings, he continues to bring them up and remind me of my failures.

He refuses to allow me to get on his computer, even though he’s had a problem with pornography. He gets upset if I move any of his stuff when I’m trying to clean up the house. Heaven forbid if I move any furniture without getting his approval first.

Are these things controlling and/or abusive or is this just every day common behavior that I’m taking too personally?

Answer: My definition of an emotionally destructive relationship is this: Pervasive and repetitive patterns of actions and attitudes that result in tearing someone down or inhibiting a person’s growth, often accompanied by a lack of awareness, lack of remorse and lack of change. If you haven’t already, I would encourage you to take the test at the end of chapter 1 (or for those who don’t have my book, it’s in my free resource section on my website at

In many of these kinds of relationships, you can’t point to one specific abusive episode or grossly sinful behavior to “prove” that the relationship destructive. That’s the hard part, especially when trying to get pastoral help or explain it to a counselor.

But you know that inside the person you were is dying and you don’t know how to live in a healthy way this relationship any more. You mention that you used to explode in anger and now with antidepressants you keep your emotions better in check,

I’m glad you’re not exploding anymore. That’s not healthy for anyone. However, my concern for you is that in dulling your emotional pain, you’re not paying attention to your internal warning bell that’s telling you something is very wrong.

Here’s what I mean. When you break your ankle, the pain drives you to the doctor. That’s a good thing so that you get help for your problem (broken ankle) and then you can take the pain medication and get crutches while you heal you’re ankle. If you just took pain medication so that you don’t feel your ankle pain and then continued to walk on it, you would make your ankle worse.

In the same way, when you feel continual marital pain, you need to ask yourself what’s wrong? Pain motivates us to take some action, to get help in order to fix the problem. If you just mask the pain with medication, you won’t solve the problem and the problem can actually become worse.

You said counseling has been little help. You’re not alone in this. I think it’s very difficult to describe the kinds of crazy making that this kind of relationship entails. It’s also very hard for counselors to grasp. Much of what your husband asks of you sounds so reasonable.

For example, it is normal not controlling for husbands (and wives) to want to be included in decisions regarding where the children go, money spent (especially if the budget is tight), and in laws visiting. You don’t say, but I’m guessing the problem is deeper than just a lack of information (in that you failed to inform him). But rather, he feels that it’s his right as the head of his home to decide the final outcome.

What happens when you do talk with him about these things and you have a difference of opinion? How do you resolve these disagreements? From the phrases he uses, it sounds like he has a very strong sense of win/lose in problem solving rather than mutual consideration, respect, and compromise. He believes that his authority entitles him to always have the final say.

And….that will be the subject of next week’s blog, The Final Say!

But for you dear one, take heart. There is a God who see’s you and who knows what you are going through. There is a God who hates abuse and warns husband’s not to treat their wives harshly. Right now if all you can work on is you and not your marriage, start there. Deal with your depression and anger. Do what you need to do to learn how to communicate in a strong and firm way that you will not engage in conversations that are disrespectful and demeaning anymore. It is only from a position of wholeness can you then invite your husband into healthy change.


  1. Amy on June 14, 2011 at 3:27 pm

    Wow, when I read how the poster described her relationship it brought me back to a 20 year emotionally destructive marriage that I lived.
    I tried hard to keep my anger under control, to the point where I denied my feelings because I was told over and over, not only from my ex-husband, but from church members, that anger is wrong. I learned to stuff those feelings, ignore them and yet somehow keep living and going on in a marriage that was destroying who I was.
    I finally found a counselor that put a name to what I was dealing with…crazy making. And she too helped me see that feeling anger and any other feelings is not wrong, it is a gauge as Leslie describes as to something not being right.
    Unfortunately, I must say that learning to control your anger and work on your depression is not going to resolve a very real, abusive situation that you are living. And putting your foot down with your husband about him not talking to you in a demeaning way or you not engaging with him when he does, usually only fuels the fire and will make things more explosive.
    I pray that you can find a good counselor that can help you understand what you are going through and give you the strength to make some choices to protect yourself and your children from further abuse. And I do not recommend joint counseling for you and your husband…if he is willing to go separately that is his decision, but my experience that going to counseling with an abusive spouse does not work. My ex-husband was able to completely turn the sessions around to benefit him and nothing was ever resolved.
    Get help and if necessary, get out. I pray that God will give you firm direction in what you need to do to take care of yourself.

  2. Leslie on June 14, 2011 at 6:06 pm

    Thanks Amy for your comments.

    On another note, I received a private e-mail from a reader who was concerned about my reference to antidepressants as dulling one's emotional pain. It was a poor choice of words to communicate my concern that sometimes we don't deal with the true source of our emotional pain, but rather get medication to help with the pain.

    Although I believe antidepressants are appropriate and even necessary at times, they do not cure depression. What they do is help mitigate some of the debilitating symptoms of depression – which is a great help. However, as I say in my book Defeating Depression, depression is usually a sign that something is wrong – either in our bodies, our thinking, our habits, our relationships, or environment and usually a combination of all of the above. Therefore, in addition to using antidepressant medication, I would encourage a person struggling with depression to look at the other factors involved.

    The National Institute of Mental Health says that depression is very prevalent among unhappily married women. Since women are relational by nature, this is not a surprise. And I believe women who feel stuck in destructive marriages and are unsupported by family and/or church are prone to even greater vulnerability to depression.

  3. Anonymous on June 17, 2011 at 10:25 pm

    thank you for your note about depression. I needed to better understand it.

  4. Anonymous on June 20, 2011 at 4:21 pm

    I am in a long-term marriage that has left me emotionally devastated and feeling like life almost isn't worth living. I have begun to think pretty seriously about leaving this marriage, but the thought of that crushes me, because it goes against EVERYTHING I have ever believed in my whole life about the permanence of marriage. I grew up believing that the only reason for leaving a marriage was adultery, but I have no idea how I am supposed to stay in this relationship, because it is killing "me", and wounding my kids. I feel such an enormous sense of failure, that I couldn't see what this man I married was really like before I entered into a marriage with him. I feel desperately lonely for God, too, and so confused about how He must view this whole situation. Sometimes, I feel like I have to either try and please God by staying in his relationship, or "please" myself by getting out of this marriage so that I can survive. Does it have to be a choice? Does God understand?? Does He allow divorce in situations like this? I am sure that, literally, no one at my church would understand, because all they ever see is "Mr. Nice Guy", who seems meek and shy around them, but they have NO idea of what I live with. I feel so hurt and desperately unhappy sometimes, and isolated from almost everyone. No one, except my kids, really understands what I/we live with on a continual basis. Sometimes it's not as bad, but it always cycles back around and gets awful for a time. I am tired of living like this, and don't want to think that the entire rest of my life will be marked with desperate sadness like this. I honestly don't know where to go from this point. I want to believe that maybe if I just hang in there, things will eventually change, but they never really have in over 22 years. Where do I go from here, and how in the world does one ever really recover or start over after a long-term, abusive relationship?

  5. Anonymous on June 22, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    Dear Anonymous, I know what you are talking about all too well also. I have received a whole lot of help and direction at my local domestic abuse center. They have classes and counseling availalbe for these very issues. I do believe from what you are sharing that you are in an abusive situation and there is help to deal with it, either by leaving or by finding another way to relate to your current life situation. You might want to start by calling the national abuse hotline and just chatting with whomever answers your call. They are wonderful to talk to! I do hope you reach out for help because there is a whole lot of it avialable, if you do.

  6. Anonymous on June 23, 2011 at 6:54 am

    whoa, this sounds like my marriage. My counselors had a hard time helping us too because although the husband's demands might sound "normal" and oh, he just wants to be included in on decisions, it is not. Only when you have been in this kind of marriage with this kind of husband, you can understand just how fake and deceptive and manipulative the husband is, not to mention emotionally abusive. Ofcourse, I got no help from my church. Told that the only reason to leave was adultery, period, end of conversation. When you start to die on the inside and need antidepressants to keep your sanity, it's not living anymore. God desires godly marriages and purposeful living, not to be a doormat. He allows a lot of grace and gives us a brain to use. Despite how unpopular it was, I am so glad I left my husband. One of my better decisions. No regrets but so thankful each day that I can give, love, and laugh freely, and to get off medication.

  7. Anonymous on June 23, 2011 at 3:26 pm

    To the anonymous woman who wants to leave her 22 year marriage: my story is just like yours. I did finally end the marriage. It was a long drawn out process — I didn't just walk away one day and get happy. It was slow and ugly. But the more I withdrew, the more abusive he became, and the more scared I got, and eventually he pulled enough really obviously stunts that I filed for divorce. In the time leading up to that, I was preparing, but not convinced I would do it. He would always say something to stop me. Sometimes I was just scared, sometimes I felt God was saying "not yet". But when I did feel God was saying NOW, I did it…and never regretted it. Yes, you have the right to leave. I found resources on esp a book about divorce in the church. The author's last name is Instone-Brewer, I think. That book helped me SO much to understand those biblical passages on divorce in a new light. Oh yeah…I lost my church family too. A few friends stuck by me, and I love them for it. But they were the ones who really understood being in an emotionally abusive relationship. Others who had good marriages with normal struggles don't get it, and never will. So be prepared to lose everything, but you WILL FIND YOURSELF and yes, you will find God. He loves you, he understands….and don't forget, he divorced Isreal. God himself is a divorcee. He gets it. Take care of yourself. It's worth your life.

    • LDA on December 4, 2023 at 6:58 pm

      I’d just like to add that God did divorce Israel, but only after “she” broke the covenant by seeking “other gods.”

      Blessings 🙏

  8. Notes from the Den on July 20, 2011 at 5:12 am

    Borderline Personality Disorder, I lived this woman's life for 28 years, I had a Domestic Violence Protective order place against the father of my 2 amazing kids in March of this year. I can hear his voice when she is saying his words to her. I could never quite pin down and tell others what he said to me because it turned into, "I just want to be included, I just want to be involved" like I was intentionally leaving him out. It turned into "I just want to be with her, I just want her to love me, " I just, I just, I just,… turned into If you would just, I could never get the just's right, the requirements were always changing. I took everything I had to finally say enough. thank you Leslie for confirmation that I did the right thing. I saved myself. God saved me.
    The book, Stop Walking On Eggshells and an amazing therapist who reminded me of the old tale of the flood and the man on the roof, 3 boats came by and he kept saying "no thanks, God will save me" he drown and asked God what happened, God said, "I SENT THREE BOATS".
    The boats are there, use em'

  9. katie on August 1, 2015 at 12:07 am

    I am so thankful for finding this site. I am in a disfunctional, if not emotionally abusive, marriage and I don’t know what to do. In a nutshell, I have been lied to and deceived numerous times over the course of my 8-year marriage, and there seems to be no end in sight. Unfortunately, I live in Mexico where resources are scarce and support groups difficult to find. My husband has run up hundreds of dollars in debt which has put my house at risk of being taken by the bank. I believe my husband has undiagnosed ADD and hyper-impulsivity. I don’t know how much more I can take of his disruptive behaviour, and I am afraid of how it will affect our 7-year old twin boys in the long term. This sitet, and additional links that others have shared may be the help I need to get through this situation, or get out. I need help finding Scripture and other (faith-based) resources to face this. Thank you so much

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