I’m in Nashville, taping for the training that you’ve been reading about through churchcares.com. Thanks for your prayers. It’s been an adventure. Afterward, I’m headed on a much-needed vacation with my family (all kids and grandkids) for my husband’s big birthday. Although I’m not sure how much of a vacation it will be when you’re the grandma and your sweet, cute grandkids are with you. But I’m looking forward to it and would very much appreciate your prayers.
Today’s question is from a man. We have a few men who hang out here once in a while, and our friend Sheep has been a regular. Men too are victims of abuse, and perhaps get less compassion because somehow men are told if you were a real man, emotional abuse wouldn’t bother you. But God doesn’t say reckless words or abusive behavior just affect women. In fact, David cries out in emotional pain when his close companion mocked, insulted and rejected him (Psalm 55).
This Week Question: Your book “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage” saved my life. Having sought guidance through the Church and secular therapists, I was going nowhere.
You brought together both therapy and spirituality, which gave me direction and help. My question is this. My wife and I have been married for 34 years. She’s been verbally and emotionally abusive most of those years and it’s only intensified towards the children and me.
She will not seek accountability, nor take ownership of her past with my therapist. So I’ve decided to emotionally separate. Please define emotional separation that encroaches on lack of empathy.
I’m a pilot so I’m gone most of the week. However I no longer vacation, spend time together, show affection, nor exchange gifts with her.
I’m respectful in all interactions with her. The only thing I haven’t done is physically moved out of the house. Is
Please expand on the proper boundaries of emotional separation. I feel safer with these boundaries in place, but I don’t want to be hurtful. Thank you.
Answer: You’ve decided to do an in-home separation, where you are detaching from her emotionally. Detaching doesn’t mean you don't care, dismiss or disrespect her as a person, or ignore her.
Detaching means that you have come to a place where you let go of any requests for her to do something for you, for her to respond a certain way, repent, say she’s sorry, go to counseling, or be nice or respectful or loving towards you. You don’t NEED her to love you, or honor you or be truthful to you, or be faithful to you in order for you to be okay. It doesn’t mean that those needs or expectations are not reasonable in a normal healthy relationship.
When you emotionally detach (in a good way) you accept reality without bitterness. You accept that your partner is not capable or unwilling to repair, repent or truly reconcile, so you don’t keep begging or banging your head against a dry spout for a few drops of love or care. Click To Tweet
That said, your question asks is detaching from your wife harmful to her? I don’t think so. However, that doesn’t mean she won’t experience some hurt or pain as you withdraw. The Bible tells us that love does not harm (Romans 13:5) but it also says “faithful are the wounds of a friend.” (Proverbs 27:6)
In other words, when we do things that intentionally inflict harm on someone, the Bible makes it clear that we are not loving him or her. However, your detachment was not done to harm her but to protect you.
Speaking the truth in love to her about her abusive behavior might hurt her feelings because she doesn’t want to hear the truth. It may make her angry. It may wound her ego. It challenges her entitlement mindset that believes she’s entitled to verbally berate you if you make her mad, disappoint her, or upset her but it’s your fault she acted that way and therefore there should be no consequences. But healthy people understand that’s not living in truth or reality.
Abusers hate consequences and boundaries. It forces them to face the truth, which they also hate. Proverbs tells us that “People ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then they are angry at the Lord.” (Proverbs 19:3)
The same is true in our relationships with one another. Your wife has used her tongue as a weapon towards her husband and her family and now you have put up a shield, a relational barrier so that her “reckless words” can’t lash your soul and spirit to shreds. Does it bother her that you won’t let her do that anymore? Probably. Does it harm her that you won’t? Absolutely not. It’s the only possibility for her to wake up and face the truth.
Much like putting strong ammonia under someone’s nose when she has fainted or putting medical paddles on a heart that’s gone dead. Those efforts are not intended to do harm but help someone to “wake up.”
If your wife complains that she “misses” vacation or gifts, or affection I think you can say to her something like: “I have always been willing to work on our relationship but vacations, gifts, and affections imply that we have a relationship that is mutually respectful and loving. It has not been that way.
Therefore, I will pay the household bills and interact with you in the home in a respectful way, but we have no close relationship until such time that you do the work to rebuild broken trust. Therefore, gifts, affection, and vacations would be inappropriate and awkward, and would not reflect the truth. We are emotionally separated although still living in the same household while we raise our children. I can’t and won’t pretend otherwise.”
Will those words sting? Hopefully, they will, like the sting of antiseptic used to clean an infected wound. But if not, then continue guarding your heart against bitterness and the desire to retaliate because that will also be a temptation that would be hurtful. But remember, you also need to guard your heart against the lies that either she or the Enemy may throw at you that confuses you or puts a false guilt trip on her for having strong boundaries in place.
Friends, when you’ve had an in house separation with an unrepentant spouse, how did you sort through false guilt and the fear of doing harm by your boundaries?
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I slept in the basement of our home for 2 years and gradually withdrew and separated from my husband during that time.Listening to truth through this blog site and other resources such as Patrick Doyle were invaluable in helping me.My husband continued to say all the right platitudes while remaining in denial and acting clueless to the painful issues in our marriage.I am now 7 months in my own apartment with a legal separation in place.I am grateful to God for His leading in my life.I am praying for my husband and have placed the outcome of my marriage in Gods loving and capable hands.God is able to bring a measure of peace into any circumstance.I still suffer from false guilt from time to time,yet believe I am obeying what God would have me to do.I have gained strength from so many dear sisters (and a few brothers) here on this site and encourage any newcomers to stay and humbly learn as we each navigate this hard road.
Janice, this is encouraging. To see how patient God was with you and your husband. It can be somewhat confusing, to know how to handle when your husband is openly and covertly abusive…then does kind things in the household. I have practiced this emotional separation by sleeping in another room… then entered back into a relationship with my husband and now am back to emotionally distancing myself. It’s hard because I don’t want to have a hardened heart towards him ..want to be and tender and compassionate. I haven’t left because of 1)finances 2)fear and 3) my children love their dad, I don’t want them to be hurt. I don’t want go outside of God”s will… I don’t want to displease Him. It’s hard thank…thank you for your testimony.
I am having the exact situation happen with me. My husband and I are now separated and tomorrow we begin either legal separation or divorce. He has done pornography for over 20 years, has not been the provider in the home, has taken almost 300,000$ from me, has not connected with me or my daughter emotionally. He wanted to stay in the marriage because of the facade we ( daughter and I ) provided for him. I also worked and provided for my family most of our 30 years of marriage. Now, because he sees I am serious about divorce, he got very angry and threatening. He is now blaming the demise of our marriage on my anger toward him. Yes, I have been very angry with him….yelling, cursing, throwing things, slapping him…..the constant betrayal and constant financial issues and constant porn discoveries put me into a crazy fit. I have had to deal with 6 year IRS audits, family members not talking to us because he took and lost their money….it goes on and on. I was so angry. Now, I want him to get help but he won’t. So, what can I do? I have to divorce. I am scared and angry. I forgave him over and over and now he won’t even answer my phone calls. My daughter won’t speak to him. I am seeing a Christian counselor. I am just amazed at the depth of deception my husband is under and the influence of the enemy in his life. If he would just pursue me and fight for the marriage, I would ( with good boundaries and counseling). But, he does not seem to be in his right mind. It’s so sad
Why are you calling him? I suggest email only and or communication via a lawyer or third party only. You are not going to change this guy. He is a thief and a liar. You deserve better!
The first thing that was so difficult for me to understand ( and I still, sometimes struggle with) is the lie that my boundaries will do harm to another person. Boundaries may hurt someone else because they interpret them as rejection, but personal boundaries never do another person harm.
I have often said here that I had to look at Prov 4:23 as a command – not optional. (Above ALL ELSE, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of your life). It was the application of this verse that began to gradually turn my ‘upside down relational world’, right side up.
Like Janice D, this site and Patrick Doyle videos were so important in filling my mind with truth. My individual counsellor was also invaluable to me during my time of in -house separation.
Thanks for this! Didn’t realize I had done an ‘in-house separation’, but I’ve been doing this since early November. Only issue I keep struggling with is the emotions. Some days I do great, others – I get dragged down, wrestling if I’m doing the right thing or stuck in hurt. I’m making progress though! Question: How do I know it’s time to go to legal separation? I’m feeling like there will only be so far I can heal and process when I’m still in the fray.
C, I believe you will “know” when it’s time to actually leave, but also keep in mind that you really cannot heal while still in that toxic environment. Keep working on developing your CORE, and as you get stronger, you will know what to do.
I found as I separated myself emotionally from her (while she was still in the house) that I became more clear headed about what was actually going on. The more I separated myself emotionally, I also found that nothing changed in her. She talked and acted the same, and kept on as if nothing was wrong or even different. She wouldn’t address any of our issues, or really even admit they existed. The more I separated myself emotionally from her, I found that she didn’t really care all that much. I have realized that she probably hasn’t really ever been truly intimate with me. So, emotional separation was fine with her because it required nothing of her. She could continue on with her desire of “why can’t we just be friends and raise our kids?”
When will you know? I think that is different for everyone and really nobody can answer that for you. For me I think it came over a long period of time when I finally realized that it didn’t matter how much I wanted or worked on a relationship with her. It didn’t matter how vulnerable I was. We would never have a real marriage unless there was transformation in her life and she was committed to reconciliation. There was also the realization that I could not live the rest of my life like this. I needed to be someone that had more to live for than just hoping that someday my wife would return my love. That maybe someday I could experience mutuality with her. I could no longer live with taking the blame for everything that she has done wrong or everything that she thinks has gone wrong in her life. A person can only take so much.
This is your journey to walk and even though we can encourage and advise you, you still have to take the steps on your own. And doing the work and taking the hard steps will make you a stronger person.
As I read your comments, I replaced she with he and it was my life. It’s sad that so many people like this exist. I don’t know how you go through life treating people in this manner. Thank you for your honesty
Marybeth and others, as I read all these stories, I can’t help but wonder…”If I had known then what I know now” how many would have gone ahead with the wedding? It seems to me that all churches need to have in place some really good marriage preparatory classes, to uncover these hidden things, the issues that are there, but because we can be blinded by infatuation and the idol of marriage, we don’t see. It grieves me that so many men and women spend so many years suffering for lack of good counsel and good mentors. I feel so fortunate that the Lord has blessed me with a good marriage to a good man, but I could have just as easily gotten into a bad situation. So, I pray for you all, that you will be strengthened into your inner man, and that Christ will make His home in your hearts by faith, that you will be rooted and grounded in love….(Eph 3. If you will pray through that chapter daily, it will change your life.)
I have thought about this one a lot. The looming problem that you first have to deal with when weighing it out is the kids. I don’t think anyone would say they would be willing to have never known and raised their kids so that they wouldn’t have had to be subjected to the years of abuse. So, in thinking about this you have to dispassionately take the kids out of the equation. You just cant look at it fairly if you have to think about the emotions involved by adding kids to the equation.
Besides, cant you just hear your emotional abuser saying “What? you are telling me that you don’t like the kids and wish you never had them???? That is HORRIBLE! I cant believe what a heartless person you are for saying that you don’t want your kids!!” I know a lot of us can relate with this kind of manipulation.
So, once you take the kids out of the equation, it really becomes a fairly simple question. If I would have known then what I know now? Absolutely not!
You suggest Marriage prep classes at church, but once again we run into the problem that many, if not most in church can’t, don’t, won’t recognize or even admit emotional abuse is real. They aren’t equipped to see the problem let alone admit it is real. Then you run into the problem that a Narcissist can usually charm their way through anything, at least in the short term. How is a pastor/counselor supposed to recognize and deal with that issue in a few sessions of counseling. In the short term they can really seem engaging, interesting, mature and quite normal.
So then I ask myself if I would have listened if a counselor had told me what my life would actually look like. Probably not. I was enthralled with her and I was counting my lucky stars that someone as perfect as she is, was actually interested in someone as flawed as I am. See where it starts?
Actually, as I am writing this I just remembered that we did go to marriage counseling… once. He raised a couple of concerns to us and after that session she convinced me that he didn’t know what he was talking about and we really didn’t need to waste the money and go back. Wow, I really wish I could remember the concerns he raised.
So, I really don’t know what the answer is beyond authentic relationships in the church where people know each other at a deep level and those that have knowledge in these things are respected and listened to.
Sheep, I like this point you made: “So, I really don’t know what the answer is beyond authentic relationships in the church where people know each other at a deep level and those that have knowledge in these things are respected and listened to.” That, of course, is the real key.
About the children, yes, you have to take them out of the consideration, because while you dearly love the ones you have with the abusive spouse, if you had married someone else, you would have other children. They are all gifts from God, and you really can’t think of them as disposable.
Our granddaughter was strongly warned about what would be in store for her if she married the man she “loved” so much, because he was abusive even before they married, but she went ahead anyway, and now they are divorced, and she is a single mother who has to work to support herself and all the problems that go along with that. Not everyone is willing to listen to wise counsel. Sad, but true.
I agree with all of the above. The book, “Bold Love” by Dan Allender is also really helpful. A dentist hurts you, but doesn’t harm you. I remember when I first read Proverbs again while in the abusive situation, I quickly closed my Bible because of all the times it said to go away from and not answer a fool. By the description in Proverbs, my h was definitely a fool…….but, doesn’t it say in Matthew not to call anyone a fool or you’re as bad as a murderer? This was hard at first, but I believe the context is different. Also, I’d always been taught to only think and talk well of your h and he would try to live up to how you saw him. Ha! All that did was encourage him to take more advantage of me and the children, and get away with lots of abuse. I don’t like to be mean, nor give an eye for an eye, so I found I have had to go over the ‘Boundaries’ teachings several times to understand all this. And yes, boundaries have backfired because h used it against me and friends, family, and church believe that I was mean, but I am at peace that I did the right thing. Not perfectly, of course, but I realize that enabling abuse is not at all the loving thing for anyone. In fact, now I see it as a pride thing, sort of false martyrdom, to not hold another accountable for evil. It is not love. It can even be an effort at being controlling.
How encouraging that after 34 years you are still concerned with wanting to be empathetic. That shows some serious commitment. My h felt emotionally abused when I would ask questions for clarification or disagree with him. Our son who turned to drugs for 10 years, is recovered 10 years ago, says he felt that he could not please dad. Which he says led him to self loathing and ultimately drugs. My h felt so strongly early on that he was being abused by me asking those questions or disagreeing with him that he slept in the basement or spare room on several occasions. It left me feeling angry and bitter. He used the verse Prov 17:14 as a way to biblically justify his behavior. After learning the How We Love program, We learned that he was an avoider lacking empathy and I, being the (angry) vacillator were in a predictable dance. I learned that the combination that presents the most in couples is ,Vacillator , Avoider combination. GREAT! we are in a large company. However I found comfort knowing I wasn’t the only one experiencing these re-activities, or dance if you will. I’m guessing that after 34 years you could do the HWL program and know exactly which love style is your wife’s. For me knowing has helped me to not be angry and bitter, which of course was only hurting myself. Thankfully it doesn’t sound like you struggle with anger or bitterness considering you are still looking to be empathetic to your wife.
Sorry for the confusion, but this was not from me. I think Leslie was simply mentioning my name in that I am a man, and a regular on the blog.
That being said, even though we have now been separated for awhile and I have filed for divorce, I am still empathetic toward my wife. But probably not in the way she would like. I no longer want to hear what is going on in her life or the problems she might be having. I might be interested in what is going on, but it isn’t in either of our best interest to engage in that discussion. I have to be a grey rock. It is partly my overly empathetic and caring nature that kept me locked in the abuse that I have experienced. That, combined with the confusion, fear, and crazy making of the abuse, tied to the commitment and dedication to my marriage vows, all kept me locked in a state of unwillingness to do what needed to be done.
I am still empathetic toward my wife, but that looks different now because now I am more concerned with the state of her relationship with God than I am the state of our marriage. Ultimately, I realized that my actions (or lack thereof) were enabling her to ignore her own sin AND avoid the consequences of that sin. It does her no good for me to pretend along with her that everything is fine, that my feelings (and me) are worthless, and that her actions never have consequences.
I didn’t feel like I was emotionally abused, I was emotionally abused. My own brain turned off my feelings because it would hurt too much to admit to myself what was going on. It was only after years of this (and other things) that it became too obvious to ignore. Even then it took a long time and everything had to be practically rubbed in my face for me to admit it. Even with that, I still tried to reconcile and “fix” our marriage. But you know what? I finally had to turn all of that (and her) over to God. It isn’t my job or responsibility to “fix” her and I cant reconcile the marriage by myself.
I no longer hold a false hope that God is going to heal my marriage. I do know that he can do it, but that is different from hoping for it. There is absolutely no evidence of repentance in her or that our marriage will be healed. And that false hope is absolutely killer. You can do it for awhile, but eventually it kills your soul.
And yes, I do know my wife’s love languages. I spend years reading every marriage book I could get my hands on and applying the principals. The problem is that non of those books are willing to tell you that when you are dealing with an abuser, that their principals don’t work and often lead to more abuse.
How your post ends is so key. So many of these (very good) books are not for abusive relationships.
I had many marriage books that I thought were great. Then one day, I was prompted to go to the trash can and throw them all out. I surprised myself with this move ( I’m a book lover and donate books, I don’t put them in the trash).
Not long after that I was recommended Leslie’s EDM by a focus on the family counsellor.
Finally I had the RIGHT tool for my situation. The other books were like taking Tylenol for gangrene.
Where is the ‘like’ button for that, Nancy? 🙂 My h and I went to a HWL seminar (and several others). He is certainly and avoider but it is not acceptable to use that as an excuse. Only when I realized that this was not a marriage problem but a sin problem that had to be dealt with first, things slowly started to change. First for the worse, or so it appeared. I have had to ‘create a breakdown to hopefully lead to a breakthrough’ by separating completely, not just in-home. In our case, in-home was still far too convenient. He used to say that he wanted to live like a bachelor with a maid, so when I tried that, it was great for him.
Don’t let someone accuse you of cutting off a relationship when he’s the one who handed you the scissors.
Love that phrase, “Dont’ let someone accuse you of cutting off a relationship when he’s the one who handed you the scissors. It’s like saying “You ruined the marriage or you got me fired, when all you did was refuse to pretend everything was fine and exposed the darkness.
I had never heard the scissors thing before, and I really like that. It is a good analogy, and so true. I am currently hearing from others that my wife is telling people that she did everything I wanted her to do and she doesn’t want a divorce, but that I refuse to reconcile.
That all just hurts so much if I pause to dwell on it. Not only has she done nothing that I have asked of her, she has done nothing on her own. Not only has she not said she wants to reconcile, she has only repeated “why can’t we just be friends” desire that she has had all along, just using different words.
I kept the scissors in the desk drawer for a very long time, but when someone keeps handing them to you, eventually you are going to use them.
I threw a few away that were really off base, but I kept the rest because I do think there is good advice in them for people in normal marriages. Plus, I really cant stand to throw away books
I’ve given marriage advice books to charity because i couldn’t stand to throw them in the trash. Well, maybe a couple got trashed. But what I did do was write in the book a sentence that said if you’re in a destructive, abusive marriage, stop reading this book and go to leslievernick.com. I felt better giving it away and not leading anyone down a wrong path.
Thank you so much for sharing this difficult part of your life. Your story is unnervingly familiar. As a woman, it is eye opening to see that this happens to men as well. I feel for you. However, I also greatly respect your choices. It takes a great deal of courage to say enough, set boundaries and put it all into God’s hands. I have two teenage daughters that are constantly in my thoughts with every decision I make. I know in my heart, if not for them, I would have left this mess a long time ago. Ironically, everything in my life is good minus him. He really is the only negative. You are in my prayers. Please keep me in yours. 🙏🏼
My kids are one of the things that kept me (and us) stud for a long time. At one point my counselor asked me what keeps me from separation and divorce. In tears I said “because I don’t want my kids to be from a broken home” She said “I’m sorry to tell you this but they already are” That was very sobering. As much as I had tried to shield them from everything, it was just contributing to the fantasy world that says we are a normal good family. Nothing could have been further from the truth.
That is the thing about living in truth. You don’t necessarily get to have things the way you want them. Truth is truth and you don’t get to make it up. The plain hard truth was that they were already living in a broken home and no amount of me hoping for something different, showing my wife sacrificial love, putting my all into her, and making things “look” normal could change that.
Now we are truly separated and almost divorced (legally and not just practically) Have and are my kids suffering because of this? Yes, but I think it is probably less than what I had imagined it would be. And is it worse than what they were living in? I can’t say that it is, it is just different. But at least now they are seeing me live in truth and model that behavior for them. One of my kids asked the other day if after the divorce becomes final, they could just pretend we are still married. I had to say no, we can’t do that because it isn’t true. It is best to just accept the truth and deal with that rather than build a pretend world that someday will come crashing down.
Thank you for your prayers, I appreciate it and I will be praying for you too.
Sheep, the words of your counselor were so profound they made me cry. My adult children are having to live with the effects of their own abuse now that we are divorced. My life is now so peaceful and I can take time with my counselor to see how my own issues led to enabling the bad behavior of my ex.
As far as your kids go, what you have done is a gift. Maybe you’ve read my childhood story but it bears repeating here. My father had multiple affairs, my mother did not have the wherewithal to do anything about it. So our family lived in pretense for years.
As a sensitive child it felt to me as though we lived on a ship in a perpetual storm that NO ONE.acknowledged. We went to church and were a well respected family. I learned to completely disregard my own feelings and instincts because of this. My counsellor once told me that I not only lived with an elephant in the room all those years, but with the rotting corpse of an elephant that no one acknowledged. This type of environment is crazy making.
Years later I ended up in hospital as a result of a psychotic break from reality. (The culmination of years of denial ( and a lack of ability to allow myself to feel) of infertility issues)
I was the type that could have SO EASILY been sucked into a cult, because of my lack of ‘groundedness in reality’.
By the Grace of God, I turned to him after YEARS of running from Him. ( I turned my back on the church because I misinterpreted the hypocrisy I lived in church as coming from God himself – a couple of the women he had affairs with were from the church).
You have given your kids a much better shot at a real relationship with Christ, Sheep. By stepping into reality you are bringing them closer to him. He has nothing to do with fantasy or pretense.
Sheep, Ditto on the piles of books that didn’t apply.
Veronica, you have several times mentioned that your husband ‘thinks’ you are abusing him. I would challenge that, in that maybe he is using DARVO tactics. That is very very common among abusers. They don’t really think they are being abused, they just know that saying so will give them the upper hand and make you back down.
Or maybe you are? I’m glad you are hanging out here, because there is so much to learn from what we have presumed to know and from what seems to be the Christian response.
Oh sorry I thought it was your question to Leslie.
I learned a lot from the 5 languages of love but the HWL teaches love styles from an imprint and that is what I was referring to.
Yes, I see all those tactics in my h. I can challenge it all day long, oh except for he doesn’t listen. :). He runs away. Avoider. And your right maybe I am abusive, or at least he thinks so. I certainly do not try to be. I guess that’s why God says Psalm 139:23-24, and Matt 7:3- God wants me to check myself and then go for the speck in my brothers eye. I’ve learned to speak in short, to the point sentences. It may fall on deaf ears but at least I obeyed the Word. Serving others helps. It takes the focus off of my own unmet desires. For a vacillator like me there is a lot of wasted time thinking on the what ifs.
I believe that we are to serve others out of the fullness of our relationship with Christ. I think that’s what ‘loving our neighbour as ourselves’ looks like.
Using service to others as a distraction from pain is disingenuous….no?
“Disingenuous”. No not at all. Look you are here giving advise and encouragement and help to others who have experienced the same kind of pain you are or were in. 2 Cor 1:3-5. Leslie has learned obedience through the things she suffered from her own mother. It drove her to the Word to see what God says about her situation. Her whole ministry was birthed through suffering. It’s a good time to mention that Jesus learned obedience through the things he suffered. Hebrews 5:7-9, Hebrews 2:10. As my life deals out suffering, either through my h, my friends, my heath, my finances, my kids. I draw near to God. James 4:7-8. Drawing near to God opens my eyes to see ALL that I go through GROWS me.
I would NEVER have a ministry with addicted people (getting them in rehab) if my son was never on drugs. Matthew, Mark and John all tell us that Jesus did not come to be served but to serve. Jesus himself said it is better to give than receive (Acts 20:35). 2 Tim 1,2,3. talks about suffering as a means to an end. We are running a race and I refuse to let others words or actions hinder me. In stead I sift through the scriptures and find that the very thing that was trying to slow me down, birthed a new ministry, birthed compassion, pushed me to heights I never knew I could reach.
I love a good challenge. I am refreshed by the Word. Thank you Nancy for challenging me to reflect on my actions.
You make a valid point however I don’t think it would be disingenuous to do so as long as you were also attentive to the pain you are temporarily avoiding by serving. For example, If you lost a spouse and the holiday times were especially painful, it’s not disingenuous to decide “instead of staying home all alone, I think I’ll volunteer at the homeless shelter and cook turkey’s for the homeless.” That service might be helpful and healing. Is she deciding to avoid her pain of loneliness that day by serving? Yes, but I think that is a good decision, and her serving is not disingenuous.
I guess that’s the key then: attentiveness to the pain I’m temporarily avoiding.
In that case, my service to others would not be ‘allowed’ to become my medication of choice.
You mentioned me being here helping others. That is so true. And given what Leslie said about attentiveness to pain, I will definitely be checking my motives when I get on this blog. If I’m here out of avoidance (let’s say, I’m avoiding a difficult conversation but choose to spend time with you all, for example), then my interaction may be helpful, but not eternally so (Jesus said, apart from me, you can do nothing).
Right now, I’m avoiding starting dinner!
My boundaries that I have are not because I need to communicate a message that his behavior is unacceptable, not because there are consequences to his actions, not because I am hoping for change as a result. They are there because without them I am emotionally vulnerable, hopeless, and nauseous. They are not hard to ‘stick to’ anymore because they protect me. Lately he discussed how he blamed me for our failed marriage, his failures in his career, past and future financial hardships, his future unending emotional state of misery and the possible future emotional instability of our adult children. Thats some “get out of jail free card ” he’s got going inside his head. I realized how non-negotiable that world view is to him.
I could only laugh at your husband’s ridiculous commments and behavior. What a childish, self centered attitude. Ha! He is not fooling anyone.
Unfortunately it took me a long time to uncover this and realize how deep the rabbit hole goes.
I’m glad you are able to live a protected and sane life. I’m sure your spouse, like mine, is very sincere and really believes his world view. That makes this so difficult for empathetic spouses. It does not, however, make the living situation or relationship tolerable. Be well!
Karen, I’m not so sure I would call my life sane yet. 🙂 But I do feel a bit more like I am observing it rather than drowning in it. Still cry for no apparent reason about once a week.
I think this is where I am at too. protecting myself emotionally. I feel like I will need to be more forthcoming with the reasons for the boundaries, for the seperate bedrooms, for pulling myself out of any emotional attachement with him because for so many years I have blamed myself…it is what he always does so I knew I would get less of an issue if I blamed myself. Like, I dont sleep well, and I dont want to keep him awake, rather than I am scared to sleep and feel unsafe in the same bedroom. I wish I could make some bold statement about his behavior being unacceptable but he doesnt see it and sadly I am starting to realize he probably wont, barring God opening his heart to it.
I think it’s important to communicate the ‘why’ for your boundaries as well as what you would require of him, in order to begin to trust again.
Of course, this has to be done very carefully, in response to the Holy Spirit and under wise counsel from others ( Leslie talks about thiese steps in EDM).
In my case, after lots of preparation and prayer we went out for dinner, I delivered my message and upon returning home, I gave him a printed letter with the what I had said on it (to avoid it being twisted later on).
Michele, feeling unsafe to sleep in the same room with him is reason enough. That’s all you have to say. That’s all that really matters.
I’m not contradicting what Nancy said. I fully agree with her, but the fact that you feel unsafe with him is something he can’t argue with.
Oh trust me he argues with that! I told him once I was scared because he had his finger and inch from my face screaming at me to shut up and he told me I was ridiculus for being scared. I appreciate both of you sharing your wisdom. I only now saw these responses. thank you
For a Christian, all guilt is false guilt. As a young woman I had some wonderful mentor ladies in my life who taught me to ignore the voice of the Butcher (Satan speaking guilt and fear) and listen well to the voice of the Shepherd (the Holy Spirit speaking gentle and loving correction).
Another good book on this subject is “Love Must Be Tough” by Dr. James Dobson.
I have posted here a few times, and it has always been so helpful. I wonder if I may come again to the well. My post is not really responsive to the letter that started this blog, and I hope that is okay. Maybe the writer will gain insight into what could come from the emotional separation and where things could go from here.
I have been in an in-house separation from my H of 27 years for almost one year. It has been a year of turmoil and peace- just like our marriage. The emotional cycles did not end just because we were separated. Sometimes they were more intense than ever. There was never physical abuse, but the imposition of guilt and condemnation he has tried to put on me have been oppressive. So many times during this past year, I have just cried out for this to all end.
My H just came to me and, for the first time ever, actually sounds like he is ready to move out and move on. It is what I have wanted and needed for so long, but suddenly my heart is breaking, and I am scared. I am scared for how this will affect my children since the separation will really be real now. I am heartbroken personally that we really couldn’t make it work. He (my H) is also sad and heartbroken, and that kills me. I have always been the sole financial provider, and yet I am somehow scared of that financial element too. I only have two of my four kids still at home, and I fear being alone. It is such a strange sensation. I hoped for relief, but I am experiencing intense grief and fear. I guess this is normal???
I think you said it well – separation has it’s own set of problems and challenges. It doesn’t fix everything, but you have to ask yourself, If I live in faith, not fear, which decision will take me there?
Thank you Leslie. God bless you. Your army here is praying for you!
Karen K, This is the time when you need some supportive people in your corner, and a therapist for sure. It will help if you have someone to help you sort out your feelings, and grief is a big one. However, I appreciate what Leslie said, to ask yourself, “If I live in faith, not fear, which decision will take me there?” Start making a plan for how you will live once he moves out. Plan for where you want your life to be a year from now and how you will get there. Keep a gratitude journal each evening before you go to bed to focus your mind on the blessings you have, even if it’s something as simple as thanking the Lord for a glorious sunset. Read the words to the hymn, “Turn your eyes upon Jesus.” Sing it through the day. When we focus our attention on Him, it changes everything.
Thanks JoAnn-beautiful advice! I’ll need to implement it as I go through a very challenging time in my life.
Emotional detachment can help a child endure abusive parents. It is a good survival tactic for people who can’t physically leave an abusive situation.
The most common reason to stay is often because of finances or thinking it is better for the children. I guess we need to teach our children to detach from the abusive spouse if we can’t remove the children quickly enough.
I learned from a very young age not to trust my Narcissitic mother. It was a loss I accepted and figured out at about six years old. As soon as I got to school and met other patents, I realized how crazy my mother was. I learned to look for others as substitute parents and became the only Christian in my home.
Emotional detachment was my survival method. I believe it comes naturally and is a normal and healthy coping skills to use until one can remove themselves from the living situation. Once removed, I saw no reason to engage with the abusive parent beyond occasional health and wellness checks.
The scriptural teaching to honor your mother and father, initiially caused a challenge. However, I quickly found a happy medium that detaches myself emotionally and physically, and still shows respect.
Wow, Bay. What a gift that you chose The Lord so early on.
He does lead us into health.
It took me until 41 to finally turn to Him (I wrote a piece of my story above, to Sheep) and he is leading me into health after years of emotional entanglement and confusion.
The problem with children having to learn to detach emotionally during family crisis times is that as adults, they may have a hard time learning how to be emotionally connected and present with others, especially in marriage. This needs to be navigated carefully.
Oh, thank you JoAnn. That is comforting and wise. Strange how these feelings come up unexpectedly. Your counsel is right on the money, I am sure. Thank you again.
I am planning to let my h of 23 years know this week in counseling that i need for us to seperate. I hate the thought of how this will break his heart, but I cannot continue to be an enabler. I too have felt that paralyzing emotional fear, panic, guilt, shame, etc….and have driven my friends nuts over the past couple years with unsecurity over what to do. Somehow over time I realized in counseling and through this site that we actually have been “seperated” for a really long time.
To our church, extended family, aquauntances, co workers, neighbors, and even to our in laws, we are married. But are we living God’s intended plan for marriage? ….Is our marriage in any way a picture of Christ’s relationship to the church like God intended?…. Do our children look at our marriage and hope for that same kind of relationship with their own spouse someday?…. Not even close!!!
We may look married, but we have been living a LIE. We go to church. We sit beside eachother. We have been great pretenders. But we have no relationship. Nada! I wasn’t calling it an emotional seperation but after reading Sheep’s post, i realuzed that’s what we we have been doing.
Emotional seperation has actually allowed me to detatch and think more clearly. I had finally realized the idol I had made of our marriage, unwilling to ever “fail” in this area. Once I had repented of this and could lay down my marriage, I think it was actally what allowed me to emotionally detatch. Now I am ready to walk more clearly…in truth.
I know the road ahead will be the likely the hardest thing I have ever done. I am not looking forward to the mess ahead, to breaking my h’s heart in counseling this week, to facing my in laws, our family, our neighbors, and much financial uncertainty, but I know who goes before me and that God desires us to walk in truth as we seek Him for healing.
“God desires truth in my inmost being”. He is the one who goes before me.
Hi Lynnsay Grace.
I’m sorry for the road you have walked. And I’m sorry for the road you are about to walk. Both are difficult, but only one isn’t living in truth. I’m glad that you have been able to get some separation that has allowed the fog to clear enough for you to see the truth.
I do have a question for you, Why do you think that you will break his heart? Obviously I don’t know your situation, but sometimes our assuming things like that aren’t living in truth either. Also, going into this with that assumption is in some ways setting yourself up for him to make this about you. Can you hear the words in your head? “How can you do this to our marriage?” “Why are you hurting me like this?” “I can’t believe you would do this after all these years.” All of these statements take the focus and pressure off of his attitudes and actions (or lack thereof) and put them back on you for “breaking his heart”
Do you see? before you even have the conversation you are preparing yourself to be the heart breaker. This conversation isn’t about breaking his heart or hurting him. But it also is solely about you and how you have been hurt and treated. This conversation is about facing the truth of your marriage (or lack thereof) and that you will no longer be a part of that lie. The decision to fix it and work toward a real intimate relationship of mutuality will be in his court. This will be hard, but it is also giving him a chance to get serious about having a real relationship with you. The question is whether he will see it and choose to accept responsibility for the things he has done, then work to fix it. Or will he decide that this is your fault for hurting him.
You don’t have to live in fear and shame. Bringing the truth of the relationship into the light of day will make that possible.
You said “We may look married, but we have been living a LIE. We go to church. We sit beside eachother. We have been great pretenders. But we have no relationship. Nada!” I can so relate to you in this. To the outside, we were “that” family. The pressure to keep this up is impossibly difficult and it is not what Christ intended for His children. I like to call this “Showing everyone our highlight reel” And that is what life has become for so many people (even those in good marriages) We go to church and let everyone see our highlight reel. Looks wonderful, doesn’t it? The problem is that most other people are showing their highlight reels as well. So, we sit in church looking at all the “perfect” people and families around them, wishing we had it together like they do. Never stopping to realize that those people are looking at us in just the same way. These would all be great opportunities for authentic relationships if only we would step away from our pride and stop playing the highlight reel.
Sorry, correction. That is supposed to say “But it is not solely about you and how you have been hurt and treated either.
Sheep, that is excellent advice and a very clear observation about her not wanting to break his heart. He has already broken hers. Let’s pray that he really repents and does the work to change himself.
Excellent point, Sheep. Enabling behaviour begins with enabling thoughts and “I will break his heart” is a guilt-ridden thought that would start the difficult conversation off in an unhealthy way.
What you are doing will be speaking the truth. If you in with that mind set then you’ll have a much better chance of seeing his response more clearly. Otherwise, if he does try to ‘pile it onto you’, you will end up in more guilty thoughts and that FOG will come rolling in.
Hi Lynnsay Grace,
I will be praying for you. Everyone here knows this is devastatingly difficult. If our relationships were black and white, it would be easy to attain resolution. You mention breaking your husband’s heart, and you mention being an enabler. These two comments make me think our situation may have a lot of similarities. Our spouses are not all bad or only bad. There is a kind, sensitive side to them, and that is why we stayed for decades of dysfunction and destruction. Still, at least for me, the patterns and cycles of destruction and/or imbalance which Leslie helps us see are hurtful and destructive. Time has shown they will not come to an end short of us taking these decisive measures. After a year of separation, my husband still cannot (will not?) see how he has not only contributed but actually caused this insanity. He theoretically acknowledges that he “has things to work on,” but he always, always, always follows that up with, “so do you; you’re difficult to live with too; you’re not perfect, etc.”
Cling to the Truth and try to ignore your spouse’s voice and criticisms and blame and shame as you walk this next season in Truth and strength. You are NOT alone.
Thanks to Sheep for sharing, and Leslie for her answer, and everyone else that leaves a comment. Y’all keep me going some days.
Hang in there, Chuck.
Hi there everyone, I’ve read the article and comments with much interest. So much good advice shared here. My situation is very like Lynnsay Grace’s. I left my t.v. for 6 weeks at the end of 2017. He was devastated even though I had spent years telling, begging, crying for us to get help. But he wouldn’t. After one particularly bad argument where he told me to basically F off. I did. I left the next morning with 4 of our 8 children in tow.
He convinced me to come home. And i did. After 2 weeks we were back to the same problems with him dodging counselling sessions again.
Now just over a year later after much personal growth and study, prayer and counselling I have decided to go with an in house separation.
I have a couple of things happening family wise before I tell my t.v. via letter of my intentions.
My question to Sheep (and any others with ideas) is:
How do you manage
Purchasing your groceries
Preparing your meals
Washing your laundry
Cleaning your private space (bathroom or bedroom, for example)
I am in the exact position as the husband in this story except that I am the wife. My husband is so detached emotionally and physically that I consider myself no longer married except on paper. He refused to get counseling for our marriage problems, saying we could work it out except that we never did. he refused counseling for his porn habits and also refused counseling when he had an affair. He is not interested in making this marriage work except to continue to live off me. He is not interested in having a normal marriage. I am just a money vending machine for him. He has not worked for 18 years and will get furious if I mention this or try to talk about it. He thinks I will never divorce him due to my family expectations so he feels safe doing what he does. He has stolen my jewellery and money on numerous occasions and blames it on my domestic help. I am convinced now, on hindsight that my husband married me to enjoy a comfortable life knowing that I will work hard and provide for the family.
I believe in the Lord and that has what kept me going all these 20 years of our marriage. Sometimes I dream of meeting someone else and finding companionship and love, to make up for the loneliness and being used financially. Is this wrong? I am so weary of living like this.
Anita, why do you let your husband treat you like this? A workman wo worthy of his wages .No work, no wages. Are you in counseling?
Anita, I don’t know if you will see this response, but I want to say that I agree with Autumn: why do you let your h treat you this way, and why are you still with this guy? You already have plenty of reason to divorce him, since he has committed adultery both with another woman and with porn. He is taking full advantage of you and the comfortable life you have provided for him. At the very least, find a counselor for yourself who can help you stand up for yourself and protect your heart. Read Leslie’s book so you can begin to develop your CORE. Get intimate with the Lord. Let Him lead you out of this mess. He loves you and wants the best for you.
Thank you for responding to and addressing my question that you presented to all in this blog. I feel at peace that I’m on the right path and have applied your CORE principles and other advice, which have been a life saver for me.
I will continue to persevere in this emotional seperation, so as to preserve my sanity and hopefully help my wife to see the light. I continually pray for divine guidance and direction. Being a Pilot, I am very family with GPS Navigational Equipment, I just was not aware that my other GPS ( God Positioning Equipment) was available. It is now and I will put it to good use. I know God will and has answered my prayers. He will not call or email me; ring my door bell or text me, but through and by persons as yourself and this blog he truly has answered my prayers and given me direction.
Keep up the good work and advice you do, as you’re work channels His Divine message and guidance to help us all.
Many humble thanks once again. 👨🏻✈️
This blog is so helpful. Thanks to the men& women who share.
Leslie: you often talk about the difference between a disappointing marriage & a destructive marriage. Through my work with your WCS and Conquer, & a counselor, I’ve become strong and emotionally detached. As a result, my h’s covert abusive tactics fall flat, 9 out of 10 times. We are like cordial roommates communicating at the most superficial of levels. He seems content with that for now. He acts as tho this is normal which, if I look at his life, is as deep as he gets with anyone unless he’s love-bombing them in an attempt to control or triangulate.
Has ours “evolved” into a disappointing marriage? Or am I enabling the lie that will continue to destroy?
I’m in the same spot…same question. thanks.
In my opinion the marriage is still destructive. You have changed to cope with it, but it is still destructive. In a difficult marriage your changes in behavior would have been healing and reciprocated.
I hope Leslie chimes in here. I can tell you what I think, in the meantime.
Have you journaled in order to discover what you would need him to do, in order for you to connect with him again? There are two steps. The first is boundaries ( which you are doing) the second is requirements ( what you require him to do, in order for him to begin re-building trust with you).
I don’t think you have graduated to a disappointing marriage, rather I think your strength has exposed what was there all along: this is not a marriage as God intended.
A husband is called to love his wife as Christ loves the church. That involves loving pursuit, tenderness, attentiveness and putting her needs above his own.
Personally, I had to re-set the standard of what I would no longer tolerate. If I wanted a marriage as God intended then I could no longer tolerate avoidance. Avoidance is the polar opposite of a Godly husband.
Is there a book like Leslie’s for men? I’ve read EDM once, and chapters 7 to the end twice.
I am a recovering codependent with a Borderline Personality Disordered wife. I attend CoDA meetings weekly and have been in counseling for 2-1/2 years. She rarely rages anymore, has stopped threatening me with weapons, threatening to take her life or my life, and (after calling her bluff) stopped threatening me with divorce, but she still goes passive-aggressive. We have been in a downward trend for two decades, with the rate of decline slowing slightly since I realized my codependency last year and started working on my issues (detaching, not reacting, setting and announcing boundaries about what I will and won’t do in certain circumstances, building my “CORE”). My counselor doesn’t think it is time for divorce (yet), and based on Leslie’s book I would agree, but I – am – so – exhausted.
No one in church understands; when she is sweet, there is no one sweeter. (She is a nurse.) I don’t blame them. Eight previous counselors didn’t understand our disorders. It wasn’t until last summer when I read The Human Magnet Syndrome that all the lights came on for me. That significantly changed the dynamic of our counseling.
She still thinks it is all my problem, and the only reason she is there is because I told her this is her and our last chance. If she drops out of counseling, I’ll fille for divorce. She shows none of the three characteristics of chapter twelve. After raging at me in the beginning of December, we slept in separate bedrooms for 9 weeks. After three weeks, she mustered up the most sincere apology in our entire marriage; at her own initiative, she approached me and very sincerely, with tears in her eyes, said, “I am sorry for yelling at you when you antagonized me. Will you forgive me?” That was a huge step for her, and she thinks she did great. I think we are a hundred miles away from the finish line, in a three mile race.
Thanks in advance for your help.
You make an excellent point! Someone should write a book for men. Google some Narcissim videos, they have both male and female advice.
You would benefit from watching Patrick Doyle’s videos as well as Christine Louise De Cannoville. All can be googled. I still think Lundy Bancroft’s books are spot on, just change the make to female.
@Autumn. Thanks for your kind response. I watched a one hour interview with Patrick Doyle on Doce TV last night. I was relieved when a man called in and mentioned that he knew of numerous men in his situation. I really think that there is at least as much emotional abuse of men as women, which if you think about makes sense. There are slightly more women than men in our country, and abusive dysfunction stems from our families of origin. The narcissist originates from being unable to please their narcissistic parent. The codependent is he one that could please the narcissistic parent. Both daughters and sons come from the same families of origin.
I know of four other men in the same situation as I am (3 without a formal diagnosis). They are bewildered and despairing. None of the men believe in divorce. Three of them will not return evil for evil, (threats, anger, harsh words …). The fourth, spends about 5 months of the year in a low budget hotel. When we finally get the courage to ask for help, no one believes us. Everyone thinks the man must have done something to deserve the cruel treatment, or is probably the abuser. The narcissistic wife is prettier, more bubbly, more socially adept, and more communicative, and maybe more gossipy, than the more reserved engineer or accountant husband. Everyone has a sense something is wrong, but she wins the popularity contest, so he must be the problem.
It took my counselor about a year and a half to finally untangle reality in my family. The breakthrough came when my wife and separately described the same situation to him right after it happened. It was then he was able to hear her attitude of self-justification, and blame shifting. This was the most qualified counselor I could find in my area. He has two Masters, two doctorates and 25 years of counseling experience. To his credit, very early in our counseling, he got her to see her outbursts as sin. The biggest breakthrough came last summer after I watched Ross Rosenberg’s videos and then read his book. I could clearly see my pathological enabling, which began in my childhood, and blossomed early in my marriage as a coping mechanism for her rage for 8 hours or more, followed by vindictive emotional punishment for weeks on end. I could also clearly see her Borderline Personality Disorder (Emotional Dysregulation), which unlike other narcissistic disorders, can look like codependency on the surface, but the motivations are self serving.
The realities abused men experience are just as complicated and need advice as precise and tailored as Leslie gives women. Most importantly, we need godly advice.
Watched all of Christine de Canonville’s videos this afternoon. Very helpful.
I am so very glad I could be of some help to you.
I hope God grants you wisdom to determine what your next course of action should be.
This is a bit unrelated, but today I heard a mission update from a pastor serving in the Congo. He talked about the murders, human trafficking and humanitarian violations that are affecting the Congolese people. He said that many of the local Congolese church’s issue the response, “it must be God’s will.” What struck me is the lecturing pastor’s rebuttal to this. He said, “NO it is not. That is not consistent with the character of God! ” These horrible acts, he stated emphatically, are the work of men, not God’s will. I thought about his comment and began to see correlation to our circumstances from his teaching.
Sometimes we in our world of abuse, get confused as we try to process the mess we are in and say to ourselves that this terrible marriage must be God’s will for our lives.I think, like the Congolese church we can try to make reason out of something that is illogical. I don’t agree abuse is God’s will. I also think a man or woman’s sin should not be blamed on God. It is not his will for us that we should be mistreated, abused, berated and dismissed. His will for us is to be loved and cherished. Anything less is the twisted influence of the devil as he work through those whom let him invade their hearts and minds.
I really appreciate what you said about it not being consistent with the character of God. We so often hear “it’s God’s Will” with regard to terrible things that happen. My husband has been cold, callous and cruel. That is his to own. I have been stuck in fear and not wanting to hurt my kids. That is mine to own. A loving God didn’t create this mess. We did. I allowed so much and accepted being treated like I was nothing, out of fear and shame, and I am so angry with myself.
Marybeth, be careful being angry with yourself. Patrick Doyle has a talk about the “committee” who lives in your head. The “committee” are the voices we speak to ourselves. We need to take hold of our own self talk.
You did what you had to do to survive. You are still trying to survive. You can’t switch your thinking to thriving, until your abuser is not longer abusing you.
Thank you Autumn. In spite of it all, I have been able to thrive. I know the problem lies with him. He will never truly see how his behaviors have damaged all of us, including himself. Not my problem. I just want to find some personal happiness for me now.
There is power in those simple words, “it is not God’s will.” I need t-shirts, hats, bumper stickers, and a little rubber bracelet with that on it, and God doesn’t do for me what I can and should do for myself. Thanks for that.
BTW, watched Patrick Doyle’s interviews on “the committee”, and “dealing with hopelessness”. The degrading self-talk in the mind is devastating. We talk about it in CoDA meetings. I still struggle with it a lot.
Leslie is right about building your “CORE”, getting a support group and safety plan and then confronting your spouse. My wife triangulated my sons against me. They are damaged. If I had started setting boundaries 10 or 15 years ago, we’d have either divorced (and been healthier) or had a happier marriage with healthier children.
A narcissist parent creates an extreme environment that requires dysfunctional coping skills that damage the children resulting either in a narcissistic or enabling (codependent) child. The codependent spouse enables the whole mess. It may be because of unawareness, confusion, fear, lack of self-respect, not knowing what to do or when to do it, or a dozen other things; but the only one that has any chance to stop it is the non-narcissistic parent.
I’ve really only been in recovery since early fall, and been in a support group since the first week in January. I just got Leslie’s book two weeks ago, read it once, read part of it twice and am rereading it from the beginning now. It is painful, like chemotherapy, but it is a treatment plan for cancer, with the realistic hope of wholeness for the wife and the children. I really think she has it pegged for women dealing with abusive men. That may be easy for me to say since my dynamic is different, but it is the most clear, comprehensive, step by step description I’ve seen for taking responsibility for yourself, stepping up and loving like a Christian, and making sure that marriage isn’t an idol.
Her book has made it clear to me that I need to thoroughly confront my wife with her offenses in the presence of our counselor. I’ve taken time to hear out her complaints, own my sinful attitudes and behaviors, and address my thinking, habits and words (I.e. repent). She needs to clearly see how much she has impacted the family and own that she has a lot of work to do. I pity her, because underneath those behaviors is a severely damaged person. But her denial of that fact only prolongs the harm she causes to me and our boys.
You may also get a lot out of Dan Allendar’s book, Bold Love.
Thank you for the reply. I read Leslie’s book before as I have read tirelessly over the years to try and figure things out. He has left three times over the last several years. It would take too many hours to post it all. Suffice to say, I have gotten very good at setting boundaries. My daughters and I have always had open communication and I took them to therapy after he left the last time. Our life is very normal when he isn’t home. I am grateful he works so much. I know my kids have been affected, however, they have managed to thrive and do quite well despite it all. I have done my best and continue to do so. All the sacrifices and choices I have made were for them; good, bad or indifferent. I am still afraid of th future to some degree but I know I cannot live like this indefinitely. I have told him as much. He doesn’t answer me. Just stares at the wall and ignores me. Stonewalling is his favorite tool. The difference is now I don’t care. I know what I bring to the table. I know I never deserved any of this but I took it. That’s on me and hopefully someday I can forgive myself for allowing it. My oldest goes to college in the Fall of 2020. We have decided to all head south to Florida for a new start. He knows about it. I expressed to him that I don’t know if it will be with him because I have given up enough life waiting for things to change. I am 50 and it’s time for me to have something out of this life. I’m also very, very tired of it all. Living with the unknown. Bad surprises. Wondering what is going on. There has been far less better than worse. More sickness than health. Those vows meant everything to me. They meant nothing to him
Thanks for your reply and example. I hope I didn’t sound trite. You have had awareness and been on this journey longer than I have.
SteVee, I would be prepared for your Narcissistic wife to blame shift and deny her behaviors. Even with the counselor present, her personality disorder makes it impossible to accept responsibility for her actions. She lives in denial. If she does acquiesce to the counselor’s direction, you or someone around you will pay for her highness’ fall from grace. Her throne will not be shaken and power can not be usurped. She would rather be found dead.
So,while admire the course you have taken, if she is truly a narcissist, nothing will change. There is no known cure for Narcissistic Personality Disorder. The best one can hope for is behavior modifications.
I know my husband tried to modify his behaviors. He pulled it off for about 8 weeks. Finally, he said ” I can’t do this anymore. It feels like you are winning!” I didn’t know I was in a competition. (Those with NPD can only compete not cooperate. They are psychologically incapable of it.)
He also said after we spent years of our lives and tens of thousands of dollars in counseling, “I tried. I just can’t think differently.” Sadly, his comments were true. He can’t think differently. The damage was done during key developmental stages of his infancy. There is no fixing him.
SteVee, What Autumn says is very true. When my narcissistic, abusive wife was confronted about her abuse by me and confirmed by the counsellor, she got upset and said “I’m sorry that I’m such a horrible person” Then she got up and said that she had to go back to work, and left. The next day she told me that she had thought more about it and she decided that she isn’t abusive and told me not to bring it up again. 🙂
We are now separated and in the end stages of divorce. She continues to pretend that everything is normal and that things are fine between us.
“Those with NPD can only compete not cooperate.” I thought that was a quirk with my wife’s family, not a characteristic of her disorder. All of her language is win/loss. No how many times I’ve said we either both win and our marriage grows, or we both lose; she still defaults to being upset because I “won” if I reason with her. I tell her, if we both find the truth and both own our issues, we’ll both have the joys of a loving marriage; but nothing specific is ever wrong on her side.
I have very little hope that she will change, so my expectation is very, very, very low. I need to know that I am genuinely acting to seek her best and am doing my best to fulfill our vows. It will almost be easier if she completely rejects everything. That will be a clear beginning of the end. Odds are she’ll consider, and try to outwardly accommodate for a season (like Autumn’s h did), but later decide it isn’t worth the trouble.
Thanks to both of you for your replies. Your specific responses helped me a lot.
Thanks for your insite
Autumn–Wow! Thank you so much for sharing. That is such a powerful and helpful analogy. It is so hard to keep clarity and be sure that we know what we know.
I will share with you all, because it might help someone, that just tonight I inadvertently ran across an essay my 20 year old son had written in a college creative writing class earlier this year. The theme was his parents’ dysfunctional marriage. OUR CHILDREN ARE BEING AFFECTED. It is real; it is deep; they are better off with us apart from one another, and I will never again question that. I am so grateful that God put that essay in my path.
I have been emotionally distancing myself from H for a couple months now. I am working on staying well. Separate bedrooms, only having conversations in relation to home, finances, or family. I am vague when H asks me a question about my time or where I am going because he is not safe. Yesterday when I was answering a question and processing how much information to give him he blew up at me, saying I am always vague and dont give him answers. I told him we dont have a relationship so why would I feel comfortable answering his questions about how I spend my time. He was quite venomous when he said that I was the reason we dont have a relationship. And I said ‘no, that right there (his angry outburst) is why we dont have a relationship’. Well as you can imagine things went down hill from there. He made a snide remark about how i always get what I want, yadda yadda, and got in his vehicle. I was moved by braveness, not anger, and opened his door and spoke truth. The relationship is not going to get better if he continues to blame me, and not own his sinful responses. He brought up my deciding to have separate bedrooms, I spoke truth as to his sinful actions that leave me afraid to sleep with him. He said he doesnt get what HE wants out of our relationship…to which I remained silent because I havent gotten what I have wanted (respect, care, mutuality) in our marriage and this is just a reminder that it is all about him. He kept saying he knows he is responsible for his behavior (yet he never repents and continues to blame me) but I never take responsibility for my own, which is not accurate. I dont take responsibility for what HE says my motives are or when he says I dont appreciate him, etc because it is all in his mind, not based on what I know to be true of my motives and actions. I have taken responsibility for the many ways I sinned against him throughout our marriage. I remained calm the entire time but I followed his trail and ended up speaking truth to a foolish man and got no where. I finally had enough and told him he was emotionally abusive. He said he wasnt but since I called him that, then he would be and proceed to string a bunch of “F you” together progressively louder. Then spun out in the car leaving. He texted 10 minutes later to say he ‘immediately regretted swearing at’ me and wanted to apologize to me when I got home from my meeting. I told him I was not up to having a conversation with him and went straight to bed. There are so many ways I probably could have shortened the conversation, thus never getting to the verbally abusive part, but I will not take ownership of his sinful reactions. I hem and haw over the fact that I said HE was abusive rather than that he ACTS abusive and question if I should seek forgiveness but I know it will be one more thing he uses as proof that his narrative is correct. I asked the Lord’s forgiveness because I took my marriage off HIS altar and thought if I remained calm and spoke truth that he would see that the issue is his sinful responses…. how long before I stop falling into that trap?
Michele, you tried emotional distancing and separation. I don’t know who gave you advice to proceed like this but, It didn’t work. You are in extreme danger. I know you don’t want to leave or have him leave but you have to get safe from this guy. Now you can know for sure that you did everything you could and really tried to “live well.” The fact this approach is not right for your situation. You are ticking him off. He wants total control back. You are in extreme danger!
It seems someone has told you that you can live with a dragon if you have a water pistol to handle it’s fire breath. When really you need a dragon slayer and sword.
Please sweet sister, make you plan and escape the dragon!
I just wonder at what point a representative or monitor of some kind, follows up with posters on this site to make sure they are ok. Are there any records of participants on this site who have lost their lives while trying to “live well” while staying in a destructive relationship? Should everything be so anonymous? At what point does one determine that the emotional or in house separation is a failure? Thoughts?
Wow! Scary thought honestly. I suppose I would say that is totally beyond the purpose amd practícal possibility of this blog. This is a place to ponder, share, and encourage, but I don’t think holding Leslie or anyone else on the site accountable in any way for following up on anyone’s safety is realistic. Maybe there are systems in place of which I am unaware.
Of course we should continue to encourage one another to stay plugged in, get professional and local help, make sure we all have someone geographically proximate who is aware and available, etc. Similarly, if we are concerned for someone’s safety, it is great to address it directly and offer help and suggestions because sometimes we can’t see what others see when we are in the fog. Ultimately, however, we all have to approach this blog for what it is and nothing more.
Am I off base?
Great reply Karen. I agree, beyond the scope of this site.
I remember going to a lecture with a speaker in domestic violence (Dr. Paul Hegstrom). We were asked to submit anonymous questions. When Paul read my question he asked, “Who wrote this?” I didn’t dare raise my hand. He handed my question to a staffer and said find out who wrote this question and have someone talk to them.
After the lecture, I spoke privately with him and he directed me to a staffer. They listened to me and offered support. Years later I spoke with Dr. Hegstrom. He told me as soon as he read my question he could tell I was in extreme danger. He knew how abusive men thought. He feared for my safety.
I think we who know such behavior, fear for the safety of others in similar circumstances.
I have been emotionally separated for over 2 years now and have been married for 9 years. We have 2 beautiful children and I have stayed for them..and at the love and request of my husband’s parents.
I am now realizing more and more how I have exchanged my wellness, sanity, and heart for the “whole family who can conquer anything with Love”.. Tricky thing is we have received numerous words that we would do great things together in ministry and I held on to that hope throughout our marriage, but he’s still unfaithful, controlling, fincancially abusive, and “charming” just enough at times to get by and decieve me into thinking he’s changed or this could be tolerable, again.
How stupid I feel to have put up with this for years and forgive again and again only to have my heart stomped on again and not be the full person that I should be today-I traded it all for him and now I am a homeschool mom(which I consider a great privilege) and part-time work outside the home as a sub teacher.
Should I put them in public school(which I really don’t want to do) and work full-time to gain my independence from him?? It seems like a common sense answer but I feel as though I would lose that close influence and relationship with my kids that I hold so dearly. Or I could move back with my mom..far away and start over there? I value the church out here (but the leaders are my husband’s parents..) though I love them dearly and have appreciated their love and support immensely but they really want us together, even though they’ve said they would support any decision I make. It would have to be MY decision because he’s comfortable just staying in the same home not having to pay for a separate place!
He said the end of this year he would move out and pay for both places but I’m sure if that’ll actually happen. I guess I could wait until the end of this year to see if he actually follows through and moves out(he also said he’s pay my rent-which is what I would need to continue to homeschool them and work part-time)..but if he doesn’t then I guess I’ll move back with my mom..
Any insight? Advice?
The next thing I would do is seek the advice of an attorney. States vary in their child custody laws.
As I sit here reading this thread, for almost a month now, I’m struck at how many of us this has resonated with. So many here have stayed in these horrible situations for years. I do not know how you have realized what was happening and had the strength to stay. My 33 year marriage has never been perfect, but from what I remember it started to unravel about 10-12 years ago. I admit that, as a man I shut down, that is what I was taught to do as a child. My wife has always been a bit of a narcissist, but it got bad about five years ago. I have been no angel and will take my share of the blame. Things got so bad that for about two years I would ride around for a couple of hours before going home, after work. When at home I’d drink at least a bottle of wine a night. No matter how long I had been at work, 12-14 hours, I was expected to cook, clean up, etc. did the cleaning, grocery shopping, taking care of the cars, paying bills, all the while enduring the occasional rage, (which she doesn’t remember or said I deserved), silent treatment, constant sarcasm, no physical contact, and being told “I’ve talked all day I just want to be quiet.” I tried to talk to her many times but would always get shut down, most of the time she would get louder than me , it wasn’t worth the fight. As a highly intelligent professional, who’s nickname at her office is “The Hammer,” she has the ability to tell you to go to hell using words you’d have to look up I a thesaurus. I started individual counseling in Jan 2018, because I thought I was going crazy. Depressed, no self esteem (zero), couldn’t sleep, drinking to much, and occasionally suicidal. In February of that year we started marriage counseling. Short story is that the counselors attitude was,”She said she was sorry, just forgive her and go on from here.” After five months of this counselor told me, in front of my wife that I was just not trying and there was nothing she could do unless I changed my attitude. We are both Christians, I have never prayed so much, or so hard in my life. My health was suffering. One day while praying while driving. I told the Lord that if it was his will I would stick it out in the marriage. I heard an audible voice in the car that told me not to go back. That made me think I was really crazy. All along my gut instinct had been telling me the same thing. In July 2018, I moved out to my own place. The mind fog, calmness of spirit, peace, and rest stored to come almost immediately. I, being a Christian was feeling guilty thinking all this was my imagination. Still praying fervently on a daily basis, reading my bible, searching websites about verbal abuse, it came to me that she is a covert narcissist. We have bee in the church all our lives, she was a Sunday school teacher for 15 years, been all over the world, as a medical professional, on medical mission trips. I don’t think she is evil, nor do I hate her. Our relationship has gotten to the point of just emails, no contact, which is ok with me, We have started the divorce process. I am at peace with the decision, but am still dealing with her myriad reasons not to divorce , including biblical reasons.
I just read here about how many f you have stuck it out in this situation. Sometimes I feel as though I have quit. My adult children don’t verbally agree with this but they understand why I have done what I have done. The thought of going back will put me in an early grave. I discovered Leslie through Divorce care. This blog has been so helpful to me. I cant go back, but it is hard to feel that I have dishonored God by divorce.
Chuck, You Matter. Your life is useful and valuable. You need someone to call 24/7 if you ever think about ending your life. Suicudepreventionlifeline.org
Regarding going back: keep educating yourself. If Divorce Care doesn’t give you close connection with peopl that understand abuse, get into a weekly support group that fits your background and situation. My local Codependent’s Anonymous meeting is full of men and women with varying shades of codependent tendencies. Most of us have clearly abusive spouses, and it is amazing how saying stuff out loud helps us all realize how crazy our own situations are (or for some, were.) You are clearly describing abuse from your wife. Take care of Chuck. Get healthy. Your description sounds like false guilt to me. Your situation is similar, but not the same as anyone else’s situation here. Your decision to separate at this time is your decision, and no one else’s. You are the most qualified person to make that decision. -NO GUILT- Feeling like you needed to drink or commit suicide to stay in the marriage should sound a loud alarm to you.
Regarding your counselor: she is unqualified. Not every counselor recognizes emotional abuse, and I may take time for those that can to discover it. You may still need to work on your recovery; but that doesn’t mean continued abuse from your wife is o.k. “Sorry” is actions from your wife, not just words in the counselor’s office. She didn’t take the necessary time to see the emotional abuse. I went through several counselors, all good people. Some admitted they couldn’t help because my wife was unwilling to do her part. One counselor was VERY destructive, and came to the completely wrong conclusion after four months, and ended up fueling her abusiveness.
Two thoughts: Forgiveness is not the same thing as trust. We are commanded to forgive, we are never commanded to trust. Trust is earned. Your counsellor did not giving you biblical advice.
Second. Many here have recommended a book called ‘redemptive divorce’. It sounds like your wife divorced you a long time ago. You being the one to file for divorce is merely refusing to live in pretense anymore. I think that book would really help you see that.
Hi Chuck, so much of what you wrote resonates with me. Please know, God loves you ALWAYS. God is LOVE. No Father takes pleasure in seeing their child suffer. You have suffered. Your Father said enough. Trust in that. Take comfort in knowing you did everything you could. Therapists that are not trained to deal with narcs, just don’t understand. I kept being told it was my delivery. He shut down because of the way I said things. In reflection, that’s garbage. True intimacy and friendship to me means you can speak freely, happy, sad, frustrated, even angry. Of course there is a line and I didn’t cross it. Name calling, etc. never happened. My daughters are 16 and 13. I wish they were adults. I know my decisions would be quite different knowing they were settled. It’s all very sad however I hold out hope for a brighter future for myself. Peace and blessings to you☀️
My situation may be different, but I see so many people here that have stayed in toxic relationships for years hoping their spouse will change. I guess what my guilt is due to, is that when my feelings left I have never felt the pull to return to the relationship. Maybe it’s because I left the relationship a long time ago and didn’t realize it. My wife has continued individual counseling with the counselor we saw as a couple. I guess if I saw true apology from her I’d feel different. Most of the time we talk I hear about what her counselor thinks is wrong with me. I’m past the suicide phase, still don’t know how much value I bring to society.
Nancy thank you for the book recommendation, I will read it
My counselor addresses my issues when he counsels me. I’m the only one in the room that I can change. He doesn’t bash my wife; and I don’t go home and bash my wife. The same is true when he speaks to her. He tries to get her to see her issues, and gently encourages her to change. She often comes home irritated, but doesn’t tell me what he said to her. We vent to him about each other, but he has figured our mess out, and reminds us that each of us has to take responsibility for our attitudes and actions if anything is going to change. Part of those actions is the cessation of abusive words, body language or actions, and the unwillingness to be around if the other engages in abusive behavior.
He expects us to confront one another in kindness and love with I statements, in a calm voice without interrupting one another.
Either your wife’s counselor is saying those bad things about you, which is unprofessional, or she isn’t and your wife, “the hammer”, is continuing her emotional abuse. Either way, your wife is being abusive, which is tearing down your self image, when she is obligated to deal with her own issues first, then speak the truth in love (even correcting truth) in a way that builds you up. Love edifies.
Chuck, when Jesus was being beaten before being crucified he was thinking of you and saying, You are WORTH this… if you were the only person in the whole world he would have done that just for you! He will be your value, he will show you your value, let him guide you. As far as the guilt you feel… bring it before the Lord, if you did indeed ‘leave’ without realizing it, confess to the Lord and release that guilt to him. Satan wants you stuck in that guilt because you wont see your worth if you stay there. I have been in this toxic relationship for 27+ years but I didn’t see it for what it was for many of those years, and I have had to deal with my guilt for NOT seeing it, NOT leaving, NOT protecting my kids from it. Satan deals in guilt, not God, God deals in conviction, forgiveness and growth. Hang in there Chuck.
Chuck, when I go to counseling, the counselor may let me vent, but he focuses on the one person in the room that can make me change -me-. When I get home, I don’t bash my wife. When my wife goes, I’m not sure what her and the counselor talk about, but she comes home irritated, and she doesn’t use the conselor’s words to beat me down.
The counselor is expecting us to confront one another with soft voices, kind words, and I statements, spoken firmly, but with the loving intent to edify (build-up) our spouse, that they may “come to their senses”.
Either your counselor is being unprofessional, and your wife, “the Hammer”, is using those words to abuse you, or, she is simply abusing you as usual. I have had counselors say something like, “there is nothing more I can do until your wife decides to cooperate.” That didn’t mean my issues were fixed, it simply meant that particular counselor got as far as their knowledge could take them.
Everyone on this blog’s primary responsibility is to God, for their own mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical health. Our getting healthy, -may- in some circumstances influence our spouses to change (as is the hope of Leslie’s book, EDM), but there is no promise. Our wellness on the other hand is our own. We own that. We can begin and continue that journey.
As a person told me in a recovery meeting, “If you walk 10 miles into a forest, you’ve got a 10 mile walk out.” So keep walking.
NO ONE knows exactly what you know, feel and experienced; and no one (including your kids) has enough information to second guess you. You (Chuck) are making the best decision for Chuck, and it is good enough. Focus on Chuck and his wellness, and detach from toxic people and circumstances. That is called a boundary. -I- won’t engage in or associate with toxic relationships, in family, with co-workers, at church, anywhere. -I- will walk away. That is my boundary to take care of me. I’m not garbage, and you aren’t either.
To everyone that has replied, Thank You. I have read and re-read all these posts. Praying for guidance and realizing that you all are part of answered prayers. Your insight and sage advice is helpful. The encouragement you give also helps. It’s nice to know there are “Others in my boat,” and I’m not alone.
I would like to copy from an above comment, just to repeat it, as THIS IS POWERFUL!
March 17, 2019 at 11:16 pm
A narcissist parent creates an extreme environment that requires dysfunctional coping skills that damage the children resulting either in a narcissistic or enabling (codependent) child. The codependent spouse enables the whole mess. It may be because of unawareness, confusion, fear, lack of self-respect, not knowing what to do or when to do it, or a dozen other things; but the only one that has any chance to stop it is the non-narcissistic parent.
Glad it helped you. That is a theory I read from Ross Rosenberg. It resonated with my experience in my family of origin and my marriage.
Thank you all for sharing from your hearts the wisdom and compassion you’ve gained through the painful experiences. I, too, am deeply grateful for getting clarity through teachings by Leslie and others. The road has been so hard and engulfed with lies and deceit and oppression, I truly believed I was hopeless and helpless.
Thank God for patiently and powerfully revealing Truth and saving me. Thank God for rescuing each of you, and me.
The divorce was final almost 2 years ago after 25 years of marriage, and I’m in awe of how HE reveals Truth:
“..I have faced danger from men who claim to be believers but are not.” 2 Cor 11:26
Grateful to learn and grow with you all!
Thank you so much for this post. I’m a man in a similar situation. This was very helpful.
As usual, your blog has ministered to me again, by giving clarity to the fog of the reality of my abusive marriage. Henry Cloud makes the same delineation between “hurt” or “pain” as beneficial and “harm” as destructive and often selfish in his book, “Necessary Endings”. That was very illuminating to me. He describes the wise, the foolish, and the evil person. By his description, my wife’s attitude and behavior have fallen into evil (deliberately harmful) or foolish (stubbornly ignorant) for most of our marriage. I’ve been hanging onto Leslie’s guidance about how to know if my abusive spouse has changed for several months now.
“ A. Change of Heart
a. Accepts Responsibility
b. Makes Amends (not amnesty)
c. Willingness vs willfulness.
B. Change of Habit
a. Keeps a journal to develop self-awareness
b. Must Accept/Receive Feedback.
c. Accountability Recovery Group.
d. Can’t stop growing.
I see some, but not all of the above, and my heart does not “safely trust in her.” Proverbs 31:11,12. Because regardless of the wonderful (self-validating) wifely things she does FOR me, it doesn’t change what she does TO me; and worse, how she consistently misinterprets every discussion as a win-lose discussion. When we agree it is a disagreement and somebody must be right and good, and the other person must be wrong and bad. It is very, very hard for her to conceptualize behavior as separate from the self, so her self worth rests on never acknowledging bad behavior. Only twice in our entire 26 year marriage, has she genuinely acknowledged doing something wrong without blame-shifting. Both of those times were last month after a woman’s retreat. Still, there is a complete deadness in our marriage. I will own that. My heart is shredded meat, and completely dead toward her.
I’ve been sleeping on the sofa for most of the past six months. I can’t explain it but I feel a lightness of heart, a release of burden, compared to sleeping with my historically abusive (physically, emotionally, verbally, and spiritually) wife. When we are apart for a week or more, I start to feel alive again, and more sensitive to the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. Being in the same house is like a death-fog, even without any passive-aggressive, or aggressive behavior on her part.
I have read and listened to “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage” marriage 6 or 7 times in the past 15 months. Sometimes, I use it for self-examination, to attempt to address areas where I may be in denial (for example, as a codependent, I have been reactive and controlling in the past). Other times, I use it to evaluate her treatment of me. Either way, I am trying to build my “CORE”. In fact, of all the acronyms I’ve learned, that is the one that sticks with me.
I have enough money in savings to file for divorce. But, I am praying to see the truth and reality of who and where I really am, and who and where she really is. It is heavy, and agonizing at times, but I have given my expectations for change on any timeline to the Lord, and am waiting for clarity from Him.
After 3 years of Christian marital and family counseling, I am now in therapy with someone who specializes in what I believe to be my wife’s disorder. i also attend 2 twelve step meetings a week to address my codependency and trauma. These are my lifelines, because NO-ONE in church understands. They keep giving right advice for the wrong problem, and it is exhausting. BTW, my wife is the sweetest person at church. Everybody loves her. As did I; that is why I married her. After marriage, the traumatic emotional baggage of her alcoholic, abusive, cheating father, all transferred to me. It is like that is the only way she is equipped to relate to an intimate, male authority figure. She is adamant that it is all completely merited by my behavior, even though I haven’t had a drink since our wedding day, have never cheated (physically or emotionally) on her, and have never touched her in anger.
Thank you for your blog. It is one of my air lines to keep me from drowning.