What’s the Difference Between a Difficult, Disappointing and Destructive Marriage?

Morning friends,

Sheesh, I can't believe Tuesday snuck up on me already. We had such a terrific response to our webinar and subsequent videos, The Three Lies Women Believe that Keep them Stuck, Afraid and Miserable. If you're interested in joining our six month coaching program starting in January, you can get more information by clicking here.

I thought it would be helpful to repeat a previous blog on the difference between a difficult marriage, a disappointing marriage and a destructive marriage. Reading some responses to previous blogs recently leads me to think this is a question that bears repeating. The strategies I recommend for a destructive marriage, are different than those from a difficult or disappointing marriage. I WILL be on the blog this week, so let's dialogue.

This week’s question: I come from an abusive background (physical, emotional, verbal). I am divorced for more than 3 years. I’m dating a man whom I find to be a very generous, godly man; however, he is (as I’ve noticed from the beginning of dating) very outspoken and has a strong personality.
We have been dating a little over five months. We are very compatible. He’s good with my two boys, and we have talked about the possibility of getting married.

My only real concern is when we disagree – the things he says really get me down. They seem condescending, but I don’t know if I have a clear filter through which to view our relationship or not. There is no name-calling (our first spouses did this to us and we both know what it feels like to be on the receiving end and agree not to call names). There are just strong words. I have talked to him, and he hears me out fairly well, but I do feel like the disagreements (the words he spoke) have eroded some of the emotional trust I have in him, and I don’t feel as emotionally safe.

However because my marriage was such an extreme example of unhealthy, I don’t know if I’m overreacting and projecting negative things onto my current relationship or if my current relationship is actually unhealthy. I’m not sure if I feel emotionally unsafe due to pre-conditioning from my past or if it is coming from a place of truth in the current relationship.

I read one of your articles that said a difficult relationship is not the same as a destructive one. I’m experiencing emotions (as part of being in my first dating relationship after an abusive marriage) that are part of moving on. I would like help in categorizing them. To be honest, my hope is that I’m filtering incorrectly because I see so much potential in our relationship and really don’t want to see it end. He seems to genuinely care for me and my boys. My family is very supportive and like him, and my friends like him and say we seem very right for each other. People who have not met him but have seen pictures of us together say we look very happy (and these are unsolicited comments mostly from Christian believers I know). His friends seem to like me as well.

Any insights you may have would be so appreciated.

Answer: You’ve asked some very important questions, not only about the definitions of different kinds of relationship problems, but also about how our past may impact our current feelings and choices.

First let me define the different types of relationship struggles you’re questioning:

A difficult relationship is one in which there are many stressors pressing in on the relationship that make it challenging. This may include blended family issues, in-law or ex-spouse issues, health challenges, difficult children, financial set-backs, job changes, frequent moves, as well as personality and cultural differences. There may also be disagreements on values such as prioritizing saving over spending and lifestyle habits such as being very health conscious or neat with your living space or preferring a more casual approach to life.

These stressors and differences can cause many conflicts. Depending on how a couple handles those differences, conflicts and their emotions will determine whether they can navigate through these difficulties in a way that does not fracture or end their relationship. In other words, if they handle them with mutual effort, compassion for one another, honesty and respect, usually difficult does not become destructive. If they cannot, then difficult can easily move into destructive.

A disappointing relationship is one in which there are a letdown of expectations in a relationship. It’s not what you thought it would be. There isn’t obvious sin, disrespect or indifference, but there isn’t as much romance, talking, sex or connection as you wanted. There may not be as much financial security or extra resources to have fun or live in a bigger home, or there may be a lack of adventure and stimulation that makes the relationship feel stale and boring.

Many individuals long for an A+ marriage but feel stuck in a C- marriage. How they handle their disappointment (or not) determines whether the marriage survives or deteriorates into a D- or worse relationship. (Click To Tweet).

A destructive relationship is one in which the personhood of the other is regularly diminished, dismissed, disrespected and demeaned. There is a lack of mutual effort at maintaining and repairing relationship wounds. There is a lack of mutual accountability, but rather one has power over the other either physically, emotionally, financially, mentally, spiritually or all of the above. There is a lack of accountability or responsibility accepted for harm caused to the relationship, and relationship wounds are denied, minimized or blamed on the other

In a destructive relationship, you don’t just feel it’s hard, you feel like you’re dying inside. There is no “you” in the relationship. There is a lack of freedom to be yourself, speak your own thoughts and feelings, to be a separate person and to make decisions for yourself. You don’t feel safe to speak up, set boundaries, ask for what you need or want or disagree without a heavy price to pay. There is often chronic deceit and indifference to your feelings, needs and personhood.

That said, you’re wondering if you’re just hyper sensitive because you lived with a destructive partner in your first marriage or is your body sending you warning bells that this too might be another destructive relationship.

I can’t say for sure. You don’t indicate what his harsh words are like, but the first red flag you need to pay attention to is whether or not he respects your “no.” If you don’t have the freedom to say no in your relationship, RUN! That is often the very first sign that he does not see you as a separate person but someone to cater to him ONLY.

Second, does he take responsibility when he hurts you and care that you feel scared around him? Whether it’s caused by your current relationship or some residue from your previous one, a caring partner shows compassion for past hurts and doesn’t minimize their effects. If you had a bad sunburn which made your skin hypersensitive, your partner would show compassion and care for that and not just grab you anyway and then blame your pain on your hypersensitivity, right? So if he’s insensitive and rough, you might want to think twice about whether he’s a good fit for you and your children.

Third, in dating relationships people always put their best selves forward. So, if he’s like this while you are dating, what haven’t you seen yet? Pay close attention to how he treats other people when he is angry. For example, how does he treat pokey drivers, slow waitresses or his children when they disobey? Is he firm yet patient and respectful? If not, then what you see is how he’ll treat you when he’s angry at you. Is that what you want?

We have a great community of women on this blog who can also give you some good tips. I invite our wonderful community to help you now to discern whether this relationship is something you should keep working on or run from.

Friends, can you give us your thoughts?


  1. Melanie on December 14, 2016 at 8:10 am

    I love the point about how even if it’s a hyper sensitivity… My grown kids and I are teaching this to each other five years post-divorce… One day I over reacted to my son’s friend’s suggestion about putting a bed on the floor instead of on a frame. Friend started to ask what the big deal was; son said: Nope! We are building the frame. Don’t know what you triggered there, but I know one thing– this bed is not going on the floor!

    Not only did my 21 year old boy not blame me for overreacting, even just acknowledging reality: that this wasn’t some horrible sin about me that needed to be confronted, but an uncharacteristic reaction that was just what he said: some kind of trigger… And that gave me the opportunity to think it through and figure out why i was so upset… And one more experience of being loved and not judged and held to an impossible standard of perfection.

    When my other son came home for Thanksgiving with his fiancée, we had another chance to heal up some more, by talking about why my son can’t stand when she yells at him to just come here! That was a dad action, that got mad if you asked why, you got the cold shoulder, because you didn’t have the right to decide if that was more important than what you were doing then…

    And just yesterday, my daughter and i talked about our fears of screwing up with each other, that when I overreact to my sin against her, because I’m so scared her next move is to cut me off from her… And instead of being offended, she says I know. Like when I asked dad if we could actually schedule time together instead of just him calling whenever… And he didn’t talk to me for six weeks.

    Here’s was actually a legitimate request, mine was an actual sin, but she gave me an “a priori” understanding: “how much more” then would you worry?

    I have found this so important, in my family and in my friends, to help me think through: why do you feel like a mistake is a moral failure? (Because I want allowed to make mistakes) Why do you get terrified when you sprained your ankle?(because no one would take care of me)…

    I am hypersensitive, I may well always be. The scars of two decades are not going away until heaven. But sensitivity to my sunburns actually makes them heal a little bit each time.

    • JoAnn on December 14, 2016 at 11:21 am

      Wow! You and your kids are doing a great job of helping each other heal. Congratulations!

      • Patti on November 7, 2023 at 9:24 am

        Amazing job your doing handling yours and the kids lives. I might have missed it, but did your kids have any concerns about this new man? Do they sense anything or feel any hold back?
        Give yourself more time maybe a few months, really look at how he handles being told you need more time. Does the expression on his face contort? Does he look uncomfortable or does he hold you and say, Take all the time you need?

    • Ruth on December 14, 2016 at 12:46 pm

      Melanie, you must be a proud momma!
      I know it’s not easy and without scars, but I love to hear stories of kids come through the dysfunction as over comers. It gives my heart hope.

    • Leslie Vernick on December 17, 2016 at 12:07 pm

      Thanks for sharing. Your kids are doing great and learning to be healthy and be “forbearing” towards our weakness but able to talk about them. You too, are learning to be “forbearing” towards your own weaknesses and that is a wonderful discipline to learn in healthy relationships.

    • Elise on December 18, 2016 at 8:47 am

      Bravo – great encouragement for uncharted waters! Thanks so much

  2. Wendy on December 14, 2016 at 9:07 am

    It is very important when we are dating to be able to focus on what we need. After coming out of an abusive relationship I found myself still wanting to please others first. I am learning after coming out of my second abusive relationship where my church rallied around us and married us telling us we were the perfect couple, I was not able to answer the question what did I need. I also saw the potential in the man and justified his behavior because of the potential not realizing his behavior and his issues were who he was. I knew in my gut there were problems, however, others did not see it the way that I did. He was a master manipulator and covered it up around others. I understand now to trust myself when I see the red flags and to stop! I was always giving myself away at any cost to myself thinking it was the Christlike thing to do. Jesus calls us as women to guard our hearts, to proceed with wisdom and understanding in every situation and to be at peace. Peace comes when we know we are loved and we make wise decisions for ourselves that involve the word no. We lose our voices when we are involved in abusive relationships and this can be very dangerous when moving on to a new one. Standing firm in who we are, allowing our hearts and souls to heal and finding our voice for ourselves is so important! We then do not seek to please others we seek to please Christ, guard our hearts and stand firm on decisions we may have to make alone. If the red flags go up and we do not stop we begin the dance of deception. I am learning in any relationship when a red flag goes up I stop and take it to Christ. I no longer wish to deceive myself and believe that all people are out for my good. I guard my heart with Gods help and proceed with caution. I often have to stop myself from people pleasing and do what I know is authentic to who God created me to be. Living a life that is truthful brings such peace. Understanding that I have great value and I am worth protecting and being protected fills me with Hope for a real life surrounded by people who really love me.
    I also found that my pattern was to give too much too early in relationships. This made me feel obligated to the relationship even when the red flags went up. Again the pattern was to give too much away even if it hurt me. I wish I could go back to that woman and tell her how valuable and precious she is in the eyes of Jesus Christ. I would tell her her sins are forgiven to go and sin no more. I would tell her to heed the red flags and run as fast as she could.

    • Melody on December 14, 2016 at 10:00 am

      My hear resonated with what you wrote. Thank you for sharing.

    • Thursday on December 14, 2016 at 11:17 am

      “I was always giving myself away at any cost to myself thinking it was the Christlike thing to do.”

      “Again the pattern was to give too much away even if it hurt me.”

      That’s a big bulls-eye to me. Thank you for your post, Wendy.

    • Leslie Vernick on December 17, 2016 at 12:09 pm

      So happy to hear that you are learning your own “patterns” that need to heal and change, so that you can grow.

    • Abbie on December 8, 2023 at 4:13 pm

      Wow Wendy, this hit me hard and I can so relate. Making very similar mistakes in my current marriage and “bulldozing” past all of the red flags, all the while giving more and more of myself. 3 years married, a baby, and seeing the impact of my husbands recent confession of his porn addiction has wrecked havoc on my life. My gut knew something was “off”years ago, but my heart kept going.

  3. James on December 14, 2016 at 10:40 am

    It’s probably a very good idea not to rush into a commitment with this man until she has a sense of confidence. It could very well be that she just hasn’t had enough time to discern whether her apprehensions are justified or not.
    It’s also probably a good idea to look at objective factors rather than subjective factors. For example, “I feel unsafe” is a completely subjective factor. There are times we feel completely safe when we aren’t and times we feel unsafe when we are. It is possible that the reason that this woman feel unsafe is because the man she is dating is doing or saying something that makes the relationship an unsafe relationship. It is also possible that she just feels unsafe handling disagreements. Given her previous marriage, who could blame her for feeling unsafe during disagreements?

    Leslie gives some great advice when she suggests that this woman observe how he acts when he is angry, that is a great objective factor to observe.
    A few more objective behaviors she may want to consider.
    Does he repent when he sins?
    Is he quick to grant forgiveness when she sins against him?
    Is he patient with her?
    Does he make an effort to understand her?

    • Leslie Vernick on December 17, 2016 at 12:11 pm

      Good points James. Observing how people treat other people when they are stressed and angry is a very good indicator on how they will treat you when they get stressed an angry (even if they don’t do it to you during the love-bombing stage).

  4. Thursday on December 14, 2016 at 11:12 am

    I also question my own hyper sensitivity at times. No past issues like the OP.

    My marriage was destructive but now I think we are more in the disappointing and difficult stage. Some improvement, sure.

    But I still feel like I am dying inside and the chronic stress drives me to attacks of anxiety and panic. These are things I don’t typically suffer from.

    It gets better when I am honest with myself that I want to leave. Comes back when I try to force myself to work things out. It gets worse when he is near me. Not sure what that says about me.

    The “still small” voice tells me it’s time to leave. I have been praying for conviction and that God would radically get my attention if I was hardening my heart or working in my flesh or being selfish. No conviction yet. Trying to work up the courage still.

    This was just out-loud pondering. Trying hard to not complain or go in circles.

    • Starlight on December 15, 2016 at 12:07 am

      Oh, Thursday, I have been there! God literally pulled me out of my very destructive marriage but I went around in circles for a long time too!
      I would have no peace when I tried to stay and every time I pointed myself in the direction of removing myself from my destructive ex I had peace and could smile with hope! His craziness and continual pursuit of evil, deceit, addictions chaos, anger outbursts to me and my children from my first marriage, financial abuse … towards me kept bringing me back to the same point – that I just needed to get out! Not everyone’s situation is as black and white as mine was but listen to that peace or lack of peace that God gives you and also if the destructive behaviour towards you continues you will be brought back over and over again to the point where the only sane option is the one he is showing you – people really do show us who they are, sometimes it takes us awhile to get out of our own way and grasp the lesson! I can see a clear answer in what you describe and need to do but you need to see it! If God is leading you to separate for your own safety and sanity or that if your children then he will walk with you through it!!

    • Amy Belnap on July 23, 2023 at 11:57 pm

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts:] I feel the same way. I feel the spirit so strong when I take a step towards leaving. But then he is trying so I wait and think about being patient. He tries but doesn’t really get how his actions affect other people, so in all reality he can’t really be trying until he understands that concept. When he feels me pulling away he tries harder to hang on.

  5. Connie on December 14, 2016 at 11:12 am

    One way I can tell a manipulator is to get into a discussion that you disagree with. Does he pick on little details of the discussion but never really hear that main point of what you are saying, going ’round and ’round till you feel off kilter? Distracting you from what you really are trying to say? And then, when you break down and say, “OK, I give, I’m sorry” (when he feels he’s won), THEN he gives a half-hearted apology and ‘suddenly’ ‘understands’, making sort of promises that he soon breaks anyway.

    It’s called ‘crazy-making’ for a reason. These people can never ever ‘lose’ (in their minds). They don’t understand that it is possible to have win-win relationships, only win-lose. I tell my children that ‘win’ in the Bible means to end up on the same side, but in our world it’s like a hockey game, the only way to ‘win’ is to beat the other person down, and if it doesn’t work the first time, you keep picking another ‘game’ and another, and honing your ‘skills’ until the other side is under your boot.

    • JoAnn on December 14, 2016 at 11:28 am

      I agree: in conversations, it is important to first listen for understanding. Does he do that for you? Do you feel that he has truly heard you.? Is your view respected? Win/lose people are impossible to live with, in any context.

    • Ruth on December 14, 2016 at 1:14 pm

      Good point Connie.
      Beware of people who love to debate for debate sake. They might just be looking for a platform.

      • Ruth on December 15, 2016 at 1:02 pm

        Connie, disregard my seemingly random reply. I thought you were talking about someone, ahem, I mean, something, else.

        • Connie on December 15, 2016 at 5:49 pm

          Well, um, I was, but it’s pretty general too. My first h did that all the time, until the Lord showed me the pattern and told me to stop engaging in conversations with him. Of course, then I was the bad one, because, you know, everyone knows that communication is the key to marriage, right? Or that it’s ‘healthy’ to have a ‘good discussion’ . Well in Proverbs it says not to answer a fool. It’s hard to do, but it was the only way to stop the madness. They thrive on attention, especially if they can take it away from someone else. He would take me in the bedroom when the kids needed me and just go on and on and on, or in the night when I needed to sleep. Always until I broke. No matter how long it took. Why do you think I recognize it? 🙂

    • Ann L on December 15, 2016 at 6:40 am

      Iv’e been mulling over your words, Connie, wondering how they apply to my marriage. My husband’s lies were self-serving, to hide his deceits. They were bold-faced, so how did I let them manipulate me?

      Aha — He was so wonderful, so decent, so thoughtful, helpful, considerate, so supportive, that when he lied to cover up his behaviors, I couldn’t accept it. It was so bizarre, it had to be me.

      My radar for the kind of manipulation you describe so well was at ok-status, needed improvement. Recognizing the subtle stuff required me to be willing to confront the truth. Gosh, could Leslie be on to something with her CORE teachings? 😀 😀 😀

  6. Laurie on December 14, 2016 at 11:42 am

    Take your time (lots of it!), and ask for space (boundaries). If he doesn’t respect either of them, it’s time to run…

  7. SaraJane on December 14, 2016 at 12:32 pm

    I separated one year ago because of destruction and abuse. I’m healing and getting healthy with the help of this wonderful community and Leslie’s groups.

    Husband says he’s changed and went to a group for men. I’ve seen some change but I’m also not in the house with him to know it’s consistent. He’s a good faker.

    Attended the webinars to learn the signs of true change; but I’m still confused how to know if the change is real. How to know if we’ve gone from destructive to difficult at this stage.

    Has anyone been there? Did you move back in and find it real or were you trapped again in more of the same?

    • Charlie on December 15, 2016 at 7:59 am

      I moved back in but the difference was there were promises to change but no real change. He promised that if I came back, he would show me he had changed. I discovered this within 3 days but stayed for another 4 months, hoping that change would happen over time. It didn’t. I wouldn’t do it unless you see real behaviour change before you go back.

      • Mama on December 15, 2016 at 9:22 pm

        You are the only one who needs to be convinced that your spouse has changed and you are the only one who can truly know. If you are unsure, he needs to show you for longer – by actions that respect your boundaries, not by words or gifts. He needs to be in a humble place where he accepts that you may never come back because of what he has done. If you ever choose to return, it is grace. You must have free will. It there is ANY pressure to return or to give him another chance, there has not been the needed change – there is not the humbleness needed to see you as a person (not an object).

        • Leslie Vernick on December 17, 2016 at 12:29 pm

          Yes, so true.

    • Rebecca on December 17, 2016 at 7:35 am

      I moved back after my Pastor called me and said my husband was a changed man and I would be safe. HA!! That lasted 6 months at best. He finally said, “I can’t do this. I feel like you are winning all he time.” Just like Lundy Bancroft writes, these men feel that a relationship is like a football game. The woman is an opponent to compete with and dominate. The moves are subtle at times and we can’t believe it could be true, yet it is true. Entitlement thinking can be coupled with immaturity or a personality disorder. We women need to get educated. The prognosis is grim. Few, to none of these disorders EVER get better. My husband tried so hard to learn empathy. He would ask, “Is this empathy?” His personality disorder and entitlement thinking caused a lifetime of abuse for anyone in his intimate circle. Power and Control. When they try to look good or act better it is to advance their social standing or do get something they want. It took me a long time to realize this truth.

      So, my advice is to study the resources that offer guidelines for behavioral changes. (see Lundy’s “Should I stay or Should I Go.” I checked every single box on the list before I reunited with him. I soon realized the “faking” you mentioned. It was a propaganda campaign, although not intentional, the distorted thinking permeates his mind and he can’t control it. He is spiritual, would say he loves the Lord, yet I have learned God doesn’t heal all illnesses. My husband remains dangerous, silver tongued and self absorbed. He can’t seem to think any other way. Marriage is for two people to be united to glorify God. In my case, we had two people united, under the cover of Christianity to serve, my husband! His desires, thoughts, attitudes and decrees rule life.

      I left him, to end the idol worship of him/himself and I and decided to trust God and see what serving him is like. My answer: FABULOUS!

      Don’t go back!! Don’t go back!! He is lying. Lying to you, lying to the Lord and sadly, lying to himself.

      • Thursday on December 17, 2016 at 9:59 am

        Rebecca, thank you for your comment.

        Do you mind sharing what PD your H has been diagnosed with? I find very close similarities to my H who also has mental health issues. I know several disorders can overlap in their symptoms/patterns.

        He comments about how he feels in competition with me. Even over something as simple as finishing getting ready (who can be the first one downstairs). Most times, that honestly doesn’t even register in my brain but there have been a handful of times on Sunday mornings over the years where I admit I’ll watch the clock so I know I won’t be the one to make us late (which is more or less in competition with myself to be ready on time because I don’t like being late for worship but I am open to the idea that I may not be correct on this). And this was all before he stopped going to church regularly so this specific example is no longer valid but it is a consistent theme.

        I also feel he gets almost irritated…or threatened…. or anxious of how I will change… can’t quite put my finger on it… when I read books, attend classes, just trying to improve/grow in general, etc. Not all the time, but enough that it feels off and spoils/inhibits the moments of joy of feeling good about myself of when I feel like I’m getting the hang of whatever it is I’m working on.

        In the past, when I have mentioned a breakthrough or a better understanding of something or what I feel God is working with me on, he’ll be quick to say, “but that doesn’t mean you steamroll me.” or something of that nature.

        The other day, I was reflecting on how God has really been opening my eyes that it’s not selfish to have my needs met (to want them met, not demand them to be met) and how I’ve told myself I must be the strong one and sacrifice all the time if this marriage is to succeed… and that while I knew intellectually this wasn’t correct, I’m really starting to feel it in my heart. This is something I’ve been working towards for over a year and a half. His first responses were, “wow, it really sounds like you’re building a case” and, “you gotta be careful with that. it doesn’t mean you don’t compromise at all.”

        It might not sound like much but this happens in many areas and has been for years. It takes it toll.

        He tends to get pretty frustrated if I interrupt him (I haven’t been told that I do this by other people so I think it’s his conversational style or lack of awareness when it comes to some social cues). He says that’s not how debate works. He wants his X number of minutes then I get X number of minutes for a rebuttal and so-forth. This has been for both big and small, conversational topics. It really threw me for a loop the first time I heard it! My response was that I am his wife, not his debate opponent.

        A number of times, he has told me I’m being self-righteous or cautions that I am too spiritual if I’m convicted by something he is not or if I speak up and say I’m not comfortable with something. He says it’s not a competition as to who can be a better person. I don’t prevent him from doing those things just that I don’t want to participate and that’s when he says it. Again, not all the time but enough that it has been a consistent theme.

        I recognize this is an issue he’s had for many years and since no one else has told me this before, I no longer believe it’s a reflection on me. Like Dr. Cloud has said: if one person calls you a horse, blow it off; if five people call you a horse, buy a saddle.

        The empathy and showing you care thing. He has asked me to provide lists of what “caring for me” would look like. I’ve given them to him several times (patience, including me on decisions, asking my opinion, accepting a differing opinion, etc). Earlier this year, I took a page from Leslie and asked what it would look like to him and I’d be happy to give him feedback on it… and never heard about it again.

        Despite incapability or it being unintentional, the damage from the disordered and distorted thinking is still there. Not to mention the general difficulties and some unintentional deceit. I have compassion and understanding for him in many areas but I cannot continue letting myself be collateral damage.

        Not to say that I’ve been perfect, IN THE LEAST. I am just as depraved as the Israelites if left to my own devices. Being honest with myself of just how much junk is in my heart has been amazing; the act of confession and repentance to the Lord has been very freeing.

        Thanks for sharing! It’s difficult to understand it unless you’re married to it, living with it daily.

    • Leslie Vernick on December 17, 2016 at 12:20 pm

      SaraJane, the biggest indicators of true change will be two things. Is he humble or more humble, rather than arrogant and prideful? If he’s humble then the fruit you will see from that is a willingness to be wrong, a willingness to listen to others, a willingness to confess his sin and ask for forgiveness when he messes us, and a willingness to work on change. You will see these things in his attitudes and actions, even when imperfect. The second thing you will see is a gratitude rather than entitled outlook towards you. He will be grateful that you’ve given him time to show you he’s changing. He will be grateful that you’ve forgiven him. He will not demand you reconcile immediately (entitled) or give you guilt trips when you don’t do things his way. If you see these two heart changes consistently, then you can begin to feel assured that God is at work in his life. If you don’t, then the change is more superficial and probably short lived.

      • SaraJane on December 17, 2016 at 1:25 pm

        Wow. Those words and descriptions bring some clarity for me. I keep asking God to not let me miss something that my husband might be attempting to show me. Thank you!

      • Rebecca on December 18, 2016 at 8:39 pm

        I was reminded recently that even the fruits of the spirit can be faked. The presence of the holy spirit in an individual would have the characteristics of the spirit such as conviction. Humility can be faked too. I agree with you suggestions about seeing gratitude, but even that has to be grateful in the proper dimension. For example, destructive partner may be grateful, “He got his wife, life, house back for example.” (In his mind he had it coming to him and you over powered him and got your way for awhile. He is “grateful” to be back in charge.) He may be grateful for everyone around you, the neighbors, the men in his anger management group, his counselor, the pastor…as long as they are all men! (Yet, he remains ungrateful to or for you.)

        • natasha on December 18, 2016 at 9:58 pm

          I agree, thankful that he feels he has control again

  8. Aleea on December 14, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    “Friends, can you give us your thoughts?”

    First, you should give yourself a gold star for being extra careful! I love how nuanced your questions are, so you are obviously really thinking about this. Moreover, the fact that you take a question of that importance to a wise person who has spent her life thinking about questions like that (Leslie) gets a gold star too!

    Leslie’s answer is fairly complete and you probably would not be writing Leslie if you didn’t feel it was a problem. So something is probably wrong. Why not be extra careful? That said, we don’t have transcripts/recordings of the words that are being exchanged but I would say you should put weight on the fact that “. . .I come from an abusive background (physical, emotional, verbal).” According to my counselor, that makes you much more likely to be attracted to that type of relationship again, amazing as that seems, because it is familiar . . . but I haven’t read all the research on that. But one thing that does ring true is that we do not see the world as it is, —we see the world as we are.

    I would say, —even if he is hearing you out, if he is punishing you with his words (—extracting some type of payment for each opinion you give, you express) maybe that is abusive? I don’t know because both people according to Dr. Meier can easily do that unconsciously. Also, often when people are telling us the truth, it does feel like we are “dying inside” because our paradigms are being challenged. That is why we can’t just operate off of how we feel. But emotionally healthy people are not consciously trying to hurt you when they respond . . . but they may anyway if they are speaking hard truths. When a person is punished for their honesty they begin to learn to lie.

    —So, I’m back to where I always start first: Pray and pray some more about it. Pray that God will show you the best thing you can do. —Be willing to listen to the voice of God, especially if you get really clear direction from Him. Lacking a clear formula for making decisions, we can get reactive and fall back on familiar, comfortable ways to decide what to do, —not good, especially here —we end up running up the stairs instead of out the front door. God is so important because He can keep our perspective on life from coming from the cage we were held captive in! Most decisions could be better if people would simply take the time to ask, “Lord God, what else could this mean?” The most confused you will ever get is when you try to convince your heart and spirit of something your mind knows is not right. . . . .Fairytale love will show you only one face. Real love will show you as many faces as it takes to get you to see who they really are so you can decide if you want, —really want, that person in your life. If he can’t handle you at your worst then he does not deserve you at your best. Real love means seeing beyond the words spoken out of pain (—your former physical, emotional, verbal abuse), and instead seeing a person’s soul. —Oh, that is so hard to do! —And the lesson will always repeat itself, unless we see ourselves as the problem —not others. Once we are emotionally healthy, the wrong people just self-select into and out of our lives. . . .Finally, just be extra aware that often family or friends will tell you what you want to hear, or what they want to believe because of their emotional investment in the situation.

  9. Connie on December 14, 2016 at 1:22 pm

    That was really good, Aleea, thank you!!

    And Wendy, thank you for the examples of how you teach your children. Mine are grown, and I pray that they learn those things somehow. I had many, and the younger set, I tried to teach in similar ways. I can see the difference.

    Another red flag in this story is that he supposedly was abused, too. Are you sure? Have you talked with his x? How does he talk about her, with contempt or just sadness? What is his attitude to women in general? Does he ever blow off a woman’s feelings as ‘only’ PMS? One counselor we went to said that PMS was a man’s best time, because that is when his wife was actually honest and he could figure out what was really bothering her to pray for and with her and make changes.

    My father was a pastor and a kind wise man in many ways. Yet when he was asked to counsel a couple, he would usually come home, wave his hand dismissively, and say, “Oh, it’s her nerves, you know.” When my sister’s husband told him she was unhappy, he waved and said, “Oh, bring her some flowers.” When my h asked him, he waved and said, “Oh, get her a pill.” That’s when I figured out why my mother was sad and quiet. He lived very long, and I believe he changed a lot in that department, but his attitude caused me to make a sinful inner vow never to ‘have nerves’ and always hang in there and pretend all is well. It dang near killed me.

    • Aleea on December 14, 2016 at 7:39 pm

      Re: sad and quiet; sinful inner vow never to ‘have nerves’

      I am so sorry Connie. ―All of us are so blind, we live what we learn until we learn new things. I always have like 10 or 11 books I am reading simulatiously and the things I learn each quarter often upend so many things I wasn’t even aware of, —not even aware of (life-changing!) It is so hard to really be fully aware, we are all very limited cognitive processors. . . . . Generally, I think people don’t needs pills, they need someone to deeply, carefully listen to their heart. —Oh, that is so good for people!!! . . .If there is no communication then there is no respect. If there is no respect then there is no caring. If there is no caring then there is no understanding. If there is no understanding then there is no compassion. If there is no compassion then there is no empathy. If there is no empathy then there is no forgiveness. If there is no forgiveness then there is no kindness. If there is no kindness then there is no honesty. If there is no honesty then there is no love. If there is no love then God doesn’t reside there. If God doesn’t reside there then there is no peace. If there is no peace then it can kill you. Re: “It dang near killed me.” So we never pray to be a better slave if God is trying to get us out of our situation. Loneliness leads to nothing good, only detachment. —And sometimes the people who most need to reach out are the people least capable of it.

    • Leslie Vernick on December 17, 2016 at 12:23 pm

      Thanks for sharing that Connie. We can pick up a lot of messages from our parents on how we are to “be” in this world. Glad you woke up and realized that God gave you feelings for a purpose, and they are not to be ignored. Sure we are not to make major decisions based on feelings alone, but they are informing us of something and we need to pay attention, not dismiss them.

  10. Wendy on December 14, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    Connie, I like the point that you brought out about his claims to abuse. Abusers are always the victim. I have come to understand this firsthand. My husband claimed that everybody hurt him and misunderstood him. I believed him and this was a red flag for sure.

    • Ann L on December 14, 2016 at 9:43 pm

      Wow, Wendy. Thanks for that reminder. I forget sometimes that my husband consistently said that it was my fault that he engaged in the behaviors that led him to lie and deceive. And that was so confusing! I hope that I never, ever, buy a lie like that again. I think being here and facing the lies I was willing to tell myself (i.e., building my CORE) will go a long way.

      Being reminded of what those red flags look like is valuable.

      • Leslie Vernick on December 17, 2016 at 12:24 pm

        Exactly Ann.

  11. James on December 14, 2016 at 11:10 pm

    I think there is some reason to give this guy the benefit of the doubt.
    She says he is:
    1) Very generous
    2) Godly
    3) He refuses to engage in name calling
    4) She feels as if he hears her out
    5) He seems to genuinely care for her
    6) He seem to genuinely care for her children
    7) Her family likes him
    8) Her friends like him

    These are all pretty good signs.

    I wish we had some more information on what “strong words” meant. If it means that he is a strong personality and holds his own opinions strongly, then I think this is a good thing. I can’t imagine that most women just want a man who will “Yes dear” them for the rest of their lives. Most of those guys are just lying until they get married and then they feel free to have opinions and express them.

    If ‘strong words’ means that he is being cruel, controlling or manipulative then I’d put the breaks on the relationship.

    • Starlight on December 15, 2016 at 12:18 am

      I hope she listens to that niggling or the lack of peace about it that led her to ask the question! She would know if she is just ‘gun shy’ after being badly burned the first time or if the guy has some wolf issues that are beginning to peek through his sheep costume.

      • James on December 15, 2016 at 9:11 am

        Starlight, a good response.

        At the very least, it is good to take her time.

        It could very well be that she is reacting to being badly burned the first time around.

        After a car accident, many people find it difficult to get behind the wheel of the car. It feels dangerous just to be in the car and every other driver on the road can be perceived as another potential reckless driver like the one that caused the first accident. It is totally reasonable to to ease your way back into driving for your sake and for the sake of others.

        That said, just because you are reacting to the previous situation doesn’t mean there really aren’t other bad drivers on the road.

        I think one of the terrible consequences of being in a destructive relationship is that some don’t learn what makes a wolf a wolf and so they let another one in the front door.

        It is also quite common for those who are coming out of destructive situations to see a wolf in sheep’s clothing behind the face of every sheep and so they send away sheep, after sheep after sheep because they aren’t able to tell the difference between those qualities that make a man (or woman) a human being and those qualities that make a man (or woman) a wolf.

    • Maria on December 16, 2016 at 5:50 am

      Many women here have focused on the good qualities of their spouses and ignored the sometimes very subtle warning signs in the beginning of their relationships. Even Hilter had many good qualities. Marriage is one of the biggest decisions in life. It’s important to pay attention to even the slightest negative vibe that one feels/sees and dig to the bottom of it. When one has experienced an emotionally destructive relationship, it can make one hyper sensitive or more aware of the signs. I for one have been in situations where I have ‘felt’ or maybe observed some subtle things that were not right, and later found out that something indeed there was abuse in the relationship.

    • Connie on December 16, 2016 at 12:02 pm

      Actually, that is a good list of red flags, except maybe #3, maybe. A wolf in sheep’s clothing has honed his acting skills to the nth degree, and usually goes overboard in exactly those qualities. How else could they trap you — by showing their true colours right off? Not likely. That is why one has to do the research, especially find old friends/relationships that they don’t really want to introduce you to. The best predictor of future behaviour is relevant past behaviour.

      • James on December 16, 2016 at 10:42 pm


        You said:

        “Actually, that is a good list of red flags, except maybe #3, maybe. A wolf in sheep’s clothing has honed his acting skills to the nth degree, and usually goes overboard in exactly those qualities.”

        I’m having a hard time following your logic. It would seem to me that there is good reason to conclude that a man who seems generous, godly and caring appears generous, godly and caring because he is – generally speaking – a generous, godly and caring man.

        It’s a good thing to urge this woman to caution given her previous relationship but I also wouldn’t want her to sabotage what would otherwise be a shot at a good relationship because she condemned him as a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” by applying unjust criteria to judge his character.

        If he acts like a good man that is just evidence of his being a very good actor. When he blows it and sins, (which he will, and so will she) that’s the real evidence that his “wolf nature is being exposed.”

        If every sign of noble character gets written off as evidence of his being “a wolf that is very good at faking it” then he literally has no chance of ever convincing her of his genuineness and their relationship is over.

        If she gives in to a victim mentality, then literally every man she would otherwise develop a relationship with will be a potential “wolf in sheep clothing.” That kind of pessimism will only serve to poison potentially healthy relationships.

        If he actually was a man who would have loved her as Christ loved the church then that would be a real shame both for her and for him.

        The fairy-tale prince charming doesn’t exist, the fairy-tale princess doesn’t exist either. If you went digging into anyone’s life you’d find enough evidence to convict them of being a sinner. If a man holds out until he finds the perfect woman he will simply live the rest of his life as a single man and the same is true of a women looking for perfect men.
        “The best predictor of future behaviour is relevant past behaviour.”
        I respectfully disagree. The best predictor of future behavior is a life-giving relationship with Christ.
        We all have past behavior that condemns us as sinners. Thank the Lord that those who know Christ have been made new.

        The more she knows about this man’s walk with Christ, the more she can be confident in the work of the Holy Spirit in his life.

        • Connie on December 17, 2016 at 1:24 pm

          “It would seem to me that there is good reason to conclude that a man who seems generous, godly and caring appears generous, godly and caring because he is – generally speaking – a generous, godly and caring man.”

          I’m willing to guess that almost every woman on this site would have listed all those qualities for their men BEFORE our weddings. Do you really think we are all so stupid as to have walked joyously into marriages with wolves unclothed? “Counterfeit” means, it looks exactly like the real deal. And usually fools even our best friends and relatives.

          • James on December 17, 2016 at 2:32 pm

            “Do you really think we are all so stupid as to have walked joyously into marriages with wolves unclothed?”

            I hope I haven’t said anything that would lead anyone to believe that I thought they were stupid.

            I assure you I think very much to the contrary.

            I just don’t think that the default judgment should be pessimistic.

            I believe there is a healthy place somewhere between naively overlooking the warning signs and pessimistically concluding that most men are probably closet abusers; some of them are just really good at hiding it.

            I have a hunch that most men who end up being abusive don’t start out with some clandestine plot to lure women into an abusive relationship. Maybe there are some who do; but I think the majority probably just encounter relational challenges they aren’t mature enough to handle in God honoring ways and as a result they react in destructive, abusive ways because they are sinners.

            Then they hide from the light because they don’t want to face the guilt and shame of their own behavior.

          • Connie on December 17, 2016 at 4:48 pm

            Yea, we used to believe that way too, until we read up more on the subject, by people who specialize in it as well as the Bible, and realized that it is actually worldly wisdom that says, ‘everyone means well’. Like the government wanting to ‘negotiate’ with the terrorists. It comes from what we’ve been taught in the world, that everyone is born good. Your ‘hunches’ and ‘probablies’ just don’t make the grade with what the Bible says. You may start with, “Unholy Charade” by Jeff Crippen, as well as Lundy Bancroft books. These people have spent years on this and know of what they speak.

          • Rebecca on December 18, 2016 at 8:45 pm

            Or Connie, I would add, he acts that way in PUBLIC and is a terrorist in PRIVATE.

          • Maria on December 20, 2016 at 3:41 pm

            In your post above this is what you said:

            “I have a hunch that most men who end up being abusive don’t start out with some clandestine plot to lure women into an abusive relationship. Maybe there are some who do; but I think the majority probably just encounter relational challenges they aren’t mature enough to handle in God honoring ways and as a result they react in destructive, abusive ways because they are sinners.”

            It may be that many men are abusive because they are immature. If that is so, these men need to seek help to become more mature. The reality is that they don’t want to seek help because many would rather blame, justify their behavior.

          • James on December 21, 2016 at 3:32 pm

            You said:
            “Yea, we used to believe that way too, until we read up more on the subject, by people who specialize in it as well as the Bible, and realized that it is actually worldly wisdom that says, ‘everyone means well’.

            That is worldly wisdom, but it isn’t what I meant. All believing men and women go into their marriage waging the same battle with their flesh. They are all subject to the depravity that plagues humanity, that applies to both the husband and the wife on their wedding day. I suppose you are free to conclude that all men who end up abusing their wives got married in order to carry out an evil plan to find a wife to abuse. I don’t believe this to be the case but perhaps this is where you and I simply disagree.

            I also don’t happen to believe that women who end up abusing their children get pregnant with an evil plan to give birth to a child to abuse.

            Rather, I believe in both instances, the husband/mother was looking forward to a joyous relationship with their wife/child but when the stresses of those relationships began to press in on them they gave way to the temptations of the flesh and behaved themselves in wicked, evil ways.

            “Like the government wanting to ‘negotiate’ with the terrorists. It comes from what we’ve been taught in the world, that everyone is born good.”
            I’m a 5 pointer, I don’t believe that everyone in the world is born good or well intentioned. T in TULIP is totally real. Both the husband and the wife go into a marriage totally depraved.

            “Your ‘hunches’ and ‘probablies’ just don’t make the grade with what the Bible says. You may start with, “Unholy Charade” by Jeff Crippen, as well as Lundy Bancroft books. These people have spent years on this and know of what they speak.”

            You are absolutely right that my hunches don’t trump the word. Good gracious, I hope no one got the impression that I thought they did.

            I’m not familiar with Brancroft’s book. I have perused a website where Jeff Crippen is a contributor and I don’t feel that he takes a particularly gospel oriented or redemptive approach nor do I think he is very consistent in his Calvinism so I’m not likely to pursue that as a helpful resource at this time.

            Thanks for your suggestions though.

            Merry Christmas.

          • Connie on December 21, 2016 at 10:23 pm

            Ah, I did not realize that you believe that all newlyweds are unbelievers. That, of course, changes things.

    • Leslie Vernick on December 17, 2016 at 12:25 pm

      I’d like to hear more what “godly” looks like.

  12. Teresa in California on December 15, 2016 at 12:13 am

    We do live and learn when we realize we have been ‘had’ by an abuser. Sometimes it takes years to figure out how to leave a relationship or not. And the crazy making can make it so that we almost have no brains left to think with. Seriously!
    Love is definitely blind at the beginning of a relationship. You may have friends who see red flags at the beginning, yet you choose to not see them, or you think that, if someone tells you they are a Christian, you believe them, because you yourself are a truthful person. If you don’t have that ‘Spirit’ connection with this person you are interested in, if you are the one who begins spiritually uplifting conversations, or if their response is ‘yeah, I used to get that from my dad all of the time’ referring to even talking about things of the Lord seems to make ‘them’ uncomfortable, or they can’t really relate, except for ‘learned’ doctrine which they were brought up with in church. I have had my eyes wide open to discerning what or who a person really is, just by how they define their life in Christ. If it is only a ‘Sunday go to meeting’ lifestyle, where, the rest of the days of the week are full of ‘things, hobbies, non-Christians friends’ If they talk about their ‘friends’ you may want to ask them if they ever get serious about talking about what Jesus has done for them in their life, or if it is all about them being successful in their life, and they are inclined to think it’s their own choices which have made them successful, instead of thanking God for the blessings which have come into their lives. If there is no humility, but if they try to save their own ‘face’ in an argument, even if they have to tell little white lies, which make you look stupid, or wrong. I would be very careful if any of these red flags show up at the beginning of a relationship. Deceit is what it is. It is subtle and like one of Leslie’s blog posts is about Wolves in Sheeps Clothing. When you yourself tend to not be able to put people down verbally, and you want to make amends in arguments, and you are basically a nice person, it is easy to not see these traits of subtly in others. I have had to learn to step back and view a scenario in order to access what is really happening. I already know about the subtlety of little white lies, where the accountability nor repentance is apparent. Neither will facing a person who is a perpetual liar do any good as they are masterminds of deceit. Just trying to shed some more light to really see if a person is saved, or is just ‘playing church’. If their lives to not reflect our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, I would deeply reconsider any kind of a relationship with anyone you may have deep concerns over. Not just the gut feeling you may be having; because you have come out of a bad relationship, I am talking about real, red flags, which might cause you to deeply reflect if you can have a spiritual conversation with a new interest, or if they are only interested in having a companion, which would not include being in a relationship with a true born-again soul mate. Broken cisterns who can hold no life-giving water or the Holy Spirit. Hence, your life with them will be in a desert land, apart from any true nurturing or true giving as whatever they give you will be done in order to profit themselves. Sad but truth.

    • Starlight on December 15, 2016 at 12:22 am

      Very wise words Teresa!

    • James on December 15, 2016 at 9:14 am

      “If it is only a ‘Sunday go to meeting’ lifestyle, where, the rest of the days of the week are full of ‘things, hobbies, non-Christians friends’ If they talk about their ‘friends’ you may want to ask them if they ever get serious about talking about what Jesus has done for them in their life, or if it is all about them being successful in their life, and they are inclined to think it’s their own choices which have made them successful, instead of thanking God for the blessings which have come into their lives.”

      This is wise counsel indeed.

  13. Aleea on December 15, 2016 at 7:01 am

    Re: “One counselor we went to said that PMS was a man’s best time, because that is when his wife was actually honest and he could figure out what was really bothering her to pray for and with her and make changes.”
    —That’s absolutely brilliant. I really missed the deep meaning of that on the first read. If you can look beyond the outburst, there is pure gold there in terms of insight for prayer and change, —absolutely. If we could just be honest, so d-e-e-p-l-y honest it reverses our parity. re: Women complain about premenstrual syndrome, but I think, maybe, it is the only time of the month anyone can be themselves. —Also, notice how chemicals, estrogen et.al., decide everything. The hormonal interplay inside the brain creates the reality. Hormones tell us day to day what’s important, unbelievable! They mold our desires and values and maybe even the answer to deep questions: estrogen deficient vs. plenty of estrogen. . . . . .Mostly, we have to get to a point where we don’t have a choice before we change something. . . .and yet unconditional self-love, mysterious beauty in God, they so tease us to explore while our inner child cheers because an adventure is waiting. Awareness is incredible, it is like this gentle beauty, pointing to those things I would totally miss if I didn’t look past the obvious and look on the other side of too busy. —Pure, fabulous, absolutely wonderful feelings slipping right around old beliefs, they urge us to investigate rather than assume!

  14. Carolee on December 15, 2016 at 9:58 am

    Help!! I am in so much trouble for “liking” this article on Facebook. The h saw it and threw a big hissy fit. I “hurt” him so much by merely liking it. I didn’t comment even. Now I am paying. He is being sarcastic,yelling and saying I’m perfect. He said that I am “telling the world ” that I am in a destructive marriage. I have set limits on FB as to who can see what I like I immediately “unliked ” it. He said it was too late. Thank God I am not falling apart and can see the crazy making and lies but it still is so hard to deal with. I hope he doesn’t figure out how to see this blog ! Yes I have wanted to leave him but have no peace about that. I am still waiting on the Lord and learning how to have CORE strength.

    • Connie on December 15, 2016 at 10:19 am

      Many women have had to ‘pay’ when they have started to ‘come out of the closet’ about their abuse. My h would say, “The Bible says, ‘don’t keep a record of wrongs’ ” when he caught me writing in my journal. Well only the NIV says it that way, the others say more like ‘don’t be resentful’. Besides, if we weren’t to keep a record of wrongs, then God should not have written the Bible, right? The Bible also says to not cover evil, but rather expose it. (Eph. 5:11) Whether or not you are ‘liking’ things on FB I do hope you are exposing the evil to someone – a counselor, trusted pastor, friend, mother. Someone SAFE who can help you to start making plans.

      Sending you hugs and prayers for guidance from afar.

      • Carolee on December 15, 2016 at 11:05 am

        Thank you so much, Connie.

    • James on December 15, 2016 at 12:59 pm


      I am so sorry that your husband is over-reacting and behaving in a controlling manner.

      In some sense, I wish you would not have “unliked” the article because in some ways that may have fed into his false sense of righteousness about this. I do trust that you know when you need to remove yourself from a situation to stay physically safe, am I correct?

      If you are both members of a bible believing church that will stand with you then I would definitely pursue a meeting with the pastor over this blow up if a calm conversation with your husband does not result in his repentance.

      Liking an article is not sinning against your husband. You have the right to hold and express an opinion even if that opinion isn’t the same as your husband’s.

      Sarcasm and yelling are sinful, the bible says, not to let any unwholesome talk come out of our mouths but only what is helpful for building others up….

      Stand on truth.

      “Father, I pray for my sister in Christ and ask that you strengthen her in the midst of her situation. Lord, I pray that you will humble her husband and bring him to repentance. Help him to understand that You, and You alone, should be the One to whom we must give an account for our opinions. Stir in his heart to be the kind of man that nurtures and cares for his wife rather than tears her down, in Christ’s name.”

      • Carolee on December 16, 2016 at 10:35 am

        Thank you so much for the prayers ! My husband is not a believer. While he claimed to be when we got married he quickly said being a Christian “didn’t work for him”. I need more time for a longer response but thanking you all who are praying. I pray for you too.

        • James on December 16, 2016 at 10:46 pm

          Would he be open to seeing a counselor with you? Even a secular counselor is better than having to live in oppression.

          I will keep you in my prayers.

          • Nancy on December 21, 2016 at 2:33 pm

            In grade school the cruelest thing you can do is sit a victim with a bully and try to get them to reconcile. The bully will only use this later against their victim, when the teacher is no longer there. This is not how bullying should be handled ( and yet soooo many schools deal with it this way – simply because they don’t understand the damage it does).

            Same thing in a marriage where there is a power differential. Couples counselling is NOT advised. The bully will only use what they have learned in the counselling office against their victim.

            Never go into couples counselling with a bully. Go by yourself, to strengthen yourself. And ask him to go in order to work on himself. If he goes by himself that is up to him but DO NOT compromise and go together in order to get him into a counsellors office.

    • Ann L on December 16, 2016 at 7:35 am

      Carolee, It is hard to deal with. There’s a lot of lost dreams and hopes, and with that, grieving. There is also prudence — putting plans in place to leave before the behavior escalates or you are too worn down or frightened to thing proactively.

      Yes, counseling, something. Prayers for each of you.

      • Connie on December 17, 2016 at 12:36 pm

        Carolee, one thing I would caution about it couple’s counseling. Please, please, don’t do that. That, too becomes first a competition, and then when you get home, you pay big time for being honest and ‘exposing him’. After all, the best way to keep a family dysfunctional is to keep secrets. And if he wins over the counselor by batting his innocent baby blues changing history, and pretending he ‘just doesn’t understand’, you end up devastated. Many of us have made that mistake and paid dearly. Go to counseling by yourself, and if he wants to go, fine. But don’t push him. That just causes him to hone his abusive skills, learn the language so he can deceive better, and believe it or not, he will want to use what he learns there to counsel others, even though he has no intention of putting it into practice. Then you have a ‘clever devil’ on your hands who can win over your friends and family even more.

    • Leslie Vernick on December 17, 2016 at 12:34 pm

      Carolee, he got threatened when you “liked it” because he saw himself in it and didn’t like it. Instead of repenting he attacks you. If he weren’t so prideful, he’d have a conversation with you – “Why did you like this article? What about our marriage is destructive to you?” He’d be curious, concerned, and caring, not angry, defensive and controlling. But if he can get angry and scary, then it intimidates you to reach out for information to learn and grow. Don’t give him that control over you. God had you see that article for a reason. Learn what you need to learn for this season of your life and pray your husband will also learn what he needs to learn.

      • James on December 17, 2016 at 2:08 pm

        We’re glad your back. I hope that you have had a chance to settle into a new routine.

        Enjoy your first Christmas in Arizona.

        “He’d be curious, concerned, and caring, not angry, defensive and controlling.”

        Good point, I’m afraid that until he has an encounter with the living Christ he isn’t likely to have those kinds of reactions.

        The Lord be with you.

      • Carolee on December 20, 2016 at 12:33 am

        Thank you all so much for your prayers and posts. Leslie you are right on when you say instead of repenting he attacked me. He has no desire to change. He absolutely will not see a counselor as he thinks they are all “stupid”. I have had lots of counseling and have learned so much. And I must say Leslie that you have benefited me most! Your FB videos and this blog are so encouraging and enlightening. You have answered so many of my questions about why my h does what he does. Thank you,thank you, thank you!! I know that the Lord is holding me and carrying me through all this and I am not afraid like I used to be. I have His promise that all this will work for good. I have support here. Blessings and Merry Christmas.

  15. SaraJane on December 15, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    Thank you for that example and for your honesty. It helps to hear what others experience.

  16. Connie on December 15, 2016 at 5:29 pm


  17. Aleea on December 15, 2016 at 8:01 pm

    . . . . 🙂

  18. Aleea on December 17, 2016 at 8:24 am

    This week’s Questioner,
    I was thinking more about your situation —two more ideas: * more pressure and * more self-knowledge. . . . .Each year at work we have these “team building” exercises. This years’s involed escape rooms. Escaping from creepy panic rooms by in-depth problem solving. We worked in teams and I have to tell you that true character is revealed in the choices made under serious pressure. The greater the pressure, the deeper the revelations and maybe the truer the insight into the person’s essential nature. It could blow your relationship up, but I found that the pressure was a powerful accountability meausre. It’s as though everything you do is multiplied by 50. People monitor the rooms but pressure seems to bring everything out. —It is refreshing to study the poise and quietness of Christ. He was never in a hurry, never impressed by numbers, never a slave of the clock. . . .I was on a plane a couple days ago and I saw that the couple two seats in front of me (two isle seats) were brickering and fighting back and forth. We went through some serious turbulence and I remember looking ahead and seeing them holding hands across the isle and saying kind words. . . . . I think maybe what creates the information you want is the way people perceive and handle pressure. You might also discover their true character by observing what they are really, depply passionate about. —But it is hard because sometimes you have to look past a person’s mistakes to see God’s presence! . . . . . Second, maybe those forgotten depth psychologists are correct: Know yourself deeply and much about others will be revealed. If you have not, you might delve deep to know your true self too, not just his. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own souls. Make your own darkness as conscious as possible, that will help you see his darkness more clearly. Believing we are good is like believing in the half moon. . . . We judge another person and think we know them when, the person we’ve lived with the longest, we still don’t know very well—ourselves. As long as we keep secrets and suppress information, we are fundamentally at war with ourselves. . . . .The critical issue is allowing yourself to know what you know. Really doing that takes an enormous amount of courage. Truly being authentic is knowing what matters to you, on the deepest level of who you are, and committing always to act from that authentic center. Self-discovery changes everything, including your relationships with other people. . . . .When you find your authentic self, those who loved your mask are disappointed and self-select out of your life. You may end up alone, but you don’t need to stay alone. While it’s painful to sever connections, it’s not a tragedy. It’s an opportunity. —Now, you can be with a person who understands the importance of looking for truth and being authentic. —Now you can find a person who will want to connect deeply and connect like you’ve always wanted to. —Now you can have real intimacy. There is a huge difference between working hard to create a life that truly serves and working hard to create a life that you’ve been told you should want. Maybe try looking into that place where you dare not look! The purpose of all false selves is to defend against pain —not deal with pain, reality and truth. —That may be key for those who have been abused before! Dismantle/ deconstruct your wounds, if you have not, so you stop living your life by them. . . . . The best relationships are with people who will not let you be blind. They reveal your hidden strengths and your concealed wounds. In truth, people know very little about each other. I only know as much about you as I know about myself. Every time I watch a person awaken to their inner strength, wow, magnificent, brilliant. There’s nothing more beautiful than raw authenticity. There’s nothing stronger than real vulnerability. —What a way to go! Jesus is about radical, sweeping, encompassing empowerment. A man worth being with is one. . . .who talks to you deeply about a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g and everything because no bad news will make him love you less. . . . Wonuola said it at the bottom of the last post: “Jesus engaged endearingly with the woman at the well… she had been divorced four times! He saw her pain offered her life…” —Exactly!!!, beautiful Wonuola! . . . .A man who won’t let you lie to yourself even about him! He tells you what you need to know, in order to help you decide. . . . Who will run with your dreams. . . .Who doesn’t explode when he is angry and not by repression, really tells you why when he is sad and doesn’t make promises he doesn’t plan to keep. . . .Who communicates to solve problems and doesn’t play boundary games or passive aggressively ignores people to hurt them even if unconsciously. If it is unconscious, —yeah it takes unbelieveable work to get awareness so we can really work on it. . . . . . Don’t hope and pray he’s like the others, who look only at the surface. Maybe get as many of your masks off as you can possibly stand. Maybe choose to not disguise yourself and keep uncovered who you subconsciously want to be. It is not easy, at all. Every face is born with like a thousand masks to go with it. Beware if he is exercising iron self-control to mask emotion and intention behind smiling, and agreeable “church face” (escape room from above). . . . .I was trying to be myself but the harder I was striving, the more I was realizing that I had probably totally lost “myself” somewhere between two “perfectly” performed roles. . . . .Those Russian nesting dolls, the nesting dolls open and the masks change. It’s a very rare person who allows you to see what’s at the very factory of themselves: you are trying to find his innermost thoughts and fears, his dreams and desires, his pettiness and peevishness. . . .If you trade in your reality for a role, you trade in your sense for an act. You give up your ability to feel. You have to find the courage to drop all the “I shoulds” and reveal your true self, —that might bring his out too . . . .but I don’t know because it is complex: —One of the things Jesus clearly teaches: If you have reasons to love someone, —you don’t love them! The problem for us is not if our desires satisfied or not. The problem is how do we know what we desire? When we were previously abused, I’m not so sure we even really know, —not really, —not deeply. Anything that enables us to accept any repressed truth about him or yourself (ourselves) is a very good thing.

  19. SaraJane on December 17, 2016 at 10:31 am

    Thank you for this! Eerily sad that you speak as though you know my husband. Caution will be the word of the year. I will keep my foot on the brakes for a while yet.

    • Aleea on December 17, 2016 at 1:24 pm

      “Caution will be the word of the year.”

      . . . Do what God tells you to do, only He knows. . . . I read so many of these stories and it just seems that for many, even at their absolute best, they still won’t be good enough for the wrong person. At your worst, you’ll still be totally worth it to the right person. Every woman that finally figured out her worth, has picked up her suitcases of pride and boarded a flight to freedom, which landed in the valley of change. . . . Realization of so much has humbled me and pushed me to seek out my true motives. The parts of our cognition that we are actually conscious of are a tiny part of our total cognition. Your conscience is a pretty good, though fallible, guide, if your conscience is bugging you a bit about something in particular, do it. The chapter “the Soul and Barbed Wire” from the Gulag Archipelago really hit me hard. . . . .As a women told me just yesterday: “One of the best times for figuring out who you are and what you really want out of life? —Right after a break-up.” Some people just ruin each other by being together. They destroy each other’s dreams. Often, the quickest way to rectify that mistake (choosing the wrong person) is by learning from that, moving on, and choosing much more wisely in the future. If you have to speculate if someone loves you and wants to be with you, chances are they don’t. To love someone enough to let them go, you had to let them go forever or you did not love them that much. . . . .So, intense pain of leaving behind the familiar —vs. staying and suffering a low-grade pain that slowly eats away at our heart and soul, like an emotional cancer. Or as someone who wrote me said: “I remember one desolate Sunday night, wondering: “Is this how I´m going to spend the rest of my life? Married to someone who is perpetually distracted, as though a marvelous party is going on in the next room, which but for me he could be attending?” Sometimes, to love completely, we must never see someone again. This, too, is love. —At least I think so.

  20. Charlie on December 17, 2016 at 12:48 pm

    That was also my experience with couples counselling

  21. Ruth on December 17, 2016 at 8:19 pm

    Brilliant 🙂

    • Aleea on December 18, 2016 at 7:20 am

      Thank you Ruth. . . . but it’s not brilliant, it is just true. . . .it is just so, so true. Unless I am not thinking correctly, —Truth, what a way to go!!!

  22. Starlight on December 17, 2016 at 10:58 pm

    My 6 year old daughter comes home from her counselling sessions and says, mommy there is no such thing as bad people, only bad choices.
    My experience is that not everyone is well intentioned, some intend to steal, lie and deceive from the outset of the relationship and are experts at disguising the truth! They are smooth, skilled at appearing normal, speaking as though they are innocent and are able to convince everyone of their innocence but history and the financial evidence is a witness to the truth!

  23. Aleea on December 18, 2016 at 6:44 am

    Re: “A Mighty Fortress is our Mentality” and “Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion”

    Leslie, as always, I very much appreciate you letting me post on your site and have a voice too.

    . . . . I was a fundamentalist (—maybe somehow, in some way I don’t understand I still am) and hold my experience of the risen Christ as valid as others. . . . . .Anyways, I was a fundamentalist not because of the beliefs I held but because of how I held them: with a death grip. I held them so tightly that my fingernails left imprints on the palm of my hand. No one was going to deconstruct my storybook Jesus. The Bible, inerrant and infallibile. . . . .It took God Himself to finally pry those beliefs (re: defense mechanisms) out of my hands and He still doesn’t have all of them. . . . It seems to me that at its most basic, the allure of fundamentalism is that it provides an appealing order and certainty to things that are actually totally disorderly and uncertain: real life and truth. . . .When people refer to ‘the biblical approach to home-economics’ or ‘the biblical response to politics’ or ‘biblical womanhood,’ we’re using the Bible as a weapon disguised as an adjective. People wrap themselves in their beliefs. They truly are defense mechanisms and they do it in such a way that you can’t set them free, —me too!!! Not even facts, logic, reason, evidence will set them free because they didn’t get into it based on logic, reason, evidence, the facts, et.al. There are few things more dangerous than inbred religious certainty. . . . .It just seems to me that real morality is not the product of fear. But what does fundamentalist hell-belief encourage? It retards any developing moral judgment by freezing moral maturity right at the most primitive, most childish, stage: the fear of retribution and fundamentalism threatens one hell of a spanking. . . . . I like Barbara Roberts and her book “Not Under Bondage: Biblical Divorce for Abuse, Adultery and Desertion” but in a setting where she had to make the arguments she does from the extant texts, factoring in the textual variants and the teachings from church history, I simply don’t see how. Verses are questionably interpreted and there’s an incredible amount of text twisting. The bulk of her argument takes connecting One Corinthians with desertion through to abuse, unbelievable in light of church history and extant texts. —She seems to be trying to change the Bible while not changing it. Again, —She seems to be trying to change the Bible while not changing it. I have come to realize that most probably the real issue lurking behind all these scripture debates is trying to hold to inerrancy or infallibility as the guarantee for the resurrections accounts. —Barbara, I don’t think it is even necessary, just take the loving approach Matthew (85AD) did, when he just recasts Mark’s (70AD) teaching on divorce to update it for his situation. —Issue sloved, this is about love not laws. . . . . I have always believed people like Barbara and you Leslie are being lead by the Spirit to further re-interpretation on the same questions today (i.e. divorce for all kinds of things). The most terrible, most horrible crimes against love have been committed in the name of fanatically defended doctrines (—slavery, hell, inerrancy, infallibility, et.al.) That just hits me wave, after wave-style from church history, even 20th century church history! Anytime that knowledge and a version of the truth are considered to be absolute, fundamentalism is the result, whether the arena is Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or any other religious faith, as well as atheism, conservative or liberal political views, even evolution or intelligent design. Anytime our minds are closed and there is no room for dissent, we are on a slippery slope towards total stagnation. . . . In this respect, fundamentalism has demonic traits. It destroys the humble honesty of the search for truth, it splits the conscience of its thoughtful adherents. . . . —Anyways, I try to pay attention. I assume that any person I am listening to knows something I need to know. So I always try to listen to them hard enough so that maybe they will share it with me. It is so hard not to trigger people or be triggered by them. . . . . God brings vulnerability. We become liable to have our precious theologies overturned if we are open to new truth. Liable to new disappointments if we allow ourselves to be open to love and hope. —And these are precisely the shocks we built our fortresses to escape! He comes to smash the complacency of our tidy but totally inadequate belief system. He batters down the wall of emotional insecurities and personal fears that shields us only from new hopes, new chances, new love and liberty. God smashed my bastions (My storybook Jesus: Christ-of-Faith vs. Jesus-of-History, Christian Origins, “Biblical” archeology (—that one got totally destroyed), hell, inerrancy, infallibility (the Bible’s manuscript transmission) to rubble and left me standing alone, exposed to the four winds of change, of renewal, of encounter, of truth. That is why I say so much of this looks like certainty and security needs not truth needs. . . . .I don’t have any ability to keep anything from devoling into a cult. . . . I simply have so many doubts, . . . .so many doubts. The fortress we build to keep out emotional risks or dangerous facts, research, manuscript evidence, archeology, cosmology, evolutionary biology is so, so brittle. Facts just started showing me how my Christian dogmatism simply could not handle the data, but I was trapped. “So much for the facts! —I have feelings!” I would say, as I retreated to blind faith and lots of other lame excuses. —And your faith cannot grow, as it must if it is to remain alive! —I really don’t like reality living either, —so hard!!! . . . . . —And the reason I think that this really matters is that I think believing things without evidence that scales with the claims causes people to drop their guards and they port that error to other parts of their lives: to dating, to marrying, to believing their spouse has changed, not good. . . . .Trauma (—inerrancy, infallibility) does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. I am so grateful for all God has given me. . . .especially being given a chance to have a voice too. Why not apply the same logic, reason, evidence and facts we do to the divorce and re-marriage questions, to other parts of the Bible? . . . otherwise it remains repressed.

  24. Ruth on December 20, 2016 at 2:34 pm

    I re-read the original woman’s question about her new romantic relationship. Here’s the one word red flag that has the potential to be a TIP OF AN ICEBERG issue: she said when he disagrees with her, he is CONDESCENDING.
    If he disagrees with her, he should to able to respectfully, humbly share his opinion. This is especially true assuming he knows about her abused background.
    People who are condescending are prideful. Many times prideful people are also prone towards problems in anger, blaming, rigid thinking, lack of self-perception, and a critical spirit. It leaves the wife, in this case, depressed, on the hamster wheel of trying to please and avoid ‘that look’ and ‘that voice
    of disapproval’.
    Gee. Sounds like I’m President of that Club. 🙁

    • Connie on December 20, 2016 at 2:54 pm

      Exactly. I’ve always said it’s attitude attitude attitude. They say, “What did I say/do wrong?” and sometimes even ask for a list of things, but it’s not what, it’s how. Condescending, or contempt. Those are the big ones. My mom would say, “The tone makes the music.” She had a little story to go with that saying. One well known marriage counselor says he can easily predict divorce when one spouse speaks to the other with contempt.

      • Aleea on December 20, 2016 at 6:14 pm

        . . . .I think that is Dr. Gottman’s four decades of research, he found that to be the #1 predictor of divorce: Contempt was the worst, which seems totally understandable. —Also, the extent to which the man can accept the influence of the woman and become socialized in emotional communication —that was huge too! They have to be willing to go deep and uncover not just the topmost feelings, but the deeper layers as well. Gottman, I think, also always talks about how some people leave a marriage literally, by divorcing, but others do the same by leading parallel lives while staying together but they are actually divorced too, which again seems true. . . . . re: the deeper layers . . . .If you look at that associated research, you see that even active listening and conflict resolution doesn’t work that well. It is amazing; the few couples who did benefit relapsed like within a year. That often happens. That is why the data is so important. I don’t know because of all the specialized language but I think the techniques that had the biggest impact are more like the depth psychology aspect of psychoanalysis that really pulls the hard/ deep issues to the surface. Those are the real issues if you can get to them and they are really tough to get at. It is so hard for things not to be suppressed or go unacknowledged for years. The main curative part is the relationship itself, it appears what is relevant is the quality of the relationship. Two other things I remember from what he said: stop using feelings as an excuse for your actions and practice gratitude. I like Gottman’s work because he makes conclusions based on longevity research.

      • Ruth on December 21, 2016 at 10:17 am

        Yes, now that you mention the specific word Contempt, I remember reading a Cloud and Townsend book that said it was a number one indicator of a marriage that would end of headed toward divorce.

        • Ruth on December 21, 2016 at 10:20 am

          I think it was their book Boundaries in Marriage.
          It’s a very good book IMO.

  25. Connie on December 20, 2016 at 6:22 pm

    You know, we can make it as complicated as we like, but it all comes down to humility, doesn’t it? My h spent some time in prayer once, a few years ago, and said, “God told me my problem is pride.” Since then, whenever God is leading him in a certain way, he gets really depressed until he decides to say no, then he’s happy again. It’s a spiritual battle that he doesn’t want to win. The cost (humility) is just too high.

    Marriage issues are spiritual issues. We need to surrender, but it’s like a dance. If only one partner learns to dance, you don’t have a dance.

    • Aleea on December 21, 2016 at 7:26 am

      . . . .Oh, I am fairly sure that a large part of it comes down to humility, for sure. In Islam, humility is one of the greatest forms of worship. . . . I was praying outside yesterday, telling Jesus everything, —like I do, —All of it. I tell Jesus all of it, —in v-a-s-t detail. . . . and it was like He was saying to me: —Don’t try so hard and, —Hey, check at this cool turtle I made . . . . —I thought. . . . —what!??? . . . —Okay Lord, I’ll look at this turtle that You made and I did. . . .Lord, is this supposed to be some archetype: slow down, let go of trying to understand? . . . Slow down and let go? . . . . but for me, Connie, thinking is like a fountain. Once it gets going at a certain pressure, well, it is almost impossible to turn it off. And, my! what questions come up with the water! I take them all to God but really don’t get hardly any answers. . . .Insanity is everyone expecting you not to fall apart when you find out everything you believed in looks like it is being generated in your head. . . .I know that there is something magical and transformational about saying “yes” to God. I love saying “yes” to God, the issue for me is: Lord, is it me or is it You or is it something else? . . . When you take His hand, step out of that boat (—your ordinary, comfortable life), and be brave. . . . . Well, it is becoming increasingly clear that even God doesn’t want to listen to me, or grieve with me, or walk down this frightening road with me. He wants to fix me. He wants to wind me up like an old-fashioned toy and send me back to the fold with a painted smile on my face and tiny cymbals in my hands. . . .No answers to faith ending questions, just vague hopes and wishes. . . . .Connie, is it possible (—just possible) that marriage issues are just issues and they are not really spiritual issues? We do need to surrender, but is the dance your talking about some type of work-out/ negotiation or is it both spouses waving good-bye to the very last dreams of their lives and submitting everything to God (—which is pretty cool stuff because God is really unpredictable. At some level I really like that.) . . . . .but then getting basically no clear direction from God but the relationship is so, so much better? i.e. Real men don’t lift weights, they lift women (dance).. . . Churches, to me, seem NOT safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth. Truth deconstructs too much. People are to function as walking advertisements: happy, put-together, finished—proof that this Jesus stuff WORKS! But if the world is watching, we might as well tell the truth. Throw open the doors, and say, “Welcome! you can always come eat with me and talk. And if you have doubts, you certainly bring them, I have hundreds of doubts but I can always use more, because doubts unite us!” . . . .God’s kingdom seems to me not for the worthy; it’s a kingdom for the hungry. Humble and hungry. . . .Humble because honestly, we don’t even know what we don’t know, we know so very little but we act like we know. . . i.e. This is the answer and all problems are pride problems and have nothing to do with facts and evidence. “Ya’ll just want to sin (pride)!” —Anyways, I care if what I believe is really ture, not that it is just useful. . . . But I admit so, so much freedom is in being as humble as possible. Humble is teachable and careful and kind and Lord you take over. Emotional dance party therapy. . . humility our souls can dance to!

  26. Cathy on December 27, 2016 at 9:14 am

    It wasn’t until about 6 months ago when I read Leslie’s clarifications of the differences of these three relationship types that I saw clearly that I am in a destructive marriage. My husband is emotionally indifferent towards me and I can now see this is a form of abuse. For a long time I thought I was just being a complainer and immature because I felt the need to tell my husband that I didn’t feel loved by him. I would learn something that I just knew could help our relationship and wanted to share it with him, but his reactions would leave me thinking, “why did I even start that conversation with him again?” It would usually turn into what I now see as him blame shifting when he would tell me I wasn’t doing this or that either (affirmative talk, affection, etc.) Or he would minimize it and often say ,”why do you always have to make a big deal out of everything?” It has gotten worse because I am committed to moving forward in truth and I know it is not good for me, my husband, our kids or our marriage to pretend our marriage is great when it is really destructive. For about a year now I have listened often to Leslie’s radio appearances, you tube and now the Facebook live videos when I exercise. It makes me look forward to exercise because not only do I get a good sweat, but my mind is learning new things at the same time! I see that the destructive nature of my relationship with my husband (and of course other bad relationship patterns from my past) has given me some wrong ways to think and when I listen to Leslie’s clear and in my opinion, inspired, biblical teachings it gives me a new way of thinking. Thank you Leslie, you make a difference !

  27. Lynn on January 9, 2017 at 7:14 pm

    Leslie, Thank you so much for shedding light on what seems to be so hidden in marriages today!

    I can relate to this article, My first marriage was destructive and sadly I believe my current marriage is as well. Sometimes I second guess myself too because I could be hypersensitive due to my first marriage. However, after reading several articles on this blog it’s pretty clear that I’m in another destructive marriage. It’s devastating.

    My current husband has a bad temper. When he’s angry he has verbally attacked me and gotten in my face a few times. He has also thrown, slammed, broke and has hit things in our home. He has even punched himself in the face over and over a few times. He places all the blame on me and rarely takes any ownership or apologizes. I so desperately want to begin setting boundaries. I’m ready for change!

    I am currently reading The Emotionally Destructive Marriage but I just started. I have a question that may already be in the book. Here is my question….

    Can you implement firm boundaries with someone that has a bad temper? I know that I need to but it’s going to make him very angry. So I know things will get worse before they get better. How do I handle that?

    Leslie, can you offer some help? Thanks in advance!

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