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

Good morning friends:

Is it possible to mistake outspokenness for emotionally destructive speech? How do we tell the difference between a difficult relationship, a disappointing one, and a relationship that is destructive?

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.

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. The 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, http://www.papsociety.org/accutane-isotretinoin/ 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 have been so busy finishing up my book that I haven’t joined in on all the discussions, but I’m going to work hard to change that. 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. Linda Stoll on March 11, 2013 at 9:06 pm

    Leslie, this is absolutely outstanding … be sure that I’ll be sharing these distinctions with the people I rub shoulders with as a pastoral counselor and blogger.

    • Leslie Vernick on March 12, 2013 at 12:33 am

      Thanks Linda, I appreciate your support.

      • Jody on March 13, 2013 at 4:48 pm

        I left a comment 10 days ago or so but have not seen it on the blogger. Leslie, is there a way we can directly communicate with you?

        • Leslie Vernick on March 13, 2013 at 6:32 pm

          Jody, I’m sorry I’ve been swamped with e-mails, tweets, and blog responses and have not been able to answer all of them. But anyone can e-mail me directly using my e-mail address on my website. HOwever, I cannot personally answer everyone’s question. I do not do e-mail counseling and I pick one question each week to answer on this blog.

  2. KB on March 12, 2013 at 12:22 am

    As abused women, we tend to deny our instincts/gut feelings and are often accused of being ‘overly sensitive’ . Remember it is those ugly words that stick in our heads….So NO you are not overly sensitive…you are being smart and asking good questions…..if your instincts are nagging at you DO NOT IGNORE IT!
    I would encourage you to find a good counselor to help you sift through it…healing from long term abuse takes time and without great work, we are likely to repeat our behavior (it is what we know and are comfortable with even though it sucks). I wish you love, luck and healing…I will keep you in my prayers. K

    • Leslie Vernick on March 12, 2013 at 12:35 am

      Thank you for sharing and encouraging her not to ignore her own feelings.

  3. Sue on March 12, 2013 at 3:56 am

    In reading your excellent question, my feeling is that it might be wise to take a break from the relationship. Does it really even matter if he is “abusive” if what he is saying is making you feel so sad, and so bad? To me, your feelings are a huge red flag that this is not a relationship that should continue. Why do you want to be in ANY kind of sad or difficult relationship after coming out of an abusive relationship that most likely already destroyed a part of you? This time, it’s time to be with a guy that doesn’t routinely make you feel bad. And it doesn’t matter WHAT your friends/church says about how the two of you look together, or how you make a cute couple….abusers are almost ALWAYS “wonderful” people to everyone except the one with whom they have an intimate relationship. I would especially hate to think that your children, who have already lived through witnessing abuse in your marriage and the devastation that it wrought on you and them, would somehow have to go through another round of stress in seeing their mom in another difficult relationship. I think it would be wise to take a break or a “time out” from the relationship until you can sort out your feelings more fully. If he has been in an abusive relationship, hopefully he would understand your need to do something like this. But don’t proceed with anything until you have more understanding about what is really going on between the two of you. I am sorry for the pain you have known in your marriage, and pray that God will give you wisdom in how to proceed with this relationship. I wish you the best!

    • Leslie Vernick on March 12, 2013 at 10:13 pm

      Great points.

  4. janet tobler on March 12, 2013 at 3:48 pm

    thank you for this wonderful posting. i have learned so much. i think your advice Miss Leslie is very good. and to the young lady with this wonderful summary and great questions… just because you can’t explain these red flags that are going up, does not mean that you should not heed their warning. often times because i can’t explain fully the red flag warning i am having, i think there is something wrong with me and what i am experiencing. what i have found in looking back over my past historically, is that the red flag warning was right almost 100% the entire time and i didn’t follow that because i couldn’t explain it. if i had followed my red flag warning at the age of 19 years old, i would never have married my husband who is emotionally, verbally, spiritually and at times physically abusive. listen to your red flag and observe just like miss leslie said. sometimes you can explain things and sometimes you cannot.
    ignore what others say about him and you, it is your life. take care and thank you for distinguishing this so very well for me. your question and the way you put it was very good for me. thank you

    • Leslie Vernick on March 12, 2013 at 4:31 pm

      Yes it’s so important not to ignore those red flags.

      • Ann on March 12, 2013 at 7:05 pm

        I agree with not ignoring the red flags, because when you do, you get into a relationship that could very well cost you, your personhood! I saw signs from day one and I ignored them and I’ve been in an emotionally destructive (and at times abusive) relationship for over 10 years and 3 kids later. I’m now on the verge of seperation because my husband still hasn’t taken me serioulsy about getting professional help and is extremely indifferent towards my feelings and the damage he has done to me and our family. The subtle anger, critical comments, indifference, lack of awareness and lack of willingness to do anything to save our marriage is very much alive. Leslie, your answer to what a destructive relationship is describes my scenario to a T! Thank you so much for your clarity! My kids emotional well being is worth moving forward and creating distance so I can heal physically and emotionally. When you no longer feel emotionally safe, I believe it’s time to make some serious changes. I’ve had to also accept my role in this which was enabling my husband for all these years…it does take two to get to this point. Please pray for me in the coming weeks that God will give me and those who are in similar situations to be strong and make those tough decisioins!

  5. Leslie Vernick on March 12, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    I know it is frustrating. So many people get these things confused so that’s why I tried to help understand the differences.

  6. Leanne Powell on March 12, 2013 at 5:07 pm

    I too am a survivor of E,P,V abusive husband (& mother) and I too dated after the end of my first marriage and found myself vulnerable—. I can share from that period, of dating a variety of personalities, one which was “kindly” demeaning IN COMPARISON to the abusive husband, that he/the relationship slowly eroded something inside of me. I don’t think he meant to do so – but with his own parental-control issues of his past, he lacked a gentle, accepting humility, that I have NOW found in my current husband. So in that poor dating experience (which lasted years), we related well both because of our divorces and history of overly controlling (if not abusive) parents. So we bonded in that way and had compassion for each other’s pain of the past. However, the warmth of that part of our relationship was insufficient to compensate for the humiliation I suffered at times. He spoke to me with superiority for things he may have truthfully known better than I due to his own experience in life, but had no understanding for how to relate to me regarding matters that were new to me, nor when I made a mistake did he show grace, but instead a deeply crushing disappointment that left me feeling inferior to his superior knowledge and ability (according to his mind). Once out of the relationship, in a healthy retrospect, I am certain he was comparing me to someone I will/would never be. I am me. You are you. We are each uniquely hand-crafted by our dear Abba Father, “wired differently” (Leslie might say). This past relationship showed a man who was not able to accept and appreciate ALL of me for who I am – only those parts(hurts) that mirrored his. His ‘parts’ unlike mine — in his mind, he deemed superior. By comparison, while Jesus had every reason to consider himself superior, what do we instead see? Stooping to wash disciples feet, lovingly dealing with the woman at the well as well as the adulterous woman, and EVEN gently reminding her accusers of their own ‘baggage’ of sin. He didn’t call them names OR belittle them, he only lovingly helped them ‘see’ themselves, as he calmed the storm of accusation.

    I thank the Lord, that my CURRENT husband not only accepts me for who I am, but actually appreciates the pains of my past – for as he says “it has all made you who you are now, and I fell in love with who you are now.”
    You are the one in the relationship, so none of us know intimately the right answer for you personally, but when I was in my above-described diminishing relationship I did indeed pray, and not too long after that I was out of the relationship and the Lord brought my current husband into my life. That there is a lot of good, does not necessarily mean “it is right.” My prayer for you is that the Lord makes your path clear – whatever it may be. If that path involves ending this relationship, then my additional prayer for you is that he walks beside you, giving you the emotional strength needed. Such a change, even if realized to be the right step to take is nonetheless difficult – enormously – some days. I, for one, am SO glad I took that difficult step —into the life with the man the Lord had waiting for me instead.
    Above all – follow Him. 🙂

  7. KW on March 12, 2013 at 6:02 pm

    First off, you did such a wonderful job explaining things. And your questions are so wise. I wish that I had been so wise. Three years ago I ignored the warning signs, the red flags. With my own abusive childhood, coupled with poor counseling not as wise as Leslie’s, I made the worst mistake of my life & married the wrong man. An abusive, controlling man who is rough & insensitive to my feelings, manipulative, & one that I don’t believe is a christsian, though he presented himself as such and still does. Sweetie, hindsight is always 20/20 but the present doesn’t have to be blind. If you’re having these types of insecurities now, what do you expect in marriage? I agree that out past can distort our present perceptions but that’s not a wise reason to dismiss them. You need to listen to your instinct. And act accordingly. Should The Lord allow marriage for you again, this time you want to marry wisely. I didn’t marry wisely & I hurt bc I fear the pain & consequences of doing so may last for a lifetime. Continue to seek wise counsel. Involve the counsel of wise/Godly people who know you both well & can speak into your lives. If look for a pastor or female Christian counselor to process your concerns with. What I didn’t realize was that how a couple disagrees in dating is an indication of how they’ll disagree in marriage. And I agree with Leslie, a tender man will handle your wounds with tender care & concern, much like the way we gently hold a rose- aware that we may get pricked but causious to not damage the petals. Best to you!

    Currently dying inside

    • Leslie Vernick on March 12, 2013 at 8:37 pm

      I want you all to know that I’ve been intentional at deleting your personal e-mail addresses that show up on this blog for your safety and privacy as you’ve shared some personal things. I don’t want you to think I don’t appreciate your vulnerability, I do, but I don’t want you to end up feeling your personal information was exposed when you never intended it to be exposed. Sometimes if I’m busy I don’t get to it so it might show up and I’m sorry for that. I’ve had a few panicked women over these past few weeks say some tough things that they DID not want their family discovering by tracing e-mails through a google search and asked to delete the post so I’ve just begun removing the e-mail address, but not your name if you used it. Thoughts?

      • Bettina Morton on March 13, 2013 at 4:34 am

        For some with more unusual names, such as mine, even a name attached to details could be of concern. Could you just leave the first initial? I want everyone to feel safe to share their stories.

  8. Lisa Marie Drinnon on March 12, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    Thank you so much for the insights and information shared here. I am just now leaving an abusive relationship of 10 and half years. Anyone who reads this please pray for me. I thank God for these resources and Leslie was right on about the church and it’s treatment of abused women. I am going to try to help these women as I seek to heal myself. I rephrase that, as Jesus enables me to heal. God Bless every woman out there that sees the red flags, pay attention.It took me five years to get out due to the attitudes and opinions of other people. Now I listen to God and he leads me to these resources. Thanks for giving me encouragement.

  9. Rochelle on March 12, 2013 at 8:29 pm

    Finally, somebody gets it. Somebody has the guts to speak the truth. I lived in an abusive relationship for over 20 years and took so much abuse from my family and church for finally getting out of it. It has cost me thousands of dollars to work through the issues of false guilt and toxic faith. I’m still paying in more than just my finances. Oh how I wish I would have known you Leslie when I was living in hell with every form of abuse upon me not only by my ex-husband but my family of origin. I have sent this article to everyone I know who is living in an abusive situation. Thank you for explaining the difference between difficult, disappointing and destructive relationships. Just that alone is a goldmine. I pray God’s blessing on you and your work as you bring damaged women into wholeness through the power of the truth of God’s Word. I’m reading this again and again!

    • Leslie Vernick on March 12, 2013 at 8:32 pm

      Thanks Rochelle and the rest of you who are joining in. I appreciate it if you pass on this article to your pastoral staff, Christian counselor or whoever else you think would benefit. We need to get the word out and not be silent any longer about this devestating problem in families and churches.

  10. Julie on March 12, 2013 at 10:27 pm

    I am hopeful you will walk away now. Past abuse often leaves us with a sense that we are not good enough, OR I guess this is the best it will be for me. That is a lie and we must not believe it, not for a moment. I agree with all that Sue said…why be with a man that makes you feel emotionally unsafe? Such a man can not be trusted. Trust your feelings and your intuition and make NO apology for them. Children know when they are loved; puppy dogs know when they are loved; and women certainly know when they are loved!! And when you are truly loved and cherished you will not feel emotionally unsafe. Spend time alone with your Savior and you will feel loved, then anything less will never be acceptable to you. When we spend time alone and be quiet before Him, he makes us wise and discerning. You are already wise having asked the question as to what you should do. Had I done the same, I would have saved years of tears and pain ans suffering from a husband that made me feel emotionally unsafe. “Strength and dignity are her clothing and she smiles at the future…” (Proverbs) HIS best to you.

  11. Julie on March 12, 2013 at 10:29 pm

    I am hopeful you will walk away now. Past abuse often leaves us with a sense that we are not good enough, OR I guess this is the best it will be for me. That is a lie and we must not believe it, not for a moment. I agree with all that Sue said…why be with a man that makes you feel emotionally unsafe? Such a man can not be trusted. Trust your feelings and your intuition and make NO apology for them. Children know when they are loved; puppy dogs know when they are loved; and women certainly know when they are loved!! And when you are truly loved and cherished you will not feel emotionally unsafe. Spend time alone with your Savior and you will feel loved, then anything less will never be acceptable to you. When we spend time alone and be quiet before Him, he makes us wise and discerning. You are already wise having asked the question as to what you should do. Had I done the same, I would have saved years of tears and pain and suffering from a husband that made me feel emotionally unsafe at the beginning. “Strength and dignity are her clothing and she smiles at the future…” (Proverbs) HIS best to you.

  12. Elizabeth on March 12, 2013 at 11:56 pm

    Thank you, Leslie, as always for your practical insight and challenges to learn through these very hard situations. I was separated from my husband for 5 years for emotional, verbal and spiritual abuse. There were even times it felt physical as well even though he never actually hit me. Throwing something at me or even making the motion to do so is abuse. We had a lot of counseling over the years but during our separation I had the wonderful support of my church to stop the cycle of evil. I was never pressured to reconcile until I was ready. However I missed the signs of no real change or was so wanting it to work I denied them. Six months after reconciling he was back to his old ways. It was the most devastating time in my life. I realize now I should have seen it when I would say “NO” and he got angry. I say all this to say that what Sue said is good advice and if he is angry about taking a break from your relationship I think that gives you clear guidance. I also agree with many of you that our gut feelings are usually right. After all we have had years of feeling them in those very unsafe and scary times in our lives. Maybe we now need to let God speak to us through them and start acting on them for our good and our abusers good.

  13. Karen on March 13, 2013 at 2:20 am

    I have been married for 10 years have 4 kids live in a huge home and get to buy pretty much what I want. However my husband for 10 years has been verbally and sometimes physically abusive to me. His latest thing he tells me is that he has prayed and read his bible and god has told him I have an evil spirit in me and he will do what it takes to get it out of me he said he feels I have the evil spirit of Jesebel in me…he says these hurtful things threatens me and I can’t speak freely because whatever I say it is the wrong thing…then the next day he is back to normal.. He goes through periods like this lately he has stayed in his mood he holds his hand up when I try to talk and it is very disrespectful. I have been sleeping upstairs with one of the kids and he sleeps downstairs. He tells me he doesn’t want to hear me talk. I don’t want to leave because I do have 4 kids and don’t want to put my kids through divorce plus he is the type of person to make things difficult. He is the nicest person to his work to everyone around him but not me. I don’t know how to approach him I try to avoid an argument at all costs but even talking general to him such as did u see the dear outside he doesn’t care to talk to me. We have debt live in a big home and can buy what I want but what I truly want is to be at peace with my husband and to be happy with him I need advice..

    • Leanne on March 19, 2013 at 6:22 am

      comment to this comment
      K- Your note struck me deeply. I have just prayed for you and for your husband too. My gut tells me that if God were telling him so, then he would be sharing the news with you in love and wanting to read God’s word with you -again – with a loving spirit. Does his communication with you match God’s word here in Ephesians and Colossians:

      Ephesians 5:25 KJV 25 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it;

      Colossians 3:19(KJV) 19 Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them.

      A loving husband might want to kneel at your bedside and pray with you about this —WITH you. Instead of a loving approach however, what I hear in your words is a story of him being accusatory to you and diminishing of you. I find myself questioning whether it is HE in whom an evil spirit has taken up residence – or in his own way is he trying to express that he does not feel respected? (and even here, a man after God’s own heart would still treat you with love -be praying for you that God would teach you better to respect him and for God to continue to teach him how to demonstrate Christ-like love to you.)
      If he is really a Christian, then is he looking at the loving ways Christ interacted with the PEOPLE from whom he cleansed evil(not agreeing with his accusation but even IF that is what is in his mind)? Christ did not treat them the way you are saying your husband treated or is treating you. While you can not personally handle this, let the Lord be your guide and let Him battle it for you. Read His word as much as you can, put on the full armor of God, yoking yourself with Lord Jesus – and asking him to ‘battle’ this for you in His strength and wisdom. ALL that – and be wise – to have a plan. Your story also concerns me that it could get worse. Please have a plan for safety for you and your children. If this is a spiritual battle of some type – and the Lord handles it in HIS timing and not necessarily in your desired time, then be wise to be safe in the meantime. (Are the children witnessing this and if so – what messages about love and marriage and how a husband should treat his wife are being communicated to them – even if in a passive manner?)
      If a plan for safety does end up needing to be used (which needs to include access to finances if necessary that can’t be controlled by the other spouse) remember that there is scripture telling us of times people fled or freed at times to be protected/freed from certain evils–
      Joseph was instructed to flee to Egypt with Mary and Jesus to keep him safe, Peter was freed from Prison by an Angel, Abigail was freed from her evil husband by an act of God, Jacob fled from Esau for his safety and later from Laban – his father-in-law, David fled from Saul.

      You should be feeling love (for Christ first, then each other) and safety and respect in a marriage – so have a safety plan, and put on the full armour of God (read the Bible, pray through verses that hit you hard, pray for peace in your marriage and for the Lord to be leading each of you…would he read the Bible with you? verse by verse –no skipping around to try to use against you but to let God’s word lead the way…), I will keep you in my prayers.

  14. Bettina Morton on March 13, 2013 at 4:09 am

    Thank you for asking Leslie to define the differences between difficult or disappointing or destructive relationships. Leslie, thank you for such a clear answer.

    Like the others, I want to encourage you to listen to your gut reactions – intuition, if you will. What jumped out to me was that your sense of safety has eroded after the words he chose to speak (more than once, I gather).

    If you do not feel safe now, while dating and he’s putting his best foot forward, you will not feel safe in a marriage with him either.

    I want to applaud you for making tough decisions and for seeking the truth. Listen to that inner voice. God uses our intuition and conscience to speak to us!


  15. Michelle on March 13, 2013 at 4:15 am

    I come from a long lifetime background of trauma and abuse and the words that leaped from this page for me were “too sensitive.” I can’t begin to count the number of times I’ve been told that I was too sensitive – both by my abusers and by my parents (well, they were my abusers too in the early days). And then of course there was always the “Well, what did you do to make him so mad?”

    I agree with all of the others here. If you are having feelings that there is a problem then you should listen to your intuition. I can look back now and remember all of the times I had those feelings of “condors in my stomach” (as opposed to butterflies) whenever I was on my way home to my abuser. Those were one big red flag. Trust those feelings.

    I believe that the sooner you begin to trust your feelings about these things the easier it will be for you to move on and then to heal afterwards. I think the opposite is also true – if you stick around for them to ‘beat you down’ – mentally, emotionally and maybe physically too – it will take a lot more out of you and make it much harder for you to get over it and on with your life. This was my experience.

    Again, trust your feelings. Pray about it, too.

  16. Louise on March 13, 2013 at 5:27 am

    I agree with the above points. PLEASE take time to explore these red flags. This is one way the Holy Spirit speaks to us, guides us. Emotional distance, such as a private retreat or temporary no contact, could be helpful. If he’s the right guy, he’ll wait for you.
    After years of counselling, support groups & research, I’ve learned that it’s usually wise to not get romantically involved until we have healed. I’ve seen interrupted healing & much hurt, for women (& their children) who became involved too soon. Leslie, would you consider posting about this?

  17. Rhonda on March 13, 2013 at 12:48 pm

    One thing I have noticed when around others who are in potentially lethal relationships is that the ones around them usually see the red flags and often don’t speak up. I have spoke up and said I have concerns, but many ignore this. If the multitude of those around them would speak up maybe they would take notice. Often they don’t, but I would still recommend saying something. We have talked many times about how “love is blind” and they won’t listen. This is unfortunately often true, but we might be able to get someones attention and save them from a huge mistake. Doing what is right is not always easy, but it is always right. A wise person once told me “Wrong is always wrong even if everyone is doing it and right is always right even if no one is doing it.” Jerry Gibson, campus minister Champaign Illinois many years ago

  18. Stephanie on March 13, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    I considered some of those same issues – those about perhaps I’VE distorted the tone or I’VE twisted the words, perhaps I’VE misunderstood or read between the lines something that was never there. Perhaps it’s just MY filter. Those were the messages I received from within and without they only served to reinforce the LIE written at the core of my being by the enemy. Though it might have been the case here and there, it wasn’t ALWAYS true. It was easier for him to blame me (and my filter) and easier for me not to stand up and speak the truth.

    I implore you not to ignore the lack of emotional safety you are experiencing. Emotional abuse doesn’t require name-calling: it is more frequently covert and insidious. If it is happening now, the frequency and intensity will only increase after marriage.

    Please prayerfully consider stories of the women with whom Jesus interacted. For example, consider His conversation with the Samaritan woman, the woman caught in adultery, Mary Magdalene. Given their pasts, each most likely had a filter. Yet their interactions with Jesus did not produce fear and/or shame, did not trigger concern about emotional safety or defensiveness, or result in a loss of trust. Rather, the interaction instilled trust in each (which was probably not natural for them).

    This is the standard, especially for a spouse or someone we’re considering for marriage. I’m not implying perfection. Rather, an understanding that even amidst difficulties, discouragement, disagreements, and delicate issues, our trust of the other person should remain in tact. Feelings might get hurt, but we, our spouse, or both acknowledge and remedy out of mutual respect, love, and care for one another. Hurt feelings are the exception, not the standard and our sense of emotional safety isn’t threatened or damaged. We do not question whether it is “just our filter” time and time again.

    I believe your prior experiences have provided a filter: a warning filter. Heed it for your good and for the emotional health, safety, and stability of you and your children.

  19. Nettie on March 14, 2013 at 6:07 am

    I wanna share a bit about myself.. first time on this site. what I read about the 3 different kinds of marriages/relationships was REALLY good. & GREAT JOB from the lady who was describing her feelings. very well put. much better then I could of ever described my feelings. FIRST I want to tell you I have a wonderful marriage.
    When my husband & I met we were neighbours. they moved into the house next to mine. I was about 13 yrs old (maybe going on 14 soon).. to young to date. I had an overprotective father who wanted only the best for his daughter. I never thought of this boy as someone that I was interested in in a relationship more then friends. he was after all 8.5 yrs older then I was. my siblings & I became great friends with our neighbours. just friends.. no strings attached. we were friends for over 2 yrs before a spark went off inside of me,(figure of speech). by this time I knew who he was & he had gotten to know me pretty good as well. we started seeing each other. sitting outside on the cement pad, sitting in the kitchen playing cards,etc. My dad didn’t like the idea. he tried telling me things I didn’t want to hear.
    SECONDLY I want to tell you that we knew each other for more then 5 yrs & after about 2 yrs & 8 months of dating we got married. My dad asked us SO WHEN DO YOU TWO WANNA GET MARRIED? we froze. yes we had been talking about it but NEVER NEVER thought that those words would come out of my dads house. but then again my husband had quit his job & had gone to work for my dad. & my dad saw that this was one hard working man whom he could trust to leave at a job site & he would see to it to get the job done.

    THIRDLY I want to say that the best thing that could of happened is that we were friends first for as long as we were. we got to know the good & bad sides of each other without having ‘a relationship intimately’.. we have struggled through many things. mostly finances. we have been faithful to one another.

    FOURTHLY I want to tell you I have a difficult marriage, disappointing marriage & probably somewhat of a destructive marriage.
    how? do you ask?? I can relate to something in each of the categories. & destructive only b/c of my attitude & the words I sometimes use that I shouldn’t use.. I am somewhat short tempered & am quick to get angry.. I have a wonderful loud voice that echos through the house. I may not be mad but my voice carries well.. I really need to learn to tone it down.
    I guess what I am trying to say that marriage is a 100 percent commitment on both members not just one. & it can’t be a 50/50 either.. I wish that I had had more resources to learn & live a better way.
    there is a lot more I could probably say to you but I’ll leave it for now.
    thanks for listening. & can I ask that EVERYONE who reads this post pray for me.. I need to learn better ways to handle & deal with things. thanks

    • Leslie Vernick on March 14, 2013 at 12:19 pm

      Nettie is right, it takes both people to work on maintaining and repairing relationship wounds because every relationship will have them. Nettie, good for you that you can see ways you’ve been destructive in your marriage. Seeing it and admitting it is the first step. Now learning how to handle your emotions, your tongue, and temper differently will be your challenge. I’d encourage you to invite your family to remind you when you’re getting loud or not saying things well. That will give you a chance to press pause and remember that you don’t want to be destructive any more. It will also show them that you’re serious about wanting to change and that you are inviting their feedback so that you will continue to be aware, right in the moment, when you’re being destructive and you will then choose to STOP. These small steps of repentance and walking out humble change can make a big difference in how you feel as well as how things go at home.

  20. Wanda on March 14, 2013 at 8:49 am

    I am not a counselor, and I have never told anyone to get a divorce before, but I can see you are telling us what you already know to be true – you NEED to get out, and get out ASAP. Go back to live w/family in TX if necessary. Or run away to anywhere new. You can make this work even if you need to be on govt. assistance temporarily. But I know the main thing you are worried about is your children and as far as their ages, they will not remember almost anything of this time and the transition. They may however remember growing up in a loving, positive environment and that their mom got them and herself out of a very bad situation when they were too little to remember, before it ruined their entire lives and their image of what a marriage is — if you give them that chance.

  21. Virginia Garcia on March 14, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    I just finished reading “Dating and the Single Parent” by Ron Deal. He covers so much about dating and who are allowing into our lives. I am a survivor from an abusive childhood and from a 26 year destructive and very abusive marriage. I can tell you that per Ron Deal, NEVER second guess your fears for whatever reason. It sounds like you need to take a step back to figure out why you are feeling the way you are feeling. Please do not minimize your feelings as you would be doing a great disservice to not only yourself but to your children as well.

    Good luck and may GOD bless you my dear as you search for the answers to your questions.


  22. debby on March 14, 2013 at 5:57 pm

    A red flag is a red flag is a red flag! It is not a green flag meaning “go”. It is not a yellow flag meaning “caution”. A red flag means STOP and make a change! Both get professional counseling on this matter of “communication implications” when disagreeing and/or take a break from the relationship. Seek God’s guidance. Read lots of books on relationships – Christian and secular. “God gives wisdom, knowledge and joy to those who please Him…” Ecclesiastes 2:26
    Also, thank you, Leslie, for such a clear explanation of the difficult, disappointing and destructive types of relationships.

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