This is a long blog post so I’m not going to write much here. But let’s remember to love one another well here and give each other the benefit of the doubt. We are all at different stages of healing and we are all working on becoming a healthier version of ourselves, growing in Christ-likeness, even in the midst of our own pain.
Let’s not devalue one another’s voices as many of you have had enough of that growing up and in your marriages. All voices are welcome here as long as you are respectful of the other voices here. Disagreement is allowed. Questioning is allowed. Even gentle challenging is allowed (Some blogs do not allow that but I disagree with that perspective). These things are all part of healthy relationships and learning how to handle differences, disagreements and even conflicts are necessary if you want to have loving connection and community.
Question: I am at a loss for where to even start. I’m 28 years old and I’ve never been married until now. When I started dating my husband, he was everything I’ve hoped for and more. Even my family loves him. He has a young child and I’ve grown very close to her. Her mother is not in her life so I have filled that role. He proposed and we got married 4 months later. It happened so fast, but we were so happy it was like living a fairy tale.
It didn’t last. The last few months have been some of the hardest of my life. He yells at me, calls me names, blames me, threatens to leave or does and more. Now I am catching him in little lies and I don’t feel like I can trust him anymore. It isn’t consistent though. He is one way sometimes then the opposite the next for no reason at all that I can see?
I feel like I am shutting down totally, and am starting to hate him and nearly feel disgusted towards him because I am so tired of hurting. My heart is so broken, and still, I don’t want to give up on my marriage. What is happening to me and my marriage?
Answer: I’m so sorry. No new bride wants to wake up in her dream marriage and realize she is in a nightmare. But I am so glad you have reached out for help early in this cycle. Too many women keep trying harder to recapture the flame of that magical feeling that you first experienced together. They are not only blamed for what’s wrong but usually believe it and blame themselves. They spend way too many years hoping things will change and nothing ever does except them. They shrivel up, shut up, and after years and years, they no longer recognize the person they have become. Please don’t let that be you.
You haven’t given me a lot of information but from what you have described you have married someone who probably has a high degree of narcissism. Maybe even narcissistic personality disorder. Your description of the fantasy courtship, the quickness of your engagement, and his dramatic turnaround after marriage are all classic signs. The back and forth of his kindness and cruelty is all part of the cycle. The first part is love bombing where you are treated like a queen. You are the most important person in his life. He’s never met another woman like you. The second part is the cruelty and discard of your voice, your feelings, and your very personhood. Please understand that both the love bombing and discarding are part of the same abuse cycle, and confusion is what keeps women caught in the abuse cycle itself.
When it’s good between the two of you, it seems very good and this bonds your heart back to him in the hope that “he really does love me” and “things are changing.” The bad can also be very bad and that’s what feels so hurtful and shocking. How can a man who says he loves me so much, turn around without batting an eye and devalue and degrade me with no remorse or genuine repentance?
That’s what begins another downhill pattern within you called the crazy cycle. In order for you to stay in this marriage, you find that you need to make excuses for his cruelty and indifference. “He’s tired, he’s just under stress right now.” Or, “I’m not sensitive enough to his feelings.” Or, “God wants me to be the person who shows him the love of Christ even when he abuses me.” Or, “He really loves me he just doesn’t know how to handle his anger, he had a harsh childhood.” There are endless excuses.
So let me answer your first question of what’s happening to your marriage. Despite what you believed during courtship, your marriage is not an equal partnership where there is mutuality, reciprocity, and freedom.
Let me explain. In a healthy marriage, there needs to be a relationship of mutual caring, mutual respect, mutual honesty, mutual maintenance, and repair of marital wounds, and mutual repentance. When only one person is regularly being honest, caring, and working to repair problems, the marriage is lopsided and not healthy. Click To Tweet
Reciprocity means both individuals in the marriage partnership share power and responsibility. There aren’t rules in the relationship that only apply to one partner and not the other. Here is a common example of a lack of reciprocity in marriage. “You have to ask your husband for approval in order to spend any money on yourself, but your husband does not have to also ask you.”
The last important ingredient in a healthy marriage is freedom. I don’t mean the freedom to do or say whatever you want, but the freedom to be a separate person with your own thoughts, feelings, desires, goals, and needs. The freedom to be who you are and share who you are without fear of punishment or retribution.
I suspect those things are not present right now even though he was able to mimic them in your courtship. As things are shifting in your relationship you are discovering that your role as a wife is not to be his equal partner, but his unconditional cheerleader. He requires you to support and love him without question. That means you must bounce back with a smiley face and forgiving heart whenever he knocks you down, no questions asked. You are waking up to a harsh truth in your marriage. You are not a person to love, but an object whose sole purpose is to meet his needs, take care of his child, and to support/love him without any question, any personal boundaries, or any needs of your own. Not a pretty picture nor is it anywhere close to God’s picture for marriage.
Your second question is what’s happening to you? You are getting confused in the abuse cycle between love bombing and abuse. Remember, the love bombing or “nice” phase is not him “getting it” and changing. It is just part of the same cycle. A good sign that he was getting it and changing would be that he no longer scares or threatens you with his words, his finances, or his actions when he’s upset. Changing means that he recognizes that those “habits” and patterns are destructive to you, to him and to any long-term loving marriage between you. Please, please don’t get confused by Dr. Jekyll, when he refuses to own or change Mr. Hyde. They are both the same person.
So what’s next for you? The Bible is our guidebook here and that doesn’t mean you need to be silent and submit to mistreatment although some misinformed Christians might advise that.
But you do say that you are becoming filled with hate and disgust. Please hear me. Your anger is legitimate and feeling it may help you have the gumption to take some wise and even radial action now. However, when anger is fueled by hatred and disgust, Satan wins.
God gives us a different way. God tells us that we are not to be overcome with evil, but instead to overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). Overcome is a fighting word, not a passive one. So here are 7 Biblically good things that you can do to fight back against this evil that is happening to you and in your marriage.
1. Protect yourself. It is good to protect yourself from violent people (Proverbs 27:12). God is not asking you to lay down your life to allow someone to continue to sin against you, even if that person is a spouse. Your physical, emotional, spiritual, mental, sexual, and financial safety are important to God.
2. Tell someone what’s going on. It is good to expose deeds done in darkness (Ephesians 5:11). Call your local Domestic Violence shelter and ask for their free counseling help to start developing a strategy for how you are going to handle this crazy cycle and perhaps even separate if things don’t change.
3. Speak up for yourself. I suspect you are already doing some of that but perhaps in a way that doesn’t feel good to the person you want to be. When we return evil with more evil of our own it changes us and not for the better. God’s word tells us that it is good to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:25).
Here’s an example -“I want my marriage to work with you but it’s not okay that you treat me this way. If it doesn’t stop I will separate from you.” Believe it or not, you have leverage with a narcissist. Their biggest fear is rejection and abandonment.Please do not use that knowledge manipulatively. But when you speak truth with a loving attitude coupled with strong boundaries, you will have the best chance of getting through to him. If you are mean and hateful, believe me, he will always be meaner and more hateful back leaving you to feel like you’ve been through a shredder.
4. Separate if necessary. It is good to stop someone from sinning against you when possible. Matthew 18:15-18; James 5:19-20; Proverbs 19:19.If words don’t work, you may have to distance yourself from him. Please don’t allow well-meaning church people to tell you that these Scriptures I’ve referenced don’t apply to marriage. All Scripture is given for our benefit and the Bible is full of practical application on relationships. There is no exception clause for marital relationships. Serious unrepentant sin breaks relationships apart, including marriage, even if you both stay legally married and living together. The relationship is broken.
5. Let consequences be a good teacher. The Bible tells us that it is good for someone to experience the consequences of his /her behavior (Galatians 6:7). Sometimes we’re taught that forgiveness and reconciliation or renewed trust are all the same but they are not.The consequences of abuse and deceit are a broken relationship and broken trust. We are still called to forgiveness and love (even an enemy) but precisely because he or she remains an enemy we cannot reconcile or trust that person.
6. It is good to see the fruit of repentance before reconciling. Remember the fruit of repentance doesn’t look like love bombing. The fruit in this instance looks like recognizing one’s sin, repenting of it with observable behavior and attitudinal changes and learning new ways of handling one’s own negative emotions and frustrations. Read Joseph’s story on how he forgave his brothers but did not reconcile or trust them again until he observed that they had changed (Genesis 42-45).
7. It is good to be gracious to your enemy (Romans 12:20). Love and grace for one’s enemy is the hallmark of Jesus’ teaching. It is counter-intuitive and sometimes repulsive to our own way of thinking and it must be empowered by God alone. However, extending grace doesn’t mean we remove real consequences. Consequences aren’t punishment, they are meant to teach someone that he can’t sow weeds and expect a good crop. Sadly sometimes people never learn and they continue to sow weeds throughout their life, never learning from their mistakes.But when you can be gracious with excellent boundaries, then Satan doesn’t win. You have overcome evil with good.
For more information please sign up for my free webinar on March 7 that will give you some free practical help on getting started on building CORE strength in your life. Click here to register.
Friends, when you feared hate and contempt was getting the best of you, how did you handle it?