Thanks for all your responses and comments to the video I posted last week on Fred and Marie. This past Saturday I spoke at a fundraising banquet for an organization called Overcoming Powerlessness which ministers to victims of emotional abuse. I closed by saying, “No epidemic has ever been resolved by paying attention to the treatment of the affected individual (George Albee).” We must do more than have compassion on the victims. We must speak out against the injustice.
In 1836 two sisters in an upper class Southern family, Angelina and Sarah Grimke, took a bold stand against their family practices, their church, and against their culture. First, Sarah and then Angelina began to speak out against slavery even though their family in Charleston, South Carolina owned slaves and their church taught slavery was biblically sanctioned.
These two brave sisters were attacked, persecuted and were not permitted to return to their own hometown because people were so outraged at their outspokenness. But today, when we look back, we applaud these young women for their courage and bravery.
Today, no Christian would defend slavery, even though the Bible never speaks directly against it.
I hope a hundred years from now no church would defend emotional abuse in marriage or turn a blind eye to a woman or man being treated as a slave or object in his or her own home.
I hope a hundred years from now we look back on this time in church history and feel great shame for the way we have failed to defend or speak out for the victim and instead often empowered the bully to keep bullying.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a young Lutheran pastor during the rise of Adolph Hitler, chastised the church for not speaking up for the Jews. He said, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil, God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
As my friend Chris Moles wisely asked in the blog comments when posting about his reaction to watching Fred and Marie, what would have been different if the men in Fred’s life would have spoken out against the way he treated Marie?
Friends, it’s time to speak!
Question: How do I talk to my husband when he is always right and I’m always the bad one that needs help? He can put me down but I better not ever put him down. He can disrespect me, but I better not disrespect him. He can say bad things about me and my work, but I better not say anything about him?
Answer: The short answer is that it is impossible. You can’t have a meaningful conversation with someone while he or she is putting your down, disrespecting you and saying bad things about you. As you have already discovered, the solution is not to retaliate and respond in kind, which most of us are tempted to do when being treated in that way. That only leads to more strife, abuse and arguments.
So what is the answer? Change begins with you and if you want to change this destructive pattern with your husband you will need to learn to do some new things. First you must accept that this kind of conversation is not only destructive to you as a person, but your marriage and you will have to learn to set limits on his behaviors and disengage when he refuses to stop.
I know you already see the evidence of this destruction but from your question I can see that your responses to his behavior only add more fuel to his fire. Second, ask God to help you be the kind of wife your husband needs. Ask God for his wisdom and help to speak the truth in love and to not be overcome with evil, but to overcome evil with good. God doesn’t want you to be a doormat for your husband to wipe his feet on but rather a helpmate to your husband so that he can also grow and change to become the man and husband and father God wants him to.
Next time he starts with his pattern of putting you down or blaming you for something, instead of having an argument, or pleading your case, or asking him why he thinks you’re the only one with the problem, put your arm out and hand up like a traffic cop and calmly say, “Stop putting me down or disrespecting me. I am not going to allow myself to be treated this way anymore. We can’t talk when you treat me like this” Then you must disengage and walk away. Conversation over.
When your husband says that he’s always right, you simply state, “That’s your opinion.” Then end the conversation.” This begins an important shift in your relationship patterns. You are no longer allowing yourself to be his verbal punching bag or taking total responsibility for everything that goes wrong in your relationship and either trying to fix it or blaming him as he’s blaming you.
As you continue to distance yourself from abusive conversations and refuse to engage, your husband may start to be more careful with words if he wants to talk with you. If there comes a moment when you see that he more open and less hostile, you can affirm that you’d like to have a real conversation with him and ask him if he’d like to talk about ______. However, the minute he starts with his abusive patterns, call him on it, “We can’t have a conversation when you think you’re always right.” Or “We can’t talk about this if I’m the crazy one who needs help.” Or “We can’t talk about this together when you keep disrespecting my feelings or opinions.” Then walk away.
You must understand that your husband’s strategies are meant to control you, manipulate you and keep you compliant (whether he realizes it or not). If you’re afraid of him or don’t contradict him or speak up with a different opinion because you’re bad or wrong, then he gets to have his way all the time. Instead of being an adult in your marriage you’ve allowed yourself to function as a child – a compliant child, a sullen child and/or an angry and rebellious child.
But a marriage will never be healthy if one person is the powerful adult and the other is the fearful child. Therefore, to change this pattern, you will have to start being the adult and responding in a healthy, mature and godly way when your husband is acting out. This is the best chance you have for influencing your husband and inviting healthy change.
You can read more about these strategies in my books, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship: Seeing it! Stopping it! Surviving it! and The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your Hope
This week’s challenge: How have you have learned to respond differently to an abusive or disrespectful person? Has it influenced them to treat you differently?