Thanks for the book and movie recommendations. I’d especially appreciate your prayers over the next few weeks. I have a lot of moving parts on my plate and sometimes I don’t keep track of them all as well as I need to. Pray that I stay focused, that I am productive, and also take some time out to refresh. That work/life balance has always been a challenge for me and still is. I’m kind of an on or off person. When I’m off, I don’t want to do any work. When I’m on all I do is work. But to do both on the same day is challenging. I try to keep weekends more for off, but not always.
One thing I’ve tried to be consistent with is walking, but a week of heavy rain is predicted here so that might present different challenges. Thanks. I appreciate you.
Question: My adult sons blame me when they see my abusive spouse and I fight. He will put on a fake display of apologies, while I won’t. They say I never say I’m sorry. How am I to say sorry to an abuser? It’s very complicated. He does it for show.
Answer: Your dilemma is not uncommon and if you want to change the dance, the change starts with you.
Here are the dance steps you must change if you want to stop this pattern.
First, your thinking must start to change. Part of good mental and spiritual health is taking responsibility for you. Your thoughts, your actions, and what comes out of your mouth when you both fight. Apparently from your adult children’s perspective, some of the ways you handle yourself aren’t in alignment with the person you say you are or want to be.
Let me ask you a question. Your adult children don’t like what they see in you when you and your husband fight and by refusing to apologize for your side they see that as a flaw in your character.
How do you feel about yourself in those moments after fighting? Not how you feel or think about him, but about you? Are you proud of the way you handled yourself, even if he acted like a jerk, or provoked you into reacting? Did you respond from your best self or a less mature version of you?
One of the things you say that you value is that you want to be honest and real. You don’t want to fake apologies like you sense your husband does. That’s fine. But if you were watching you, do you think you are handling your part of the dance in a way that does not dishonor you? In a way that makes you feel proud of you knowing that even if your marriage is awful and your husband was egging you on, you didn’t bite. You didn’t let him push you over the edge. You were strong enough to stand firm, or wise enough to get away and end the conversation for now.
To stop repeating this cycle, you have to take ownership of yourself and stop being victimized by him. By getting provoked and fighting ugly, it is not taking ownership of the person you want to be in that moment and it’s costing you.
Second, you must understand the strategy of a covert abuser. The reason I’m discerning your husband may be more covert in his strategy is that the covert abuser’s aim is to make himself look good and you look bad to others in order to reinforce his “story.”
He wants family and friends to see how difficult you are to live with, how unstable you are, how uncharitable or unchristian you are, etc. Covert abusers also can provoke a woman to where she starts to question her own sanity, character, motives, or Christian values.
George Bernard Shaw once said, “I’ve learned to never wrestle with a pig, you get dirty and the pig likes it.”
And it’s working with your adult children, right? When you and your husband wrestle in front of them, what happens to you? You get dirty and he likes it when you get dirty. It proves his point and reinforces his good-guy persona (he apologizes) and your bad woman persona (you refuse).
You must begin to realize that you are doing exactly what he wants you to do. Reacting in ugly ways to what he does or says. Then he can apologize and you’re supposed to apologize for reacting to his abuse. That’s where you feel unjustly accused. Why should you have to apologize for your reactions to his abuse? You shouldn’t. That’s like asking a woman who kicked or scratched someone who was trying to rape her to apologize for kicking him if he apologized for trying to rape her. Resisting abuse is nothing to apologize for. However, retaliating against your abuser is never God’s way. (For examples wee Romans 12:17-21; 1 Thessalonians 5:15; 1 Peter 3:9; Matthew 5:44).
Perhaps this illustration may make it easier for you to understand why you need to pay closer attention to your reactions to his abusive ways. Currently, in our culture, we see people fighting mad because of racial injustice. Because of profiling and abuse by some police officers against people of color. They are right and they have every reason to be furious and to demand systemic change. But how they express their outrage to racial injustice and abuse impacts their message.
Burning down buildings, assaulting police officers, or defacing monuments doesn’t help their message. Instead, it creates a whole other problem and they start looking like the villains instead of the victims of racial oppression and injustice.
Standing up for what’s right, articulating what’s wrong with our culture strategically and non-violently like Martin Luther King did in the 60’s, I believe, will always have a better outcome in the long run.
So what if you walked away from the next wrestling match since you already know if you engage you will lose? Why engage at all if you know the outcome ends poorly and you end up dirty?
Third, what kind of support do you need to either stay well or leave well?
Living with a toxic person takes its toll on a person and sometimes we start to become like the very things we hate in the other. This is not God’s plan for you. Click To Tweet
Paul reminds us “not to be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21). You are to be a good steward of “you” and not let yourself be infected by the poison darts your spouse shoots at you and then apologizes for shooting them while you are oozing in pain, tempted to shoot back some of your own.
Do you need some counseling? A support group? A personal coach? Do what you need to do to take care of you. We all have our limits and breaking point and it sounds like you are near yours. We can’t heal or thrive when we are not safe. In addition, I don’t believe God intended us to grow, heal, or mature alone. We need some support from others. Therefore, make it a priority to find godly women who can help you, encourage you, strengthen you, and support you while you change your dance steps and figure out what you want to do regarding your marriage.
Friends, what steps did you take practically and Biblically to stop dancing the same destructive dance steps with your spouse?