I had a great meeting in Gilbert, Arizona last Saturday teaching both Biblical counselors and married couples what it takes to build healthier marriages and repair broken ones. I was encouraged by the openness and vulnerability of the participants. Pray it brings fruit in their lives and ministries.
I am giving two plenary sessions this Saturday at a General Conference for Church Leaders in Indianapolis. I’ll be speaking on Common Mistakes People Helpers Make in Dealing with Emotionally Destructive Marriages and How to Rebuild Broken Trust. Pray for me. Pray for my travel schedule on Friday to be smooth. Pray that I can speak powerfully and clearly on these tricky issues where there can be lots of “biblical questions.” Pray that I clearly hear from the Holy Spirit in case I need to change direction or bring in some new thoughts. There is an open Q & A after my talks, which can be challenging. I know this topic can be confusing and highly charged so pray for me to have wisdom and courage and stay strong yet loving.
Question: I have been remarried for 1 1/2 years. We both brought 2 daughters into the stepfamily. My girls are 20 and 18. My 18 yr old lives full time with us as she is in her last year of HS. My 20-year-old spends the summer months with me when home from college.
Both daughters have a decent relationship with their biological father. My spouse has rage/anger issues. He is a narcissist. He will call me names, yell, and swear, all inches away from my face squared up chest to chest. He has done this often in front of the girls. I discovered you (you are a God send) through Family Life and have been trying to live in my CORE with him. I have read your Emotionally Destructive Marriage book and I am a part of the CONQUER group. I am trying to stay well – until God tells me otherwise.
The issue is that starting last summer my spouse started to rage AT MY GIRLS – all of it – name calling, swearing, in their face. It hasn't stopped. He expects them to be silent and compliant and to control themselves so that he doesn't get “triggered.” It devastated me. It has devastated them. They do not trust him and have zero commitment to him. They have separately told me recently that they want to live with their biological father this summer because they do not want to live with the tension and rage in my home. I am crushed.
What do I do, Leslie? Do I separate from my husband to give my girls some safety when they are with me? They don't understand why I stay when someone treats me and them so badly. Please, any help. I feel lost.
Answer: I’m sorry that you are facing this dilemma at all. What parent ever wants to choose between her husband and her children? Yet your daughters are asking you a good question. Why would you stay with someone who continually treats you and them so badly?
I don’t know the answer to that but it’s important that you do. Do you think God wants you to allow yourself to be bullied into silence or submission? Do you think God wants to see your daughters treated with such unloving, angry outbursts? Is it even possible to stay well when someone is so overly aggressive and abusive to you and to those you love dearly? I imagine your stress hormones and cortisol levels are sky high. Please hear me. This kind of environment takes a huge toll on your body, not to mention your spirit. It’s like breathing poison gas every single day. It will get you after time. Your girls are smart to not want to subject themselves to it any longer.
We all know that there have always been and will always be ugly, contentious people in our lives who we have to ignore or forbear with. They may be neighbors, people we work with, or even a relative. But when you are in a close relationship with someone who treats you abusively and contemptuously like you describe here, this is not a time for forbearing or ignoring. This is a time for speaking up and if that doesn’t produce any change it’s a time for consequences.
Jesus couldn’t have been more plain. He says, “If someone sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back (back to a better relationship). But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or corrupt tax collector” (Matthew 18:15-17). In other words, no close relationship is possible.
I understand that most churches today refuse to get involved in this type of problem but I’m sure you and your daughters have all agreed that his behavior is incompatible with a loving family or home life. I hope you have told him that his temper and behavior are his responsibility to manage and control. You or your girls may trigger him – which probably translated means, “Don’t do or say anything I don’t like,” but he is still responsible for how he handles his triggers. He could go somewhere quiet to calm himself down. Yet he chooses to bully and rage and then blames it on you or your girls.
And, my guess is, he doesn't treat people at work in the same way. Why not? Because unless he’s the boss, he knows it would not be tolerated. There would be consequences. And even if he is the boss, he may lose employees or business if he acts that way with others.
So again the question goes back to what’s going on with you that you are trying to stay “well” with someone who continues to actively abuse you and your daughters? Dear one, staying well with an aggressive abuser is not possible. If you want to get healthier, and I know you do or you wouldn’t have joined CONQUER, you need to find a different plan.
And that brings me back to what’s going on with you? Is it fear? Fear that God will be mad if you leave? Fear that your husband will escalate and get physical if you leave? Fear that you can’t make it on your own financially? Fear of another failed marriage? Fear of what people will think? Fear can keep you feeling very small and stuck, unable to think clearly or do what is best for yourself or your daughters.
So my best advice to you is instead of trying to stay well right now, that you really dig deep and deal with whatever is making you afraid and conquer that. I also would put your husband on notice that his rages are not acceptable and if he continues, he will lose the privilege of your company as a wife, either temporarily (until he can calm himself down) or permanently (if he chooses not to).
But you will only have the courage to say those words if you work on your fears and put on courage and act brave, even if you don’t quite feel brave yet.
Courage and bravery are not feelings; they are values you hold about the kind of woman you want to be. Being brave is a decision we make even if we do feel afraid because we know it’s the right path and God gives us the courage to move forward. Click To Tweet
Here is a verse that is going to be our theme verse for our 2018 CONQUER Conference Be Brave: Grow Strong, in October. I encourage you to memorize it and put it into practice in how you walk through the next few weeks.
“So take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak and lame will not fall but become strong” Hebrews 12:12.
Sometimes it’s only when we start to see the horror of what someone is doing to our children that we get the courage to act differently and say “enough is enough.” God is showing you now is the time.
Friends, what was that “enough is enough” moment for you? Was it physical abuse, something happening towards your kids or something else?