I have been working with women who are in destructive relationships for a number of years. With experience both personally and professionally, I am certain that destructive patterns are very hard things to contend with. Some of those patterns include being subject to coercive control, gaslighting and addiction, being devalued, dismissed and betrayed; as well as making honest attempts at change and reconciliation only to be disappointed over and over again.
I have noticed that the period of growth that seems to be most challenging for many women is in accepting the truth of what is and letting go of a specific outcome. It can be gut wrenching to look at yourself in the mirror and tell yourself the truth: “This relationship is destructive. My husband is not taking responsibility for the destruction or making personal change. My marriage is not and may not ever be what God intended for marriage to mirror. No matter how hard and how long I try, a biblical marriage and true unity is not happening.” For many of you, this is what is true about your marriage. I want you to know that one person can not single handedly create a good marriage.
Accepting the truth can be brutal because destructiveness is not what women expect when they say yes to marriage. Most women are not looking for perfection from a husband, but they do usually expect a partnership offering faithfulness, reliability, care, honesty, and decency. The Leslie Vernick & Co. team holds to mutuality, reciprocity, and freedom as the cornerstones of a healthy marriage. But what happens when the basic tenets of marriage are not present?
Most women want to see resolve in the destruction and to find reconciliation in the relationship. They want their husband to hear them and understand how the destruction has harmed them. They want him to get healthy and have a real heart change. They want to make sense of what is happening and have repair and lasting change be a meaningful part of their transformative story. When that does not happen within the marriage, the truth is hard to accept.
Because this truth is hard to accept, what I see happen often is women being consumed with the desire to save their marriage at all cost. Sometimes the cost is physical health. Other times the cost is giving away her own worth, values, and God given purpose. Over time, energy is exhausted and mental health breaks down. There is an alternative to this outcome and there is still hope in the Lord. However, no matter how hard you may try, a healthy marriage does not develop when one or both partners are unhealthy.
Your health and wellbeing is so important. You may have many different roles in life and purposes to invest in that are worthwhile. A wife’s God-given role in marriage is to be a helpmate. A helpmate is not an enabler; it is a trusted friend and advisor. That means being a truth teller. If you have a counselor, pastor or friend who encourages you to put up with abusive behavior and stay quiet, that person is not knowledgeable about destructive relationships. You will not win your self centered husband over with passivity. That advice is damaging, not only to you but to your husband.
If you enable or collude with addiction, manipulation, betrayal and abuse by allowing yourself to continue to be subject to the destructive patterns it is not just harmful to you, it is harmful to your husband. He learns that he is entitled to treat you that way. He learns that he is immune to the consequences of poor behavior. He becomes more self centered and more destructive. That is not God’s best for him and it certainly isn’t a healthy way for you to spend your one life.
Acceptance does not mean you condone or like what is happening, and coming to terms with the truth of your situation and acknowledging reality may be the hardest part. With that is the possibility that even if you speak the truth, your husband may not be willing to face it. However, you can be clear in communicating your perspective. That conversation might sound like, “I accept that you don’t want to hear what I have to say about the condition of our marriage. I accept that you don’t agree with me about the issues I believe we have. And, I accept that you are comfortable with being the man you are and have no intention to change.”
For your own wellbeing, that may not be the end of the conversation. While you have no control over his perspective, you have plenty of control over yourself. In other words, you don’t have to continue living like you have. Therefore you might continue the conversation like this, “I accept your viewpoint, but I am not going to continue living like I have been. That means I will no longer pretend we have a good marriage. I will no longer go to marriage counseling and I will no longer initiate conversations with you to improve this marriage. I’m not punishing you. I simply refuse to live like I’ve been living. You may not want to change but I do.”
Admitting the truth and refusing to continue pretending is often the hardest part of dealing with a destructive relationship. Acceptance is key to experiencing real change. When you accept the truth of what is, you are better able to let go of fixed outcomes and look to God for His direction. Much of the time, God moves in ways we don’t expect and would not have chosen ourselves. When you live life to the full for the glory of the Lord, you will experience a meaningful outcome.
In John 14:6, Jesus tells us that He is the way, the truth, and the life. He is Truth; and Jesus was not the king many expected. The cross was not the outcome many wanted or put their hope in, and yet it was God’s plan for our redemption. May your hope be in the Lord not in a particular outcome or desire. Be well!