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When Trying Harder Becomes Destructive

By Leslie Vernick

Christian women in troubled marriages who have gone to their pastor or a Christian counselor seeking help are often encouraged to work on themselves and try harder to be more submissive, more caring, more attentive to their husband’s needs, more respectful, and less demanding.

In many marriages this might be wise counsel. When one person starts to try harder it often begets a reciprocal response in the other person. He begins to try harder too. Amends are made and the relationship is repaired. This is a good start and when the marriage stalls, someone needs to get some movement forward. However, in certain kinds of marriages it is not a good idea and can actually make the marriage worse.

Briefly, let me explain why, in some marriages, trying harder to accommodate one’s husband, do what he wants and needs and to be more compliant and submissive to what he says becomes destructive not only to her but also to her husband as well as their marriage.

It Feeds the Lie

Some men do not want to be married to a real woman who has her own feelings, her own needs, and her own brokenness. Instead they want a fantasy wife. A blow up doll wife that continues to bounce back with a smile even when he knocks her down. He wants a wife who always agrees, always acts nice, always smiles and thinks he’s wonderful all of the time no matter what he does or how he behaves.

He wants a wife who wants to have sex with him whenever he’s in the mood, regardless of how he treats her. He wants a wife that will never upset him, never disagree or never challenge him, and never disappoint him. He wants a wife that grants him amnesty whenever he messes up and never mentions it again.

The more a woman colludes with her husband’s idea that he’s entitled to a fantasy wife, the more firmly entrenched this lie becomes. She will never measure up to his fantasy wife because she is an imperfect human not a robot. A real wife will disappoint him sometimes. She won’t always be able to meet every want or need. A real wife also reflects to him her pain when he hurts her and God’s wisdom when she sees him making a foolish decision.

In a healthy marriage where both individuals are allowed to be themselves, couples must learn to handle disagreements, differences and conflicts through compromise, mutual caring, and mutual submission. Sacrifice and service are mutually practiced in order to love one another in godly ways. When we fail (as we will) we see the pain in our partner’s face and with God’s help, make corrections so that damages are repaired, and love grows. In an unhealthy marriage when real wife and fantasy wife collide, it’s never pretty.

Therefore, what should wives in destructive marriages do? Start by gaining a bigger vision for God’s role as your husband’s helpmate. According to the Bible a helpmate is not an enabler, but rather a strong warrior. It means you will need to learn to fight (in God’s way) to bring about your husband’s good. You will need to think and pray about how God can use you to meet your husband’s deepest needs, not just his felt needs.

I often give women in these situations this challenge. Ask God what are your husband’s biggest or deepest needs right now. Is it to continue to prop him up, indulge his self-centeredness and self-deception or does he need something far more radical and risky from you?

I encourage her to prayerfully and humbly ask God to show her how best to biblically love her husband. It may be to stop indulging his selfish behavior and speak the truth in love. It may be to reflect back to him the impact his behaviors have on her and their children. It may be to set boundaries against his misuse of power under the guise of headship so that he doesn’t remain self-deceived. It may mean exposing some of his sins to the leadership of the church so that they too can act as a reflective mirror so that he has the best opportunity to look at himself from God’s perspective and repent.

That kind of love is indeed risky, redemptive, and sacrificial as she does not know what his response will be to this kind of love. But if he wakes up and repents of his demand for a fantasy wife that would be a positive change for her, for him, and for their marriage.

From Leslie’s book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage.

Book Giveaway


The Emotionally Destructive Relationship: Seeing It, Stopping It, Surviving It

by Leslie Vernick

Leslie Vernick, counselor and social worker, has witnessed the devastating effects of emotional abuse. Many, including many in the church, have not addressed this form of destruction in families and relationships because it is difficult to talk about. With godly guidance and practical experience, Vernick offers an empathetic approach to recognizing an emotionally destructive relationship and addresses the symptoms and the damage with biblical tools. Readers will understand how to:

  • Reveal behaviors that are meant to control, punish, and hurt
  • Confront and speak truth when the timing is right
  • Determine when to keep trying, when to get out
  • Get safe and stay safe
  • Build an identity in Christ

This practical and thorough resource will help countless individuals, families, and churches view abuse from God's perspective and understand how vital it is for victims to embrace His freedom from the physical, emotional, spiritual, and generational effects of emotionally destructive relationships.

Two winners will be selected in our next newsletter! (Giveaway only available to U.S. residents)

If you would like to enter to win, you can click here to provide name and email address.

The winners of “The Emotionally Destructive Relationship: Seeing It, Stopping It, Surviving It” by Leslie Vernick are Sue C. and Billy B.

Enter For Your Chance to Win

Does Time Heal All Wounds?

By Susan King

Question: I have been married for 12 years to a man I thought loved the Lord. He doesn’t seem to be growing in the fruits of the spirit. Early in our marriage, I discovered he had had several affairs and was watching a lot of porn. By the time I learned of these other women, he said he had ended the relationships. I was, and still am, heartbroken. We went to counseling through our church and I was encouraged to forgive him. I was pregnant at the time and didn’t know what else to do. My pastor's wife helped me see that I was not really meeting his needs in the bedroom. Sex was really painful for me in the beginning. After I delivered our first child, it seemed to get a little better. But I still find that I get really insecure and anxious during sex because he can be critical. I don’t think my husband is having an affair now, but I can’t seem to stop imagining what those women were like and comparing myself to others. He says that I need to move on because it has been over ten years since he has been with anyone else. I remember our counselor at church told me that it would not hurt so much at some point and to be patient with myself. He said, In time, God heals all wounds. I don’t remember the scripture he quoted. I have heard that before and my husband keeps telling me time should have healed me by now. I just wonder how long it will take. I am afraid that I am ruining my marriage because I can’t move on. What can I do to get past this sooner?

Answer: My heart goes out to you! I am so sorry for the damage that has been done to you by your husband, your church counselor, and the pastor’s wife. Your husband’s infidelity was not your responsibility or your fault. I want you to know that his decision to watch porn and have affairs was about his selfishness and lack of mature character, not your inability to meet his needs. From what you shared, I am unclear if the counselor helped him address his issues. It sounds like others were looking to you to manage his problems, while undoubtedly betraying yourself in the process.

Let’s press into the saying, Time heals all wounds. Did God declare that and is it true?

What People Are Saying About Leslie's book “The Emotionally Destructive Relationship”

“The Emotionally Destructive Relationship provides a critical first step down the path of healing and growth for those who find themselves stuck in abusive relationships…with no idea how they got there and no idea how to get out. Those who suffer in these relationships and those who want to help them will find a humble fellow–traveler in Leslie. As always, Leslie meets the sufferer and the sinner with compassion, truth, concrete direction, and lots of hope. I look forward to using this book with my counselees”

―Winston Smith, MDiv, director of counseling services and faculty member at Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation


Leslie wants to help you grow in your personal and relational effectiveness. Please submit your questions by clicking here.

Then, visit Leslie's Blog as she posts her responses to one question per week.

Note: Due to the volume of questions that Leslie receives, she is unable to respond to every question.


Leslie Vernick PO Box 5312 Sun City West, Arizona 85376 United States