I’m in Nashville, taping for the training that you’ve been reading about through churchcares.com. Thanks for your prayers. It’s been an adventure. Afterward, I’m headed on a much-needed vacation with my family (all kids and grandkids) for my husband’s big birthday. Although I’m not sure how much of a vacation it will be when you’re the grandma and your sweet, cute grandkids are with you. But I’m looking forward to it and would very much appreciate your prayers.
Today’s question is from a man. We have a few men who hang out here once in a while, and our friend Sheep has been a regular. Men too are victims of abuse, and perhaps get less compassion because somehow men are told if you were a real man, emotional abuse wouldn’t bother you. But God doesn’t say reckless words or abusive behavior just affect women. In fact, David cries out in emotional pain when his close companion mocked, insulted and rejected him (Psalm 55).
This Week Question: Your book “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage” saved my life. Having sought guidance through the Church and secular therapists, I was going nowhere.
You brought together both therapy and spirituality, which gave me direction and help. My question is this. My wife and I have been married for 34 years. She’s been verbally and emotionally abusive most of those years and it’s only intensified towards the children and me.
She will not seek accountability, nor take ownership of her past with my therapist. So I’ve decided to emotionally separate. Please define emotional separation that encroaches on lack of empathy.
I’m a pilot so I’m gone most of the week. However I no longer vacation, spend time together, show affection, nor exchange gifts with her.
I’m respectful in all interactions with her. The only thing I haven’t done is physically moved out of the house. Is
Please expand on the proper boundaries of emotional separation. I feel safer with these boundaries in place, but I don’t want to be hurtful. Thank you.
Answer: You’ve decided to do an in-home separation, where you are detaching from her emotionally. Detaching doesn’t mean you don't care, dismiss or disrespect her as a person, or ignore her.
Detaching means that you have come to a place where you let go of any requests for her to do something for you, for her to respond a certain way, repent, say she’s sorry, go to counseling, or be nice or respectful or loving towards you. You don’t NEED her to love you, or honor you or be truthful to you, or be faithful to you in order for you to be okay. It doesn’t mean that those needs or expectations are not reasonable in a normal healthy relationship.
When you emotionally detach (in a good way) you accept reality without bitterness. You accept that your partner is not capable or unwilling to repair, repent or truly reconcile, so you don’t keep begging or banging your head against a dry spout for a few drops of love or care. Click To Tweet
That said, your question asks is detaching from your wife harmful to her? I don’t think so. However, that doesn’t mean she won’t experience some hurt or pain as you withdraw. The Bible tells us that love does not harm (Romans 13:5) but it also says “faithful are the wounds of a friend.” (Proverbs 27:6)
In other words, when we do things that intentionally inflict harm on someone, the Bible makes it clear that we are not loving him or her. However, your detachment was not done to harm her but to protect you.
Speaking the truth in love to her about her abusive behavior might hurt her feelings because she doesn’t want to hear the truth. It may make her angry. It may wound her ego. It challenges her entitlement mindset that believes she’s entitled to verbally berate you if you make her mad, disappoint her, or upset her but it’s your fault she acted that way and therefore there should be no consequences. But healthy people understand that’s not living in truth or reality.
Abusers hate consequences and boundaries. It forces them to face the truth, which they also hate. Proverbs tells us that “People ruin their lives by their own foolishness and then they are angry at the Lord.” (Proverbs 19:3)
The same is true in our relationships with one another. Your wife has used her tongue as a weapon towards her husband and her family and now you have put up a shield, a relational barrier so that her “reckless words” can’t lash your soul and spirit to shreds. Does it bother her that you won’t let her do that anymore? Probably. Does it harm her that you won’t? Absolutely not. It’s the only possibility for her to wake up and face the truth.
Much like putting strong ammonia under someone’s nose when she has fainted or putting medical paddles on a heart that’s gone dead. Those efforts are not intended to do harm but help someone to “wake up.”
If your wife complains that she “misses” vacation or gifts, or affection I think you can say to her something like: “I have always been willing to work on our relationship but vacations, gifts, and affections imply that we have a relationship that is mutually respectful and loving. It has not been that way.
Therefore, I will pay the household bills and interact with you in the home in a respectful way, but we have no close relationship until such time that you do the work to rebuild broken trust. Therefore, gifts, affection, and vacations would be inappropriate and awkward, and would not reflect the truth. We are emotionally separated although still living in the same household while we raise our children. I can’t and won’t pretend otherwise.”
Will those words sting? Hopefully, they will, like the sting of antiseptic used to clean an infected wound. But if not, then continue guarding your heart against bitterness and the desire to retaliate because that will also be a temptation that would be hurtful. But remember, you also need to guard your heart against the lies that either she or the Enemy may throw at you that confuses you or puts a false guilt trip on her for having strong boundaries in place.
Friends, when you’ve had an in house separation with an unrepentant spouse, how did you sort through false guilt and the fear of doing harm by your boundaries?