SOURCE: Taken from an article by Leslie Vernick
How Do I Live With A Basically Good Man Who Is A Tyrant?
Question: My husband is basically a good man. He is a school teacher and the music director/organist of our Church. He can be patient, kind, loving and always deeply spiritual. He can also be demanding, tyrannical and irrational.
He blames everyone and anyone for any problems that arise. It is a knee-jerk reaction to even the slightest, most inconsequential of events. If one of our children falls down, his first reaction is to scream an “I told you so” at them- never is his first reaction one of concern for their well-being or safety. He expects our older children- living away from our home with lives of their own- to always be at his beck and call. If he wants them to do something for him, it does not matter that they have jobs, plans, etc. He refuses to be told no. And, everyone cow-tows to him just to keep him on an even keel and avoid the rants and literal rages that he has demonstrated.
While he is a school teacher, his passion is the piano and he is an accomplished pianist and composer- just not as revered and accomplished as he would like to be. Whose fault is that? His parents. His father for having a health crisis when he was younger or his mother for not knowing or doing enough to promote his career. The children and I are also to blame because he has to work a “meaningless” job to put food on the table.
He takes no responsibility for any failure, real or imagined, in his life. He doesn’t seem to have any concept that not everyone’s life revolves around him and that people are allowed their own lives and opinions. He is negative in all aspects of his life- except, of course, if it relates to music. While I could write pages about this aspect of his personality, suffice it to say that he will always see the dark cloud around the silver lining. He is also very vocal about his negative thoughts and when he’s challenged, he plays the victim and accuses the challenger of attacking him. It’s to the point where conversation with him is seldom initiated because we all know what his reaction will be. Want his opinion? Just think of the most irrational response, and go with that.
He is like a petulant two-year-old who demands his own way and nothing is ever right for him. Even if you do something considerate to try and make life easier for him or take care of something that he hadn’t time to do, his reaction is never one of gratitude- there is always, always, always a negative reaction. Things are still done or taken care of for him, but it’s never brought up to him and, if he does notice, it’s never mentioned.
While we all love him, he is driving a wide and very deep wedge between himself and the rest of our family. It is very difficult to live with someone when you are walking on eggshells at all times. I am not looking to leave him or my marriage. I am looking for help in how to live with him and how to help my children live with him. I do not want my children to grow up like their father.
Answer: I feel a little confused. You say that your husband is basically a good man, patient, kind, loving and always deeply spiritual. Then you go on for several paragraphs listing all the ways he is not patient, loving, good or spiritual. Perhaps what you mean is that your husband can be charming and act loving when everything is going his way and everyone meets his needs and expectations in exactly the way he wants. When that doesn’t happen, (which is real life) watch out!
Now your question, how do you live with someone like that and how do you help your children live with someone like that? The best answer I can offer you is you can only live with this (if you choose to) with a good support system and lots of grace and truth, with no expectations of a meaningful relationship or mutual give and take.
I am reluctant to put a label on anyone but your description of your husband’s behavior is typical of someone with Narcissistic Personality Disorder. A craving for admiration, an attitude of entitlement and lack of empathy for anyone else’s needs are usually the big red flags. You can google it and read more information on it if you want to see if it fits.
Let’s start with grace. In order to live with someone like this you will need to learn to lean hard into God’s loving grace, knowing that when your husband doesn’t treat you well or love you like you wished he did, you are still deeply loved and valued by God. You will need God’s grace to continually forgive your husband and keep a clean slate of the wrongs he does against you so that you don’t become hardened by bitterness and resentment. Your husband will never apologize or take responsibility for the wrong’s he’s done which makes it that much harder to forgive and let things go so your strength must come from outside yourself. It can only be from God.
You will need God’s grace to biblically love your husband when you feel like screaming at him and grace to not repay evil for evil. Jesus calls us to love our enemies but we rarely have to live with our enemies day in and day out. To live in a relatively conflict-free relationship with your husband you will need to accept that you will always be more the giver. God sees how much you give whether or not your husband notices or appreciates it. You will need His eternal perspective on your marital loneliness and suffering because you will feel unheard, unloved and unvalued much of the time, which may tempt you to seek other male companionship.
You will need grace to not judge your husband and have contempt for him as a man or as a person, even though truth tells you his attitudes and actions are sinful. Grace keeps us humble, reminding us that we too are sinful and have our own brokenness. Grace keeps us mindful of the logs in our own eyes before trying to remove the speck in our spouse’s.
You will also need to stay focused on God’s truth to stay healthy emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Your husband blames and shames everyone around him and it’s tempting to believe his harsh words. Don’t do it. Listen to what God says about who you are and not your husband’s words. You will need God’s truth to explain to yourself and even your children that sometimes their father acts selfishly and it’s not wrong of them to say “no” or to ask him to consider their needs, and not just think of his own (Philippians 2:4).
Truth will help you know when boundaries are important and how to set them. For example, when he begins his angry tirade you might stop talking, turn around and walk away. If he continues, leave the house. When you return you can say something like, “I can’t listen to you when you scream at me. You would do the same if I talked to you that way” Keep it short and simple. Or “I don’t want to feel angry and hateful toward you so I’m leaving until you can cool down.” Then do it.
You will also need truth to guide you when to confront your husband’s sinful behavior and how. There may be a strategic or teachable moment where you could say something that may cause him to press pause and think about his actions and you want to look for those moments and ask God to give you an anointed tongue.
We are to speak the truth in love to one another but it’s tempting to either to placate this kind of person or eventually get sick of it and blow up, only to later feel guilty, regretting your reaction which only adds more fuel to his fire. Wear truth as a necklace and she will teach you when the time is right to speak. Hard words need not be harsh words.
For example, when he’s inconsiderate of your needs or your schedule, you could say, “I know this is important to you, but this is important to me so I have to do this first.” Your goal in this kind of statement is to remind him that you are a separate PERSON with your own needs, feelings and thoughts. You are not just a slave or a robot or a “wife” but a person and even if he doesn’t value you, you are going to value yourself.
You said you don’t’ want your children growing up to be like their father. Children do learn a lot from their parents, but their father isn’t their only influencer. You have a huge impact on your children and the way you interact with their father will say a lot to them about not only who he is, but who you are. If you act as if he’s right and he’s entitled to act this way, they get the picture that men (fathers, husbands) get to have their way all the time that’s “normal”. Therefore it’s important to speak truthfully to your children about things such as, “I think sometimes your father can be self-absorbed and not realize that you have your own plans. It’s okay to remind him that you can’t always accommodate him and stick to what you need to do for yourself.”
You say your husband is deeply spiritual. Galatians 5:16-26 speaks about the person who lives in the spirit and one who lives in the flesh. Perhaps in a moment when your husband seems open or more in tune with God, you could ask him which one he inhabits most often? Or when he is most negative or critical say, “You don’t seem to experience God’s joy or peace very much. Why do you think that is?” Your words will have little impact on him but God tells us that His words are powerful and don’t return void. They have the power to cut right to the heart (Hebrews 4:12). Ask God to use His Word, even those in the lyrics of the music he plays each week at church, to cause him to see the truth about why he is so critical, so miserable and so unhappy.
Lastly, don’t forget you do need good relationships, even if it’s not in your marriage. Seek out healthy girlfriends that can encourage you, love on you, pray for you and hold you accountable to be the kind of person you want to be while living in this difficult marriage.