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Posts tagged ‘emotional abuse’

Q&A: Am I Empathetic Or Enabling?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: I would like to have you explain what “enabling” the emotionally abusive person means? The balance of walking the Christian walk, being empathic and caring and submitting to my husband but not enabling is a very difficult line for me to draw. I don’t think I enable, and my husband is not physically or verbally abusive, but he is emotionally abusive without knowing it, even though I have tried to raise his awareness of it. The Christians I confide in say that I am an enabler, but I do not like that term…and I don’t feel I am. Can you clarify?

Answer: It’s difficult to hear people tell us something about ourselves we don’t believe is true. And you’re right, sometimes it is a fine line. It might be helpful for you to ask them what they see in you that makes them think you enable your husband’s emotional abuse. But let me give you four red flags that might indicate enabling behavior.

1. Do you ever lie, cover up, or make excuses for your husband’s emotionally abusive behaviors? You might have a very good reason like you don’t want to embarrass him or disrespect him by calling it what it is, but right now, just be honest with yourself.

Sometimes we think that this is our duty or responsibility as a submissive wife or godly person to cover up sin, but I don’t believe God wants us to exchange the truth for a lie or call evil good.

The apostle Paul says that we are to have nothing to do with the unfruitful deeds of darkness but rather expose them (Ephesians 5:11). When abuse remains hidden and secret, it flourishes.

2. Do you do regularly change your behaviors, stuff your feelings, or guard what you say just to keep the peace, prevent an argument, or make him happy?

Again in any marriage, there is a fair amount of give and take and at certain times for good reasons we might do any of the above. But when we are the one who is doing most of the accommodating or significantly changing who we are or stuffing how we feel then the relationship is unhealthy.

For example, perhaps your husband is insecure and jealous. For those reasons he does not want you to work, or go to bible study, or even go to the mall without him. To accommodate such controlling demands actually enables his insecurity and jealousy to flourish, not to change and heal. That’s where the fine line between submission and enabling starts to blur. Do you submit to your husband’s demands to stay home all the time or is it actually better and healthier for you, for him, and for your marriage to challenge them?

3. Are you doing things for your husband that he should be doing for himself? Again in marriage, there are times spouses do extra favors for one another. But when you are the one doing the most of the work and your spouse is not sharing those responsibilities, you are enabling him to be selfish, lazy, and indifferent.

4. Are you taking the responsibility or blame for things that you are not responsible for? For example, when your husband loses his temper and says “if only you were more organized, or more submissive, or cooked better, or didn’t upset him” do you enable him to blame shift and make you responsible for his bad behaviors?

Now in each of these things, you cannot change your husband. You may be doing all you can and he still may be emotionally abusive. You can’t make him help you, or take responsibility for his own emotional outbursts, or be more secure and less threatened.

I don’t know your particular story or what your spouse is doing that you feel is emotionally abusive, but you can and must look at the part you play to see if you are enabling his behaviors to flourish and grow without protest or consequence.

Q&A: Can I Have Good Boundaries And Be Compassionate?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Today’s Question: Where is the line between understanding and having compassion for your emotionally abusive spouse and protecting your own healthy emotional boundaries and beginning the healing process?

Answer: This is an excellent question. People usually fall in one of two categories. On the one side, you have so much compassion and empathy for someone that you have no boundaries. Instead, you enable and/or excuse destructive and damaging behavior that’s directed towards you and continue to suffer believing that God calls you to do just that. You say to yourself, he came from an abusive childhood, therefore you allow him to mistreat you because he was mistreated himself.

But would you think that same way with a two-year-old? Yes, you have compassion that your child is tired. He didn’t get his nap. He doesn’t feel well. But he bites you or kicks you or hits his baby sister. Do you allow it and make excuses for his behavior because you feel bad for him? I hope not. You can have compassion with firm boundaries. “I know you’re tired, or don’t feel well, but hitting mommy or your sister is not allowed and if you don’t stop, you will have a time out.”

When we don’t couple firm boundaries with our natural compassion our children grow up under a lie. The lie is, “I’m allowed to behave poorly when I feel bad or I’m unhappy, hurt, or angry.” Those lies underlie entitlement thinking. The belief that says everyone and everything should revolve around meeting my needs, feelings, wants, and desires and when they don’t, watch out. You will have a price to pay.

The opposite mistake you may fall into is hard-heartedness. You’re done. You feel only disgust, contempt, and hatred towards your abuser. There is zero compassion for his or her struggle or any pity for the sad human being he or she has become. We may start to retaliate, call him names, turn away in disgust, and sometimes in our own anger, we turn into someone we don’t like very much.

Neither place is Biblical or healthy. God calls us to love even our enemy. But that doesn’t mean God would expect you not to have any boundaries with an enemy. Precisely because Jesus uses the word “enemy” and not “stranger” he knows that an enemy is dangerous and has caused you harm in the past.

Loving your enemy isn’t a command to change an enemy into a friend. Its goal is to help you not be filled with hatred towards your enemy which would turn you into someone just like your enemy.

So your question of what exactly does it look like won’t be the same for everyone because everyone’s situation is a little different. However, to accomplish both goals, means you have to learn to walk in and stay in CORE Strength.

Two of the steps in CORE are the R step and the E step. The R step means you will be responsible for yourself and respectful towards your spouse without dishonoring yourself. It’s your job to steward your own physical, emotional, spiritual, sexual and financial well-being.

This is your Biblical responsibility as an adult. So often we don’t fully mature and instead rely on others to do our thinking for us, make our decisions, take care of us or rescue us from our unhappiness or problems. This is not the posture of a healthy or godly woman (or man).

It’s now time to stop focusing on your marriage or your man and spend time on your own healing and growth so that you can become the woman God called you to become. This requires you to detach yourself from NEEDING your spouse to love you, take care of you, validate your choices, or meet your needs.

That doesn’t mean you don’t have needs, but right now you will learn to take responsibility for your own needs. If your spouse chooses not to voluntarily meet those needs, you will detach yourself from begging, pleading, threatening or feeling victimized because he refuses or he can’t. As you do this you will grow to trust God in a deeper way with what you need right now. You can be kind while not demanding he do or change anything. If you aren’t able to detach safely while living together, then separation might need to take place.

But detaching doesn’t mean disregarding someone else or being cruel towards him (or her). That would not be of God and we forfeit the E step of CORE, which states: I will be empathic and compassionate without enabling destructive behaviors to continue.

If your spouse and you can live together in a compassionate, respectful way, while you both do your own growth and healing, it may be possible to live together. This would require you both to be able to commit to being responsible to mutually care for the house, the children and the finances without power plays or abusive behavior. However, by your question, it sounds like your husband is not as committed to his growth as you are to yours. Therefore his destructive behaviors continue while you are working on getting healthier.

You haven’t described what kinds of abusive behaviors he engages in, nor have you gone into details about the impact they have had on you. Not every person is the same, not everyone has the same threshold for pain or ability to handle toxic people.

This is where the church makes some crucial mistakes in their advice to victims of abuse. “If name calling wouldn’t hurt me, it shouldn’t hurt you.” Or, “There is something flawed about you if this bothers you, you’re too sensitive.” Or “That’s not abusive, if I don’t see it as abusive.”

But what one person can handle, perhaps another person cannot. For example, if you are highly sensitive to smoke, you may have a boundary that says, “I can’t drive with you if you smoke in the car.” If your husband refuses to honor that boundary, you can have compassion on his addiction, but you still may choose not to get in his car or let him in yours if he refused to respect your right to steward your health. If he continued to smoke in the house and it impacted your health, you may have to live elsewhere. Not because you didn’t have compassion on his addiction, but because you are responsible to steward your health, and if chooses not to care about your health, you must.

In the above example, I would hope a church leader would talk to her husband for being disrespectful towards his wife and the effect his smoking has on her. Sadly, with emotional abuse, it’s often the woman or abused who gets chastised because somehow she (or he) is supposed to be able to “take it” without any thought to the consequences to their body, soul, or spirit.

So you can have compassion and have firm boundaries at the same time. Even with someone who is brain injured and dangerous because he or she isn’t thinking properly. Of course, you would have tons of compassion for the injury he or she suffered and the impact on their thinking and personality. But if they were coming at you with a knife, or setting the house on fire, or doing other dangerous and destructive things to you or your children, it may not be possible to live in the same house.

Q&A: What Biblical Grounds Are There For Divorce In The Face Of Abuse?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: What biblical grounds are there for divorce in the face of emotional, financial, sometimes physical and spiritual abuse?

Pastors are largely ignorant of the real issues behind domestic abuse and only cite adultery as the grounds. When married to a Christian, they often recommend to just remain separated.

In Canada, if the other party is unwilling to separate out finances in a separation agreement, filing for divorce is the only way to get financial separation. Pastors want to believe they are the authorities on the Scripture but many have little understanding about domestic abuse in a marriage. What biblical grounds could you cite that could be shared with leaders as grounds for divorce in a domestic abuse marriage?

Answer:  I get asked this question a lot and I think the Church is slowly beginning to wake up to the reality of abuse and the necessity of thinking through this question a little more thoughtfully.

First, marriage was ordained by God to be a loving partnership. It is to be a picture to show us Christ’s relationship with his church. Marriage is a special and intimate relationship where safety and love are mutually expressed (Ephesians 5:22-32). Proverbs 31:12 says, “Her husband trusts her to do him good, not harm all the days of his life.” This is the picture of God’s view of marriage.

I think for a large part the church has been more focused on protecting the institution of marriage than protecting those who are mistreated within that relationship. And, when an individual in that relationship is repeatedly abusive, destructive, indifferent, and deceitful towards his partner, the church hasn’t really provided adequate answers for the injured spouse other than forgive and try harder to make it work.

Adultery is one place where most church leaders agree that there are Biblical grounds for divorce. However, there isn’t always agreement on what constitutes adultery.

We know that the act of sexual intercourse with a person who is not your spouse qualifies as adultery.  But what about other kinds of sexual activity? Is an emotional affair adultery? Or habitually viewing pornography and masturbating? I believe they do qualify and I wrote a newsletter on this topic that you can read here.

However, adultery at its core isn’t about sex. It’s about a deep-rooted selfishness. It’s about wanting what you want and not caring that it will deeply hurt another person who you promised to love and care about. It’s about lying to get what you want or covering up what you did so that you continue to get the perks of married life with no consequences from what you have done. It’s about being controlled by your appetites and your emotions rather than by the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:19-22).  Adultery breaks the marital covenant of trust and does harm to the spouse, and the Bible says that is grounds to legally end the marriage.

So the next question we must ask is this. Are there other behaviors that also break the covenant and harm a spouse that constitute grounds for divorce? Is it only sexual intercourse with another person that qualifies as adultery or did Jesus and God use the term “adultery” as a metaphor for acts of marital unfaithfulness that may be expressed through a variety of different harmful attitudes and behaviors?

The Old Testament law said adulterers should be punished by death, not divorce  (Leviticus 20:10). So God must have allowed divorce for lesser “hardness of heart issues”.

God himself used the word “adultery” to describe his divorce with Israel for her unfaithfulness to their covenant but it represented a picture of her repeated idolatry and disregard for God, not a specific sexual act (Jeremiah 3:8).

When Jesus spoke to the religious leaders regarding marriage and divorce he knew that they were trying to trap him into contradicting Moses or endorsing their casual view of marriage and divorce (See Matthew 19).  Jesus did neither. He talked about the sanctity of marriage but he also reinforced that divorce was allowed because of the hardness of man’s heart.

To interpret the Bible correctly, we not only have to look at the original languages but also need to look at the culture to which Jesus spoke. In Biblical culture, men had all the rights, women did not. Men could divorce women (for any reason), women could not divorce their husbands.

But there are two different words for the term divorce throughout both the Old and New Testament. Our English bibles translate one word as a certificate of divorce and the other word is translated simply divorce. When you read what the Bible has to say about divorce, notice when it says certificate of divorce or just divorce because they mean different things in that culture.

The certificate of divorce was an official document of divorce where a woman was free to remarry. The other kind of divorce was a letting go of, or setting apart, or a getting rid of kind of divorce.  It was abandonment of the marriage but with no legal closure for the woman. This kind of divorce left a woman with few options.  She might remarry because she needed financial security, but she was not officially divorced.

It is this last kind of divorce that the Pharisees asked Jesus about and it is this kind of divorce that Jesus was referring to when he said that when you divorce your wife this way if she remarries you make her commit adultery because she is not officially divorced.  Jesus wasn’t forbidding all divorce, but this particular kind of divorce.

The passage that is normally used to prove that God hates divorce is Malachi 2:16. Here’s what the verse says in the NIV translation of the Bible. “The man who hates and divorces (notice the word choice – not gives her a certificate of divorce but simply divorces) his wife,” says the LORD, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,” says the LORD Almighty.  So be on guard, and do not be unfaithful.”

This kind of divorce, where a man abandons his wife is the kind of divorce God hates, not all divorce.  Some divorces are necessary and allowed because of the hardness of one’s heart. Unrepentant sin separates us from God and from other people. Jesus reinforces this idea that unconfessed sin breaks relationships.  For example, in Matthew 18 he says that if someone has sinned against us we are to go to him (or her) to begin the healing and reconciliation process. But when the other person refuses to listen and refuses to repent, the relationship changes.  Jesus then says, “Treat them as a pagan or tax collector.” In other words, every Jew understood that there is no trust or intimacy or friendship with pagans and tax collectors. You treat them with respect, but you aren’t closely involved with them.

We also see God protecting women in several Old Testament passages when it comes to divorce. Read Exodus 21:11 and Deuteronomy 24:12 for some examples.

I believe that when a spouse is physically or emotionally abused, chronically lied to, treated in treacherous ways, or living with someone who is repeatedly unfaithful, she (or he) has Biblical grounds for divorce.  The marriage covenant has been broken. An official divorce just makes that reality public and final.

Long-term separation puts both spouses in legal nowhere land. They can’t remarry, but they aren’t reconciled. For some people, it might work but most individuals need the protection that the law provides so that one has access to a share of the financial assets that were accumulated in the marriage.

Churches can advise a woman to stay permanently separated and not divorced.  Yet are these same churches willing to provide the backup plan to help her pay her bills, her medical insurance, and retirement needs if her husband spends their entire savings on himself while she was following their advice?  I don’t think so.

So ultimately you have to take responsibility and stewardship for yourself, which includes your physical, sexual, spiritual, emotional and financial health and well-being. You can’t put your entire well-being in the hands of a counselor, or pastor, or doctor or any other professional or person without also using your own prayerful discernment about what the Bible says and what is the best course of action for you to take.

Thankfully in today’s culture, women do have more legal rights and laws are in place (at least in our country) to protect those rights.  One of the purposes of our laws and government is to protect us from those who would harm us unjustly. (Romans 13:1-5).

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Leslie Vernick is a popular speaker, author, and licensed clinical social worker and relationship coach.

She is the author of seven books, including the best selling, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship and her most recent The Emotionally Destructive Marriage.

Leslie has been a featured guest on Focus on the Family Radio, Family Life Today with Dennis Rainey, Moody Mid-Day Connection and writes a regular column for WHOA Women’s Magazine. Internationally, she’s spoken in Canada, Romania, Russia, Hungary, the Philippines, British Virgin Islands and Iraq.

In 2013, she received the American Association of Christian Counselors Caregiver of the Year Award.

Are You in an Abusive Relationship?

SOURCE:  Justin and Lindsey Holcomb/familylife.com

Editor’s note: Although this excerpt is addressed to women, we know domestic abuse happens to both men and women. If you believe you are in an abusive relationship, please seek godly counsel from your pastor or a counselor. Depending on your particular situation, you may also need to seek legal protection and make a safety plan. For a more complete exploration of what Scripture has to say about abuse, please read the Holcombs’ entire book, Is It My Fault: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence.

An abuser typically has a well-stocked arsenal of ways to exert power over you.

When the abuse first begins, many women in abusive relationships aren’t sure if what they are experiencing is abusive. In fact, one of the biggest hurdles to addressing domestic violence is that very few victims self-identify as experiencing abuse. Many think abuse happens to “those women” and don’t want to have the stigma of being one of “those women.”

The most telling sign that you are in an abusive relationship is living in fear of your spouse. If you feel like you have to walk on egg shells around him—constantly watching what you say and do in order to avoid a blowup—your relationship is unhealthy and likely abusive. Other signs include your spouse’s belittling of you, his attempts to control you, and feelings of self-loathing, helplessness, and desperation.

An abuser typically has a well-stocked arsenal of ways to exert power over you. He may employ domination, humiliation, isolation, threats, intimidation, denial, blame, and more. What’s more, he is often creative and strategic in when—and how—to put these to their most effective use.

None of this is your fault. Your abuser is the only one to blame.

And because he is so good at deceptively wielding control, it can often be difficult to discern if you are being abused. From the perspective of outside observers, these signs of abuse may be cut-and-dry. But for those trapped in the cycles of abuse, making sense of these complicated relational dynamics—especially when the relationship is intimate—can be suffocating and confusing.

If this is where you find yourself right now, here are some ways to discern if your relationship is abusive.

What the abuser does: eight common profiles

Some abuse victims may be so confused by the relational dynamics in their relationship—understandably so—that they need to hear stories and common experiences from others in order to make sense of their own. Some find it helpful to identify domestic abuse by understanding the common profiles of abusers—and recognizing their partner among them.

Since abuse is defined by an abuser’s behavior—not yours—we’ll start with identifying just that. Here are eight categories or personas abusers commonly exhibit:

  1. Bully
    • Glares
    • Shouts
    • Smashes things
    • Sulks
  2. Jailer
    • Stops you from working and seeing friends
    • Tells you what to wear
    • Keeps you in the house
    • Charms your friends and family
  3. Head worker
    • Puts you down
    • Tells you you’re too fat, too thin, ugly, stupid, useless, etc.
  4. Persuader
    • Threatens to hurt or kill you or the children
    • Cries
    • Says he loves you
    • Threatens to kill himself
    • Threatens to report you to social services
  5. Liar
    • Denies any abuse
    • Says it was “only” a slap
    • Blames drinking, drugs, stress, overwork, you, unemployment, etc.
  6. Bad father
    • Says you are a bad mother
    • Turns the children against you
    • Uses access to harass you
    • Threatens to take the children away
    • Persuades you to have “his” baby then refuses to help you care for it
  7. King of the castle
    • Treats you as a servant/slave
    • Says women are for sex, cooking, and housework
    • Expects sex on demand
    • Controls all the money
  8. Sexual controller
    • Sexually assaults you
    • Won’t accept no for an answer
    • Keeps you pregnant
    • Rejects your advances and allows sex only when he wants it rather than when you initiate

Belittling behavior

Does your spouse:

  • Yell at you?
  • Embarrass, insult, criticize you, call you names, or put you down?
  • Treat you so badly that you’re embarrassed for your family or friends to see?
  • Put you down, but then tells you that he loves you?
  • Ignore or belittle your opinions or accomplishments?
  • Blame you for his abusive behavior?
  • Use any mistakes you made in the past against you?
  • Not allow you to disagree?
  • Ignore your feelings and ideas?
  • Tell you that you are a bad parent or threaten to take away or hurt your children?
  • Act like the abuse is no big deal, tell you it is your fault, or even deny doing it?
  • See you as property or a sex object, rather than as a person?

Controlling behavior

Does your spouse:

  • Act excessively jealous or possessive?
  • Withhold affection as a way to punish you?
  • Control where you go, what you do, and demand your whereabouts?
  • Keep you from seeing your family or friends?
  • Limit your access to money, the phone, or the car?
  • Withhold basic necessities (food, clothes, medications, shelter)?
  • Make you ask for money or refuse to give you money?
  • Restrict you to an allowance?
  • Prevent you from working or sabotage your job?
  • Steal from you or take your money?
  • Constantly check up on you?
  • Control your plans and friends?
  • Stop you from seeing your family or friends?
  • Force you to drop charges?

Violent behavior or threats

Does your spouse:

  • Hit, kick, slap, choke, burn, shove, shake, drag, bite, push, punch, or physically harm you in any other way?
  • Throw things at you?
  • Have a bad and unpredictable temper?
  • Threaten to hurt or kill you?
  • Threaten to take your children away or harm them?
  • Threaten to commit suicide if you leave?
  • Intimidate you with guns, knives, or other weapons?
  • Destroy your property or belongings?
  • Threaten to kill your pet?
  • Force, threaten, or coerce you to have sex?
  • Destroy your belongings?

Three kinds of abuse

There are different kinds of abuse but all of them are wrong. To help you take inventory of your unique situation, let’s consider three different kinds of abuse:

Physical
When we talk about domestic violence, we are often referring to the physical abuse of a spouse or intimate partner. This means using physical force against someone in a way that injures or endangers that person. Physical assault or battering is a crime, whether it occurs inside or outside the family. The police have the power and authority to protect you from physical attack. And you have the right to protect yourself and your children, if you have them.

Sexual
Any situation in which you are forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity is sexual abuse. Forced sex, even by a spouse or intimate partner with whom you also have consensual sex, is an act of aggression and violence. Sexual assault includes rape, but it also includes coercion, intimidation, or manipulation to force unwanted sex. We define sexual assault as any type of sexual behavior or contact where consent is not freely given or obtained and is accomplished through force, intimidation, violence, coercion, manipulation, threat, deception, or abuse of authority.

Sexual assault is a display of power by the perpetrator against the victim. It is not a product of an “uncontrollable” sexual urge. In fact, it is not actually about sex at all; it is about violence and control. Perpetrators use sexual actions and behaviors as weapons to dominate, control, and belittle another person.

If you feel as though you are being pressured into sex or that you are doing something that you do not want in order to placate your spouse, then let us tell you now that your feelings are valid and that it is abuse.

Emotional
Most people can identify physical abuse—pushing, hitting, kicking—if it is happening in their relationship. Emotional abuse, on the other hand, is not always so easily spotted.

It’s harder to pinpoint exactly what’s wrong, and easier to minimize what’s really going on. It doesn’t leave you bleeding or bruised. The neighbors can’t hear it (not always) through the walls. But emotional abuse is no less destructive than physical abuse, and it is no less wrong.

The aim of emotional abuse is to chip away at your feelings of self-worth and independence—a violent process, in that it degrades you and your sense of God-given worth. If you’re the victim of emotional abuse, you may feel that there is no way out of the relationship, or that without your abusive partner you will have nothing.

So how can you identify if what you’re experiencing is emotional abuse? There are several ways. Emotional abuse includes verbal abuse such as yelling, name-calling, blaming, and shaming. Isolation, intimidation, and controlling behaviors are also signs of emotional abuse. Sometimes, abusers throw in threats of physical violence or other repercussions if you don’t do what they want.

Emotional abuse also includes economic abuse such as withholding money and basic necessities, restricting you to an allowance, sabotaging your job, and stealing from you or taking your money.

These are just some examples. But if you don’t see your particular experience listed here, use this as a general guide: Does your partner do something deliberately and repeatedly that puts you down or thwarts your plans? If the person who is supposed to be providing love, support, and guidance is keeping you in a situation where you are constantly made to feel inferior, you aren’t in a healthy relationship.

Your thoughts and feelings

The descriptions above are focused on your spouse’s behavior, which are all the telltale signs of abuse. These next questions are for you—to determine how you feel regarding this behavior. The more “yes” answers here, the more likely it is that you’re in an abusive relationship.

Do you:

  • Feel afraid of your spouse most of the time?
  • Avoid certain topics out of fear of angering your partner?
  • Feel afraid of your spouse’s temper?
  • Feel afraid to disagree?
  • Feel that you can’t do anything right for your spouse?
  • Believe you deserve to be hurt or mistreated?
  • Have to justify everything you do, every place you go, every person you talk to in order to avoid your spouse’s anger?
  • Feel afraid to leave or break up because your spouse has threatened to hurt you, himself, or someone else?
  • Avoid seeing family or friends because of your spouse’s jealousy?
  • Wonder if you’re the one who is crazy?
  • Feel emotionally numb or helpless?

Reflect on your spouse’s abusive behavior. Do you see him in these descriptions? Can you see evidence that the behaviors were deliberate, controlled, or planned? Does he act differently toward you when there are other people around? How has he attempted to stop your resistance to his abuse? Does he treat others with respect, while treating you with disrespect?

Take a look at your own experience to get clarity on your situation. Our hope is that as we spell out the nuances of what you may be experiencing, you will be able to call it what it is, plain and simple—abuse.

 

 

Is Marital Indifference Emotionally Abusive? 

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Have you ever heard the phrase, “If he doesn’t hit you, it’s not abuse?” This statement is not true. One of the most silent yet destructive forms of marital abuse is chronic indifference.

The opposite of love isn’t hate as many would think. It’s indifference. Indifference says I don’t care enough about you to give you my time, my energy or other resources to show interest, care, or love towards you. A person’s indifference says how you feel or what you want doesn’t matter to that person. Indifference says you are not a person to love, but an object to use. Indifference says I don’t need to change anything to make our relationship better for you if it’s okay for me. Indifference says that you exist for my benefit and when you don’t please me or benefit me anymore, you are replaceable or disposable.

One of the most horrific abuse stories in the Bible is one of gross indifference. A Levite and his concubine wife were traveling home when they stopped in the town of Gibeah. Expecting the typical Jewish hospitality, they waited in the open square, hoping someone would invite them to spend the night. As evening descended, an old man spotted the couple and graciously took them to his house. While the two men were getting acquainted, vile men of the city surrounded the home, beat on the door, and demanded the old man bring his guest outside so they might sexually abuse him.

The men of the town refused to listen to the old man so the Levite grabbed his own concubine and shoved her out the door. The men of the town raped her, taking turns until dawn.

The scriptures say, “When her husband opened the door to leave, there lay his concubine with her hands on the threshold. Coldly he said, “Get up! Let’s go! But there was no answer. So he tossed her lifeless body on his donkey and took her home” Later on he cut her up into twelve pieces and sent one piece to each of the twelve tribes of Israel, portraying himself (not his poor wife) as the victim of a horrible injustice (Judges 19:1-30).

The rape and torture by those vile men was traumatic, but I often wonder if her greater suffering was that her own husband indifferently tossed her out the door like a piece of trash, knowing full well she would be used and abused.

Marriage is the one relationship where a man and a woman publicly make promises to not be indifferent. They promise to love, to cherish, to protect, and to honor one another. When a person regularly fails to keep his or her fundamental marital promise, the marriage is in deep trouble and to pretend otherwise is not healthy or biblical.

For example, Karen was a wife who loved her husband and wanted things to work between them but he had little time for her. He was too busy running a business and making money. When she tried to talk to him about her feelings, he became harsh and then gave her the silent treatment, sometimes ignoring her for months. When Karen pursued or pressured him to discuss their problems, he verbally attacked her. He accused her of being controlling and manipulative. The only personal connection he desired was sexual and this left Karen feeling empty and used.

Finally she decided to have a heart-to-heart talk about changes she needed in their relationship. Wiring up all her courage she said, “Steve, there is something that I need to share with you that’s really important. Do you have time tonight?” “Okay, but I don’t have all night. There’s a football game starting in about 15 minutes.”

Karen took a deep breath and began.

“I know you get very frustrated when I’m not responsive to your sexual needs. I know you want me to be more sexual with you and enjoy our physical relationship. But the way you treat me much of the time makes me feel angry and hurt.

When you ignore me for long periods of time or accuse me of being things that I’m not, I just can’t manufacture warm and affectionate feelings towards you when I’m upset and hurt.” Then she asked him the million-dollar question. She asked, “Wouldn’t you enjoy our sexual relationship much more if you knew I wanted to be with you and enjoyed that part of our relationship rather than me just doing my wifely duty?“

Steve’s answer floored her. “Of course I would,” he said, but added, “But if wifely duty is all I can get, I’ll settle for that.”

Steve’s response woke Karen up to his gross indifference toward her as his wife, as a woman, and as a person. Everything in their relationship revolved around him and his needs. As long as her body was available when he wanted sex, it mattered little to him how she felt.

Later, Karen told me, God never intended her to be a sexual object nor to sacrifice her body to enable her husband’s selfishness to continue unchallenged.

Indifference can be one of the most unrecognized yet damaging forms of emotional abuse in marriage.

Emotional Abuse: How Gaslighting Affects Your Mental Health

SOURCE:  Julia Naftulin / Health.com / Motto

‘If a relationship leaves you constantly second-guessing your own instincts and feelings, you may be a victim’

Once in a while, it’s normal to have a fleeting moment where you question your own sanity, like when you’re severely sleep deprived or stressed out. But if a relationship leaves you constantly second-guessing your own instincts and feelings, you may be a victim of a sophisticated form of emotional abuse: gaslighting. Like other types of abuse, gaslighting can happen in all sorts of relationships, including personal, romantic, and professional.

Ben Michaelis, PhD, a New York City-based clinical psychologist, has worked with victims of gaslighting. For one of his patients—we’ll call her Marie—the gaslighting began when her husband shouted another woman’s name during sex. When she tried to discuss the incident with him, he flatly denied what he’d said and told Marie she was hearing things. Marie figured she must have had too much to drink. But then the lying continued: Marie’s husband would change his alibi constantly, and when Marie questioned him, he’d say she was acting delusional. It wasn’t until almost a year later when Marie realized her husband had been hiding an affair the whole time.

“[Gaslighting] is like someone saying the sky is green over and over again, and at first you’ll be like ‘no, no,’” says Gail Saltz, MD a psychiatrist and host of the podcast The Power of Different. “Then over time the person starts to manipulate you into saying ‘I guess I can’t really see what color the sky is.’ It’s just this sense of unreality.”

Acknowledging you’re a victim of gaslighting like Marie did can be tricky at first, says Michaelis, who is the author of Your Next Big Thing: 10 Small Steps to Get Moving and Get Happy. “Initially, if someone is insisting on a reality that is different from your own, you’ll think, Why was I off that day? Was I tired?” As the gaslighting continues, victims begin to question themselves and their judgment more and more. Michaelis says this can go on for months or even years before they realize they’re being gaslighted. “People who experience gaslighting may show obsessive-compulsive symptoms because they want to constantly check themselves and recheck themselves,” says Dr. Michaelis. The confidence-depleting nature of gaslighting could contribute to increased anxiety in many or all aspects of a victim’s life, not only in the relationship. Many gaslighting victims berate themselves or feel the need to apologize all the time, explains Dr. Saltz.

Gaslighting can manifest in a workplace environment as well. “Your boss may use gaslighting to hide a mistake or cover up information they didn’t mean to share,” says Michaelis. “It can also be a passive-aggressive gesture used among peers who are competing.”

If you realize you’re being gaslighted, the first thing you need to recognize is that a gaslighter may not be conscious of the effects of their actions, especially if they have issues with being wrong or out of control. In this case, confronting the gaslighter could work. Michaelis suggests conducting all conversations you have with the gaslighter in a recorded format, like through email or text. Then, when gaslighting occurs, tell the person what they originally said. “If they continue do deny what they said, you can supply the recorded evidence so they have a concrete understanding of what happened,” says Michaelis. This method works best when confronting a friend or partner.

In professional relationships, Michaelis suggests reaching out to a third party, like human resources, which can make the confrontation more objective. You can take this route in your personal relationships as well by enlisting a friend or family member to help. “If you find it happening to you, be thoughtful of the person’s motivations,” Michaelis says. “They don’t usually do it out of pure ill-will. It usually correlates with trying to cover something up, so first try to repair the relationship if it’s worth it.”

If confrontation fails and ending the relationship is an option, Dr. Saltz recommends doing so. Michaelis agrees: “All relationships are changeable. Maybe not immediately, but they are changeable or severable if need be,” he says.

If you have to stick it out with a gaslighter, though, try to boost your confidence with the support of good friends. “If you’re having a hard time changing the situation, they can bolster your reality otherwise,” says Michaelis. In a work environment, you should also be wary of what information you share with a gaslighter. Michaelis suggests withholding personal life details with a gaslighting co-worker or boss to protect yourself from emotional abuse in the office.

No matter which method you choose, it’s important to take control of reality again, says Dr. Saltz. This involves setting limits that stop gaslighting attempts in their tracks. For example, if your boss calls you overly sensitive when you ask, “Why won’t you let me work on big company projects?” demand true feedback rather than accepting blame on your character. “It’s holding the line for what you’re wanting to achieve,” Dr. Saltz says, “and not buying into accusations intended to knock down self-confidence.”

The Progressive Downward Spiral of ABUSE in Marriage

SOURCE:   Jennifer Williams-Fields

You Can Get PTSD From Staying In An Emotionally Abusive Relationship

Stop.

Just stop asking why a woman is so stupid and so weak when she stays in an abusive relationship. There’s no answer you can possibly understand.

Your judgment only further shames abused women. It shames women like me.

There was no punch on the very first date with my ex-husband. That’s not normally how abusive marriages start. In fact, my first date was probably pretty similar to yours: he was charming, he paid attention to me, and he flattered me.

Of course, the red flags were there in the beginning of my relationship. But I was young and naïve, probably much like you were in the beginning of your relationship.

Except my marriage took a different turn than yours.

An abusive marriage takes time to build. It’s slow and methodical and incessant, much like a dripping kitchen faucet.

It begins like a little drip you don’t even notice — an off-hand remark that is “just a joke.” I’m told I’m too sensitive and the remark was no big deal. It seems so small and insignificant at the time. I probably am a little too sensitive.

I occasionally notice the drip but it’s no big deal. A public joke made at my expense is just my partner being the usual life of the party. When he asks if I’m wearing this dress out or whom I’m going with, it only means he loves me and cares about me.

When he tells me he doesn’t like my new friend, I agree. Yes, I can see where she can be bossy. My husband is more important than a friend, so I pull away and don’t continue the friendship.

The drip is getting annoying, but you don’t sell your house over a leaky faucet.

When a playful push was a little more than playful, I tell myself he didn’t really mean it.

He forgets he’s stronger than me. When I confront him in yet another lie he’s told, he tells me I’m crazy for not believing him. Maybe I’m crazy … I’m beginning to feel a little crazy.

I begin to compensate for the drips in my marriage. I’ll be better. I’ll be a better wife. I’ll make sure the house is clean and dinner is always prepared. And when he doesn’t even come home for dinner, I’ll keep it wrapped and warmed in the oven for him.

On a night I’m feeling feisty, I feed his dinner to the dog before he comes home. I’m not feeling quite as smug well after midnight when he does show up. I quickly get out of bed and go to the kitchen as he yells at me to make him dinner.

Waking me from sleep becomes a regular occurrence. I no longer allow myself deep, restful sleep. I’m always listening and waiting.

In the morning, I’ll shush the kids to keep them quiet so they don’t wake up daddy. We all begin to walk on eggshells around him.

The drip is flowing pretty strong now. I’m afraid to put a bucket under it and see how much water I’m really losing. Denial is setting in.

If I hadn’t said what I did, he wouldn’t have gotten so mad. It’s my fault; I need to just keep quiet. I should know better than to confront him when he’s been drinking.

He’s right — I really am an ungrateful b_ _ _ _. He goes to work every day so I can stay home with the kids. Of course he needs time to himself on the way home from work each day.

On the rare occasion I do meet with my friends, I rush to be home before him. I never ask him to babysit so I can do something in the evening. I mustn’t inconvenience him.

We attempt marriage counseling. Although neither of us is totally honest about why we are there, the counselors are open with us about their concerns.

We never spend more than one session with a counselor.

I’m working so hard to be the perfect wife and have the perfect family that I don’t take the time to notice there’s water spilling on to the floor.

I know what will make this better. I’ll get really active outside the home but of course, I’ll still take care of everything in the home and never burden him. And I’ll never dare ask for help.

I’m now the perfect fourth grade room mother. My church mentors tell me to read books and listen to lectures on praying for my husband and understanding his needs.

I work very hard to present the front of a perfectly happy family. My kids are involved in multiple activities that I, of course, solely organize and am responsible for.

I’ve begun to drop subtle hints to the other moms but when they confront me I adamantly deny it. No, everything is great, I insist. I point to all the happy family photos I post to Facebook as evidence.

I’m not sure which scares me more: the fear that others will find out my secret, or that my husband will find out I told the truth about our marriage. I realize I’m now afraid of him.

 And then one day, I wake up and realize the house is flooding. My head bobs under the water. I’m scared.

I also see the fear in my children’s eyes. Oh dear God, what have I done? How did we get here? Who have I become?

The night he throws his cell phone at me and narrowly misses my head, I want to pack the kids in the car and leave. The evening at the dinner table when he stands up and throws a fork at me in front of the kids, I want to leave.

Where would I possibly go? And if I do go somewhere, what will I do? How will I afford living on my own?

He’s right — I have no skills to survive on my own. I need his money.

“What, you want to leave and go wh_ _ _ around?” he yells to me. “I always knew you were a slut.”

He’s a master at deflection. His actions are no longer the focus; I’m the one on trial now.

I’m no longer the woman I was on our first date. I’ve become timid and weak in front of him. I feel defeated. I chose this man and I gave birth to these children. It’s my fault.

With every breath I take, it’s my duty to keep these kids safe and keep my life together. It’s the only life I’ve known for twenty years. At this point, I don’t know how to do anything else.

I stay.

The flood continues. My head bobs under a second time.

On a typical anger-filled evening, I say enough is enough and I decide to fight back. But even in his stumbling drunken stupor, he’s stronger than I am.

I see the look in his eye as he hovers over me. He has biologically been given the ability to kill. That look in his eye terrifies me.

“Go ahead and leave,” he sneers to me. “But the kids stay here.”

My retreat that night is all it takes to turn the faucet on all the way and force me to tread water, if not for my life, then at the very least for my sanity.

Despite my best attempts, my secret has been exposed. I can’t just up and leave like well-meaning friends tell me to. It’s not that easy.

I have no money. In fact, he found my secret stash I’d been working on for almost a year. I thought I was so careful that no bank records would come to the house. He must have broken in to my email.

I should’ve known better. He always kept close tabs on me. He hated when I accused him of spying on me, so I just let him snoop.

He made me feel so guilty and ashamed when I handed over my secret savings to him. I wonder what he did with the money? I know it didn’t get used for the kids needs. I assume he drank it or gambled it or used it to impress another woman.

I’m stuck. I stay.

Dear God, please don’t let me go under a third time. My family is beyond rescue, but please save me and save my kids.

I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m no longer in the marriage, yet my scars run deep.

Abuse doesn’t always manifest as a black eye or a bloody wound. The effects of psychological abuse are just as damaging.

I entered counseling and was diagnosed with depression, anxiety, and PTSD. The psychological abuse kept me fearful, the depression and anxiety left me incapable of taking the steps necessary to get out.

Although I initially thought PTSD was a bit extreme, it’s been almost three years and certain noises or situations still trigger difficult memories for me.

When my male boss was angry and yelling at the staff one day, I became physically sick. I felt like I was right back where I was years ago, sitting and cowering on the garage floor, trying to placate the anger of a man towering over me.

I worry that not only have my daughters witnessed a man mistreat a woman, but that my sons have had a poor example to follow of what it means to be a real man.

I stayed for the sake of my children. Now, I blame myself for the effects staying may possibly have on them.

Why did I stay? I stayed because I was isolated; I was financially dependent on him; I was sleep deprived; I was told and I believed I was worthless; I was worn down from constantly being on guard for the next attack.

I stayed because I was more afraid to leave.

Research Finds Emotional Abuse Is As Destructive As Physical Abuse To Children

SOURCE:  /Lifehack

It’s widely known that physical child abuse has long-lasting and far-reaching consequences for people, from post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression to toxic relationships.What few realize is that emotional abuse in children can be as damaging and insidious as physical violence.

Recent research demonstrates that emotional maltreatment destroys a child as thoroughly as physical harm.Utilizing data from a previous study, David Vachon concluded that “although some people assume physical abuse is more harmful than other types of abuse, we found that they are associated with similar consequences.” A pair of doctors at the University of Minnesota and the University of Rochester validated the study, finding, through working at a summer camp for low-income families, that different types of abuse share “equivalent, broad, and universal effects.”

What is emotional abuse, and how can it be identified?

Child abuse falls primarily into three categories: Physical, sexual, and emotional. While each chief form of abuse is addled with consequences that often shadow a person for life, identifying emotional abuse in a child presents complications.Far less evident than physical abuse, emotional maltreatment involves a broader spectrum of actions and often encompasses undetected violence. Unexplained sadness, angry outbursts, withdrawn behavior, and poor performance in school are just a few of the symptoms that a child is being abused emotionally, which can be caused from shaming, indifference, emotional and physical withholding of love, as well as unjust punishment and neglect.

Andrew Vachss, a lawyer and advocate who has devoted his life to protecting children, describes emotional powerfully and poignantly here:

“…of all the many forms of child abuse, emotional abuse may be the cruelest and longest–lasting of all.

Emotional abuse is the systematic diminishment of another. It may be intentional or subconscious (or both), but it is always a course of conduct, not a single event. It is designed to reduce a child’s self–concept to the point where the victim considers himself unworthy—unworthy of respect, unworthy of friendship, unworthy of the natural birthright of all children: love and protection.

Emotional abuse can be as deliberate as a gunshot: “You’re fat. You’re stupid. You’re ugly.”

Emotional abuse can be as random as the fallout from a nuclear explosion. In matrimonial battles, for example, the children all too often become the battlefield. I remember a young boy, barely into his teens, absently rubbing the fresh scars on his wrists. “It was the only way to make them all happy,” he said. His mother and father were locked in a bitter divorce battle, and each was demanding total loyalty and commitment from the child.

Emotional abuse can be active. Vicious belittling:

“You’ll never be the success your brother was.” Deliberate humiliation: “You’re so stupid. I’m ashamed you’re my son.”

It also can be passive, the emotional equivalent of child neglect—a sin of omission, true, but one no less destructive.

And it may be a combination of the two, which increases the negative effects geometrically.

Emotional abuse can be verbal or behavioral, active or passive, frequent or occasional. Regardless, it is often as painful as physical assault. And, with rare exceptions, the pain lasts much longer. A parent’s love is so important to a child that withholding it can cause a “failure to thrive” condition similar to that of children who have been denied adequate nutrition.”

Sound terrifying? Read on.

The sweeping, long-lasting impact of emotional abuse

To think that emotional abuse has a statute is faulty: The Journal of Pediatric Care found that of 3,000 adults with a history of major depression, a staggering 93% reported emotional maltreatment, while 31% were determined to have suffered both emotional and physical abuse.

“Emotional maltreatment, even more than physical and sexual abuse, may predispose a person to developing depression or anxiety.”

Troublesome? Certainly. While the enduring impact of emotional abuse has not been studied widely, reports across the board have determined the devastating effects it can have on an individual. Reactive Attachment Disorder–or RAD–is just one manifestation of the traumatic impacts of early childhood emotional maltreatment. Defined as “markedly disturbed and developmentally inappropriate social relatedness that usually begins before the age of 5,” RAD is a rare, but potentially catastrophic, disorder. As infants and children, those with RAD cling indiscriminately to strangers and demonstrate developmental delay and disabilities; as adults, RAD can present itself as a failure to socialize appropriately.

More common than RAD, however, are a list of problems that are just as damaging: Anxiety, sleep problems, post-traumatic stress, and depression–not to mention substance abuse, obesity, suicidal ideations, and interpersonal complications. As one emotionally abused woman remarked, “I keep looking for the affection I was denied as a child in men.” Her choice in partners, she confessed, was “wildly inappropriate and careless,” and led to physical abuse, psychological torment, and too many heartaches to count.

The effect of emotional abuse on intimate relationships

Indeed, interpersonal relationships seem to take the biggest toll when it comes to adults who were emotionally abused as children. In some cases, the abused adult will shy away from intimacy out of fear of the unfamiliar, while others–like the woman mentioned above–will develop indiscretion, anger, and aggression towards those with whom they become involved. Why? Because a healthy precedent has not been set. As one study put it,

“being exposed to emotional abuse is a predictor to developing ‘overt forms of aggression.’”

In other words, the anger an individual experienced but didn’t know how to express as a child builds over time and is released in the unhealthiest of manners–through outrage and violence.

The indiscriminate nature of emotional maltreatment

Certain socio-economic classes determine, in part, the rate of emotional abuse in children. Parents with limited means–or none at all–are more likely to be stressed out and financially strapped, and that anger and anxiety is often exerted on their children. However, a study at Midwestern University revealed that

“emotional abuse and neglect each continued to exert an influence on later symptoms of anxiety and depression even after controlling for gender, income, parental alcoholism, and other forms of child abuse.” (Wright, Crawford and Del Castillo, 2009).

This corroborates the findings of Vachon about the widespread effects of emotional abuse regardless of gender, race and/or ethnicity.

Healing emotional wounds

Despite these recent discoveries–which might make many who spot a child that is alone and frozen in watchfulness think twice–the indiscriminate nature of emotional abuse and its lasting consequences need not deter individuals who have either suffered from it or witnessed it in another. Prompt identification and appropriate invention are assuredly key, but treating it after-the-fact has also shown to make a tremendous impact on one’s ability to heal. Vachss points out that,

“if you are a victim of emotional abuse, there can be no self–help until you learn to self–reference. That means developing your own standards, deciding for yourself what “goodness” really is. Adopting the abuser’s calculated labels—”You’re crazy. You’re ungrateful. It didn’t happen the way you say”—only continues the cycle.

Adult survivors of emotional child abuse have only two life–choices: learn to self–reference or remain a victim. When your self–concept has been shredded, when you have been deeply injured and made to feel the injury was all your fault, when you look for approval to those who can not or will not provide it—you play the role assigned to you by your abusers.”

Whether you are the victim, the abuser, or the witness to an unfortunate child, one fact remains the same: Scars are not just skin-deep, and there exists a salve in our souls.

Q&A: Stop Accepting “Non-Apology” Apologies

SOURCE:   Taken from an article by Leslie Vernick

QUESTION:  My husband has had two affairs, he throws things when he’s angry, abandons me for days at a time after an argument and now has just completely detached himself from our family. He also lies about his whereabouts. I want to be the wife God has called me to but I can’t continue this way. My husband always says he is sorry and will change but these behaviors continue to resurface. Please help.

ANSWER: I think the first question you must settle is what kind of wife do you think God wants you to be for your husband? Is it a wife that allows herself to be abused, abandoned, lied to, and cheated on with no consequences?

You say I can’t continue this way. I don’t blame you. No one would want to be married this way. But I think your dilemma is that although you can, with God’s help, be the wife that God wants you to be, that doesn’t guarantee that your husband will become the husband God wants him to be or that you want him to be.

But the question remains, what kind of wife do you think God wants you to be here?

Do you think he wants you to be passive and continue to live with a man who lies to you, cheats on you, leaves you and scares you when he’s angry? Or, might God be calling you to love your husband in such a courageous way that you boldly confront his sinfulness, refuse to accept his excuses, and if he wants to remain married to you, require him to show that he’s repentant and truly wants to change. His words are meaningless. He repeatedly lies. If he wants to be married, it’s time that he take specific and consistent actions steps that demonstrate that he’s serious and willing to work hard to change.

What might that look like?

For starters he needs to get some accountability partners that will help him stay honest, engaged, and sexually faithful. He needs a plan to help him learn how to manage his emotions when he’s angry or hurt so he doesn’t get destructive, deceitful, or disengage for long periods of time. Obviously he hasn’t been able to change these habits by himself so he will need to get professional or competent pastoral help to learn how to deal with his emotions and understand why he does the things he does. These changes do not happen quickly or painlessly, but with God’s help, are possible for the person who is committed and teachable.

I think you fear that if you hold your husband to these necessary changes and he refuses, then what? I’m going to tell you the unvarnished truth. Your relationship is broken. You may stay legally married, you may even still live together but you cannot have a good marriage if your husband will not change.

Hear me. You can make a bad marriage better all by yourself (by not retaliating or repaying evil for evil), but you cannot make a bad marriage a good marriage all by yourself no matter how good a wife you are. 

We only have to read through the book of Jeremiah to see how God longed for Israel to repent, to come to her senses and change, but she would not. God loved Israel, but He could not and would not have a close and intimate relationship with her until she was willing to change her sinful, adulterous, deceitful ways.

God knows what you’re going through. Let him empower you to be the wife he wants you to be and the wife your husband most desperately needs, which might be totally different than you think. You don’t have to live this way anymore.

Q&A: How Do I Heal From Emotional Abuse?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: My physical injuries have healed from people who’ve abused me, but the negative feelings are still there. What can I do to find deeper healing?

Answer: Emotional wounds can be much more damaging than physical wounds can be and usually heal very slowly. I’d highly recommend that you read the last section (Surviving It) of my book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship as well as How to Live Right When Your Life Goes Wrong for specific steps that you can take for your emotional growth and healing. But let me share with you a meditation I’ve been pondering that will give you a good start.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the story of the women who had an issue of blood for 12 years. You know her; she touched the hem of Jesus’ garment, hoping to be healed. But let’s look more closely at her story to understand how deeper healing takes place. (Read Mark 5 and Luke 8 for the story.)

Here is a woman who was an outcast. She was labeled an unclean woman, socially unacceptable, undesirable, and dirty. Jewish law mandated that if someone touched an unclean person, they would need to go through the Jewish purification ritual in order to regain their rights to enter the temple. She was an untouchable woman and people kept their distance. She had spent all her resources to find help, but she only got worse. This woman heard Jesus coming and thought to herself, “if only I can touch his cloak, I will be healed” ─ and to her surprise ─ she was.

Immediately she tried to escape the crowd unnoticed. Remember, she touched Jesus and according to Jewish law, that made him unclean. How embarrassed and scared she must have felt when Jesus turned and asked, “Who touched me?” If she identified herself then everyone would know what she had done.

Let’s step back for a moment and look at the larger story here. Jesus was heading to Jairus’ house. Jairus was a Jewish leader, a ruler of the synagogue. Yet he approached Jesus for help because his young daughter lay dying. Jairus was a daddy before he was a religious leader and so he fell at Jesus’ feet begging him to heal his daughter.

It was on the way to Jairus’ home with the crowd pressing on that Jesus stopped to ask who touched him. I wonder in that moment what Jairus thought and felt. Did he feel impatient, anxious for Jesus to hurry up and get to his house? His daddy’s heart wanted his daughter healed. I wonder if he also felt a bit angry at this woman for distracting Jesus and taking valuable time away from a more pressing need. I suspect he might have even felt angry that Jesus did not prioritize his daughter’s life threatening illness over this woman’s chronic bleeding problem.

Jarius was a person of influence and importance. He was a leader; he spoke and people listened. He risked everything to beg Jesus for help and now Jesus was wasting time asking who touched him while his daughter lay dying. Now Jesus himself was unclean too.

Do you ever feel like Jairus? God isn’t moving fast enough for your emergency? Angry and impatient that other people’s prayers are getting answered while you are still waiting?

Jairus was a daddy and wanted to see his daughter healed. But dear readers, one of the lessons of this story is that this unclean woman had a daddy too, and her daddy cared about her needs and he knew she had no one who begged for her healing. Jesus stopped and called her forth because he wanted her to know something very important. Listen to what he told her. He said, “Daughter, Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” He wanted her to know that her daddy (the Heavenly Father) saw her suffering and told Jesus to help her too.

Jesus wanted her to know that she mattered to God. Although her culture rejected her, God did not. Although she was judged to be unclean, Jesus declared her whole. He wanted her to know that she was a person of value and worth. Even in a pressured moment, Jesus took the time to have a conversation with a nameless women who felt unclean, unloved and unimportant. He wanted her to know who she was. She was a daughter and her Daddy loved and cared about her.

How about you? Perhaps your mother abused you. Your husband rejects you. People don’t understand you. You feel like an unclean women, damaged goods. If only you could touch his cloak, you’d be well. I have good news for you. Daughter, go in peace and be freed from your suffering. 

God wants to help you. He wants you to know that you matter. You are important to him. He sees you and knows you and is never too busy with more important people to meet your very personal need. You are not nameless, or worthless, or hopeless. You have a daddy, he’s called Abba (Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6).

Knowing and believing that, is the beginning of your healing.

As for Jairus, Jesus didn’t forget about his concern although he probably felt that way once he got word that his daughter died. But Jesus turned to Jairus and said, “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.” What did it take to walk those next miles home, heavy with sorrow yet clinging to faith? Perhaps that’s where you are right now. You feel hopeless or angry or disappointed. But Jairus trusted what Jesus said to him, and because he did, he got to see a miracle. Jesus took his precious daughter’s hand and said, “Honey, wake up.”

What is Jesus saying to you right now, even if the midst of sorrow, heartache, broken dreams and shattered promises? Can you trust what he is saying and continue to walk in faith? That is healing. He says to you and to me, “Honey, wake up”.

Book Review/Domestic Violence: Is It My Fault?

Source:  Aaron Armstrong/The Gospel Coalition

Justin and Lindsey Holcomb. Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence. Chicago, IL: Moody, 2014. 240 pp. $14.99.

As we sat in the school auditorium where our church meets, I could feel my wife seething beside me. Our pastor had come to a crucial text in one of the Gospels—Jesus’ teaching on divorce. As we listened to him strongly (and faithfully) teach what the Bible says about marriage and divorce, Emily became increasingly agitated—not because of what was said, but because of what hadn’t been. What about women being abused?

Many assume the Bible’s teaching on divorce is too simplistic to deal with such issues. Bad counsel based on incomplete teaching leaves many women (and men) feeling trapped with nowhere to turn when their spouses begin to spiritually, psychologically, physically, or sexually abuse them. When the abuse somehow becomes their fault in the counseling session. When they’re too ashamed to say anything at all—or don’t even know if it “counts.”

Whose Fault Is It?

My wife’s anger was birthed from experiences in both her childhood and adolescent years, and her empathy for several friends who have experienced abuse in their marriages. If we will offer meaningful hope and encouragement to those suffering from domestic violence, we need to know what the Bible says to them.

This is why books like Justin and Lindsey Holcomb’s Is It My Fault?: Hope and Healing for Those Suffering Domestic Violence are so necessary. From its opening pages, the Holcombs, who also co-authored Rid of My Disgrace: Hope and Healing for Victims of Sexual Assault (Crossway, 2011), offer a compassionate and biblical look at the problem of domestic violence, beginning with five words victims need to hear: It is never your fault.

No matter what kind of abuse you have experienced, there is nothing you can do, nothing you can say, nothing you think that makes you deserving of it. There is no mistake you could have made and no sin you could have committed to make you deserving of violence.

You did not deserve this. And it is never your fault.

You did not ask for this. You should not be silenced. You are not worthless. You do not have to pretend like nothing happened. You are not damaged goods, forgotten or ignored by God, or “getting what you deserve.” (21)

These truths should be obvious, but for someone in an abusive relationship, they’re anything but. And I’m not sure how obvious they are to some of us who aren’t. For example, we tend to look at marital problems and try to figure out how to divide responsibility equally between spouses. While some measure of “shared blame” is certainly warranted in most relationships, we need to be careful to not apply this assumption too broadly. Sometimes, it really is the problem of just one person—and in the case of domestic violence, in whatever form it takes, it is always the abuser’s fault.

Although a bit of a loose example, consider the shootings in May in Santa Barbara, California, when 22-year-old Elliott Rodger stabbed three people to death, shot three more, and left 13 more injured before killing himself. Why did he do it? Because “girls have never been attracted to me,” he said. What surprised me wasn’t that Rodger placed the blame for his yet-to-be-committed crimes on women, but that some online commenters seemed to agree—saying that if he wasn’t a virgin, maybe this wouldn’t have happened.

Yeah. Someone actually said that.

What Is Domestic Violence?

Keeping this background in mind is especially important when you consider how tricky it can be to develop a concrete definition of domestic violence. You need one broad enough to capture the full spectrum of abuse without leaving all readers paranoid they’re either being abused or are abusers themselves. Here’s the Holcombs’ definition:

Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive, controlling, or abusive behavior that is used by one individual to gain or maintain power and control over another individual in the context of an intimate relationship. This includes any behaviors that frighten, intimidate, terrorize, exploit, manipulate, hurt, humiliate, blame, injure, or wound an intimate partner. (57)

Despite being a little clinical, and maybe a bit lawyer-y, this definition is strong. I believe the key word here is pattern. An abuser isn’t necessarily someone who says something stupid and hurtful once (again, if that were the case, we would all be abusers). An abuser is someone who makes an intentional behavior of it. Sinful and hurtful words must be dealt with, but we ought not label the one-time offender—depending on the nature of the offense—as being guilty of domestic violence. (There’s no such thing as being just a little stabby.)

What Will God Do About It?

The first several chapters of the book offer necessary definitions and categories readers may lack; beyond a definition of domestic violence, they may not know what the cycle of abuse looks like, or what types of personas exist among abusers—all of which the Holcombs provide. But the strength of Is It My Fault?really comes through when they turn to the Scriptures to show readers what God says about this issue. They display a God who “hates abuse, viewing it as sinful and unacceptable” (107), and who “delights in rescuing the oppressed (2 Sam. 22:49)” (108).

This testimony isn’t always easy for us to believe, though. In their day-to-day circumstance, many suffering abuse struggle to see God at work. They cry out asking for the Lord to deliver them, just as David did many times in the psalms. But it’s the tension we all face. Suffering and pain are real, but deliverance is real, too—even if it doesn’t come when or how we wish it did. Despite how it may seem at times, “God is not standing idly by to watch evil run its course. He will not allow evil to have the final word. His response to evil and violence is redemption, renewal, and recreation” (113).

I appreciate how the Holcombs hold this tension in their reflections on selected psalms. They don’t offer a pat “God’s in control,” though that would be easy to do. Instead they dig into the reality of the pain, the difficulty of the circumstances. But they don’t leave us there. Instead, they redirect despair to hope, showing how we can be confident that God’s deliverance will come.

This, arguably, may be the most vital practical takeaway for readers (aside from the helpful action plan in the appendices). When the darkness won’t lift, we need the hope that God isn’t ignoring our circumstances. That God is at work, even when we can’t see it. That his promises are still true—and because his promises are true, hope cannot be extinguished.

What Will We Do About It?

Is It My Fault? will provoke some strong feelings: anger that abuse happens at all, perhaps the temptation to seek vengeance, a longing for Jesus’ return and the coming the new creation. I hope it reminds readers that none of us can stand by when abuse occurs in our homes or in our churches. In those situations, our goal should always be to bring hope into the darkness of abuse. To humbly, earnestly, and uncompromisingly call perpetrators to repentance and let them endure the consequences of their actions. To offer compassion to victims and let them begin some form of healing, all the while holding out the promise of the final restoration Jesus will bring when he comes to wipe every tear from our eyes.

This is what victims of abuse need and, by God’s grace, it’s what we can offer if we’re willing.

Aaron Armstrong is the author of Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty (Cruciform Press, 2011). He is a writer for an international Christian ministry focused on caring for the needs of the poor, serves as an itinerate preacher throughout southern Ontario, Canada, and blogs daily at Blogging Theologically.

Abuse: Call It What It Is

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by  Leslie Vernick

Let’s Not Call It Abuse

 [This article was originally published on ChristianCounseling.com on June 9, 2014]

 Samantha had high hopes that something might change after she got an appointment with a Biblical counselor at her church.  She had hoped that her counselor would stand with her and be her advocate.  When she began to describe what was happening in her home, her counselor carefully listened to everything she told him.

Samantha recounted the names her husband called her when he got angry or she failed him.  She described things such as not allowing her to give her own perspective during an argument, not allowing her to leave a room when she was feeling scared, and demanding she submit to his most trivial demands like cook him a full breakfast every morning even though she worked full time and had a baby to get ready to take to the babysitter.  She told him how her husband lied, how he twisted Scriptures, how he bullied her and threatened her.

Samantha took a huge risk sharing these things with her counselor but she believed that if her counselor and church leaders knew what was happening, they would get behind her and lovingly but firmly tell her husband (who was active in their church) that his behavior was sinful and ungodly.  She thought that once she got others to agree that his behavior was destructive, he’d be less likely to tell himself the lie that what he was doing wasn’t that bad.

Sadly the counselor became fixed on two words Samantha used when finishing her story.  She asked her counselor, “Please tell him to stop emotionally abusing me.”  Her counselor’s first response to Samantha’s story was, “Samantha, let’s not use the words emotional abuse.  It’s such a trendy term these days.”

Samantha’s heart sank.  It was hard for her to breathe. Her chest pounded, her head started spinning. Now what?  She thought to herself, If this isn’t emotional abuse, what is it?

Our culture is adept at watering down language so that it becomes vague, meaningless and doesn’t offend.   For example the phrase termination of a pregnancy is softer than the phrase killing an unborn child. Terminating a pregnancy lacks the emotional wallop of the truth – a real baby is being killed.  Termination of pregnancy sounds nicer and it whitewashes and sanitizes the true meaning of what’s happening to both the child and the mother.

When we refuse to recognize and name emotional abuse for what it is and instead describe it as marital conflict or mutual sin, it’s not that we’re incorrect; it’s that we are imprecise.  We water down what’s really happening.

When a doctor tells a patient who has cancer he’s sick, that’s true.  But if he doesn’t use the C word because it’s too potent, he’s not telling his patient the whole truth.  As a result, the patient might not get the treatment he or she needs because he or she doesn’t see the full problem they face.

As biblical counselors our mission is not only to be truth seekers but truth tellers.

Naming things in Biblical days had special significance. Names represented a character trait, a special ability, a future expectation or a proclamation of what’s happened in the past.  Names are significant and what we name things has meaning.

When we say to our clients, “Let’s not call what’s happening to you ‘abuse’,” that’s wrong. What we’re saying is that what’s happening to her is no big deal?and that is not true.  Minimizing what’s happening in her marriage damages her, her husband, and their marriage. Abusive behavior is always bad, always sinful and always destructive.

The Bible repeatedly tells us that God comes alongside the victim. He is against those who seek to destroy and damage others.  He never tells them it’s not that bad or calls it something other than what it truly is. We need to speak the truth about what is happening, without flattering abusers that their behavior is not as bad as their spouse claims (Psalm 12:2-3).

Q & A: My Spouse Is A Chronic Liar. What Can I Do?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: My husband is lying to me about so many things. He twists my words, and I have no self-worth. I am in counseling, and we are new empty nesters. I left my job to care for an aging parent and focus on my husband. This is the worst time of my life. My spouse is either having an emotional affair or physical affair. He denies either, yet the computer (email receipts) says otherwise. He has cleaned the house of any and all receipts.

How do I live with someone I do not trust? I am so depressed. Please help direct me.

Answer: I’m glad you have taken the first step and started counseling. The National Institute of Mental Health indicates some of the highest rates of depression are among women who are unhappily married. There is very little you can do to change your husband’s lying, cheating or mind games right now, but there are some very definite things you can do to help your depression and self-worth.

Jesus says “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). Sometimes when the thing we’ve treasured most is gone or broken, we don’t just grieve our loss, we come unglued. That’s because we have put our treasure in something temporal–something that won’t last. Although your marriage is important and God wants you to have a loving and trusting relationship with your husband, he doesn’t want your marriage or your husband to be your treasure.

In my new book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage, I wrote, “The biggest red flag (that your marriage has become an idol) is when you fall into deep despair or panic when your husband fails to love you well…Any wife would feel disappointed, hurt, and angry. But if you find yourself becoming increasingly despairing, fearful, controlling, or resentful, it’s time to pay attention. Those negative emotions are a good indicator that your desire for a good marriage has become too important…Whenever we are dependent on something or someone other than God, it will always hurt us.”

Therefore the most important work you have to do right now isn’t to salvage your marriage or get your husband to tell you the truth, but to put your marriage in its proper place in your heart and mind and choose God as your treasure, not your spouse or your marriage.

You say you have no self-worth. Why not? Because your husband doesn’t love you like you want him to? Because he doesn’t value you enough to tell you the truth? Why would you allow a mere mortal, a sinful human being, determine your value and worth?

If someone rejects us, lies to us, or doesn’t love us as we want, it surely hurts, but it does NOT define who we are or determine our value. If you gave me an expensive piece of jewelry, like pearls or a diamond tennis bracelet, and I threw it away or never wore it, does that mean it isn’t worth anything?

It’s not our parents or our peers or our partners that determine our worth, it’s God. He defines our value because he is the one who formed us. He is the only one we can count on to tell us the truth about who we are. He never lies. Read Psalm 139 and meditate on it today. Let God tell you how much you’re worth.

Therefore friend, I encourage you to take the opportunity you have while in counseling to work on you and not on how you can get your husband to tell you the truth. You might just find that as you get healthier and less dependent on him, he may do a little soul searching of his own and choose to be more honest with you about what’s going on with him.

If not, then you’ll be strong enough to know what next step you need to take to deal with your husband’s deceit.

Q&A: Is There Hope For A Narcissistic Spouse?

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

Question: My husband has been emotionally and verbally abusive from the start. We have been married almost 7 years and have a beautiful 2 year old son. I have been trying everything within my power (counseling, using tactics to stop abuse when it’s happening, anti-depressants) to “fix” my destructive marriage. In March of last year, I finally told him exactly what I thought our problem was: that he was abusive. At that time, he received that surprisingly well. Obviously God had gone before me and prepared his heart for that.

However, 6 months later I wasn’t really seeing changes and I was noticing he was giving himself a lot of slack with going to his therapy appointments, etc. So I took things up a notch. I wrote him a letter asking him to examine those behaviors and attitudes and left with our son for the weekend for him to process that in peace. What I had hoped for upon my return was a sincere apology and a renewed sense of wanting to do the right thing for our family. What I got was anger thrown at me

A week later, I asked him to move out for a separation. I was absolutely at my wit’s end. I was still hoping that he could be rattled, that the Lord was trying to get through to him through these steps I was taking.

It’s been a little over 3 months now and I am still not really seeing the key changes I would like to see, such as a sincerely apologetic heart, ownership over the harm he has done and even a willingness to let me be mad. There’s a lot more to our story than I can inundate you with here, but I feel that our marriage cannot be saved. I feel like divorce is imminent.

One of the therapists we have seen believes he has Narcissistic Personality Disorder. I don’t want to just “give up” on my marriage. It feels like I am a failure. I know I have done wrong as well. I know that this isn’t ALL his fault, but at a certain point it does feel like the problems of abuse and self-centeredness need to be broken before any of the other issues can be addressed. I’m at a loss. I know you can’t tell me whether or not you think I should divorce from reading these few paragraphs, but I am wondering if you can speak more to the NPD factor and how long you think it takes for safety to return (referring to your series on “Can This Marriage Be Saved”). I just don’t feel safe, but I don’t want to deny an opportunity for safety to grow.

Answer: Let me begin by saying I applaud your courage for trying to do things that will change the destructive dynamics of your marriage. Safety is essential for any relationship to be healthy. If you aren’t safe to be yourself, to share your thoughts and feelings in a constructive way, or to disagree without fear of punishment or retaliation, then you can’t fix what’s wrong because it’s not even safe to talk about it

You mention that you have done wrong too. There are no perfect spouses. All marriages have things that are wrong with them, but when the marriage is relatively healthy, the husband and wife will look at their part, apologize, make amends and work toward corrections.

Let me ask you this, are any of those “wrongs” that you say you are guilty of safety issues? For example, have you not respected a time-out when your husband is getting heated and wants to end the conversation for a period of time? Or perhaps you’ve shamed and criticized him when he’s expressed his opinion or tried to disagree? If so, you can take responsibility for those things and work to change. Since you have a two year old child, the two of you must communicate around finances, issues regarding your son and visitation, and if you haven’t practiced safety in those interactions, then you can start there. Safety involves respecting boundaries, stopping destructive interactions when the other person says stop and taking responsibility for your own actions when you’ve crossed the line and scared or hurt the other person. (For those who want to read more from my 3 part article “Can This Marriage Be Saved,” go to http://www.christiancounseling.com and click on Leslie’s blog).

But your question is directed to help about the diagnosis of NPD and whether or not that is a “curable” problem. There are many people with NPD who are highly talented, successful people who often have a fan base of admirers and people willing to give themselves to him or her because of the afterglow it affords by being associated with such a successful person. The narcissist’s entitlement mindset seems more excusable or justified because of his or her success.

However, when a person is NPD and is rather ordinary, he or she still feels entitled and becomes disgruntled when people aren’t treating them as special as they feel they deserve. From a purely secular point of view, NPD is one of the hardest disorders to treat primarily because the narcissist never sees himself as “the problem”. Therefore they rarely present themselves for treatment. They may go to marriage counseling, but it is always their spouse’s lack of love, lack of support or lack of care that becomes the issue. They often portray themselves as the victims of emotional abuse.

If or when the therapist tries to get the narcissistic person to reflect honestly on himself or his or her behavior, there is usually great resistance, excuse making, blame shifting, or termination of treatment. If you don’t think you have a problem, if you won’t listen to someone who gives you feedback and if you refuse to look within, there is not a high probability that you will change.

A narcissist doesn’t know how to love another person as a separate person. For a narcissist, another person’s sole purpose is to be an object who will love and admire them. In other words, you become nourishment to meet their NEEDS. When you cease nourishing them, they will discard you and move on to new food (another person).

When they say that they love you, what they mean is I love how you love me. When you love them well, then you are wonderful, the best thing that ever happened to them. When you fail to love them well (as you always will), then you have a price to pay. A person with NPD finds it impossible to put themselves in someone else’s shoes (empathy) and has little compassion for anyone other than themselves. A narcissist gets into a relationship to be adored, admired, and loved, not to love or to sacrifice themselves for someone else.

That said, there are times when someone is in so much pain they are willing to hear and look and reevaluate who they are and how they’ve seen themselves and others. In these cases, the road to transformation is long and slow but change can happen. God is in the business of changing hearts and transforming lives. Yet the paradox that is hard for us to live with when we’re married to someone with NPD is that God doesn’t change us without our permission.

For you, if you choose to stay with him, understand that you will always give more than you receive. He will be unhappy with you when you are unable to meet his demands and expectations and will often be rude, sarcastic, judgmental and abusive telling you so. Develop a good support system outside your marriage. Find other things to do that give your life meaning and fulfillment. Don’t pine for a husband who will cherish you for you. That doesn’t mean that people with NPD can’t be fun loving and kind when they want to be, but there is always something in it for them.

A while back, one of our readers of this blog recommended a website http://www.narcissismcured.com which was started by a woman who is married to a narcissist. She is not a therapist, but she claims she worked to figure out how to change herself and in doing so, her husband began to change as well. I can’t validate their story (they live in Australia), but I’ve read some of her material and think she offers some helpful perspectives and strategies for you to keep sane in the midst of staying married to a man who has a deeply entrenched problem.

If you Google narcissism, you will also find other helpful material on the web as well as support groups for people who live with or are related to a narcissistic person. One of the things I always tell people is that truthful information can be very helpful in making wise decisions. Before you end your marriage, make sure you have done all you can to stay safely as well as sanely.

Q & A: Do I have to have sex with my husband?

SOURCE:  Taken from an article by Leslie Vernik

Q. I’ve been married for 25 years to an emotionally and verbally abusive man. I feel angry and bitter toward him for the way he treats me, yet he still expects me to be loving and affectionate with him, especially in bed. I can’t do it. What does God expect me to do? Can I withhold sex as a consequence for his abusive behavior?

A. This is an extremely important question that many women face. In last weeks’ answer I spoke about being treated as an object instead of a human being. An emotionally destructive marriage is where the personhood, dignity and personal choice of the spouse is regularly diminished, degraded, disregarded or crushed.

No one likes feeling like an object, especially if you are in a committed relationship with the person who treats you as such. Husbands sometimes complain to me that they feel that their wives treat them like a paycheck. Wives complain that they don’t feel like a loved person but merely a sexual object or a slave. Marriage is the most sacred and intimate relationship we have apart from our relationship with God. When one person (or both people) continually disrespects, mistreats, or lies to the other, intimacy is broken. It can be rebuilt but not without genuine repentance and a lot of hard work.

From what you say, it sounds as if your husband believes he’s entitled to the benefits of married life, (sexual intimacy, your affection and love, not to mention normal care), without having to do his part. He doesn’t seem to understand that having a good and loving relationship requires two people who interact with one another with kindness and respect. His emotionally abusive behavior is driving you further away from him. Does he just want sex from you? Or true intimacy?

The Bible calls us to love, not hate. That command includes our enemies. But what does Biblical love look like towards your husband in this instance? Biblical love isn’t necessarily feelings of affection or warmth, but actions that are directed toward another person’s long term best interests.

So ask yourself the question, Is it in my husband’s long term best interests to be sexually available to him so that his sexual needs are met? If you answer “yes”, understand that meeting his sexual needs is not a solution to your relationship problem it is just a solution to his sexual frustration.

Another way to look at this situation is that it is in your husband’s best interests to let him experience the felt consequences of broken intimacy and tell him that when he treats you disrespectfully, you’re too angry to feel warmth and affection towards him. When he’s not sorry he treats you that way, it makes it impossible for you to feel affectionate toward him. You need to have a calm conversation with him regarding your feelings. Here’s a sample of something you might say.

I know you get very frustrated when I’m not responsive to your sexual needs. You want me to be sexual with you and enjoy our physical relationship, but the way you treat me much of the time makes me feel angry and hurt. When you call me names or degrade me in front of the children, the last thing I feel like doing is being warm and affectionate towards you. If you want genuine intimacy and affection, you will need to work on changing the way you treat me. Wouldn’t you rather have someone who wants to get close and affectionate with you rather than someone who is just doing her duty?

Most men I talk with want closeness with their wives. Try expressing your feeling about being just an object versus a person. This may help him see the impact of his behavior, not only on you, but on him. But if your husband won’t hear you and doesn’t care about what your feelings are, then what?

Hear me. I don’t believe in using sex as a weapon anymore than someone should use the silent treatment as a weapon. It isn’t good for the marriage. It is controlling and manipulative.

However, I do think sometimes we have to say, “I can’t talk right now because I’m too angry to do it constructively” or “I can’t talk with you because you won’t hear me or listen to me”. That’s not using talking as a weapon, but stating a problem either with you or in the relationship.

In the same way, if someone says, “I can’t have sexual closeness with you right now because I’m too angry to do it lovingly.” I think that is stating a truth. Or “having sex with you feels like I’m just being used as an object but you don’t really care for me when you treat me so disrespectfully other times” helps the one who is doing the hurting to know what needs to change in order to repair the relationship.

Emotionally Destructive Relationships: Close to home

My mom’s in an emotionally destructive relationship with my dad. What should I do?

SOURCE:  Leslike Vernick

Question: My parents are in their fourth year on the mission field, their “second” career after retiring from business and moving overseas to serve for an undetermined number of years. They’ve been married 40 years.

For decades, my mom has spent hours in the Word and in prayer daily, and has a track record of humble service to my father (and to her three kids as we were growing up). In fact, her reading habits have drawn repeated attacks and ridicule from my dad. He has a history of humiliating her (and us kids) publicly, explosive anger, and is restrictive of her freedom. But to anyone outside our family, this would come as a shock. He’s a successful businessman, gregarious, and active in every little church they’ve ever been part of.

Mom convinced him to seek pastoral counseling with her about 20 years ago and no real change resulted. He rejects psychology wholesale, yet admits to not finding anything profound or new whenever he reads the Bible. I found out when visiting them this summer that mom’s frequent trips to the bathroom were the result of frequent and prolonged sex (compounded by a long history of health issues which have rendered her “fragile”, to put it gently), which I’m guessing is precipitated by dad’s age and evening alcohol consumption.

I was incensed at the state of things mom was enduring, and told her she did not have to submit to dad’s physical advances any longer. She acted on that after I left and has not been intimate with him since. She and I both struggle with whether that is right, however I maintain that after years of humble service met with nothing but fits of rage, humiliation, zero emotional/relational intimacy, and rejection/denial anytime she attempted to talk about these issues, she no longer needed to put herself through it.

This all has caused mom to start examining her own life, tracing the roots of these problems back to her own father’s rejection of her (her mom told her that he just didn’t like her). She met my dad in college, who even then was controlling and manipulative. After a brief tryst (none of the “falling in love” typical foundation for a marriage relationship), she got pregnant and they were married a month later. She’s been working at it for forty years, and without having to explain much to my siblings, they immediately understood mom’s position when she told them she was ready to stand up to him.

Knowing what action to take has been the daily question. Your description of “crazy making” has been so helpful in understanding what she deals with. Dad does not initiate conversation with mom, denies any wrongdoing when specific instances are presented to him (by mom), and just this week has informed mom that she has been abusing him.

Mom has a plane ticket home in October to visit her 90 year old mother. My dad has removed any legitimate and substantive responsibility from my mom in their mission work. She is fully devoid of any in-country support (she refuses to take this to her co-workers for fear they wouldn’t believe her. While mom still cooks and cleans for my dad and tries to “help him”, he does nothing to reciprocate her attention or acknowledge it with any gratitude (that’s how it’s always been). My mom says she sees “improvement” in him, defined thus: he is trying really hard to control his temper, he doesn’t ask for sex anymore, he’s “earnestly seeking after spiritual things” and he has shifted from a “know-it-all” to “docile resignation.”

To me, that improvement is not reversing the pattern, it’s just neutral. He has no accountability where they are. So I’ve implored my mom to stay here in the US when she comes home. They are already making preparations to extract themselves from their position with their missions agency anyway, and since she doesn’t do anything work-related, it seems more important that she get help here.

Mom says she doesn’t know how she would be able to live apart from him, that she would always be worrying about him. This is understandable, but not healthy. How do I help my mom get healthy? Should she return even though he’d likely be home within the year? Is this “improvement” reason enough for her to resume physical intimacy?

Answer: Watching someone we love struggle in a destructive/abusive relationship is incredibly difficult. When it is our own parents, it is heartbreaking. I know you want to help your mom get healthy, but there are some things that she must do for herself and it sounds as if she is starting to do them.

You can help her, support her, and encourage her, but you must not push her to do something she is not ready or willing to do. If you do that, it will put you in the controlling role and she will once again stay in the passive role. Even though you mean well and only want her best, for someone to become emotionally healthy she must learn to figure out what she wants and to speak up for herself when necessary and not to be so passive, even when someone is upset with her for doing so.

What you can do is help her think through her choices and the consequences of those choices and then applaud and support her right to choose. For her entire marriage, she hasn’t believed she has the right to say “no”, or when she’s tried, she’s been manipulated, controlled, or pressured into giving in. You must not play that same role even if you fear she is making a poor choice.

You’ve asked a number of important questions but one in particular I want to spend a little time on. You asked how could your dad possibly accuse your mother of abusing him after all her years of patiently and passively enduring his humiliation, manipulations, verbal attacks, sexual abuse and controlling behaviors?

First, let me say that although your mother sounds like a saint, she is also still a sinner and there may be times when she does or is tempted to retaliate against your father, even if she does it more passively. The Bible tells us that people’s bad behavior rubs off on us and sometime, even if we’re not aware of it, we start to act like they do.

However, what I think is happening here is a common phenomenon I see once an abused woman stops going along with the abuser and begins to speak up for herself.

Let me give some background. When someone marries it’s understood that this person you married will have their own ideas, feelings, desires, goals, dreams and thoughts about things. If you’re healthy, you will not require the person you married to always think like you, feel like you, want what you want, or always do what you say. Instead you allow them to be different than you. The challenge of a healthy marriage is to lovingly blend two different people into a strong oneness that still contains each person’s uniqueness.

But this is not what happens in an abusive marriage. It sounds like right from the start, your father has not seen your mother as her own “person” to be cherished or loved but rather as an object to be possessed, owned, controlled and used. If this is the case, she isn’t allowed a separate voice, a personal feeling, a want apart from what he wants, or to disagree, or say “no”. As long as she stays true to the object role and shapes herself to meet every whim of your father, things stay relatively calm. Unfortunately this kind of wifely behavior has too often been applauded as biblical submission and a meek and gentle spirit which it is not.

It is not healthy to lose yourself in another person nor is it wise. Now as your mother is becoming healthier and realizing some important things she’s begun to assert herself. She is not just playing the “good Christian wife role” but is saying “I don’t like to be treated this way” and “That’s not acceptable”. However, as she begins to assert her needs, hurts, and feelings, he feels abandoned, rejected, unloved, and even abused.

The reason? In his mind, her sole purpose in being his wife is to please him, meet his every emotional need and always be available when he wants her. She has no needs of her own because she is not allowed to be a separate person. The more she speaks out about how she thinks, what she wants, how she feels and what she will or won’t do the more disappointed your father becomes.

This is not the helpmate he signed up for. And his “improvements” as your mother mentions are either an attempt to charm her to return to the object role, or as you suspect, “docile resignation” that things will never be the same again. This is still a far cry from a healthy marriage.

So do you encourage your mother to say in the States to receive support and help instead of returning to the mission field after her mother’s birthday? That is your mother’s decision to make, but you can help her think it through all of her choices and to know that if her marriage is to turn around, it is important not only that she continue to grow be the person God made her to be (not an object) but that her husband begin to value and cherish her as a person and not merely as someone who sole purpose is to take care of him, whether physically, emotionally or sexually.

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Leslie Vernick is a licensed counselor (DCSW, ACSW, LSW) with over 25 years of experience helping individuals, couples, and families enrich the relationships that matter most!

A WAY OF HOPE – ABUSE

(Adapted from Family Life Today/A Weekend to Remember)

You Are Not Alone

When you are abused, you feel desperately alone.  You may think, Why me? Other women don’t have this problem.  Something must be wrong with me. And you may feel so ashamed that this is happening to you that you don’t want anyone to know about it.  But the truth is that many wives suffer some form of domestic abuse regardless of racial, religious, educational or economic backgrounds.

According to the American Medical Association, husbands and boyfriends severely assault as many as four million women every year.  One in four women will experience some type of spousal abuse during their lifetime.  Many of these women feel trapped, anxious, afraid, and helpless.  Some feel they are to blame – that if they could just do better at pleasing their husbands, they could change their situations.  Others don’t know what to do, or where to go to get help.  Most suffer in silence, hiding their situations from family and friends because of the shame and embarrassment they feel.  Or perhaps they fear others will not believe them.

No, you are not alone.  But there is hope!  Many women have taken bold and courageous steps to seek help, to find freedom from abuse, and to begin the journey toward to a new life.  Some have even seen their abusers find the help they desperately needed to stop their destructive behavior and to experience healing and recovery in their own lives.  Some couples, through the help of intervention and a structured recovery process guided by pastors or qualified counselors, have been able to experience healing and reconciliation in their marriages.

Yes, it is true that change does take time, a lot of courage, and a great deal of support, but change can happen.  And if you are in an abusive situation, change must happen.

What Is Abuse?

A crucial first step in this process will be to acknowledge and understand the abuse occurring in your marriage.  Abuse means to mistreat or misuse someone.  People abuse others to dominate or control, or to prevent others from making free choices.

There are several different forms of abuse:

*Emotional or psychological abuse:  Mistreating and controlling someone through fear, manipulation, and intimidation, and by attacking that person’s sense of self-worth.  The abuser seeks to make his wife feel afraid, helpless, confused, and worthless.  This form of abuse includes:  name-calling, mocking, belittling, accusing, blaming, yelling, swearing, harassing, isolating from family and friends, abusing authority, withholding emotional support and affection, and betraying trust.

*Physical abuse:  Assaulting, threatening, or restraining a person through force. Men who batter use physical violence to control women – to scare them into doing whatever they want them to do.  Physical abuse includes:  hitting, slapping, punching, beating, grabbing, shoving, biting, kicking, pulling hair, burning, using or threatening the use of weapons, blocking you from leaving a room or the house during an argument, driving recklessly, or intimidating you with threatening gestures.

*Sexual abuse:  Behavior that dominates or controls someone through sexual acts, demands or insults.  Sexual abuse includes:  making you do sexual things when it is against your will, when you are sick, or when it is painful; using force (including rape in or out of marriage), threats, or coercion to obtain sex or perform sexual acts; forcing you to have unprotected sex, or sex with others; treating you like a sex object, and calling you names like “frigid” or “whore.”

Facing the Facts … And Facing Your Fears

Denying the abuse or the impact of abuse may have helped you to cope with the problem until now.  However, denial is also the very thing that will hinder you from breaking the cycle of violence in your life, and from experiencing peace and freedom from abuse.

Facing the fact that you are being abused or battered by your husband, and that his behavior is not normal, can stir up deep emotional feelings – especially fear.  You must acknowledge these fears in order to face and deal with the problem.  In her book, Invisible Wounds – A Self-Help Guide for Women in Destructive Relationships, Kay Douglas writes, “Unacknowledged fears play on our minds and sap our confidence until we have no energy left to deal with the problems at hand.  The way out of fear is through it.”  She goes on to say, “As we face and feel our vulnerability, our fear may increase in intensity for a brief time.  Then it begins to diminish.  When we know what we are dealing with, much of the power of that feeling goes.  We move through fear to a calmer, stronger place within.  Having faced the worst, we are free to put our energy into coping creatively with our situation.”

It’s Time to Make the Right Choices

You do not deserve to be abused, nor are you to blame for the abuse that you have suffered.  Abuse of any type is wrong, and if you are in an abusive situation, the first step toward new life and freedom is to recognize that there is a need for a change in your life.  Change can be difficult, and in some cases, change can be frightening.  However, in any type of an abusive situation, change is absolutely necessary for your own well being.

Remember, abuse is about power and control.  You may be experiencing verbal or emotional abuse now.  But if changes are not made to resolve your current situation, then when your husband begins feeling as if he still does not have enough control, the abuse will escalate into more violent forms.  According to some authorities, when abusers hit or break objects or make threats, almost 100 percent resort to physical battering.  What might be verbal abuse now could turn into physical abuse down the road.  No form of abuse is acceptable!

Contrary to what you may believe, you are not powerless! You are a worthwhile person and you do not have to continue to accept the mistreatment of your husband.  You have the power to make your own choices.

 

 

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