Marital Abuse…When it’s all about them.

Jeff Olson —  August 13, 2010 — 53 Comments

I’ve been away from Internet access for a few weeks so I didn’t have a chance to weigh in on the recent posts discussing the issue of abuse in marriage.

This post contains some of what nearly 20 years of counseling experience has taught me about the serious issue of marital abuse. It’s a bit on the long side, but I hope what I’ve learned will be of some help.

Martial abuse, whatever form it takes, is ultimately about a husband or a wife who makes it all about him/herself. The common thread that runs through just about every controlling, unreasonable, petty, hurtful, and frustrating thing they do is their demand to have everything revolve around them. We’re not talking about lower case selfishness that is in every last one of us. What I’m referring to here is capital letter SELFISHNESS.

Abusive spouses employ controlling tactics such as bullying, punishing, whining, belittling, complaining, accusing, and threatening to get their own way and keep their spouse from doing anything that unimportant or threatening to selfish agenda. They are not interested in being a mutually considerate partner. Whatever it is that is important to them—their pain, their needs, their wants, their opinions, their schedules, etc.,—that is what occupies their interest. Everything else, at least in their eyes, is irrelevant. And they are very persistent and clever at conditioning their spouses (and others) to see life exclusively through their self-absorbed lenses.

If you’re married to someone with a serious case of Me-ism you know first hand just how maddening, oppressive, and wearing it can be. No matter how accommodating you try to be, it’s never enough. And good luck trying to speak with your spouse about how he/she is treating you. Some may back down now and again, even say they are sorry, but mostly because they are afraid they have upset you too much. Most, however, will typically respond by going on the attack or playing the victim. Many abusive spouses are capable of attacking and playing the persecuted one at the same time. Whether they are aware of it or not, they are masters at twisting things around, blaming you for what their selfishness created and making you look bad and feel bad for “pressing” them too hard. They are never wrong. It’s never their fault. And they are typically full of excuses. They are generally victims of something, whether it be another “bad day” or your impatience or lack of understanding them.

Remember—it’s all about them.

Experience has also taught me that it’s pointless for anyone to try to reason or debate with an abusive spouse. You’ll drive yourself crazy trying to. They are not interested in being reasonable or honestly evaluating why they act the way they do. They are not serious about taking a hard look at themselves and how their selfishness is tearing apart the marriage and family. They generally don’t care what they put their spouses or others through. Again, they are mostly interested in what’s important to them. And about the only way you can be right or have a valid thought or feeling is if you are accommodating their needs or requiring nothing of them. And if you do get frustrated and blow up at them, they get to play the victim of your anger.

Another thing I’ve learned about abuse in marriage is that it gets worse over time. Accommodating and cooperating with your spouse’s subtle and no so subtle demands may buy you some temporary peace and sanity, perhaps even some affection, but it doesn’t last. Because of the extreme levels of selfishness at work in the heart of your abusive spouse, marital abuse, if not confronted, will return and continue to escalate and slowly suck the life out of you.

I’ve also learned that most abusive spouses will not deal with their capital letter SELFISHNESS as long as they know they can get away with it. They need to experience serious and consistent consequences for making it all about them. Drawing lines and giving consequences are some of the most loving actions an abused spouse can take as it gives their spouse a chance to admit they have a serious problem and begin to deal with their heart. I don’t say this lightly, for this is hardly easy. It’s disruptive, messy, and can be potentially dangerous. That’s why addressing marital abuse requires outside help from those who understand the selfish and dangerous dynamics of abuse and can provide guidance, support, and protection for an abused spouse as the abuser is confronted and held accountable.

That brings me to another important point experience has shown me. Over the years I’ve seen well-meaning family members, friends, church leaders, and even other counselors attempt to step in and help, only to make things worse–especially for the abused spouse.  Many lack the experience or reference point to recognize and confront the subtle yet extreme “all about me” dynamics in the abusive spouse that are destroying the relationship. They themselves are frequently manipulated and or intimidated by an abusive spouse, and they tend to offer counsel and advice that mistakenly assumes both spouses are willing to be mutually considerate.  These are unfortunate errors that unintentionally enables the abuse to continue.

One last thing experience has taught me is this: while most abusive spouses will insist on joint-marital counseling once their pattern of control and making it all about them is exposed, this is the last place to begin addressing marital abuse. Neither spouse is typically ready for the level of honest vulnerability that is needed for marital counseling to beneficial. Until abusive spouses are able to become self-ware of how they make it all about them and own the extent and harm of their abusive behavior, they will try to make the counseling process all about them too, which will undermine it. Further, abused spouses will not feel free to openly share their thoughts and concerns in the presence of their abusive partners. They are understandably afraid that their spouse will later make them pay for saying what they truly think and feel.

Abusive spouses who are truly interested in dealing with their Me-ism will not only be willing to accept consequences for their selfish behavior, but they will agree to pursue a path of individual counseling (separate from their spouse) where they will take an honest and hard look at themselves and explore how and why they feel such a deep and pressing need to be so self-absorbed and controlling. Joint-marital counseling only becomes a possibility once abusive spouses have consistently demonstrated over a lengthy period time a genuine, no excuses repentance/sorrow over making it all about them and the nightmare that it has put their spouse and family through.

Jeff Olson

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counselor. writer. outdoorsman. US.

53 responses to Marital Abuse…When it’s all about them.

  1. Thank you for writing this. A few months ago I declined to allow my husband to attend counseling sessions with me because I felt it would do more damage than good. I did not believe he was ready for this step, ready to look at himself honestly, so determined that having him present in counseling sessions would not be wise. I’ve felt terrible about it and questioned whether “I” was being selfish in my choice, and wrong to set the boundary that before he attends a session with me, he has to be willing to take an honest look at himself sperately. I appreciate your post. Thank you again.

  2. This sounds so much like my marriage. We are in a financial mess and I believe I’ve enabled my husband all these years, when I realize I’m the victim of his ME-ism. I’m scared, but know God will give me the strength to get through it. I think I’ve been in denial for almost 25 years that I’m the victime of marital abuse. Please pray for me to stay strong.

  3. Jeff, As I read this it seemed as though someone had finally been able to put words to my life. This is my marriage. As a man I do not know how to handle the situation. I cannot think of a favorable outcome because men are viewed with little regard in these situations. No matter how I explain things it seems like I am lamenting the “normal” emotions of a woman, but I know that is not true. I know I am being emotionally and verbally abused and there is no recourse. Prayer and bible study are my coping strategies. I know God can change hearts and minds, but it seems like He has other priorities.

  4. I have been in this kind of relationship for 33 years. Ten years ago I began the painful telling myself the truth! Then, I believed he was just very selfish, but now I understand that I never asked for, expected or demanded respect, love and attention. It was all about him! I was always in the wrong for attempting to put a light on the problem, always appeasing, trying to keep what I thought was the peace in my home. No joy, no love, no hope. After being told in christian counseling that the problem was my rebellion to the god-ordained authority my husband had over me, I fell deep into despair. I now am physically, emotionally and spiritualy separated from him while getting counseling, separate and together. He is still trying desperately to keep the status quo while I have determined to leave him permanently if I don’t see genuine true sorrowful repentance. So far it is not happening and I struggle with my own insecurities, sorrow, addiction to food, and depression. I struggle to hold on to the Lord’s promise and that is what keeps me afloat.

  5. Thank you for this article. What now?

  6. Mihstiegh,

    That’s such an important question. If you are ready to deal with what is destroying your marriage, get a few people involved. But just as I mentioned in the post, don’t just talk to anyone. Talk to someone who understands the dynamics of abuse and is willing to support you through the DIFFICULT and often long process of addressing it. If you’re not ready to directly address it, then I would suggest you start talking to a Christian counselor or friend who can help you work through the misconceptions and fears that may be holding you back.

    BTW…Please know that our hearts and prayers go out to all of you who have responded to this post.

  7. This sounds just like my marriage. Its like you are talking about my husband. He definitely fits this profile. Ive had enough of his abuse yet he says he doesnt do it,that its all me.What he accuses me of is what he says and does,exactly. He will not take the blame for anything.He is tired of being the bad person so it all gets put on me and he plays those games that he is the victim,not me. Yet no one wants to come to me and hear what I have to say.Its all about him and what he says. I cant take it anymore.Need I say a divorce has been filed.It is on hold right now. Does anyone have any words of encouragement for me please?I am trying my best to do what is Gods will and to keep myself right with God.Its hard but I really am trying.Thanks

  8. Heidi, sorry to learn what you are going through. It’s very wearing. I’m sure this is not how you hoped things would turn out in your marriage.

    Just couple of thoughts to consider. The Bible call us to try to live at peace with everyone, “if it is possible” (Romans 12:18). From what you shared, it sounds like you are in a marriage where your husband is making peace impossible. Whether you stay in your marriage or let the divorce go through, try to keep in mind what Paul went on to say in Romans 12… “Do not be overcome by evil.” In other words don’t fall into the trap of seeking revenge, which is a struggle for us when someone continues to hurt us so deeply. Instead Paul calls us to, “overcome evil by doing good” (Romans 12:21). But doing good doesn’t mean rolling over and becoming a doormat. It partly means confronting the “evil” in a person’s life with consequences for the purpose of conquering the evil that is keeping them from being who God made them to be and destroying a marriage. Again, this is not easy to do. The easy path is to respond in kind. The harder path and higher call is to draw lines for the sake of the other person. You will grow in your relationship with Lord and as a person regardless of the path your husband chooses to take.

  9. Thankyou, for the information. I have lived with an abusive husband for 4 years and we are now separated. of all the abuse, what I found the most devastating was the spiritual abuse. We met at church and he strongly believed in grace and knew his word inside out. Despite this he would call me unrighteous, accuse me of having a demon. He would tell me I was sick because I wasn’t spiritual enough. Everything he said to me was in direct opposition to what we would hear at church. I fear nobody would believe me if I told them what he was really like.This is all very confusing for me.

  10. Mary,

    Having anyone bully you with the Bible is one of the worst kinds of abuse. And those who make it all about themselves can hide it very well with charm and flattery, but people at your church can eventually see through it for what it is. You’ve got to consider taking the risk of sharing what you’ve been through with a couple of folks who care about you and your husband. Exposure is often needed before a person will realize they have a serious problem and get help.

  11. I’d been following your post Jeff and as I am going through a crisis in my life now, I’ve come to realize that I am the abusive spouse. The Me-ism is in me. Could I have more advise on how I can be able to get rid of this abusive attitude. I’m married to my husband for 7 years now and I think I am making our marriage drown because of Emotional Abuse. I had many instances that I made him feel so low about himself and I ridicule him in front of people. I love him but I don’t know why I want him to be always honest with me, all the time to the extent that he is choked. Help me please..I am just as the person you are referring to as the abusive spouse in this post. Thank you and I would appreciate your advice.

  12. Melinda, I applaud your willingness to face the way you relate to your husband. Me-ism is a deeply engrained attitude that is tough to acknowledge and shed. But you can’t shed something you don’t first recognize.

    From what you shared it sounds like you’ve begun the important yet difficult process of taking a hard look at yourself. Getting rid of Me-ism is a long road that involves a willingness to recognize how and when you make it all about you and acknowledging what you put others through by making it all about you. Rather than make excuses, it involves showing by both your words and your actions that it’s not okay to smother, attack, or make others feel responsible for the drama you’ve created. It involves listening (without getting defensive) to people like your husband share what it’s like to be on the other end of your selfishness. Rather than acting like a victim and focusing on your spouse, it involves focusing on yourself and accepting responsibility for the struggles in the relationship that your selfishness has created. Rather than running your spouse down to others or acting like you have no idea why they are upset with or afraid of you, it involves confessing to others what you have put your spouse through.

    As you demonstrate with your words and actions a willingness to own your Me-ism, I would also recommend you see a Christian counselor to help you sort through and address why you feel such a deep and pressing need and right to make it all about you.

    Again, this is very hard to do, but if you humble yourself before God and others, God will do a dramatic work in your life (James 4:10).

  13. I really appreciate this forum Jeff. I have been married to my husband for 7 months and we have been together for almost 7 years. I’m at my breaking point with him and his addictions. I have prayed and asked God to make him over and I know that He hears me but it’s so difficult waiting. I feel bad because I feel like an enabler and I also feel like the victim. I don’t want to divorce him because I don’t believe in it, but if someone is sucking the life from you does God still want you to stay?

    I love him and know that when he does want to truely change we will be fine, but it’s causing me more distress and pain everyday. I’m currently battling PTSD and his behaviors are triggering me and is causing my progress to be hindered. He’s stealing from us and he puts everyone else his “friends” and of course himself before me and our needs. I even have to hide money from him but it’s so bad that he actually goes searching. Dealing with him is like dealing with a child and I Praise the Lord that we do not have any right now.

    I feel weak and defeated and I need help. How do you set consequences and boundaries when a person is set in their ways like that? Or when they say they understand and are sorry and then turn around and do the exact same thing again without any regard until they are confronted.

    I told him that I was serious about his behavior causing a riff and that we should go to counsleing so he got a little scared and acknowleged what I said and swiftly changed the subject. I see a counselor indv now but I dont think it’s working.

    Any advice would be help. Thank You again.

  14. Shy,

    Given what you shared I can understand why you are at a “breaking point.” It sounds like your husband’s addiction has put you through an emotinal ringer.

    You asked, “How do you set consequences and boundaries when a person is set in their ways like that?” Here’s something to consider about setting limits and giving consequences that may help. A consequence is not something that you ask or try to get your spouse to do. Rather, a consequence is something you are prepared to do if your spouse continues to cross the boundaries you’ve established. The difference between the two it is huge. Consequences are not something you discuss or have a debate over. They are something you inform your spouse that you will be doing. In essence you are saying, “I can’t change you. I can’t make you stop lying or stealing. I can’t force you give up your addiction. But if you continue to do these things, here is what I’m going to do.” The hope is that the pain of the consequence(s) “hurts” them enough to bring them to their senses and take their issues seriously.

  15. Humbly Hurt Husband December 20, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    hi jeff i am thankful for “stumblning” across your article. i feel odd because i have been searching to find out about marital abuse from the man’s side of things. we are .. well were a happily married couple of 2 plus years now. me 36 & her 28 and we have two beautiful daughers of 1 year & 5 weeks. we both came into marriage knowing the “chains/generational curses” that follow our individual bloodline. i was born out of an affair and knew who my dad was but not who he was. (yeah i know) but i have 2 older brother’s and a younger so the affair happened in the middle of my dad’s marriage. i vowed NEVER … NEVER … NEVER repeat what he did to me. the hurt, rejection, dis-appointments, broken promises, missed sports games, graduations .. you name it. but i forgave and love him to this day,never even spending one day with him. but he came to wedding and that was healing for me. my wife’s side is all women. bitter, contrary, none married and none looking like it might happen. her mom thought “all” men were dogs, not faithful because that was her life story ..so she really walked on me our whole dating time. but my wife “promised” .. as i did .. that she would not be like her mom. in no way because it pushed us apart while dating. to the point where i told her i asked god to show me other women that were “oeaceful” in spirit for me and we broke things off. but she was my love, heart, bestfriend so we were able to worj things out and grow up some more together. she is in school full-time and is at home until she graduates. i work from home so we get to be with the kids all the time. which we love. in between working i try to wash clothes, clean,keep things off of her as much as possible. there is no un-faithfulness, un-loyalty to report. i’m always at home, totally open & honest, transparent, she knows where i am. where the money is, who emails me, all the work clients, etc. i love my family SO much i wake up everyday with “peace” on my mind for the day. it seems we go on these rollercoasters with her and these “symptoms” from her side of the family. it’s unbearable. i feel un-appreciated, abused, walked on and almost worthless.but i look at my little daughters and i weep and say “i can’t fail. i can’t let them down” but i leave my wife out of how i feel. am i wrong? it’s life the abuse have seared my feeling & emotions. sorry so long but i am so embarassed because i know most will read this and think “he’s weak or either lying.” but GOD as my witness knows i need help for my family to make it through.God Bless for your insight and help

  16. Originally read your article in September and appreciate your response to my question, “what now”.
    Truth be told…. we have been in counseling pretty much our entire 12 year marriage. Am finally with a counselor he approves of. I want so desperately to address things and see healthy change. Keep getting told that i am not being submissive and that he will bring me before the elders (and has) and that i am in no position to deny a certain request. I feel so done.
    Am currently homeschooling four of our at home six children. Our oldest is 20 and left 2 years ago hurt and is not walking with Lord at this time. He has a daughter who is 16 by a marriage while we were apart 8 years. I feel she is terribly neglected by him as well. My car has not run in 1 1/2 years. After refinancing our home 7 years ago to add on and pay off debt, here we are with 30,000 in CC debt. We do not clothes shop, we don’t have cable, no gym memberships, no vacations and it is super hard to be more frugal…. i feel so trapped.

  17. Mihstiegh, I’m sorry to read that you feel so trapped…from what you shared it sounds like there is still a strong unwillingness to address the one-sided nature of your marriage. I have prayed that the counseling you are seeking will provide a chance to truly confront the real problems in your marriage and that God will lead you in knowing what is truly the best way to move forward for you, your children, and your husband.

  18. I totoally agree with what the author wrote on the page. It is a ditto experience for me. I am currently separted and he has control over my 14 and 11 eleven year old. They too treat me like he does. They learned this from him and he would belittle me in front of them. The children prefer to be with him. Does any have any advice for me? Not sure if the courts will side with me and get the kids help. I would like 50/50 but not sure the children want this. They need help too. He does have a Domestic Charge against him but 12 years ago.

  19. This is a great article. The issue at hand here is an Asbury Park NJ minister that physically abused one woman and sexually abused another and tried to make everyone think it’s all their faults. Everyone is just making up lies on him despite pictures, witnesses and credible testimony. Your article depicts it in a great way, this behavior that I have seen numerous times.

  20. I know this is my life in black and white. I was with my ex-common-law husband for the past 8years of my short 21. A lot of people feel sorry for me, mostly those closer to my age; and then there are those who just think I was being a little girl and had to grow up. It was my duty as the woman of the house to “put” up with his demanding, controlling personality. I had a very hard time hearing myself asking for help and believing it. We broke up on a beautiful, happy day. Not much screaming and fighting as I was used to, but enough to break me finally. It has been 2 1/2 months now since I left his place and I still feel him around me. I know it will take much more time to get through this, but I just want for other women (or men) to know that it is not your fault that they are unhappy all the time. It may have been your hand that spilled the milk, but it does not give him the right to yell or physically hurt you. It’s not like he is really going to get down and scrub the floor, am I right? Stay positive out there and always believe in that little voice in the back of your head. It may be the only thing you have left if you don’t.

  21. This couldn’t have been more accurate in describing my marriage…which isn’t even 3 months old! Things were great at first, but now it really is all about him. And telling him it’s all about him really has been a waste of time…because he won’t listen. Until my husband admits that something is wrong in his heart and seeks help on his own, he will ALWAYS be the way he is…I am the victim in all this, but you would never know listening to him. Everything is twisted to make him look like he’s being abused, when in fact, I have done nothing but support and love him. I still love him, and honor my wedding vows. I don’t wish a divorce…but after reading this article, I think it’s time for me to step back, let him be who he is, and I will get right with God and my faith, and take care of myself. When my husband is ready to acknowledge that he needs to get help to deal with his skeletons, I will still be there for him…but my safety and health have to come first now…thanks for writing this article…I really needed to read this!!!

  22. I just walked away from everything, yrs of hard work, trying to build a small cattle farm. Sold everything, gave her 1/2. It seemed to be the only way to get away from her. Now am married to a loving sweet woman.

  23. When will articles like this be read and understood by your average church leader? After I left my abusive husband, I forwarded many articles on marital abuse to my church leaders. A pastor said I didn’t have to worry as he didn’t have many friends. But I knew his capacity to smear people (he even smears his own kids), so I wanted to be sure I would have support.

    Sure enough, he has been doing the smear campaign and to great effect. Even after I inform people about the dynamics of abusive relationships, they still get conned by him. He just found another pastor to get sympathy from, and although I thought they knew about domestic abuse, I was stunned when this pastor asked me to sit down for some joint counselling. I thought they all knew…

    Why don’t they EVER get it??

  24. Ann, you raise a good question that I’ve heard many spouses in your situation ask. And I certainly understand the frustration behind it. There could be any number of reasons why the average church leader doesn’t get or see the dynamics of abuse. We just need to continue to do our best to make folks aware of the truth as we are able.

  25. Jeff…

    I had this article sent to me by a loved one I have confided in about the issues in my marriage. We have only been married a little over a year, and already I feel as though it is becoming impossible to traverse. My spouse confided in me about some situations in her past where she was indeed a victim of abuse prior to our marriage. I was moved with compassion for her because of the nature of these things and found myself excusing some behaviors that I might not have otherwise, hoping that my patience and love would overcome the negative situations. Reading this article is almost like reading a description of the last 2 years of my life. Each time we sought help from friends, our pastors, Christian counselors as well as secular, or from books like “The Five Love Languages”, it always ends with me taking a deeper look at myself searching for ways I can improve personally and help improve our situation, and with her as well trying to help me improve but not look at herself. It is almost as if she cannot bear to accept that anything she does is wrong, even in small and seemingly inconsequential circumstances. I am aware that many couples face trials in their first years, but most I have encountered talk about how those times actually brought them closer together and sealed their love. I find myself being pushed further and further away from my spouse as times goes on. I have always been one who believes that any situation can be overcome with love, that all things are possible to those that love God, but I find myself at a crossroads of having those beliefs challenged by the one I love most. I do not wish to cause her more hurt, I do not wish to abandon her, but I am at a place where very little is left for me to sacrifice, save my dignity. Where do I go from here? I want to set boundaries and follow through with consequences, but I am unsure where to begin.

  26. Everett, I was sorry to read about the struggles in your marriage. Living with someone whose pattern is to make it all about them can be quite a nightmare.

    From what you shared, it sounds like it’s more than time to address this pattern. Given that I don’t know the details of your situation, I can’t tell you where to begin. Somehow, however, you need to start intentionally communicating (not necessarily convincing), but informing your spouse that it’s no longer okay for it to be all about her. That her pain and needs are not the only ones that count.

    You obviously love your wife and are concerned about the deep wounds in her life, but she appears to be at a place where she first needs to stop pointing the finger at you and take a long look at herself to see how she is handling the wounds of her life by making it all about her. Until she truly starts doing this, she will remain stuck in herself and her wounds. And it will continue to hurt both of you and destroy your marriage.

    A couple of resources that may help you get a better idea of where to begin include our booklet When Words Hurt http://www.discoveryseries.org/cb011 and Bold Love by Dan Allender.

  27. i may be only 13, but i can still appreciate a well written piece of writing, especially when no one else seems to get these things. there are so many people in this world who are abused everyday, but somehow accept it as the status quo and do nothing about it for most of their lives. if only they could read articles like this more often and realize that there is help for them. i hope you don’t mind if i present this beautiful piece of writing to my grade8 class, of course i will also have the website and your name on the paper. thanks a lot!
    -KES

  28. KES, you are welcome to use this piece… :)

  29. This is really hard for me to write this for everyone to see but i believe i may be the abuser in my relationship. This article really fits me. I never thought i would end up the person i am. Im not sure where to turn to get help, i have no insurance and we can’t afford to pay for a counselor. I am a young mom and i got married a year ago at 18, I really want to change my self and save my marriage before i push my husband away. Please help me!

  30. Jessica, we applaud your willingness to take a hard and honest look at yourself, and to admit what you see. I would encourage you to keep looking at yourself and ask God to help you see how you don’t treat your husband as a person who needs are just as valid and important as yours . That will go a long ways towards changing your heart and the way you relate to your husband.

    It’s good that you’ve had the courage to share on this site that you make it all about you, but I would encourage you to take the next step and confess that to your husband. Tell him what you’ve been seeing. Own up to (and continue to own up to) the little and big ways you are doing this. In other words, confess your selfish attitudes and actions with specifics. Own up to how wrong it is without offering excuses and be willing to listen to how it’s affected him and interfered with his relationship with you. That may be one of the best gifts you could offer him this Christmas.

    Now he may not be ready to trust your confession or feel safe to share how he’s been hurt. If so, be on guard to your tendency to make it all about yourself again by pressuring him to believe you and to forgive you. Instead, continue to recognize that you’ve had a big hand in creating his fear and mistrust. Remind yourself that you haven’t been a safe person to be honest with and give him the time and space he needs to believe that you are truly serious about dealing with your selfishness.

    I would also encourage you open up to a friend or family member who cares for you and your husband. This is a deeply engrained pattern that is difficult to bust loose from and you are going to need someone in your life who loves you enough to call you out on your selfishness.

    I hope that is helpful.

  31. You know something? The first time your spouse hit’s you or picks you up and throws you through a door, whatever the case may be, the fear that you feel is palpable. You can’t imagine anything could be worse. Your heart pounds so unbelievably fast that you swear it’s about to burst. You just can’t wrap your mind around how this man who loved you, who promised to protect you, could even think of harming you. First thought… what have I done? How could I have pushed him that far? I don’t deserve him, look what I made him do? You think things couldn’t get any worse, though it can be much worse, of course. Then you feel like you’ve somehow reached some new horrific level when you’re hit or helplessly pinned and shamed in front of your child. Whole new level of fear and shame. But you keep going because that child means everything to you and you’ll take it to protect them and you just learn not to feel it. Make sure your child can’t see the pain your’re in. Make sure they don’t see the level of fear you feel. You get between your husband and children trying to protect them. You seal your lips to the world beyond your home because you think you’re protecting the children and yourself. Stupid. How could one woman be so stupid? One day you get the courage to leave, finally, and it’s to late. One day that child who’s watched his father for years decides mom is being a pest. Today is the day that you find out that finally it can’t get any worse. Once your son strikes you, and you see that cold look that used to be filled with such warmth for you, you know nothing worse can ever happen. That child who used to shed tears at the mere thought that he had somehow disappointed you, now looks at you with disdain, and coldly says, “I told you to leave me alone, didn’t I?” There will be no apology unless it comes from you for not leaving your son alone like he told you to do. You never believed you could fear your child. Your love doesn’t change. Not for your son. Oh my god, you love him more and you weep because you know now that everything you tried to do, everything done with good intention, was a failure. Wrong. Dead wrong. You are as much at fault as his father who taught him that a woman is less valuable than the dog. It can’t get worse than this, can it? Please, please tell me it can’t.

  32. Cindy,
    What you have so eloquently described is the ripple effect of a long term abusive relationship with a man who is only interested in what’s in it for him. He doesn’t care about you as his wife, much less his children. He’s only devotion is to what he wants when he wants it, and woe be to the person who ever stands in his way because he will find a way to make them pay. It’s a tyrannical reign of terror. In living under this rule of terror, you tried to minimize the anount of damage that he could do to your precious children. Some of it worked. Some of it didn’t. Sometimes you pick up the pieces after the storm has been unleashed. What you must remember is that you are not the primary responsible for the damage that has been inflicted on you and your children by this cruel man. Where you do bear some of the responsibility is not getting out sooner. But what you’ve showed your abuser and your children is that you have grown to understand that you are a woman–made in the image of God who is worthy of love and respect–who refuses to be the target of abuse any more. Does it alleviate that pain of seeing your son follow in dad’s brutal footsteps? No. It just means you have the opportunity to demonstrate a love for him that holds him accountable and places limits on the amount of damage he can do by his cruelty as well. Pray for the grace and courage to hold the line on loving him well and setting the boundaries clearly so that he will be discouraged from following this destructive mentality towards despising and abusing women that his father has been promoting.

  33. Hi, i am not sure if my situation falls into the same category or not. I have spent many hours blaming myself for the things that have gone wrong or tht go wrong and spend lots of time planning how i am going to present things so that he take them the right way. He often tries to make me feel guilty for going out and doing the things that make me happy. For instance this past weekend I was in a curling bonspiel and he wanted to go into a hockey tournament. I wasn’t completely sure if my team was entered yet and so I told him to go ahead and play. His next comment to me was no I don’t want to waste my weekend doing that. That made me feel bad because I was wanting to go something I enjoyed. As it turned out we both did what we wanted however he was fairly moody all weekend. He also has a tendancy to wake me up in the middle of the night to “cuddle” and when I ask him to leave me alone he makes comments like why don’t you want to be touched or whats wrong with this or fine I’ll just not care then. When I don’t respond he just rolls over. He also has made a big deal about when I copme home I need to come to him and give him a kiss, however he doesn’t ever seem to be able to get up off the couch to come meet me and greet me and when I am leaving to go somewhere he won’t walk to the door with me to say goodbye. So am I taking things all the wrong way??

  34. I just want to say what a great article this is and the comments that followed were tremendously helpful too. I have the same problems of “meism” that my husband has displayed often in our 225 years of marriage. Yes, it has been a roller coaster of a ride, and a fight against his selfishness throughout the whole marriage. I was never really able to distinguish what type of abuse it was until now. He doesn’t hit me yet I feel “beaten up” emotionally and verbally from him more often than I care to admit. :( Somehow I have survived. But a healthy marriage should be so much more than just mere survival. I now know that God wants us to be whole and healthy, especially in marriage. He even used the perpetrator/pouter/victim and knows how to use it. Even so low a blow as to use my adult children to “cheer Daddy up” when they would see him sulking by himself after one of his many “episodes” of meism, countering, projecting, emotional blackmail. stonewalling, gas lighting, and twisting of truths and words, re writing history, … then of course if I didn’t follow his script to do whatever he wants, then he would treat me to long bouts of the “silent treatment” to try and break me. After 25 years of this, I can no longer allow myself to be treated so disrespectfully by him. Especially when he is modeling how our children are to treat me as well. I now realize that it is indeed abuse and I deserve not to have this in my life anymore. I am now fighting back for my very integrity. I know I will be strong as God is with me on this quest to repair and make my marriage right. I now know that I will be alright whether my husband changes over to being unselfish and no longer abusive or not. That is between him and God. I will take care of things on my side and know that God will help me and keep me strong no matter what the outcome. I will know that I have tried my best. I have persevered but it is long past time for him to fish or cut bait and let me be in a true marriage that is shared equally and respectfully by the participation of BOTH partners. A one sided marriage is very lonely.

  35. Xzeena,

    I’m the last person who should attempt any kind of insight into your relationship, or offer an answer to your question, so I won’t.
    What struck me is your comment about “and spends lots of time planning how i am going to present things so that he take them the right way.”
    I have no idea if your “situation falls into the same category,” but I sure as hell have worn those shoes.
    From many years of experience… it’s an exhausting, headache creating, dangerous trap. I wouldn’t even bother. It’s a game, and you will never win. The more you choose to play the more dangerous it can get. This game has no rules except one: Bait (you), reel her in (him) and then toss her back in and start over again, until you truly believe you are losing your mind.
    Of course the “He” and “She” roles can be reversed. Mind games can be masterminded by men and women equally as easy with the same end result.
    I think, and wish I’d known, that if you have to plan out what you’re going to say for fear that it will be taken the wrong way, even when what you want to do or did is right and good, no matter what you say or do it will be taken the wrong way. Fast forward every time: You lose. Good luck. (Not my real name btw, just in case someone should ever stumble upon this ISP. No way to present these words in a way that would be taken well. Just plain truth, and that is never acceptable in the game because it spoils all of the game makers fun.)

  36. Xeena, more than likely you are not taking things wrong. The examples you shared describe what it is like to live with a person who so overly preoccupied with his needs that he is out of touch with your needs. At some point, this one-sided pattern should be addressed or it will only get worse over time. You may want to give some serious thought about talking with a marriage counselor to discuss the particulars of your situation. Most spouses are unprepared to address this pattern without help.

  37. So what does a person do when some of their friends don’t want to do things with u anymore because of ur spouse. He can be very nice at times but then can be the other way too. He likes to argue and meddle in everyone’s business. Some if our friends don’t like to be around him because he is always putting them down and saying what they r doing is wrong. What do u do?? On a different note, how do u deal with going from affection to nothing in the snap of a finger? The other night I declined a make out session because I was waiting for my kids to settle into bed. But I had asked him to rub my shoulders instead. He got up and walked out.
    When I questioned him about it he said he was simply waiting till later. It never happened later, what I got later when I finally got into bed was questions about don’t u want a goodnight kiss, what’s wrong, what did I do to make u mad. I simply crawled into bed to relax for a few, after helping my sick kid.

  38. Zalina, it was sad to read your post. I can see the confusion and frustration in your words.

    Sadly, there are limits to what you can do. You probably have tried to share your concerns with him about how he talks down to others, but he sounds like the kind of person who isn’t ready receive and honestly think about what you are saying. To him that may seem like an attack rather than an effort to help. You may want to consider asking a couple of your friends to speak to your spouse directly. He may not listen to them as well, but it may be worth a try. Beyond that, you are going to have decide whether or not this is the kind of thing that needs to be seriously confronted or not. Given the second issue you mentioned, it sounds like it’s part of an overall selfish pattern that will only get worse in time.

  39. I’m so confused and frustrated. My spouse has not been himself for quite awhile. He hasn’t shaved for over 30 days. He has no care for his personal appearance. He seems unhappy but will not talk. He believes I am too busy and don’t have time for him. Partly this is true with everything our kids do and then my personal time. I try to please everyone but it is getting harder and harder. I asked him the other day what would make him happy and he has refused to talk to me about it. I think he figures if he ignores it it will go away. We have grown apart lately and don’t share many of the same interests anymore. He treats our kids differently, favors one over the other. Then I get asked why dad doesn’t love me. I am tired of making excuses for him cuz really there is no excuse. I don’t understand, is it that he is jealous, insecure??? Things have gotten to the point with him where I found him going through my phone because he wanted to see who I had been talking to like I was hiding something. I have nothing to hide but feel like there is no trust. I have tried to fix us but feel like I have reached an unfixable place. Any advice?

  40. Jeff, I have read your article. It seems like my marriage. I have woken up after almost 20yrs.
    How do I deal with all the emotions all together, my children, me starting a new life without my husband. He has been acting different(calm, peaceful,tone of voice friendly),he wants a change I want peace. I do not know if his remorse is sincere or if he is just doing it because he knows he is loosing me.
    I have been seperated spiritually, emotionally from him. He still looks for me to have sex ,which I have rejected recently.
    I know now that what was done with me and my children was wrong. I am no longer in denail.What come after this stage,of knowing and accepting your reaity ?

  41. 25 years and two great kids. I have a great career and I cant do this:(.

  42. Fawn, Thanks for sharing. You obviously have endured a lot. But that doesn’t justify or compensate for the abuse you’ve suffered. Feeling overwhelmed is normal in an abusive situation. Abuse takes a toll. Don’t try to go it alone. Reach out and share what’s going on with a trusted friend who can support you and even go with you to get some help from a counselor or abuse group. Don’t suffer in silence any longer. I’ll pray that you have the courage to reach out and get help. Check out our website (http://www.helpformylife.org/search.aspx?keyword=marital+abuse) for more help and encouragement. There is life after abuse.

  43. my husband is like this he emotionally verbally and mentally abuses me
    i feel trapped i want a divorce but i have no where to go no job or money i joint own the house
    he is manipulative controling puts me down and he is always right im blamed for everything he shouts yells swears throws things im so scared of him its like in a war zone
    i need help he wont admit he has a problem
    he withholds sex and affection

  44. Here is my pridicament. I have been dealing with emotional abuse from my husband for 4 years now. My youngest son I’ve noticed is very hyper just like my husband so now, both boys are on a waiting list to be assesed for ADD/ADHD. I am going to seek help on my own to see if Im ADD because Ive beleived for years that I have fallen through the cracks. My Husband has an appiontment as well with his doctor to seek some help on his own. The problem is that I have been patient this long but, I don’t know how much longer I can hold on. I am exhausted,resentful and angry but a shelter is not the most comfortable place to go. Done that and came home the next day. Some days I’m barely hangong on.

  45. Jessica, I’m sorry to learn of your predicament. You are doing the right thing by seeking help. From the little you shared, it sounds as if the problems in your family have risen to the point where you need outside assistance and intervention. Please know that we have prayed that you will hang on and keep searching until you find the help your family needs.

  46. Dear Jeff

    I read your article with much thanksgiving! I have prayed that I will be delivered from the abuse in my own marriage. I hope that we can change the dynamic and go on to have a mutually respectful relationship (for years it felt fine) or that I find the courage to choose a different life. Your article described my situation to a tee and it felt like your words were sent from God.
    I really need to find a solution and I see that you have written about drawing lines of acceptable behaviour and having enforced consequences. That makes sense. My question regards how to take such action. When you are in an unhealthy situation that over time has come to feel ‘normal’ – coupled with the whole raft of terrible tactics and behaviour any action will unleash – you feel as if you are unreasonable, plus it’s depressing and downright scary. Have you got any information about how to tackle this problem respectfully and how to deal with the fallout. The resources I’ve found spend a long time describing abuse but have very little to say about what can be done.
    Thank you for your words and sharing your experience.

  47. i have been married for 27 years and have put up with a lot of what has been posted in this article. i get told all the time that i am not good enough or should have done something his way or should not have done something and i get questioned as to why i do things i do. when my children were small i would take the verbal negativity so that they didnt get it. not that my children are grown i have started standing up for my self and now i hear questions like what has he done to make me mad or what has he done wrong. he always seems to make me feel bad about standing up for myself. i know i should have stopped this so long ago but i didnt and still dont know how to be strong enough. i am the type of person that doesnt want to have anyone mad or hurt because of something i do but i am tired of hurting. when i tell him what what is bothering he says stuff making him out to be the victim. I just dont know what to do.

  48. Hello Kate, your welcome for the article…I’m glad it was of help.

    It was good to read of your desire to change the unhealthy dynamics in your marriage. How to understand or go about doing that is no easy task. And yes, most resources on abuse are long on describing the problem, and short on what can be done. I suspect that it is partly because there is a great need to understand and raise awareness. I also know that describing how to draw lines is hard to put into words because there are no “one size fits all” ways of doing it, at least not one that I’m aware of. Plus every situation has its own unique factors to consider on a case by case basis.

    With that said, there are still general thoughts to keep him mind you might find helpful.

    For instance, drawing lines is not about repaying evil for evil (Romans 12:17). Instead, it’s to be about not being overcome by evil by doing good—“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil by doing good” (Romans 12:21). And it’s about giving your spouse, who is not well in a number of ways, an opportunity to wake up so they can get well and become the kind of spouse God intends them to be.

    Another point to keep in mind is that whatever lines are drawn need to be consistent and enforceable. They are not something you make your spouse do or require their participation. (That’s a set up for a power struggle). This is something you are informing you are going to if a he/she continues to do you harm in a particular way. The line you draw may be as simple as “I’m going to pause this conversation if you continue to talk over me. When you’re ready to listen to what I have to share I’ll be glad to resume” to “I want to have healthy marriage with you that honors God. But I’m going to file for a separation if you don’t take the way you make it all about you seriously.”

    Another really important point to keep in mind is that some lines need to be drawn with the help and support of others. In some cases, it is not safe to draw lines alone because there is the potential for a spouse to react violently. In such cases, specific steps to ensure your safety (and the safety of others) need to be taken as serious lines are drawn.

    Another thought is prayer. Jesus taught and showed us by HIs example that God’s Kingdom comes to earth as it is in heaven by praying for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:44). That is one reason why I believe a part of overcoming evil by doing good is praying regularly for your spouses good. Pray that the lines you draw will be a redemptive wake up call. Pray for their well-being. Pray for them to be genuinely blessed in other areas of their life. Pray for whatever it takes to bring them to them to their senses without totally breaking their spirits. Prayerfully consider how you might show unexpected kindness and concern, even as you draw lines. To the best of my understanding, “overcoming evil by doing good” is a combination of drawing lines and offering unexpected blessings.

    More can always be said, but I hope this gives you some helpful guidelines to think about.

  49. Hello Undecided. I’m sorry to learn of the struggles you’ve faced throughout your marriage. You sound utterly worn out. Please know that our hearts and prayers go out to you.

    It will likely get worse before it gets better, but it’s good that you have started to say that it’s not okay for your husband to put you down.

    From what you wrote about being the type of person who doesn’t want to have anyone mad or hurt, it sounds like you are trying to undo a life-long pattern of people-pleasing that is deeply engrained in you. This style of relating takes time to change. And it’s best if you sought counseling in order to have another set of eyes help you better see and understood the root of these tendencies in yourself. You likely need help how to wisely and lovingly go about standing up to being put down (especially when the person putting you down acts like the victim) while avoiding the pitfalls of debating and retaliation.

  50. Dear Jeff,
    Thank you for replying to my post. Your words were very kind and wise. You really know a lot about this particular relationship issue! I think you are right. I know that I am not happy to continue with things as they are. I feel as if I am living half a life. I waste too much time worring about how unbalanced things are between us and about the effect our relationship has on our children and my parents. I live with a level of fear everyday and that makes me sad, I’m also tired. Most of all I feel that inside him is an amazing, loving person who could be happy with us if he could see how.

    I feel very strongly that the Lord will deliver me as in Psalm 27 but I also know that there is a lesson here that God wants me to learn. The many attempts I have made to encourage more respect have not worked. You are right, I am afraid that if I draw firm lines, my husband might spiral into physical abuse again or at least increase his upsetting behaviour.

    I have therefore decided to find someone to help me draw those lines. I’ve got to say I feel reluctant to start that process off. I feel a bit humiliated, I know my husband would disapprove, even be hurt and I’m afraid of doing anything that rocks the boat. I also have difficulty drawing lines in a Christian context. I think that I tend to interpret God’s teachings as needing to be humble, loving, gentle, kind and the servant of others. This feels at odds with standing up for yourself and asking for more considerate treatment in a firm way, with consequences. can you explain a bit more about that as when I draw a line my husband is hurt and upset.

    Still I feel that I know within me that you are right. I pray for courage and that I will be guided by love on this journey for both my husband, my family and myself.

    I am blessed by God everyday – thanks Jeff!

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