Five Signs You Are In An Emotionally Destructive Marriage
10/14/14 post by Leslie Vernick via email and FB
By Leslie Vernick
October is Domestic Violence Awareness month. It’s important for you to be able to recognize the signs of a destructive marriage.
Julie knew she was in a difficult marriage but she couldn’t quite put her finger on why. Whenever she tried to assert herself, especially around money issues, it never went well. Sam earned the majority of the family income and insisted Julie keep a strict accounting of all her spending. Each week Sam collected her receipts and then critiqued her spending choices item by item. After a while Julie began to doubt her own judgment. She grew exhausted listening to Sam’s weekly lectures about how wasteful and extravagant she was. When she protested, Sam informed her that from now on he would do all of the family shopping.
Julie was in a destructive marriage but didn’t know it. All she knew was that she felt small, stupid, and insecure despite having an MBA and holding a management level job before her children were born.
Below are five warning signs that your marriage might be destructive:
- You feel controlled: Like Julie, instead of being an adult partner in your marriage, you have been demoted to the status of a child, or a slave. Your husband has all the power and makes most of the significant decisions. You have little or no freedom to make independent choices, to dissent or disagree. If you do, the conflict that ensues isn’t worth it.Does your spouse squash your perspective on things? Does he refuse to work with you as a partner and share power in decision making?
- You feel afraid: Obviously whenever there is any kind of physical or verbal abuse your marriage is destructive. Julie wasn’t physically abused but she felt afraid to put her foot down and challenge Sam’s new shopping edict. Her self-esteem and worth were constantly diminished by Sam’s overbearing personality and she felt afraid she was losing who she was within her marriage.Does your spouse bully you, threaten you, humiliate you, intimidate you, force or coerce you to do things you don’t want to do?
- You feel confused: When Danielle tried to explain to her husband why it was important for her that he call her if he was going to be late, he agreed. When he didn’t do it and she confronted him, he got angry and twisted things around and accused her of being controlling and trying to change him.Does your spouse mislead you, deny things that you know are true, lie about things or get you to blame yourself or other people when he messes up?
- You feel dismissed: Your perspective, feelings, desires and needs are regularly ignored or minimized. Linda tried explaining again and again why she was uncomfortable with her husband’s friendship with his female co-worker but he always had the uncanny ability to make her feel like she was overreacting, hyper-sensitive and paranoid.Does your spouse ignore your feelings and act indifferently to you and your needs?
- You feel objectified: Karen’s husband worked long hours and spent little time interacting with her other than when he wanted to be sexual. Tired of being ignored, one night she wired up her courage and said, “Stan, 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. I just can’t manufacture warm feelings when you want to be intimate. Wouldn’t you rather have sex with a wife who enjoys being with you instead of just simply doing her duty?”
Stan’s response stung her to her core. “Of course I would, he said, “But if wifely duty is all I can get, I’ll settle for that.” Stan’s indifference made her feel like an object he used, not a wife he loved.
Does your spouse act as if your sole purpose is to meet his needs and make him happy? Does he get angry when you ask him to do something for you if there is nothing in it for him?
There is no perfect husband or perfect marriage but a healthy marriage demonstrates mutual caring where each individual in the relationship gives and receives. Power and responsibility are shared and there is freedom to be yourself, make decisions and express your disagreements without fear.
If you recognize that your marriage may be destructive, don’t’ close your eyes but face the truth and begin to take some action and get some support. Educate yourself about the dynamics of destructive marriages so you know what you can do to make the changes that may save your relationship.
When is Enough Enough?
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Question: I’m married 25 years to my high school sweetheart. Two kids, daughter age 20, son age 12. I thought we had a fantastic marriage, with just the usual ups and downs and stresses that all families face. Before we got married, I knew my husband had a temper. He’s always been quick to judge others. Our daughter, who just turned 20, and I have talked often about how he has a double standard…..”do as I say, not as I do”… and certainly don’t call him on what he does wrong. His abuse over the years has been verbal…belittling, demeaning, controlling, yelling. But that’s not something a “good Christian” divorces over……so I thought I’d just live with it.
My husband seemed to go through these cycles of anger. He’d get angry at something, I’d have to pry out of him what was wrong, usually something I did (house isn’t clean, laundry’s not done, I don’t cook enough, not enough sex). I’d straighten up and do better, and he’d treat me better.
But 3 years ago, I found something that changed everything. He was mad at me, but all those checklist items that he normally accused me of were clearly not the problem at the time. So I got suspicious. It was then that I found out he was cheating on me.
Over the next 18 months, both of us in counseling, him for sexual addiction…I found out, in little drips and drabs that he had been with more than a dozen women, mostly one night hookups, ever since about our 3rd year of marriage! He had been able to keep these lies a secret for more than 20 years! And I didn’t know.
I finally asked him to move out of the house and I started divorce proceedings a year ago. But the attorneys became so expensive; he convinced me that we could “work out” a settlement without paying attorneys. I agreed, and we put a settlement in writing….which he refused to sign because “my word is good, I’ll take care of you”.
He truly hopes our marriage will be restored in time, reminding me often that I am his wife and we are only separated. A year later, after watching him closely, he continues to lie…..has continued to cheat, blaming the addiction. His finances are nothing but lies, and he has recently decided to not honor a key part of our verbal settlement agreement. I have a new appointment with my attorney tomorrow, to resume divorce proceedings.
Outward appearances, he is charming, funny, helpful to anyone who asks, giving, hardworking….a great guy! We have been going to the same church since we were in elementary school…..we have the same friends.
His “story” to those he tells is that he “messed up big time”, and that he’s working hard to restore my trust. They believe he is the good guy he portrays, still buying me flowers every week and bringing them to my workplace. He is still active in our church, acting like nothing is different.
However, I’ve been very, very reluctant to tell details, not wanting to put our friends in the middle, where they feel it’s “he said/she said”. Which puts me in a position where I feel as though I have little support from our friends there. It’s a large church, and it’s not unusual for someone to come to me each Sunday and ask if he and I “will make it”. I love my friends….I love the church we go to….how do I let them understand it is so much worse than they can imagine, that it is full blown, Alice-down-the-rabbit-hole-bizarre????.
Even though he’s the one who cheated, I’m the one who filed for divorce….and it feels like that is what people key in on. He wants to restore the marriage, I don’t think he can ever be trusted! How can I relay to friends and other church friends that with what he has done and what he continues to do, that I am doing the right thing?
Beyond that, if I feared his anger before, he is going to be beyond livid when the new papers from the attorney show up. How do I go about protecting my heart from his vindictive, acidic, 5-year-old temper tantrums? (that’s what our daughter calls them) . I am afraid of what he might do.
Answer: I’m perplexed about your initial description that you thought you had a fantastic marriage with the usual ups and downs but then go on to describe years of temper tantrums, belittling, controlling behaviors and verbal abuse that were standard fare even before you found out about all the lies and sexual acting out.
You wrote, “It’s not something a good Christian divorces over…” so I thought I’d live with it. Your marriage doesn’t sound so fantastic to me, even before you discovered all the lies and affairs.
Next you indicate that your husband is a master liar. He’s been able to keep his sexual addiction a secret for more than 20 years and you had no clue. So what I want you to ask yourself is this: When he convinced you to drop your attorney and agree to a financial settlement that he refused to sign because “my word is good” why would you believe that? His word has been anything but good.
Now a year later you continue to catch him in deceit and affairs and yet he’s telling everyone that although he’s messed up big time, he’s working hard to restore your trust. What exactly is he doing to restore your trust? Buying flowers doesn’t restore trust. Telling the truth, being accountable and keeping one’s word does. From what you have written, there is none of that.
So you have some tough choices to make but ones based on the evidence before you. There is no evidence that your husband is repentant or working on changing his ways. Charm is deceitful and your husband oozes charm, but he’s lacking godly character.
Does your pastor know what’s going on? I know you are reluctant to tell your “story” to all of your mutual friends and I affirm your desire to not to put them in the middle but at the very least, your pastor needs to know the full story so that he can support you and as the shepherd of the flock, hold your husband accountable if he is actively involved in this church. Your pastor not only needs to know about the sexual addiction, but also the years of deceit, continued deceit and abusive behaviors.
I also think that you might need to sit down with your pastor either together or separately and work out a plan of what you are going to tell your mutual friends. Although he’s admitted messing up big time, he’s still being deceitful when he says “he’s working hard to restore your trust.” I think it would be more honest to say “I’ve messed up big time” and for you to say, “I don’t think that trust can be restored.”
You’ve decided to re-file the divorce papers. As you take this step you will need to accept that you will never receive everyone’s support. Some people will understand, others will not. It’s important as you take this step that you have a clear conscience and are sure of God’s leading. Also ask your church leaders (and their wives) to stand with you and affirm that you indeed have Biblical grounds for divorce (as you do). Without having to give all the details to all of your friends, the leadership support would be a big help with your Christian community.
Lastly you asked how you can protect your heart from his vindictive tantrums. Probably the best way is to limit your contact with him. I would encourage you to put up some really firm boundaries right now. For example, no phone calls. No personal contact. E-mails only (so you have everything in writing) or communicating through your attorneys.
One more thing. He will not like your strength as he’s used to manipulating and controlling what you do and how you think. If you don’t feel strong enough to be firm, surround yourself with some strong female friends who will help you stick to your resolve. He’s a sweet talker and seems good at convincing you that his lies are true.
You have been more easily swayed by charm but without good character and a strong conscience his behaviors will continue.
Finally, remember that his tantrums and what he says and does is not about you and what you have done or haven’t done. Bottom line is that his actions and attitudes show you where his heart is. Jesus reminds us that it is “Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:46).