Question (from Facebook community): “My husband has spent the past ten years hurting me emotionally, lying to me, calling me names, and trying to control me. I am trying to do the right things but it’s so hard when he keeps hurting me. Is there any hope for my husband after all the damage he’s done?”
The short but really hard-for-me-to-write answer is yes, there is hope for your husband.
I have little tolerance for men who treat their wives harshly. But I think I have erected an us vs. them wall in my heart. I have vilified abusers and I need to really work on this, because the husband who calls his wife names is no greater a sinner than anyone else, including me.
I think I am forgetting some major points here:
Every person is only human.
Every person is made in the image of God.
Every person is more than their failures (or successes, for that matter).
Every person is a sinner.
Every person can be saved by grace.
Every person can be forgiven.
Every person can have a second (and third and fourth) chance.
Every person can start over.
Every person can change.
I did something over ten years ago that I’m super ashamed of. My closest circle knows what that thing is as I did a whole lot of humble apologizing while I tried to fix my mistake. I almost never think of that thing anymore, which I’m so grateful for, but it occurred to me that what if that one mistake (albeit big) defined my life? What if I were known, still, as the girl who did such-and-such? I would hate that. I wouldn’t want to leave the house. I wouldn’t have the emotional energy to make better choices. “We cannot survive when our identity is defined by or limited to our worst behavior. Every human must be able to view the self as complex and multidimensional. How can we apologize for something we are, rather than something we did?? (Dr. Harriet Lerner)
Your husband could’ve just finished yelling at you and calling your horrible things. But that thing he just did five minutes ago does not define him. If it did, he would never have the courage to try to change. And it’s because this does not define him, he can change. There ishope. Dr. Lerner goes on to say, “For people to look squarely at their harmful actions and to become genuinely accountable they must have a platform of self-worth to stand on. Only from the vantage point of higher ground can people who commit harm gain perspective. Only from there can they apologize.”
So, what does this mean for you, sweet woman in a difficult marriage? It means three things.
First, you can pray for your husband in really specific ways. You can pray that he realize how much God loves him. You can pray for a heart that is open to his value and to how God sees him. You can pray for a heart that is softened to truth. You can pray that he wake up to the choices he’s making and the damage he’s doing. You can pray that you will begin to see and celebrate when good changes occur.
Secondly, be prepared with a few calming words you can recite silently when you’ve been hurt, or even in the midst of harsh words being flung at you. One of the phrases I used to say over and over again was, “I am precious and honored in your sight…” and that helped me to take those errant thoughts captive and attempt to block the lies from going too deep down into my heart.
And thirdly, you can change how you respond to your husband when he does something that hurts you. Don’t yell back. Don’t call him names back. Walk away if necessary. But here’s what I really want to say: don’t shame him. I know, he just shamed you. I know that an eye for an eye sounds really good right about now. But refrain. You can model for him that there’s hope for him if you don’t keep throwing it back in his face what he’s doing to you. Now, don’t get me wrong: I am NOT saying not to hold him accountable or to never mention what he’s done; I’m saying don’t do so in the moment, when you’re angry and hurt, because those words will never be constructive or heard well. But when you do so, try couching your difficult words between affirmations of his worth. You can partner with hope to possibly bring about change.
If this post helped you, I would encourage you to check out “Surviving in a Difficult Christian Marriage”, found here.
Post Views: 0
Great read and insight. I have been there and did everything suggested in this article. It is really hard to be calm & not retaliate when you are being attacked (verbally or otherwise). Walking away helps, but not always cause you are someimes followed & it is really hard to be calm when your under attack. I used to grab my index cards and read them out loud to myself. Be prepared for negative comments & your faith to be challenged cause it will happen, but eventually the attacker cannot stand hearing the word & will walk away & leave you alone. Like I said it’s hard & sometimes you will mess up & yell back, but forgive yourself & never give up.
I have to disagree with this post. After 10 years? I’d say it’s time to re-elvaluate staying in a situation like that. Sure there’s hope, but we can’t just keep on living in that situation hoping year after year.
I have to disagree, too, at least to a point. While I think the advice is good, if the wife has been suffering for 10 years and has already tried to be gracious, I feel like this post is potentially telling her things you’ve said in a previous post not to say to an abused wife. I, too, would say it’s time to re-evaluate staying in a situation like that. If she has been gracious in her approach without any real change from him, then it’s a heart issue, and she may need to separate from him if at all possible, so he realizes there are consequences to his actions. It may be what’s needed to drive him to the Lord for ‘heart surgery’.
Sorry you’re getting flak, Elisabeth. For those who disagree with this post, realize that the women she’s talking to have been praying and seeking God’s leading in whether to stay or to go. Elisabeth, nor you, or anyone else, can tell them what is “right” for them to do. God knows their pain and their circumstances and sometimes He asks them to stay and these women are there out of obedience to Him. Also realize that verbal/emotional abuse can be a difficult thing to escape from and in some ways dangerous. It cannot be undertaken lightly by any means. Sometimes when pushed the abuser can become dangerous even if they’ve never before lifted a hand to their wife. I think we need to be more willing to provide encouragement, support and validation to those women in their circumstances so that 1) they don’t feel alone, 2) they can recognize that the abusive words they hear often are NOT true and do not define them 3)Encourage those women to seek the high road as Elisabeth has continued to do – to honor God in the way they respond to their trials and to lean on our ever faithful God when at times the pain goes deeper than many would ever understand unless they’ve been there and 4) so they know that if they do want to take that step to leave, they are not alone in that process, that there are people around them who will pray, love and encourage them through what is a very painful thing.
Ladies, i hear all of this. Please do a search for Patricia Evans. Get the help you need. Elizabeth is correct, however the men need help. You have to protect yourself, there is hope, but men have to understand the damage they are causing. Please look at the resources Patricia has. I am a man and have gained much wisdom from what Elizabeth has said, i have been following her for some time now.
Blessings to you all.
The phrase I used to repeat to myself when being verbally and emotionally attacked was from Proverbs 31 – “She is clothed in stregth and dignity.” It helped me to not be combative, yet be forceful in my boundaries. I do believe men (all people) can change. I do not believe we are defined by our worst. For me, the most graceful thing I could do was to step out of the situation so that the abuser had to check his actions and decide to change or not. Even post divorce, I’ve had to repeat this mantra in our dealings regarding children and finances, home, etc. I still have to choose grace. We must choose it in every relationship.
Lilly Grace Brown, I agree that women need encouragement, and leaving some situations can be very difficult and dangerous and should not be taken lightly. I am one of those women who feels very alone and has found strength in God. Sometimes I feel like I have no right to feel the way I do, because my husband isn’t physically abusive, or even verbally abusive as far as yelling or name calling, but he is emotionally distant, very self-seeking, although he can be very nice, and he has said some very hurtful things. He and I both agree we’re separated while living in the same house. That’s hard, especially when he preaches and most people in the church aren’t even aware we’re struggling, much less ‘separated’. So while agreed to a point with the second Anonymous, I myself am trying to live according to grace, but am beginning to re-evaluate my situation. You’re right. There has been a lot of praying and seeking God, and it isn’t an easy decision to make. Thank you for your comment, the points you made, and for your encouragement. –Anonymous 3
Does anyone have any success holding people accountable and not shaming when a denied mental illness is in play.
Our society SO stigmatizes mental illness that it feels shameful to address it head on, so they are denied.
yet loved ones try to address directly as that is the only way to survive which can be perceived as an attempt to shame.
terrible circle. after 10 years in NAME and other support groups I have found no successful example. Do you have one?
sorry, meant NAMI.org