Question: “How do you know when it is really time to say no more to the emotional abuse in your marriage?”
My short answer: really and truly, you will just know.
Before I tell you how you’ll know, let me say why you’ll know. If you are a follower of Jesus:
You have the mind of Christ.
You’ve been given a sound mind.
You have the Holy Spirit dwelling within you.
When you ask for wisdom, you’ve been promised God will give it.
I truly believe you can know things – with God’s help – that you wouldn’t normally be able to know.
So here are some possible signs for you to look for within yourself that things have gone too far:
Even though you’re getting plenty of sleep, it’s never enough and you’re exhausted all the time.
You have no energy to do regular tasks.
You have gone to the doctor and there is nothing wrong with you physically.
Your friends are telling you that something seems wrong.
When you’re with friends, your marriage problems are all you talk about.
You would rather be anywhere but at home. Or, you’re okay being at home, as long as your husband isn’t there.
Your home is not your refuge; it is your scariest or most-anxiety-producing place.
You lie to cover up what is going on in your marriage.
You and your spouse fight a lot.
Your spouse has a growing addiction that is getting out of control.
You are constantly looking for hidden bottles of alcohol, or trying to determine if it’s okay for your spouse to drive.
You are sad most of the time.
You are scared of your husband.
You don’t say most of what you would like to say to him because you fear the repercussions or everything getting turned around on you.
You are called names.
You are told what to do and what not to do.
You cry yourself to sleep.
All you pray about is your marriage or, on the other hand, you have stopped praying altogether because it isn’t working.
Your marriage and its problems are all you can think about; you are fixated on how you can keep your marriage together.
You are losing hope for your future.
You have asked Jesus to kill you because you feel you can’t get a divorce.
If this sounds like you, you are more than likely in a very difficult marriage and emotional abuse might be a part of it.
Here’s what you can do to start the healing process:
Pray. I must sound like a broken record, and praying may be the last thing you want to do, but “help” is one of the most powerful prayers in the world.
Read up on emotional abuse. The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Leslie Vernick is excellent.
Get yourself in counseling if you’re not already. You can’t do this alone. Find a professional whose values line up with yours and lean into the wisdom of a third party to help you untangle the mess.
If you can bear it, write down concrete examples of the abuse you believe you’re experiencing. This exercise may be very difficult for you, but it will be eye-opening and will help you when you need to start asking for help.
Ask for help, but not just any help. Not everyone gets this, I’m afraid. Some people will treat an abusive marriage the same way they would treat a regular old hard marriage. These are not the same animals and should be treated completely differently. If you are told to cook more, have sex more, praise more, hold your tongue more (in other words, just be less youto make your husband be less harsh), then you have not found the right person to help you yet. But don’t lose hope. There are people who will understand you, hear you and help you.
Keep asking for help if you don’t feel truly heard. You’ll know you’ve found the right person when he is willing to talk with your spouse and take them to task. You’ll know you’ve found the right person when he says he’s going to walk you through this, when he says how you’ve been treated is not right and it’s going to stop and he’s going to help you. Sweet one, there are people out there like that. I know firsthand.
If you or your children are physically or sexually unsafe, get out. Like, yesterday. I’m not saying to just go get a divorce, but I am saying to protect yourself and your children. If you or your children are spiritually or emotionally unsafe, set clear boundaries with a counselor, pastor or trusted friend.
If your spouse is defensive, proud, unrepentant, and/or unchanging, a separation may be in order to attempt to jar his way of thinking.
Let me add: there’s saying no more to the abuse and there’s saying no more to the marriage and though those are sometimes the same things, they aren’t always.
If you have let yourself be abused for years, there’s grace. You cannot change the past. But you can look at how you want your tomorrow to be, and if it’s different than your today, then it’s time to start doing something about it. There is a time for stillness; this is not that time.
*If you’re still not sure, take this confidential and free marriage assessment: http://bit.ly/marriage-assessment
*Detaching with Love webcast: https://elisabethklein.com/detaching-with-love-1/
*7 Days of Prayer for challenging marriages: https://elisabethklein.com/prayers-for-challenging-marriage/
*my 3-month e-course, Marriage Methods (now PAY WHAT YOU CAN): https://bit.ly/marriage-methods-pwyc
*All That to Say podcast: https://anchor.fm/elisabeth-klein
All of these points are true. The biggest one is you need to be heard, then you need to really and truly FEEL you have been heard. If you dont, you need to press forward and find help until you FEEL without a doubt that you have been heard….
Boy, I sure can relate to your post – that’s exactly where I was more than five years ago. Except I kept praying the Lord would take my husband home early – thought it might even be a car crash since he always drove so fast with road rage. But the Lord did not choose to end my marriage in that fashion.
I now pray that the Lord blesses my former husband – it feels great to be on the “other side’ of that very bad marriage.
Blessings to you!
I can totally relate to this…it scared me when I saw how many of these points are true for my marriage.
In fact, I moved out a couple of weeks ago after one ‘catalyst’ incident…please note that this pattern of emotional and not-too-subtle verbal abuse has been the hallmark of my 2-year-old marriage. I never thought I’d ever think this way, but now I’m thankful that we don’t have kids. I don’t think I need to describe the kind of numbness and disgust I feel right now…as well as an overwhelming sense of failure.
I’d really like to know how a spouse could know when the marriage is no longer workable…though we are on our umpteenth attempt to work things through, I find it very very difficult to trust him and his words. Thank you so much for writing this post.
This is so fitting to my current situation. I am certainly saying that enough is enough to specific behaviors and verbal patterns, though questioning if it should also be the marriage. I’m the meantime, the Lord is my husband, and I seek His comfort and aim to please Him. Thank you for sharing this!
Dear Elisabeth, I need advice or maybe just encouragement. I have read your posts and watched your videos about the process you went through before feeling it was time to divorce. My “process” started two and a half years ago, after 29 years of marriage. I knew early on that I had made a huge mistake but a year and a half into my marriage I became pregnant with my first child, something I wanted very much. We fell into a pattern of abuse toward me (although I thought it was just “normal” disagreements I never, ever won) and then apologies with promises to do better over the years. I became severely depressed and started suffering physical symptoms such as migraines, back and neck pain, stomach problems and more.
Anyway, in 2011 I told him we had serious problems and I wasn’t sure I loved him anymore. I still didn’t realize his behavior had been abusive, I did tell him his severe neglect and selfishness had taken a toll and had become intolerable. He promised to change and did stop some of his obsessive hobbies. After about a year I started to believe the changes were real and we started to do more things together finally, and I was enjoying our relationship more than ever. Earlier this year after much researching I realized how truly abusive he had been and how I had become a numb, shell of my former self, and that my debilitating symptoms were from the constant, unrelenting fear and anxiety I was living under all these years.
I started standing up for myself and calling him on every lie, manipulation, intimidation etc. I also have been asking him to go to counseling since 2011, which he has consistently refused to consider. A couple months ago I told my pastor and she is very supportive. I have been in counseling myself for 3 years, and 3 months ago I started seeing a domestic abuse advocate who has told me with absolute certainty that I am in an abusive marriage that has done me tremendous damage. My husband is still exhibiting intimidating, controlling behaviors and uses gas-lighting to confuse and frustrate me whenever I try to talk to him about any issues. I have been asking God to show me what to do but I don’t get anything concrete from Him. What I do have is my gut telling me that my husband is never going to get it and his heart is hardened against seeing his sin-after all-he hasn’t gotten for 32 years! Do you think, in your opinion, that I’ve tried everything possible? How do I know if God has released me from this marriage? How do you ever know?
Thank you so much for your help and concern for those of us in these heartbreaking situations.
I am so very sorry for your pain. I resonate with everything you’re saying, including the confusion of what to do next.
I cannot tell you – someone I have never met – if you have tried everything possible. Only you and God know this. I also cannot tell you how to know if God has released you…only you and God can know this.
I surrounded myself with many people – a team basically – who walked me through a reconciliation attempt and so I relied on about ten people’s opinions to help me decide what to do. You have to find your own way (either to stay or to leave).
I would highly recommend Leslie Vernick’s new book, coming out in a couple weeks, called The Emotionally Destructive Marriage. I think that might help you a lot. Also, read back posts of my blog…I do touch on all of these issues.
I’m stopping to pray for you right now…for peace and for wisdom.
Thank you for replying and the prayers. I do feel that there are biblical grounds, but as you’ve said, it doesn’t mean I should seek to terminate my marriage. I have felt about 80-90% of the things you listed in the post above for the 3 decades I’ve been married. I am a psych/soc. major myself and have read between 25 and 30 books in the last 2 years on relationships and abuse and mental incapacities of one form or another. The sad thing that I haven’t seen mentioned on the christian blogs very much is the incidence of mental disorders on these abusive husbands. I am convinced my husband suffers from at the very least passive-aggression and possibly anti-social personality disorder. A lot of the husbands reflected on your blog and online groups as well as Leslie Vernick’s blog may be affected by a disorder of some kind too, and I believe that is why my husband cannot change enough to make our relationship safe for me. Most of us have been in an excruciating pattern of raising issues or hurts and getting a short reprieve, only to be followed by a punishment and inevitable return to the abusive treatment. After 32 years for me, I know in my gut and my heart that my needs will never be met, and that the abuse will never stop completely, and my choices are 1) ignore it and go back to being numb (although it’s still painful) 2) be emotionally divorced but live together or 3) leave and move on. There just will never be a healthy, mutually beneficial marriage between us-short of a miracle, but since God gave us free will and my husband is not willing to take any responsibility and therefore is unrepentant, God cannot intervene. I have set boundaries and done all I can. I do feel better for the most part though and have peace and less fear. It is very helpful reading your insights, and those of the other readers. God bless you 🙂
To encourage you: God can intervene. I have been right where you are. In November 2005, in my quiet time I heard The Lord say “it is time for my husband to make a commitment to Him, Christ.” I shared that night with my husband. My husband ask me what that meant and I encouraged him to pray and seek The Lord for Himself.
Over the next seven years, it was very difficult as I focused on God’s truth of Is 54:5 that The Lord Almighty is my husband. Our marriage was only as good as it could be until my husband came to Christ, himself. A choice I could not make for him.
After seven years of giving my husband time to respond God took him home to everlasting life with Him. My husband believed based on John 3:16 but his fears blocked him from coming to Christ by faith. John 10:10 the enemy ribs, steals and destroys but Jesus came to give life and to the full. We never experienced the abundant life together but my husband as it now, whether he wanted it or not. My prayer for my husband now is that he is saying “this is what Carolyn was trying to tell me.” After 35 years and 4 months to the day.
Ask God to show u what stronghold(s) is holding your husband back from coming to Christ and ask God to uproot those fleshly issues by the power of His Hily Spirit.
May this difficult time push you closer to Jesus! Also, as Elisabeth stated, ask God to lead you to a counselor that you feel a connection with. God appointed.
Much love sent to you….praying with Elisabeth.
Thank you for sharing this, Carolyn. And for praying.
About three years ago, my Christian counselor had asked me to consider separation but recommended to wait until God showed me. When the time came, it was clear to me and to the children. After a few months, he came back and it started all over again. He left again nearly two years later after no change from him and much pressure from me. Couples counseling did more harm than good. He is about to start individual counseling again, but I honestly don’t expect that after all the time and chances, he will ever live here again. The trust has been so badly shattered. I should note there has been physical aggression, too, but even the emotional abuse was way too much for way too long.
Such a helpful post, Elisabeth. Sharing this one!
Great post as usual! For me it was physical, I began to cry a lot and shake, I knew then it was time to go, staying would have meant a break down.
Lists are a helpful tool for evaluation. Many people have no idea that their relationship is abusive until they see it written down and can identify with the issues being raised. That can be a wake up call to get help and do something to promote personal health and well being.