He Seems to Hate Me
Q. How much verbal abuse is a woman supposed to take from her husband? We have been married for ten years, and even before the marriage my friends and family would tell me about the horrible way he spoke to me, but I was deaf to it. Now I am getting more and more depressed. I confront him with it and he says he doesn't know what I am talking about. He'll be okay for awhile and then goes right back to his sarcastic, hurtful ways. He claims to love me while acting like he hates me. He always wants to be with me and is always home. I don't want a divorce, but I don't want to take the abuse any more either. What should I do?
A. The old saying "sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me" just isn't true. We've worked with many people whose broken bones have healed but whose broken hearts and spirits are still hurting from wounds inflicted many years earlier. Verbal abuse cannot be tolerated and is never something to be accepted. If it isn't dealt with, it will only get worse and may lead to physical abuse.
An important first step is to get clear about what behavior is healthy and unhealthy, what is appropriate and inappropriate, what is acceptable and unacceptable. If you've lived with this for ten years, you've probably become desensitized to what healthy and appropriate look like. Dr. Grace Ketterman's book, Verbal Abuse: Healing the Hidden Wound (Servant), will help clarify what healthy looks like and give you practical suggestions for new ways to respond.
The next step is for you to state to your husband what you will and will not tolerate and then have a specific plan as to how you will respond the next time your boundaries are crossed. If he calls you names, leave the room or leave the house. Set specific boundaries for what you will tolerate and how you will respond to him. Retreating in silence, crying, yelling back, or threatening aren't healthy responses and won't produce positive results. Actually, nothing will guarantee positive results from your husband. However, there are things that you can do to protect yourself and increase the probability of change in your marriage.
In our early years of marriage we can give into unhealthy patterns that become unrecognizable to us. Over time they appear to be "normal." We may not understand that we can do things differently and sometimes get better results. As the wife, know that you can learn new ways to respond to your husband. If he puts you down, you can refuse to allow that to be truth for you. Many women don't understand that there is a place for healthy anger in a marriage relationship. Good Women Get Angry (Servant)—a book Gary wrote with Norm Wright—will give you practical and biblically consistent ways to express your fears, hurts, and frustrations to your husband and to use your anger-energy to set healthy, honoring, and respectful boundaries.
Consider telling him that you both need counseling to get through this hindrance to your marriage's growth. Let him know you are willing to take responsibility for whatever you bring to the relationship that is not helping it become all it could be. If he isn't willing to go, there's no reason why you can't. Finally, find some support from other women. God didn't design us to walk through life alone. Reach out and find some women who will pray with you and for you. Regardless of what he chooses to do, you can grow, learn, deepen, mature, and become more of who God designed you to be. Remember that all of his promises still apply to you.
Did I Marry Her Family?
Q. My wife and I have had fifteen years of struggle over how much loyalty we should hold toward each other's family. For example, during a recent discussion over a family problem, my wife said, "Why should we cater to you?" This alarms me because my wife explained her comment by saying, "You didn't just marry me; you married my family." I don't know what to do. I don't think I can compete with her family much longer. She sees my attempts at getting us to be one as an attempt to take her totally away from her family. Can you help me with some answers?
A. This sounds like a very lonely and discouraging situation. Your question is a painful example of the need for quality pre-marital counseling. You have run head-first into core issues that could have been addressed by a competent counselor.
The good news is that there are some steps you can take that might make a positive difference.
It is true to say that you marry into your spouse's family. It is flat-out wrong to say that you "marry" your spouse's family. Genesis 2:24 tells us that marriage involves leaving your mother and father and cleaving to each other, not each other's mother and father. The Bible never says that six people become one flesh. Only two people become one flesh.
It seems obvious that what you've done so far hasn't helped. It's a waste of time to obsess and ruminate on what you can't change, what should be, what isn't fair, or what she does or doesn't deserve. Our question for you is what can you change? If she sees your attempts at "getting us to be one as an attempt to take her totally away from her family," then it is probable that you've been over-reacting. Don't try to compete with her family. Don't tell her how wrong she is. Stop being problem-focused. It hasn't helped. It won't help. When what you are doing doesn't work, do something different.
Turn to and read it from three or four different translations. Then write your own paraphrase of it and ask God for one thing you can take from that passage and apply to your relationship with your wife. Turn to Ephesians 5 and read what Paul tells us husbands to do. Ask yourself, "What does it mean for me to nourish and cherish my wife?" Look at the many passages in the New Testament that address how we are to treat one another, and pick one a week that you will apply to your marriage.
You have an unparalleled opportunity to show your wife what real love looks like. The kind of love she can trust in and rest on. With some prayer, the power of the Holy Spirit, the encouragement of friends and family, the support of your church community, and perhaps the wisdom of a professional counselor, you are free to choose to move from being controlled by the hopelessness of what you can't change to the solution-based perspective of what, with God's help, you can do.
He Says He's "Called"
Q. My husband has been talking for years about a particular "calling," a job, that the Lord has placed on his heart. It's all he talks about. It's now become an obsession, and he says his life will be better and he'll be happy once he gets this calling started. The trouble is that the calling came out of nowhere and would totally change life as we know it. Am I wrong to question his calling if I don't feel called as well?
A. What now appears to be a problem is really a great opportunity for you and your husband to grow in your relationship with the Lord and with each other. While it isn't wrong for you to question his opinion, it is unwise for you to discount it. It's also unwise for him to make a unilateral decision that would have significant implications for you and your family. It seems like the real question is how to discern God's will or how to know when it's God's voice.
When Gary received an invitation from John Brown University to become the first Executive Director of The Center for Marriage & Family Studies, the first thing he did was to talk with me and to ask some close friends to pray daily for us. We had many reasons not to move. We had enjoyed thirteen good years in Denver, we had great friends and a strong support system, we had no need or desire to move, and pulling our three sons out of a great Christian school would be difficult for them.
The Bible says that there is wisdom in many counselors. After many hours of prayer, numerous phone calls to friends around the country, and discussions with our boys, we decided that it was God's leading. It wasn't an easy decision and it was a difficult move, but the fact that we made it together and that we had the support of those closest to us made the road a little easier.
If your husband values what the Bible says, he will understand that a decision of this magnitude needs to include your perspective. He will seek the wisdom of godly men and women whom you both respect and trust. We'd encourage you to pray as you've never prayed before. Be open to what God might be saying to you and your husband. Either God will confirm that you are where you are supposed to be, or this is his way of taking you to the next chapter of your life. Finally, we strongly encourage both of you to pray together. … without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17).
Gary J. Oliver, Th.M., Ph.D., is the author of numerous books and is executive director of the Center for Marriage and Family Studies and Professor of Psychology and Practical Theology at John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas. Carrie Oliver, M.A., is a clinical therapist at the PeopleCARE Clinics, specializing in marriage and family and women's issues. She is a seminar leader and co-author, with Gary, of Raising Sons. … and Loving It! (Zondervan). The Olivers have three sons.
We are not able to respond personally to readers' letters. But if you have a marriage question you'd like us to address in this column, send your question to:
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Back from the Brink?
For some, it's infidelity. For others, it's addictions. Still others just drift apart. Every day we hear about marriages on the rocks, couples who think the only option left is divorce.
But we know that God works miracles in marriages all the time, that he saves the seemingly unsalvageable. When was the last time you heard about one of those?
To celebrate God's redeeming power in marriages and to give hope to those whose marriages seem all but over, Marriage Partnership has started a department called "Back from the Brink."
In it, we highlight a first-person story of a real-life marriage that has survived and thrived after being declared "dead."
If your marriage has rebounded from the brink, we'd love to hear about it. If we choose to publish your story, we'll pay you a regular writer's fee. If we choose your story, but need someone else to write it, we'll pay you a $50 "finders fee."
You can send your query letter to:
Back from the Brink
465 Gundersen Drive
Carol Stream, Illinois 60188
We hope to hear from you. And may God bless all of your marriages!
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