My husband and I have been married for 13 years. He is very controlling and needs to micromanage every little situation. Everything needs to revolve around him and what he wants at that time. He is very intense and gets upset and worked up very easily over minor things. He works very hard, however he doesn’t put effort into our relationship. He shows little emotion, besides stress or disproval. He lacks compassion and sympathy for others, mostly me. He is demanding and critical and does not take my feelings or opinions into consideration. He appears to be obsessive over certain things and can’t rationalize logically.
We have three sons who see and feel the contention and division between us, which saddens me greatly. He has little patience with them and expects them to not make mistakes. When I try to talk to my husband about his cold dictating ways he gets defensive and twist, turns, manipulates, and dominates the conversation. There is no validation or resolve, ever. I recently started to take steps towards moving out with the boys and had our bishop meet with him. He finally agreed to attend counseling with me, but so far no progress. He insists he is not the problem.
I just want a happy peaceful home where I’m treated as an equal and there is give and take. I want a joyful Christ-centered home. When my husband is home, things feel stressful, confusing, intense, dark, and unhappy. I’m lonely and am reaching my limit. He doesn’t have the qualities that I want in an eternal companion. How do I know if he can change or we will ever be happy? Or how do I know when it’s time for me to leave?
It’s an unbearable feeling to have your heart longing to be close to your husband while simultaneously backing away from him to find emotional safety. You’re caught between protecting yourself, protecting your boys, and giving your marriage a chance. It’s a dilemma no one expects to encounter when they begin their family.
Sometimes a spouse’s aggressive behavior leaves you no choice but to create emotional or even physical distance so things can change. Even if he continues in his aggressive patterns, the distance will protect you and your boys from the constant assault on your emotional security.
Separating isn’t the worst thing that can happen to this family. The worst thing that can happen to your family is that your husband refuses to take accountability for his abusive behavior to you and your sons. It’s critical that your sons see that this behavior isn’t how a husband should treat his wife. If their father can’t teach that to them, then you may have to set specific limits so the message is clear to your boys.
Even though you might need to pull away and protect yourself and your sons from this aggression, recognize that your peace and clarity will come from acting in ways that match your deepest values. In other words, you don’t have to be aggressive or bitter in order to create safety for yourself or your sons.
You can eventually forgive your husband for his behavior without having to trust him. Forgiveness frees you from holding onto the bitterness and anger from how he’s treated you. You’re taking the appropriate steps to create safety. You don’t have to turn into someone you’re not in order to create safe conditions.
You may worry that if you’re not tough and aggressive with him that he will have more permission to harm you. Moving toward separation sends a strong signal that you’re not willing to be diminished anymore as a person. M. Catherine Thomas wrote that, “forgiving people, acting kindly toward them, doesn’t necessarily mean letting them abuse us. Sometimes relationships have to be severed to keep one of the parties from being destroyed.”[i]
I have no idea if your husband will do what it takes to be a safe husband and father. I hope he will honestly assess his actions and take the appropriate steps toward accountability and restitution. I encourage you to continue with your counseling with professionals and your bishop.
Moving out isn’t a threat to your relationship under these conditions. If he is serious about changing, he will eventually understand why you needed to move out. On the other hand, if he’s not interested in changing and continues to be aggressive, then moving out will offer the protection he won’t give you.
While there are several ways you can go about this, recognize that personal revelation is essential in this process. There are examples in the scriptures where it made sense for individuals to create distance for personal safety.[ii] There are also examples where people were asked to stay in difficult circumstances. Make sure you get the proper spiritual and emotional support so you can know how to respond to these challenging conditions.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic and currently serves as the primary chorister. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.
[ii] 2 Nephi 5:1-7