Dear Dr. David,

Thank you very much for your column. I read them all the time. Anyway, I have a dilemma of my own and need your advice. My husband and I are both respected leaders in our church and so I feel like I have no one to talk to about how I feel about my husband and my marriage. My mother cannot handle any hint of marital discord, so she's off limits as well. I think I have grown out of love for my husband. The years of bitterness and unexpressed anger at failed expectations has reached the point where I don't want to try working this out anymore. The only thing that's holding me in this marriage is my faith and desire to please the Lord... but I know in my heart He can't be pleased with the way we live. My husband and I have been very good at presenting a facade to others but at home by ourselves our home is cold and loveless.

Whenever I try to talk to my husband about how I feel, he is very good at turning the tables around so we never get to talk about anything. I have given up trying to talk to him so all my feelings are bottled up inside.

He wants to be the authority in our home but he refuses a leader's responsibility. His idea of a submissive wife is a woman who says yes to whatever he wants. 

Dr. Hawkins, I know only God can change my husband. I just need help resolving my own feelings. What do I tell myself when he does this - when he doesn't know how to express the kind of love and caring that I need?

~ Broken Heart

Dear Broken,

While I cannot address every issue in your letter, let’s tackle some of the major ones.

First, stop living with the façade. I’ve discussed before the importance of having places where we can be transparent. King David said that when he was silent with his sins, his body wasted away. (Psalms 32:3) The body of Christ--the Church--should be a place where we are supportive with one another, not where we pretend everything is fine. While you may not feel safe in your church, I challenge you to find people who can be trusted with your concerns. We are commanded to bear one another’s burdens, fulfilling the law of Christ. (Galatians 6: 22)

Nothing good comes from secrecy and playing roles. Soon we come to believe in the roles we’re playing. Insist that you and your husband obtain godly counsel, a place you can be "real" and be held accountable for change. Simply the act of coming out of hiding will be a relief for both of you.

Second, I’m glad your mother is off limits, because it is unlikely that she could be objective—your counselor must be someone you both respect and who is capable of offering helpful advice. A trained clinician will enable both of you to discover and eradicate destructive patterns of communication. You will have the opportunity to learn new skills.

Third, you say that your husband becomes immediately defensive when you try to talk to him. Again, a trained counselor can help both of you to "listen for the kernel of truth" to what your mate is saying without needing to counter-attack. While "owning" our problems is hard work, with the right counsel you can learn to do just that, and the resulting positive change can be dramatic.

So, in summary, come out of hiding, share your burdens with a qualified counselor, seek help from the Holy Spirit-Counselor, and set your heart and mind toward positive change.

Dear Dr. David,

I have been married for five years and it has been a rough go the entire time.  The meat of it results from issues my husband has with severe distrust (almost paranoia at times) and my feeling that I can't discuss anything without it ending up a huge lecture to me.  We are very cyclical:  two weeks nice, fight, two weeks cold shoulder politeness, make up, two weeks nice, etc.  I do not want to end up in divorce.  I need tools to tell me how to work with boundaries.  I understand what they are, how they are appropriate, I have even laid them out there only to have him repent....be nice....and then I don't know what to do and he reverts to the same dominating behaviors.  I have read about boundaries in marriage, but still don't feel like I have a recipe to follow.....I NEED a recipe!  Can you help?

~ Tired of Fighting

Dear Tired,

Yes, I can help, and boundaries are critical to healthy relationships. However, after reading your letter I have a greater concern that you may be struggling with domestic violence. While this word may feel strong to you, domestic violence does not have to include physical acts—it can be patterns of dominance and control, which you cite. You say that your husband is paranoid and lectures you—these fit the pattern of a domestically violent man.

Domestic violence is about control—attempts to make you into the kind of person he wants you to be. I suspect his intimidating tactics may even be working.

You say that the problems are cyclical—again, this is common in domestic violence. There is often a tension-building phase, followed by some form of violence, leading to remorse after the blow-up. He repents and is polite and kind after the blow-up, only leading to more tension, fighting, and another blow-up.

Your husband must agree to seek help and intervention for his patterns of control and abuse. He will likely resist this as most men are inclined to do. He is likely to minimize his control and abuse. This is typical of the syndrome. But, you must be firm that he needs to learn about this problem, as do you, and agree to take drastic measures to end the cycle of violence. He must be held accountable for change. Nothing short of firm, decisive measures will work. This is where setting firm boundaries will be helpful. This means, if you want to see these patterns change, you must state your needs and follow through.

Finally, after he has entered a men’s group for domestic violence, you two can learn skills to end these destructive patterns. With a skilled clinician you can learn to notice the cues that lead to tension. You can practice helping one another with mood and emotion regulation; you can learn to take time-outs. Again, if these patterns are predictable, they’re preventable. Become experts at noticing the issues that lead to tension and agree never to be controlling or violent with one another. Solve problems so they don’t recur. Finally, seek God’s wisdom to help you discover how you both may participate in destructive patterns.

Do you need sound, Biblically-based advice on an issue in your marriage or family?  Dr. David will address two questions from Crosswalk readers in each weekly column. Submit your question to him at TheRelationshipDoctor@gmail.com


David Hawkins, Pd.D., has worked with couples and families to improve the quality of their lives by resolving personal issues for the last 30 years. He is the author of over 18 books, including Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage    Saying It So He'll Listen, and  When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You. His newest books are titled  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt.  Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.