Marriage Advice From A Christian Perspective

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Dealing with a Spouse Who is Emotionally Distant, Abusive

  • Dr. David B. Hawkins The Relationship Doctor
  • 2006 18 Feb
Dealing with a Spouse Who is Emotionally Distant, Abusive

Dear Dr. David:

My husband and I have been married for fifteen years. They have not all been good. He had an affair and we were separated for two years. We are now back together but it doesn’t seem like he really loves me. He is back physically, but emotionally he seems like he is a million miles away. To make matters worse, he was physically abusive again with me recently. This is my second marriage and my first husband abused me as well. What am I doing wrong? I am not sure what to do. Please help. ~ Trisha


Dear Trisha:

There are several issues to consider from your letter. First, you point out that your husband is back in the marriage, but is emotionally unavailable. This suggests a lack of real commitment on his part, and may suggest even deeper problems. Did you two receive counseling before he came back home? That certainly could have been helpful. He needs to be confronted with his lack of emotional involvement; a marriage without emotional intimacy is no marriage at all. Of course it will be important to approach him in a firm, but loving manner. Let him know that you care about him and want a more loving relationship.

Second, I am alarmed to hear about his violence -- again. Even the smallest amount of violence, physical or emotional, is devastating to a marriage. The scriptures say, "'I hate divorce,'" says the Lord God of Israel, ‘and I hate a man’s covering himself with violence as well as with his garment,’ says the Lord God Almighty." (Malachi 2: 16) God hates violence in marriage because He knows the devastation that happens in homes where there is abuse of any kind. You must have a zero tolerance policy toward violence — no violence can be tolerated in any relationship.

Holding your husband accountable for his actions may present some difficulties. He may not be self-motivated to obtain the professional help he needs. However, you must understand that he cannot change patterns of violence on his own. He must receive professional help for his violence if he wants to remain in the marriage and maintain its sanctity.

Finally, you ask what you are doing wrong. This is a good question for all of us. You need to review your life, look for patterns of behavior and then seek help to change them. If you have a pattern of picking abusive men, seek counseling to discover why you seek and settle for these kind of men and learn how to set boundaries so that you demand better for yourself in the future. God says to "love your neighbor as you love yourself," implying the importance of treating yourself as a special child of God. Loving yourself by setting healthy boundaries with your husband is a good place to start.

Dear Dr. David:

My husband and I have three children, ages seven, twelve and seventeen. Our oldest son has become more rebellious recently and demands more and more freedom. He has had a steady girlfriend for the past year. Her parents don’t seem at all concerned about the time they spend together. We have raised our children with a strong Christian foundation including the belief in sexual purity before marriage. How do we discuss the differences between families without alienating our son or his girlfriend? How do we maintain our values and protect our younger children? Thanks for your help. ~ Mary Jean

Dear Mary Jean:

You are to be applauded for your determination to maintain Godly values in your home, in spite of your son’s desire to test the limits. You have an uphill battle, of course, because your son appears to be quite willful, and you have little support from his girlfriend’s family. Nonetheless, you must remain consistent with your rules and values as that will prove helpful to your son in the long run. He needs to know that you mean what you say and will stand up to him. He needs to see you remain firm with your boundaries. As you rightly note, your other children are watching. Your consistency in the treatment of your oldest child will lay a strong foundation for your other children as well.

It is also important, when dealing with your son, to see this as an opportunity to practice some key parenting strategies. It is critical to listen to your son, showing that you want to understand his thoughts on the matter. Your communication must show that you respect him as a young adult, not that you are simply going to be tough on the limits. It is a chance to let him know that you understand his caring for another person, and you recognize the challenges he faces in a growing relationship. It will be critical that you and your spouse empathize with him while not being swayed to alter your values or boundaries. God bless.

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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 book, When the Man in Your Life Can’t Commit, will be released in February, 2006.  Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.