Recognizing a Destructive Marriage


Can you recognize a destructive relationship?

No relationship is perfect. But, we’re talking about more than just feeling disappointed. Can you tell the difference between a difficult relationship and one that is tearing you down?

In this episode of “Becoming Whole,” Josh and Kit identify patterns to look for and unpack what they mean.

Our deepest desire is to be known and loved. At a deep level then, you must be aware that something is not right. We hope this message puts some light on the truth about your relationships, the good and the bad.

We hope you’ll learn what is healthy versus unhealthy.

We hope you’ll be empowered to make change and move forward in health and reclaim your hope. (This conversation is inspired by “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your Hope” by Leslie Vernick. Please see the Homework and Extras section below for more)


Ask God for the truth, begin to switch them out, begin to change the narrative

When our spouse has a chronic indifference about who we are and what we need, that eats away at the very core of how we’re wired to be loved and known.

Where there are lies or denial in a relationship, there’s really no foundation to build on.


Five Patterns (repetitive, characterized by a lack of remorse)

  1. Reactive Abuse: Physical, Sexual, Spiritual, Economical, or Verbal
  2. Gross imbalance of power and control with an attitude of entitlement
  3. Chronic deceit
  4. Chronic dependency
  5. Chronic indifference

Ways to Embrace Change (begin with what’s my part and owning it). And then:

  1. Refuse to keep secrets
  2. Reach out and Get Support
  3. Prayer – talk to God about what’s going on
  4. Name what scares you
  5. Identify lies and replace them with corresponding truth

The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your Hope” By Leslie Vernick

Click for Full Podcast Transcription

Kit 0:02
We all are aware of the fact that relationships and marriage can be really challenging, and we can find ourselves in a relationship or a marriage, that’s disappointing. In fact, we’re all disappointed in some ways, because we’re human people, and we disappoint each other. But there’s a difference between a disappointing relationship or a marriage, and one that is an emotionally destructive marriage. This is a very different kind of situation that requires intervention. And we want to talk about that today, we want to talk about what makes up an emotionally destructive marriage. And what do you do about it? Josh, what are your thoughts on that? When I talk about emotionally destructive marriage? Yeah, so the idea comes from this book, have you discovered by Leslie vernick, emotionally destructive marriage, we, we are going to talk a lot about marriage. But as you said, this really can play out in we believe it can play out in a lot of different kinds of relationships can really, you know, boyfriend, girlfriend, parent child, sometimes in in long standing relationships of other kinds. And so, wherever you are in that, like, just listen in, because really, I think part of what she does, and the spoken part we want to do in this podcast is, is just, you know, shine a light on where things cross over from, yeah, all relationships are difficult. We live in a fallen world to like hold on timeout, like this is actually destructive, meaning it’s not just a hardship for me to endure, this is actually destroying the fabric of who I am and destroying the fabric of some something of the integrity of what this relationship is supposed to be. So yeah, that’s, that’s where I go. And so my mind also thinks about different people that I’ve known. And in our work here, and how I think of a lot of guys I’ve worked with who are trying to recover from type some type of pornography addiction or another type of sexual addiction. And they’re, they’re kind of here, you know, going through the motions, but there really is some emotionally destructive stuff that they’re bringing to their relationship. And when we get down to it, it’s just like, and you are really bring your, your dropping bombs in this relationship over and over again. And even pointing at the recovery work you’re doing as as justification for the destruction that you’re reading. So anyway, we can get more into that. But why don’t you walk us through their their five different? What do you what do you call them signs of this? Or have okay? Yeah, all of them are repetitive. They’re all characterized by a lack of remorse and a lack of significant change. So that’s kind of the umbrella of these five patterns. The first one is that there is ongoing physical, sexual, spiritual, economical or verbal abuse. And, you know, keywords are ongoing, but it can be all types of different kinds of abuse, but it’s ongoing. So that’s a very significant, you know, just thing that you can identify. And I often ask people, when I’m working with them, you know, is there some kind of ongoing abuse, ongoing treatment going on that you would consider abusive, and often there is when there when there’s a really concerning marriage? I think I think for some people who have a history of long standing patterns in their childhood of being abused or being mistreated in these ways, sometimes it can be hard for them to identify this is actually abuse that you’re experiencing. But barring that, let’s let’s just unpack a little bit spiritual and economical abuse. I think those might be new categories, physical, sexual, verbal, people might recognize but maybe maybe verbal, we could use some attacking to it. But let’s just start with what is spiritual abuse? What’s economical abuse? Well, you know, spiritual abuse is kind of highlighted in the next one a little bit, but it’s this idea that, you know, there’s control a spiritual control, like I’m the head, I’m the, I’m the one who is in charge here. And so you do as I say, and again, we’ll unpack that a little bit more in the in the second one. And then economical is you know, like, Hey, listen, maybe the the woman is staying at home and the husband is working and or vice versa, but the one who’s making the money, put some very tight, abusive kinds of restraints on the money like, you know, you can’t spend anything without you telling me not $5 not $1 like, I want you to tell me every time you spend something, you know, that might be Extreme but there are definite economical abuse issues that come up a lot in marriages. I think another the other extreme of that might be some somebody who is is spending and spending on whatever their addiction is to the point of leaving their family and want and destitute in some ways, not not secure in some ways.

Yeah, the other. The other thing I’d say about spiritual abuse is if there’s somebody who who literally is in a position, a respected kind of religious position, their speaker, their pastor, their whatever. And they’re kind of blaming their misbehavior on the burden that God has given them to carry. And I think there even even been some recent examples of that in the public field where that, you know, people well respected, abusing, mistreating women, and blaming, you know, that on, you know, I need to do this, because of the great burden that God has given me, they add to the sexual abuse, and the most emotional abuse to add spiritual abuse right on top of there, and that’s so destructive, because it can, then it can really mess with somebody’s own impression of God be there pulling God into their their cycle of dysfunction, which is so apparent. So getting to the next one, you mentioned that, as we talked about spiritual abuse. How do you see that playing out? So in the second pattern, one person is controlling over protective, overbearing, and this can often be under this guise, like I mentioned, if I’m the head, I get my way, whatever, whenever there’s any kind of conversation, they are always right. And so that’s very difficult. And again, it’s a pattern that that isn’t the person isn’t aware of, and they’re there, they have no remorse about it. I noticed too, that the word overprotective here, because I think usually when I think of protective that comes across as a nurturing or helpful or loving thing. Over protective is, it’s more like, you know, that the the jail, the jail keeper kind of saying, you know, keeping in here to keep you safe. Yes, yes. Yeah. I think you might even see that, you know, like, overprotective of the relationship, like you’re not, you know, keeping you away from other healthy relationships.

Unknown Speaker 7:19

Kit 7:20
a lot of insecurity. And so, you know, in the, under the kind of the guise of protection, it becomes controlling.

Unknown Speaker 7:30
Yeah, so keep going, what, what do we have next? Oh,

Kit 7:32
third one is, um, you know, one person is overly dependent. On the other one, you know, kind of the flip side of it. So you can see the codependency issue here that there’s one who’s really controlling, and one who’s really dependent. So, a woman or a man looks to the other person to meet all of his or her needs, kind of this God position. And it reminds me of a wedding vow that I heard that I think is one of the best wedding vows I’ve ever heard. And it’s, I promise never to look to you, for what only God can give me. And so this overly dependent relationship is where there, you’re my everything I need you to, to be to meet all my needs, and to do everything for me. And that’s very, very unhealthy for both people. Of course. Yeah, that this is one that like, if I find one place in this that really kind of draws me in, I go, Oh, I have some growth to do in that area. I’m married to a very strong, capable woman. And in my own business, and frenetic, this, I can see myself kind of looking to her to bring some of that subtleness to our home to my life in ways and I find myself like, wanting to check myself in some of the situations say, hold on, hold on, like, I can’t, I can’t depend on you all the time where you need to, she said to me recently, something to the effect of, I feel like I’m giving a lot and not receiving a lot right now. And I was like, okay, that’s that’s a good flag for me to say, if I if I don’t want my marriage to be emotionally destructive. What am I going to do to make it that different right now? Great example of a very healthy conversation between like, I’m doing a lot of giving you that getting that much right now and for the other, the other spouse to say, Okay, let me listen to that. Yeah, basket asked me again in a week if I if I followed through. So the fourth pattern has to do with deceit, that there is a pattern of lies, and denial, and lies and denial. You know, we’re not talking about one time we’re talking about a pattern of this kind of behavior. I can’t, I can’t count the number of times that I’ve heard a wife describe her experience with a husband as feeling like she was going crazy, like she she had lost and somewhere along the way and lost her capacity to trust her own instinct that something wasn’t right, because there was such a pattern of denial. Lies and coupled with probably often some blaming, you know this, it’s all in your head. What’s wrong with you? Why do you keep accusing me? I think in contrast, like in a healthy marriage, when when one spouse is suspicious or concerned about the other spouses behavior, there’s a desire for, for disclosure for reassurance for, you know, come with me, come see, here’s my checkbook, here’s my phone, you know, not is it not in a in a accusatory or kind of passive aggressive way. But but more more directly, like I, you are safe with me, and I want you to know that you’re safe with me. Yeah, that’s a that’s a hard one, that we’re we’re their allies or denial in a relationship. There’s really no foundation to build. Because if I can’t, if we, if I can’t trust that you are living in reality, yeah. Then Then how can we do this relationship together? Yeah, brutal. Yeah. And then number five, the fifth and final one is, and this is big, there’s a chronic indifference or neglect, about the well being of the other. Right, say more about that? Yeah. Well, you know, we talked about this region a lot, you know, that our deep desire is to be known and to be loved. And so when our spouse has this chronic indifference, or you know, neglect about who we are, and what we need, and you know, that that just eats away at the very core of how we’re wired to be loved and known, and so that as a pattern, you know, we all can fall into that a little bit here and there, but as a pattern, a chronic kind of behavior, that will definitely be destructive in a marriage. So those are those are those five, those five areas? Kitt, what is this tell us like? So, you know, we start off by you start off by delineating difference between, you know, there’s a disappointing marriage or marriage is going through disappointments, and a marriage where there is emotionally destructive behavior happening. And so this is these are five different kinds of destructive behavior. If somebody’s listening, they’re going, gosh, you know, three out of those five, or a couple of those are all five of them. What does that mean? What, what’s next, then for that? That person? How are they supposed to hear these things? And then what?

So there’s really five ways to, to, you know, and again, we’re coming up with five ways, this is Leslie vernix. content, but it’s, it’s just these are, these are ways that we see that you can really intervene in these kinds of situations, to embrace change. And you begin with asking, what’s my part? and owning it, it’s huge. It’s huge. Each person, what’s my part, and owning it, and then with God’s health, empowering yourself to become healthier. And so that’s the umbrella over that part of it. And the first one is an important one, refuse to keep secrets. Things have to come to light things, you know, things in the dark, it’s not good, you know, bring up everything to like refuse to keep secrets. Yeah, so so many families, so many marriages, so many unhealthy situations could be resolved. If if somebody would, would speak up and say, we need to start telling the truth. And, yeah, which leads into the next one. Yeah, right. The second one is get support. So don’t hide, don’t pretend, reach out, get support, you know, through your church, through a dear friend, through a mentor, you know, a therapist, just bring somebody into this that you can trust and get support through get because what we talked about before is you can feel like you’re unsafe, you can feel like you’re crazy. So reach out, get support. You know, and I think that the knee jerk reaction here often can feel like Well, that’s I can’t do that because I don’t want to throw my husband or my wife or my dad or my whomever under the bus. It’ll destroy the relationship. Getting support is actually is it’s just the opposite is a no this relationship and you and me, it is too important to me that we’re going to keep going down this we are destroying it. Like we need some help to repair it, and to bring it back to wholeness. And then third really important thing is prayer. You know, talk to God about your situation. You know, this is true in life in general, right. We want to have an ongoing open dialogue. Here’s what’s going on. Here’s honestly what’s going on crying out to him and getting his perspective or what’s your wisdom. And again, you can very much do this by yourself. You can also do it with other people to listen on your behalf as well, to get his wisdom, God’s wisdom about your situation. I love it. That’s if you’ve been if you’ve suffered from, from spiritual abuse, if that’s one of the parts of your history or the part of your pattern, this might be especially difficult. So again, I love it, I appreciate that she put gets support, even ahead of prayer, which I think is that may be one of the reasons for that. And then the next one, the fourth one is, and this is important, you know, we can get paralyzed by fear. And we can even be afraid of our fears. And it’s important to name them, it’s important to get in touch with them, and speak them to God to another person, so that you’re not just paralyzed, you know, by fear. And so that’s an important thing to get in touch with the fact that you feel unsafe, you’re afraid there are things going on that aren’t right, and begin to name them and speak. It’s good. Good to hear I hear in so many of these, there’s, there’s, it’s there’s coming to the light. This I mean, I think each of these to characterize like we’re coming to God coming to others, even even coming to the light with your lead, allowing stuff inside of you come to the light of your own. I’m going to admit this right now. And I’m going to talk about this and name this. And what’s the last one, the last one, and you know, this is so true in life, but it’s very true in this situation, to identify lies, and with God’s help replace them with corresponding truth. Because when you’re living in a situation like this, you are vulnerable to believe lies about yourself, about God. And so, you know, here’s, here’s just a little example, you know, I’m not worthy, I’m messing this up, I have no choices. I can’t I have to stay though, because I don’t have any choice when to whatever have me, you know, and those kinds of things can be very real. And the truth is, right, the truth is, we belong to God, we have worth in value, and we can be a part of a solution. So just identifying lies. And again, this could you can do this on your own, but it’s also very helpful to do it with someone else, identify those lies, and then God, what’s the truth, and begin to switch them out to begin to change your narrative about it?

That’s so good. I think I think oftentimes, we we can miss, that the lines that we say to ourselves are actually lies that have been fed to us by the evil one himself. And, and how much his lies are designed, and he’s very good at it are designed to keep us bound to destructive behavior, moving towards death, moving towards darkness, moving forward towards ongoing sickness, as opposed to healing. And so replacing those with with God’s truth is, is powerful. And it’s not just a one and done thing, it’s often something we need to keep reminding ourselves and say over and over again, I think it’s an ongoing, lifelong process to, you know, be in touch with lies and to ask God to help us with truth. Well, so there’s been a quick flyover of emotionally destructive marriage, like five patterns that are in an emotionally destructive marriage and five ways to embrace and move towards change if you’re in an emotionally destructive marriage or other kinds of relationships. So get once you once you close this in a in a quick word of prayer, especially for those who listening who recognize themselves somewhere in here. I know, Lord, that this kind of relationship in this kind of marriage are too common in this world, we live in such a broken world. And, and so I pray for any person who’s listening right now, who has resonated with some of this, that they would be able to send some comfort and some strength from you, that they can identify this as reality. And they can begin to initiate some of these changes some of these, you know, reaching out, talking to you, refusing to keep secrets, that it can start now. And that they would have a sense of strength from you, God, to to take care of themselves, and to honor their marriage by by getting some help. So Lord, thank you that you are always here for us that you have truth and wisdom for us, even when we’re in these really difficult situations. We pray this in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

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Original music by Shannon Smith. Audio engineering by Gabriel @ DelMar Sound Recording.

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