Remembering Your Core In An Emotionally Destructive Marriage

Shaun Lotter, MA, LPC

Our therapists at MyCounselor.Online regularly read books and various writings aimed at helping people tackle difficult situations.  Once in a while, we come across those that stand head and shoulders above the others.  These are written authors who clearly communicate a solid Biblical theology with a powerful clinical approach to relationship issues.  The Emotionally Destructive Marriage by Christian author and counselor Leslie Vernick is one such book.  The following are some of the principles found in the book for keeping your integrity while dealing with a destructive spouse.  If you are concerned about being in a toxic marriage and would like to purchase this highly recommended the book, please use the following link:

Find Your Core

One of the most common issues for those who find themselves in a destructive marriage is losing themselves to the ongoing pain.  The mistreated spouse comes to therapy for help, feeling like a shell of themselves.  They have lost who they are, where they are going, and why they are in the marriage in the first place.  It is a truly tragic place to be, one that can leave the person feeling trapped and powerless.  You might be reading this because you are in a destructive marriage and are nodding with everything being said.  Great, the problem has been identified, but now what?

You must strengthen your CORE:


“With God at the Center I will be . . .”


C: Committed to Truth & Reality

O: Open to Growth, Instruction & Feedback

R: Responsible For Myself & Respectful Towards Others Without Dishonoring Myself

E: Empathetic & Compassionate Towards Others Without Enabling People to Continue to Abuse & Disrespect Me

C: Committed to Truth & Reality:

It is not the lie of your spouse or of others that will do the most damage to you, it is the lie you tell yourself.  All of us are prone to self-deception. It is our pain and desire for idols which draw us away from God’s truth and into deception.  Our marriage can become an idol for us.  We are willing to make any sacrifice necessary to maintain it.  We might even call this patience or long-suffering, but it is not.  It is denial and avoidance.  We are deceived but serve a God who calls us to live in the truth.  We have chosen our desire over His command and the results are not only devastating to us but our children, and even our destructive spouse.

In order for a destructive relationship to exist, we must, at some point, have become co-conspirators with our spouse’s delusions.  In other words, rather than seeing ourselves, our spouse, and our marriage as God sees them, we have agreed with our spouse’s distorted view of reality.  We have been knocked down emotionally by verbal attacks and manipulation, and bounced back with a smile.  We have catered to their desires at whatever cost to ourselves and our family.  We have hidden their behaviors from others, portraying them to be our “rock” or a wonderful spouse.  This is not the truth, all of these are lies.  The reality is we are not okay.  We cannot simply bounce back, bruises and all from abuse.  We are hurt and it is essential we acknowledge this, first to ourselves and then to our spouse.

O: Open to Growth, Instruction & Feedback:

We are all broken and sinful, but we are not all willing to see this.  The Bible calls this blindness.

When we are not open to learning and growth, the Bible calls us “fools” no matter how smart we are, what position we hold, or how many letters come after our name.  One of the most frightening things we must do is admit our blindness and accept help.  There are things in us and about us we have been unable or unwilling to see.  We need help and courage to see these things.  This willingness requires humility.

Psalms 27:11 says: Teach me how to live, O  lord.  Lead me along the right path, for my enemies are waiting for me. (NLT)

It is critical you be ready to look in the mirror and try to figure out how you got to this point in your life.  In counseling, we call this insight.  The Scriptures would call it wisdom.  A wise person understands how they came to be in the situation they are in.  The wise person uses this knowledge to help make necessary changes in their life.  This can include confession to the Lord of dealing with fears and other hurts in our lives by running to idols (such as marriage) expecting them to heal us while not turning to Him.  While a marriage can be a relationship in which healing occurs, it is not ultimately the marriage doing the work, it is our King and His truth.

R: Responsible For Myself & Respectful Towards Others Without Dishonoring Myself:

You and your spouse are both made in the image of God.  It is essential we treat one another with this truth in mind.  Our temptation is to respond in kind to a spouse who treats us harshly, behaving in the very way we are being harmed.  However, we must not allow our spouse’s evil to infect us with resentment. We must also resist the urge to become self-destructive, taking out anger/frustration on ourselves.  But how do we do this with a spouse who is hostile?

We must learn to distinguish between being responsible & being respectful, empathetic, and compassionate.  You are not responsible for your spouse’s behavior and the condition of his heart.  You can and need to be respectful/empathetic/compassionate, as this is about the condition of your heart and will enable you to take the steps necessary.  You may have been lead to believe that being respectful/empathetic/compassionate means you being “responsible” for other’s behavior and emotions.  However, we must dislodge this mistaken belief and put things in their proper place. You are responsible for you and the person you are becoming.  You are also responsible for how you choose to show up in your marriage.  You are not responsible for the person your spouse is becoming or the condition of his heart.  He is responsible before the Lord for these.

Hebrew 4:13 says it this way: 13 and no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (ESV)

You are responsible for the person you are and are becoming in the fire of this marriage.  You give God no glory and do your children no favors if you stay married with a heart full of bitterness, fear, hatred, or indifference.  We must choose to guard our hearts so we are not overcome with evil.  

 E: Empathetic & Compassionate Towards Others Without Enabling People to Continue to Abuse & Disrespect Me:

For many mistreated spouses, hearing this statement for the first time is eye opening.  Often times, but not always, individuals who end up in destructive marriages come from families who taught them being in relationship with others requires being mistreated.  In other words, pain is the price of admission and the cost of not being alone.

Empathy and compassion are essential but require us to cease to allow others to treat us in a manner dishonoring to ourselves and the God who created us.  It is critical we do not lose our capacity for empathy and compassion.  It is hard wired into us by God and essential for all relationships to be created, built, maintained, & healed.  When we cannot operate with empathy and compassion, operating as our darker selfish selves, we cannot feel good about ourselves.  We lash out in kind to those who hurt us, isolate ourselves, and suffer alone.  We end up bitter.  Maintaining empathy and compassion not only protects you but keeps you from becoming an abuser.

If your spouse is doing the things they are doing due to a loss of ability to feel empathy and compassion, do you want to become that way too?  Ignoring the reality of your spouse’s ongoing destructive behavior will lead to a build-up of resentment, killing empathy, compassion, and any positive feelings. This is why the Bible commands us to forgive our enemies and do them good, not just for their benefit but for ours.  We do good to our spouse by being honest.  It is not what your spouse does to you that will cause the most damage, it is what you do with what he does to you.  Forgiving may not do much for your spouse, but it will do a great deal for you.  However, you cannot forgive what you do not acknowledge exists.  This is painful, but necessary for your healing and for the marriage to have any chance of survival.  You will grieve your situation and choices.  You will also grieve the person your spouse has become in contrast with who God made them to be.

Take the first step towards a better tomorrow, today.

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