When Loving Your Man Is Hurting You

Editor's Note: Dr. David Hawkins, best-selling author of When Pleasing Others is Hurting You and Dealing with the CrazyMakers in Your Life, is pleased to announce that his column will be changing its format in upcoming weeks. Beginning immediately, readers are welcome to send him their relationship questions at ask-dr-da[email protected] to be answered in his new advice column. 

Countless women write to me seeking help for their husbands. Desperate and having read the latest articles and books on topics about emotional abuse and narcissism, they feel discouraged and wonder if there really is any help for their man. 

I don’t fault them. Most information available on these topics shouts, “Run. Get away.” Some of the more hopeful counsel says, “Send him to therapy and hope for the best.”

Unfortunately, this counsel is limited and often faulty. This counsel goes against the latest research that is more hopeful, albeit serious and concerning.  

Having counseled narcissistic and emotionally abusive men and their mates for years, I understand this advice. The mountain of challenges is steep and the terrain rough. Change is not easy, especially when it comes to narcissistic and emotional abuse.  

Now, before I offer contrary advice, I want to chime in on the challenges of working with difficult, emotionally abusive men. I am not saying that working with such men is simple. It is not. I’m not saying all of these men can or will change. They will not. But, I also believe that saying it is impossible to treat such men is a limited perspective. 

Listen to the words of Jackie: 

“I recently discovered that I’ve been living with a covert emotional abuser. This discovery has given me so much insight as to why I have suffered in my marriage for years. I can see how my husband has been incredibly defensive and controlling and how he uses that control to protect himself and put the problem onto me. 

“My husband has minimized or denied his issues, telling me we have ‘typical marriage problems’ and that my complaints about his abuse were unfounded. He angrily tells me I complain too much and that, in fact, I was the one that needed help. So, I went for help. The counselor helped me cope but didn’t really talk about emotional abuse. It wasn’t until I started doing my own research that I discovered the topics of narcissism and emotional abuse. Now at least I have a name for it and am learning about it.” 

I was encouraged that Jackie was learning about these problems. However, I was very concerned with what she went on to tell me. 

“I learned that there really is no good treatment for these problems and that I should run from my husband. That is really discouraging because I still love him and have a life with him. I don’t want to run. I want to learn how to work together on these issues while holding him accountable for change. He isn’t really motivated to change so I’m going to counseling alone. There must be some way to get him into counseling and to work together on healing.” 

Jackie was somewhat different than many women suffering alone. She had done a lot of research and had discovered a lot of good information. Some of it, however, was skewed, confusing, and very discouraging. Some of the counsel, telling her the only answer was to run, was narrow-minded and limited and certainly didn’t share Christian values. 

Jackie is in a very difficult situation with no easy answers. Together we explored more comprehensive possibilities. We discussed the following ideas:  

First, consider the possibility of an intervention. 

Change does not and will not just happen. That is magical thinking. Waiting for change is naïve. While we can be hopeful, we must do our part to create an opportunity for change. We must stop doing what we’ve always done. Coming out of your own denial is a prerequisite for change.

As important as prayer and belief is, it is often not enough. We must do something different if we want a different outcome than what we have gotten in the past. We must be wise and strategic to create the possibility for change.

Second, plan an intervention. 

Change occurs after disruption of the ways things are. Change is frightening and unsettling. However, once one prepares fully for change, then we become open to the possibility of disrupting the way things are currently. 

Determining a specific intervention is a critical step. What needs to change? What are the behaviors that are intolerable, that must change for you to stay with him? What treatment will you insist upon to deal directly and effectively with his narcissistic and emotionally abusive behaviors? He must be counseled by a specialist in this area and together you and your therapist can map out what must change and how to create a crisis, opening the possibility for change.

Third, determine his response to the proposed intervention and then intervention. 

You can begin slowly and set boundaries progressively. In other words, you don’t have to separate from him as a first step. Working with a professional, you can map out a progressive plan of intervention, determining his response, and proceeding accordingly. You must be physically, emotionally, and spiritually prepared to take drastic steps to ensure he enters into specific therapy aimed at his abusive behavior. You must be prepared for significant resistance, a natural response to unwanted change. His response to your request and boundaries will determine your next step. Your boundaries must be as hard and fast as needed to bring about a positive response to your request.

Fourth, specify expectations for change. 

You must be absolutely clear about the changes you need. Your expectations should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound. It is wise to rehearse these, ensuring you have the inner conviction to stand by them. Again, expect resistance, knowing that change may begin with external motivation before moving to internal motivation. 

Fifth, determine how you will monitor change and growth. 

Once he has agreed to specific counseling aimed squarely at addressing his narcissistic and emotional abuse, determine who and how his progress will be monitored, remembering that relapse and regression are often part of a recovery process. Nonetheless, change can be measured and monitored effectively.

Finally, establish accountability for change. 

Knowing that regression and resistance are part of recovery, it is best to have a solid team of men (in addition to you) holding your mate accountable for specific change. This team must know about emotional abuse and not have a vested interest in enabling his dysfunction. They must have the skills and fortitude to be firm, strong and challenging. 

Your mate’s response to these steps will determine his prognosis for change. If he initially resists but then consents to counseling, embracing his need for change and ultimately expressing Godly sorrow for his behavior, all the better. If he fights, resists and resents intrusion into his life, even after you have taken firmer steps, the path is obviously bleaker and more difficult. 

I’m aware I’ve offered challenging counsel. We at The Marriage Recovery Center are prepared to walk with you through this change process. We offer a complimentary Intervention Class and you can send responses to me at [email protected] and read more about our newly formed Subscription Group, Thrive, for women struggling from emotional abuse. You can learn more about this problem in my latest book, When Loving Him is Hurting You: Hope and Healing for Women Struggling with Narcissistic and Emotional Abuse. 

Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Rawpixel


View All