Living with a Chronically Self-Centered Spouse

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A friend of mine stumbled on a blog post series entitled Marriage with a Chronically Self-Centered Spouse, and after reading it, I was absolutely floored. While I’ve read many books about destructive relationships, I have never seen a blog post series that so concisely explains the problem, the reasons, and the solutions from a Biblical standpoint.

  • It’s a fabulous resource for pastors and lay counselors who have little understanding of the complications of these types of marriages. It gives them a quick education in a nutshell so they can go into a counseling session more fully aware of what might be going on.
  • It’s terrific for women (and men) who are in the middle of a destructive marriage and are totally confused and, yes, angry because nobody seems to really hear or understand what they are going through.

I want to link to it and PRAY that anyone who has been begging God for help and direction will find this. It’s a great starting point to figuring out what is going on in your life and what you can do about it.

I know many women who have been in abusive marriages for decades – and are just waking up to the reality of their situation. When that happens, there is a whole slew of despair to slog through in the journey up and out. A whole lot of waking up. A whole lot of grieving. A whole lot of picking up the broken pieces and starting over with a whole new paradigm. It’s exhausting. It’s painful. But ultimately, it’s freeing.

Brad Hambrick starts his series with this:

We are all married to a self-centered spouse. That is what it means for us to be fallen people who are bound to experience life from within our bodies. But there are cases where this “general self-centeredness” becomes chronic — severe to a point that it either results in a marital environment of abuse or neglect.

Scripture speaks to both “garden variety” marriage struggles and chronic self-centered marriage struggles, but it speaks to these varying degrees of struggles in different ways. This is no different from saying that Scripture speaks to both impulse control and addiction, but speaks to them differently.

However, Christians have not always done a good job of assessing the differences in these marriage situations and defining the approaches that need to be taken.

The first two posts are case studies. As with any case study, they are specific, and don’t necessarily apply to any one person’s exact situation. I didn’t find either study to be all that relate-able to any of the women I know in destructive relationships, but they did illustrate two main examples of self-centeredness: aggressive self-centeredness and passive self-centeredness.

In part two of this series, Hambrick uses Scripture to define the differences between average marital struggles and severe ones. He makes the point that Scripture speaks to both types of marriages, and instructions are different for each type.

He gives very specific criteria for determining whether or not a relationship is destructive, and shows what’s really going on in the conflicts that take place in a destructive relationship and why they can’t be resolved.

Part three of his series is extremely helpful in clearly illustrating four different types of chronically self-centered people. They are as follows:

1. The Low Emotional Intelligence Self-Centered Spouse

2. The Apathetic Self-Centered Spouse

3. The Situationally Explosive Self-Centered Spouse

4. The Intentionally Manipulative Self-Centered Spouse

Hambrick introduces part four of his series this way:

The cliche definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. Those married to a chronically self-centered spouse begin to feel crazy for just this reason. In these four posts, I provide guidelines for how to live at peace with a self-centered spouse “as far as it depends on you ” (Rom. 12:18). These are not prescriptions with the promise of a better marriage, but wisdom principles that will allow you to inject as much peace  into a situation as your spouse will allow. Resting in the limits of these guidelines is a key to not feeling hopeless, defeated, and crazy.

There are so many helpful truths in this section. If a spouse has a problem they are unwilling to fix, that isn’t a marriage problem. That’s a personal problem. You can refuse to fall apart when that kind of person disapproves of you. Confrontation doesn’t always work well, but if there is a receivable moment, it is important to focus on the right things.

The book of Proverbs provides excellent guidance for these lose-lose moments in life, “Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes (26:4-5).” We learn from this passage that there is no one right way to respond to someone who isn’t humble or self-aware enough to receive the truth.

He goes on to give some “guiding principles for when we should speak.”

His last section deals with how to determine whether or not real change is taking place. The main markers to look for would be a spouse who truly listens, is patient in the healing process for the abused spouse, welcomes accountability, and doesn’t see humility as “groveling.

Book mark his website for future reference. Even if this series doesn’t pertain to you personally, God may use you to introduce it to someone who desperately needs a starting point in the recovery process.

25 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Can you refer me to any information on how to find help with this method of marriage counseling in my area? Can’t find anyone. 🙁

    Reply
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      I’m afraid I don’t know the counseling options in other cities. I actually recommend secular counseling now. Too often, biblical counseling is done by inexperienced people who don’t have the education or understanding of domestic abuse. Especially emotional, financial, and spiritual abuse. They are often spiritually abusive themselves. My worst experiences with counseling have been at the hands of ignorant biblical counselors who didn’t have a clue and were unwilling to educate themselves with the abundance of resources available to them. The church is, for the most part, unable to address mental/emotional health. Hopefully God will use the awakening that is happening right now to change that one day. The church SHOULD be leaders in this field. They can’t even catch up due to arrogance.

      Reply
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    Just in case it might be helpful, here is a link to a message (“Biblical Resources for the Wife Protection”) that has really helped me to keep growing in the Lord as a wife in challenging circumstances (http://www.noutheticmedia.com/mp3-audio/biblical-resources-for-the-wifes-protection-mp3/). They also have it on CD. Here is a link to a summary of the main points. (http://www.oocities.org/heartland/prairie/3239/lesson45.htm) I’m so excited to learn how to overcome evil with GOOD that I can DO DO DO, that not just to pray (which is of course vital) and to submit.

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      Thank you, Anne! I’ll check these links out.

      Reply
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      I appreciate some of the biblical principles in Martha Peace’s work, but here, if you are in a relationship such as this article describes, her counsel at that link will tend to perpetuate the problem. By way of example:

      “3. Counsel should be directed towards restoration. First priority should be to restore the husband and wife’s relationship with one another and to God. If the counsel you are receiving does not have this intention, I would suggest that you no longer listen to them. God ordained marriage, He instituted it, and He is still for it. To seek counsel that teaches otherwise is not of God.

      4. The Wife must not slander or speak evil of her husband when she seeks counsel from another. (Proverbs 10:18) Your goal is not to ruin your husband but to seek how to respond to his sin biblically–as God would have you to respond.”

      Be wary here. The church is already telling abuse victims this type of instruction, and it’s pushing them back down each time they try to rise up into God’s desire for them. These are counseling principles that should apply to ordinary relational problems and conflicts–not to situations where one spouse is emotionally, physically, or in other ways abusing and manipulating the other spouse. Preservation of human beings made in God’s image must take priority over preservation of a marriage license. And Christian women, how would you describe the awful things your husband says and does to a counselor without feeling like you’re slandering and speaking evil of him?–he’s committing evil.

      For this reason, take what counsel helps you in this source, and leave what encourages you to violated God’s creation in you. As it says upthread, God didn’t free you only for you to be enslaved by someone else. It is not okay to abuse the apple of God’s eye, and it IS okay to preserve yourself as precious to God (who made you and your individuality and your life) and to speak frankly to a counselor about what your spouse does, no matter how ugly the truth is. *Especially* if the truth about what your spouse does is ugly. These truths need to be spoken. Speaking about secret things begins the process of draining the poison out of them. You are not sinning by doing that.

      Support, encouragement, and love to all my sisters coping with these situations.

      Reply
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        Thank you, Terri. Since I don’t mention (or support) Martha Peace here in this post – I’m assuming you are speaking to something from Brad Hambrick’s article? In that case – you may want to leave a comment (if he allows that) on his article so there is no confusion.

        Reply
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          Thanks. Replying to Anne’s resource URLs in the comment above. Yes, this is not about you — my response is intended for those who might follow the URLs and find some of the same things they’re already hearing from their pastor and fellow church members and become discouraged/more stuck in an abusive situation.

          Reply
  3. Avatar

    Sitting at the computer praying for some direction & I clicked this link (somehow I bookmarked it earlier) and my heart skipped a beat as I read the title.
    This is my life for the last 25 + years. I am that woman who has given 250%, who has prayed, pleaded, & begged for change.
    I ( & my children) have heard every name in the book thrown our way. I have had my treasured things destroyed, doors broken, dishes shattered, water bottles flung across the room, tv remotes trampled on , computers split in two, cell phones smashed (multiple times) all because whatever was happening at that time was not his idea of right.

    He has demanded that everything & everyone in his life be solely about him & if its not he erupts. We talk about his wishes, we live his hobbies, we like the people he likes, dress the way he desires, walk the way he suggests, talk in a manner he likes, adopt his bizarre likes & dislikes, listen to his tirades against government, IRS, our imperfect church, tip-toe around so as not to disturb & walk on egg shells always.

    He has taken from me everything that God has designed me to be. I have lost myself.
    Lest you think I was not a “good” wife let me say this….. I am attractive, god fearing, love to cook, keep a beautiful home, homeschool, help run the family business, entertain, I always took interest & gave deference to my husband & was available for constant intimacy.

    He won. I “am” no longer!!!!

    God is faithful though & I have sought council from my church, have signed up for weekly counciling & kicked him out.
    I have always believed in marriage permanence & although we are not together we do have an ongoing dialogue & relationship. Maybe one day more. I am not denying God can do miracles & my prayer & hope is in such things.

    I have learned so much & one thing I know is this is not about me. Finally after all these years of trying to do my best to please I now know it is his issue. He needs help & sometimes he agrees he will get it & on a bad day he denies that he needs it.
    So I sit her alone with my houseful of children who need a father yet knowing right now we are all better off without him. We are healing, we are laughing again, my boys are roughhousing, my teens are having friends over, I am slowly trying to find myself & take delight in the talents God bestowed on me without hearing criticism & contempt.

    This is hard, this is not what I would choose, this is stretching me in all ways…..but I was not set free by my Savior to be in bondage to someone else.

    We get hung up by the do’s & dont’s of scripture & forget that He died to set us free from our sin & yes sometimes other’s sin as well. This is not His plan for His beloved daughters.

    Reply
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      I am deeply sorry for the years of pain you have had to endure. For the confusion, loneliness, frustration, and all the dead ends – no matter what you do or try. I pray you will find yourself again – held in His grip, intact and whole. May He bring healing to you AND your children as you move forward and away from toxic, destructive behaviors. I recommend Leslie Vernick’s site for more good reading: http://www.leslievernick.com/

      Reply
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      Thank you! The first part of what you wrote is almost identical to my life. It blows me away how consistent many of our stories are. I am thankful to hear what the Lord has done for you. It gives me hope as I start on my journey towards freedom and healing

      Reply
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      ..”but I was not set free by my Savior to be in bondage to someone else.”

      This line brought me to my knees.

      Reply
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        That line is transforming. If you are in a toxic marriage and caught up in the fog, it sure clears the air in a hurry.

        Reply
  4. Avatar

    Natalie,
    I thank you SO much for your blog! I have dealt with this for years in my marriage where my heart had finally broken. I’m angry with myself for allowing it to happen to me for SO MANY years. Such daily frustration. Your blog is encouraging, but also validation that such dysfunction IS real and destructive. You provide real truth and resources to equip people who may be stuck in such Unintentional & unwelcomed bondage.
    I had interventions with church leadership to help my spouse see the constant disrespect that plagued our relationship. When I finally said, enough IS enough and hit the breaking point… I too felt vilified & pressure from christian friends to not end my marriage.
    I am grieving …but… I feel vindicated and free from such emotional abuse! You are right when you say most people don’t understand the depth of such crazymaking. I often felt misunderstood when I separated myself from the dysfunction. It was a one sided relationship- there was no intimacy, pure shallowness- because my needs and wants as a spouse were constantly trampled on (Unintentionally, of course by the time dysfunction becomes severe). Chronic apathetic, self centered spouses have typically damaged the relationship passed a point of recovery when they lack of humility or awareness for receiving truth behind the dysfunction. Standing up for truth is hard, but possible! Being a Christian allows me a faith to know beyond a shadow of doubt that redemption is possible, but for now, I will take a step back. Removing myself from my relationship and watch from the sidelines (a safe place) for possible transformation in my spouse while I focus on me and my needs. This is definitely not a marital issue!

    Reply
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      What you did is amazing. Have you read the Verbally Abusive Relationship by Patricia Evans? Not a Christian author -but extremely helpful in identifying that kind of subtle abuse. Abuse it is. Praying for you.

      Reply
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        I have read & currently reading many books by Cloud /Townsend & Melody Beattie. I’m reading & rereading ‘Boundaries’ currently. I am healing.
        I was married by 21 and my adult life (16 years married) has been immersed in his dysfunction/ sex addiction. I will learn as much as i can mentally absorb in my recovery process from abuse, as much as possible, so that this pattern is not repeated in a future relationship.

        “Taking care of myself is a big job… no wonder I avoided it for so long”. -Beattie

        Reply
  5. Avatar

    Thank you. This was for me and it nailed things right on the head! I went right to the link and started reading the posts. God has already lead me somewhat in this direction, so I can see the success and wisdom. So much confirmation, so much encouragement, so MUCH new wisdom that lines up with the truth. Praising God and thanking you.

    Reply
  6. Avatar

    Just a question: Isn’t everyone “self-centered” to some extent? I could easily say, “My spouse is self-centered.” But, would I be willing to say, “I’m self-centered.”? Both of these things could be true, but aren’t we supposed to make sure we don’t have a beam in our own eye before looking for the speck in others’? What if my spouse was being self-centered as a reaction to my own self-centeredness? I’m not trying to be controversial, just wondering about this.

    Reply
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      Yes, everyone is self-centered. This series isn’t about that. Sarah, be thankful you don’t understand this. It means your marriage is normal. Not everyone is married to an emotionally/spiritually healthy person. I know that most of my readers won’t be able to relate to this kind of help because it isn’t applicable to them. I write about it once in a while because I ache for the few out there who are suffering in isolation. When an emotionally abused woman starts to raise her head and struggle – she is often misunderstood, vilified, and kicked back down to “her place” face down in the mud. Not only by her spouse, but by well meaning Christians who have no idea what she faces daily. Not only does she have to deal with the pain of living with an emotionally, verbally, and sometimes physically abusive spouse, but she has to deal with the guilt put on her from other Christians who can’t understand why she can’t just submit and be happy like they do and are?

      This blog post series is for women who have gone 250% overboard with trying to carry their entire marriage relationship on their own shoulders – always taking the blame for their own sin AND the sin of their spouse. Unless you’ve lived that life or have done extensive study on this subject, it’s best to simply sit in silence in the face of their sorrow and pain. The way Job’s helpers did at first.

      I know you are not trying to be controversial – and I’m not replying just to you. You articulated what I’m certain many others are thinking. My reply is more to the concept you bring up – not to you personally.

      Peace to you!

      Reply
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        Thanks for the reply, it helped. =) I hope those that need this post will find it.

        Reply
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        Hi Natalie! I’m so thankful that a friend of mine shared your blog with me! As I type this comment, my heart it’s broken because unfortunately I can relate to this post. I’ve prayed, I’ve sought counsel & have been so confused. This article along with the actual post by “Hambrick” brought so much clarity to the struggles that I face almost everyday. I really wish that as Sarah I couldn’t relate to this post. You are blessed for not having to deal with such a destructive relationship. I will continue to seek my God & lean on him!

        Once again, thank you for this post it’s great to know that I am not crazy. It also helps me to work better within the struggle now that it has been revealed to me. And thank you God for my friend who shared this post with me as it was a direct & almost instant answer to prayer. May God continue to bless you Natalie!!!

        Reply
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          Oh Rubi, I’m so glad you found this. There are a few other articles that might help:

          http://www.visionarywomanhood.com/are-you-in-an-emotionally-destructive-marriage/
          http://www.visionarywomanhood.com/emotional-abuse-in-the-church/
          http://www.visionarywomanhood.com/traits_healthy_marriage/

          Some other helpful books:

          Boundaries by Henry Cloud
          Whose Pushing Your Buttons by John Townsend
          By His Wounds You Are Healed by Wendy Alsup
          Unseduced and Unshaken by Rosalie De Rosset

          Also, Leslie Vernick’s website is extremely helpful: http://www.leslievernick.com/

          May God give you wisdom and power to find victory and dignity in the middle of the craziness.

          Reply
          • Avatar

            I can’t fully express my gratitude for All of this resources. (I read all but one of the posts) It is so cool because I’m going to a life group & we are reviewing “becoming Myself” by Stasi Eldredge (btw: awesome book) and last Tuesday when we met I asked for prayer about issues in my marriage & what I asked the girls mainly was for wisdom. Many of them tried to give me insight about encouraging my husband & approaching situations differently. But every time I’ve tried to explain what’s going on for help… It seems like i can’t get the point across to a place of understanding. And it gets frustrating, because people kept giving me well meant advice not understanding the severity of the situation. Thank God I have not been physically abused more than once & it happened about a year ago & I had to separate from him. Now God is equipping me to fight this battle as an “ezer”. I know is not going to be easy but I know that God of Angel armies is ALWAYS by my side. I’m ready to fight in love & in truth.

            Thank you thank you thank you!! I am about to fold my laundry a task that I don’t necessarily enjoy, lol. But I’m excited to listen to the focus on the family interview posted on the blog. Once again thank you & please keep me in your prayers as I faced this journey.

            Thanks :- ) I can’t say it enough, btw I already shared this post with my best friend who is also in a destructive relationship.

            Reply
  7. Avatar

    This is a freedom ringing blog series- I just devoured all 12 blog posts in one sitting!

    There are marriages that have a self centered spouse…and then there are children that become part of the self-centered mess. I am an adult daughter of a self-centered parent; a relationship between husband/wife is obviously different than a relationship between parent/daughter, and I feel like there are fewer actions that I can take because I am not a spouse, but a daughter. However, I imagine many of the hurts and communication struggles are the same.

    A twist on this article would be interesting with the title “Honor, With a Chronically Self-Centered Parent”.

    I wonder which guidelines/steps would be different and which would be the same?

    Reply
    • Avatar

      I think the basic communication principles would apply in either case. Since you aren’t married to the person, you can be free when you are an adult. I know many people who had to cut ties with parents once they left their home due to dysfunction. It’s tragic, but that’s the way God designed relationships to work. The point is – a relationship takes two people, and you can only do what YOU can do. You can honor a parent or a spouse without enabling them to hurt others with impunity. It’s tricky – but I think it can be done. I pray God pours out His wisdom on you – and gives you His peace and healing. My heart aches for you.

      Reply

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