7 Things Your Emotionally Abusive Partner Does When You Set Boundaries


I’ve previously written two articles that focus on the abuse target and the stages of healing she goes through as well as the ten steps she has to take to get out of the pit of abuse hell.

Today I want to focus on the emotionally abusive relationship and the predictable things emotionally abusive men do when the target begins to wake up and set enforceable boundaries.

The Abuse Cycle

We have to start with the abuse cycle to understand emotionally abusive behavior. The circle goes around and around with both partners participating in the never-ending spin.

One side is the “good” side when things seem to be going well – the abuse target is on her best behavior, not making waves, not needing him to come through in any way, placating and managing his emotions successfully.

(Is this actually “good?” I don’t think so. But it feels good to the abuse target because she gets some perceived relief from the abuse during this phase.)

The other side is the “bad” side when things are falling apart – the abuse target needs something or has a bad day or gives her abuser feedback, and the emotional abuser attacks her with shaming, blaming, denial, accusation, minimizing, mutualizing, and diverting words and behaviors.

Remember that in a healthy relationship, there is no “good and bad” side. It’s not a circle. It’s a line with two people progressing forward, side by side, always able to work through conflict with respect and empathy for one another. 

This cycle continues to spin in an emotionally abusive relationship until one partner makes a choice to do things differently.

The Abuse Target Makes a Break-Out Attempt

This is when the abuse target asserts the truth of who she is and what she believes. She DEFINES herself rather than allowing her spiritually or emotionally abusive partner to define her.

She sets a healthy boundary that causes her to step outside the abuse cycle.

For example, when he tells her she cannot spend the money she earns from her new job without asking his permission and that she has to put it all into an account only he controls, she may say,

I am an adult woman earning money. I will make adult decisions on my own about how I spend that money. We can share it and discuss our budget together like two adults, but I will not ask permission to spend it on something I need for myself or for the family or the household.

Then she walks away because she doesn’t need to listen to what comes next:

Seven Predictable Things Your Emotional Abuser Does When You Set Boundaries

Predictable Thing One: The Emotionally Abusive Person Growls and Barks

And has a temper tantrum. I mean, HOW DARE his silly little wifey define her OWN SELF?!?!?!? That’s HIS job as the Head of the Home. The King of the Hill. The Grand Pooh Bah.

So he barks and growls and stomps his feet, flinging accusations and select Bible verses at her back as she makes her exit. Spewing as much verbal abuse and blame as he can.

The poor little abuser-man isn’t a happy camper, and he will work hard to make sure his target emotionally pays for stepping outside his definition of who she is.

The abuse target has one of two choices here.

  1. She can get back into her place in the circle of abuse, bringing equilibrium back into the equation by placating her partner. This is what often happens, and it’s why the circle works so well for her emotional abuser. He knows the Bible verses will make her feel guilty. He knows his lack of affection will make her feel lonely. He knows his well-selected accusations will make her feel shame. And all these negative feelings will pull her back into the circle like strong magnets, and round and round they will continue to spin.
  2. OR, she can do this:

Implement an Enforceable Consequence

Here’s an example: She tells him if he continues to berate her and/or give her the silent treatment, she will take something he likes – that she provides – away from him. In this case, she opens up her own checking account and has her paycheck direct deposited into that account.

She wanted to work together with her partner, but he wasn’t interested in that, so now she made the adult decision to take responsibility for her own income. She gets herself off his credit card accounts and opens up her own credit card account and begins to build her own credit rating.

Another example: she makes the decision not to sleep with him until he has had some time to think about what it means to respect her as a separate person from him. She tells him that if he is unwilling to be emotionally safe with her, she won’t be able to give herself to him in that intimate way to preserve her self-worth.

She is learning how to adult!This is why we can't have nice things

Predictable Thing Two: The Emotionally Abusive Person Pulls a “Two-Facer”

This is a confusing stunt for the emotionally abused target, and here’s how it goes down:

He senses her pulling away and becoming more independent, plus he wants free sex, so he may feign an apology. But on the other hand, he also tries to shame her for pulling away and not doing her Christian duty by servicing him.

He may do this by texting her or sending her a letter that contains both apologies and shaming. (These communications are usually somewhat incoherent, so don’t be surprised if you’re not quite sure exactly what they are attempting to say.)

He may verbalize an accusatory apology:I’m sorry you thought I was trying to control you.” But a few minutes later, passive-aggressively comment on how he never gets to buy a new shirt because he sacrifices so much for the good of the family. Or how he is tempted now to watch porn because he’s got needs she isn’t meeting.

His abuse will get more covert and less obvious. It will be more passive-aggressive. He’s pig bitin’ mad, but he wants to make it appear that SHE is the naughty little selfish girl while HE is the uber-nice victim.

It will become much harder to pin down the abuse, but thank goodness for books like The Verbally Abusive Relationship that will help the real target spot all the subtle tactics.

The abuse target has one of two choices here:

  1. She can slink back to the circle of abuse with her tail between her legs, feeling horribly guilty and sad for her rebellious, selfish, and unloving ways.
  2. OR, she can do this:

Hold Steady

Hold it. Hold it. She can sit with the uncomfortable feelings of false guilt and shame. Be curious about why she feels guilty. Talk with her therapist about what it is inside of her that requires someone else’s approval. Learn to tolerate her partner’s covert disapproval (I’ll help you get really good at that in Flying Free.)

She can refuse to accept half-assed apologies that aren’t really apologies at all. He won’t like this. He thinks he is Mr. Big Humble Mac with a side of Perfect Fries and Awesome Sauce. Who does his little woman think she is to question his authenticity? Especially after all he’s done for her over the years?

Hold it. Hold it.

Hold steady.

Seven Predictable Things Your Emotional Abuser Does When You Set Boundaries

Predictable Thing Three: The Hoop Jumper

Often at this point, the abuse target reaches out to her church or small group for help or a family member. She wants some support. He is making things at home even more uncomfortable as she ramps up the boundaries and subsequent consequences.

When she brings in some outside help, this is where the emotional abuser gets all wiley and smiley. I call this The Hoop Jumper phase, because now he is going to grab this opportunity to demonstrate just how amazeballs he is while quietly throwing her under the bus in the process. Stopping his bad behavior to blame her for the relationship problems.

This is when he says he’ll go to counseling. He’d never go before, on his own, but now that folks are watching, he’s totally up for the performance of his life.

To everyone, including the abuse target, it appears there is hope. He is willing to get help! Hallelujah and praise the Lord! It’s a miracle!

The abuse target has one of two choices here:

  1. She can back off, believing it’s just a matter of time before he is a changed man. She can even give a bunch of concessions out of her extreme relief and gratefulness that he is getting help. If they do marriage counseling together (please don’t do that – but if you do, I’m here for you when you need help putting the pieces of your heart back together), she can confess all her sins to her husband and counselor in hopes that he will follow her example and confess all of his. (This doesn’t work. Get ready for your vulnerability to be used against you in the very near future.)
  2. OR, she can do this:





She doesn’t assume he is going to change just because the outside pressure is on. She knows that real change comes from the INSIDE as a result of the Holy Spirit indwelling a person and convicting that person in a real, deep, authentic way.

She knows that going through hoops is just part of the abuser’s game to gain allies and break her self-worth down further. He wants revenge and knows how he can get it. Which is what he does next:

Predictable Thing Four: The Big Sneak

Emotionally abusive men may becomes even MORE covert. Now he is putting on a show, so he becomes Mr. Great Dad, Mr. Giver, Mr. Showing Up, Mr. Bible Reader, Mr. Prayer Warrior, Mr. Guy Smiley in the eyes of everyone around.

Except for the target.

Behind closed doors he is still blaming her, shaming her, denying responsibility, mutualizing the marriage problems, insisting on his innocence and goodness, and doing all he can to break her down spiritually and emotionally in the most covert ways possible and playing the victim.

If she tries to explain these subtle tactics to those on the outside, they look at her like she’s crazy and make her feel bad. He appears to be doing fabulous to them. What is her problem? Unforgiveness? Bitterness? High expectations? Ungratefulness? Jezebel syndrome? Maybe she has BPD?

Whatever it is, she is the Sinner now. His sneakiness pays off. He successfully pulls the wool over many eyes.

The abuse target has one of two choices here:

  1. She can back down and go back to the abuse cycle, feeling she has no strength to fight not only him, but everyone else now as well.
  2. Or, she can make this happen:

The Adult Shows Up

This is when the abuse target changes their own behavior and begins to show up as an adult in the situation. She senses everything slipping away, and she makes the decision to go for all or nothing. This empowers her to establish more powerful consequences in a last attempt to demonstrate the seriousness of the issue.

It is here that she often chooses to separate. She is now ready to take her last stand, finally accepting the fact that she cannot control her abusive partner and his flying monkeys, but she CAN control her own choices and what she will or will not put up with.

This causes (brace yourself…)

Seven Predictable Things Your Emotional Abuser Does When You Set Boundaries

Predictable Thing Five: The Bully Shows Up

The emotional abuser now lets his anger rip with hurtful behavior. He no longer tries to make her believe he has changed.

He begins to experiment with a smear campaign, gathering as much ammo as possible from her journals, the intimate things she has shared with him, the sins she has confessed in the counseling office, and all of her emotional triggers he has historically used to manipulate her, and he starts to spread stories made up of these different parts. Sort of true—but twisted out of context, these stories are crafted to make her appear to be emotionally unstable, unspiritual, unforgiving, and bitchy. Pure verbal abuse to knock down her self-esteem.

He flings sandbox sand and toys every which way in his all-out attempt to wreak havoc with pure psychological abuse on her for daring to separate from him and humiliate him.

The emotionally abused woman almost never goes back at this point. Instead, she instigates:

The Explosion

She files for divorce, and now the you-know-what really hits the fan. The emotionally abusive person has actually been prepping for this moment, and he launches:

Predictable Thing Six: The Smear Campaign

This is more than just saying some bad things about her to the folks at church. This is an all-out attempt to actually turn her children, her family, her friends, her counselor, her pastors, her everyone-she-ever-knew AGAINST HER.

If she goes to a conservative church that preaches men are authorities and heads over women (twisting Scripture to suit them), this is where she gets to be church-disciplined for not keeping quiet and submissive under oppression. (I recommend the book Fraudulent Authority by Wade Burleson if you are going through this.)

Now that she is escaping his controlling clutch, He’s got one goal. Destroy her. Ruin her financially. Ruin her reputation. Ruin her children’s emotional health. Ruin her mental health with his fear mongering during the divorce process.

Fire, Fire, Fire!!!!

This is the crucible in which she will die and be reborn. This is the worst part of the emotional abuse. The climax. The Final Battle. But it is also where the good stuff happens. This is the:

The Emotionally Abused Partner Begins to Heal

She gets help. Often not from the Christian community (usually), but from the secular community. (There is a wonderful community of Christian women in the Flying Free support group.)

She gets counseling and begins to heal. Now she recognizes dysfunctional people more easily and begins to navigate new relationships as a healthy woman.

She grieves and then accepts the losses she has endured, and she becomes a stronger, wiser woman. Her relationship with God heals, and she learns that He is not like her pastors or former husband. He is good and safe. He is her True Shepherd.

As time goes by, she gets healthier and healthier. She finds joy and meaning in a new career. Her children often get counseling and also recover and learn relationship skills that will serve them into adulthood.

The abuse target is no longer a victim. She has moved forward into her new life.

But the abusive partner?

Predictable Thing Seven: The Switcharoo

Emotional abusers move on as well. On to his next target. He hasn’t learned anything new about himself or about relationships. He’s perfect just the way he is, and now he’s going to show the next target just how amazeballs he really is.

So those, my friends, are the seven predictable things your abuser will do if you decide to make a break from the cycle of abuse. They may not be in that exact order. Everyone’s situation is different. But this is the pattern I have seen over and over again in the lives of the hundreds of women I’ve talked to. And, of course, it happened to me, too.

There is life after spiritual and emotional abuse. I promise.

The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance [to the full, till it overflows]. John 10:10

The Flying Free Community is full of women who’ve experienced this exact pattern and will help you navigate the pain and confusion of living it yourself. Click HERE to find out exactly how joining will benefit your spiritual and emotional health.


Natalie Hoffman


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    You forgot predictable thing #8: He will rub the new chick in your face every chance he gets, showing off how perfect their new life is together and how he’s doing all the things for her that he never did for you. He will triangulate her against you but don’t fall for it and try to warn her or even engage with her -it’s his wet dream to see the two of you fighting over him (which is how he’ll perceive it.)

    • Natalie Hoffman

      AUGH!!! I’m so so sorry you have to go through this. Good advice. And also – just know that things are NEVER what they seem on the outside with these people. My rule of thumb is to turn everything I see on the surface upside down to get to the truth. And also – to flip everything they say to the opposite to discover the truth. So, for example, if they say “You are cheating on me.” It’s a confession. They are cheating on you.

    • Avatar

      I just remembered how deep down I didn’t want him to do those things for me. When he inclined in the end it was evident I wasn’t falling for the act. I had this “really” thing going on that he read without me doing anything. There’s a way to wear your truth that blinds. It’s a show stopper the most beautiful of all apparel. Wear that to the next show.

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    It’s as if you’ve been living in my house during our marriage. I honestly thought I was crazy and yet, I always considered myself a strong, independent woman before we met. Something was always off in our marriage, but not during our time dating. After 20+ years, I started doing Google searches and finally discovered covert passive-aggressive narcissism. I didn’t even know that was a ‘thing.”

    At least I know I’m not crazy.

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    Ha! have you met my husband because it sounds like you know him! I am so conflicted because of the children and I don’t think its terribly damaging for them, although obviously not a good example. I have a non-existent relationship with my mother and sister because of their narcissistic-like, controlling behaviour. During a previous separation from my husband I sought help from the church ( big mistake) who pointed out that I don’t have a good relationship with anyone in my family, so its probably me whos the problem. A bit of me does wonder if I am capable of healthy relationships having reached my thirties and never had one. Leaving him I really would be ALONE. No family support, new area etc. I also don’t trust my decisions anymore. I chose my husband freely and prayerfully and right now that feels like the biggest mistake of my life.

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    This article is incredibly written. Thank you for writing it. Unfortunately I find too many points here relatable… I only realized that i was in an emotionally abusive relationship last year and we’ve been to counseling (only after i told family members about the abuse). Some days I think we making progress… Some days I don’t. Some days I feel like I should leave other days I dont. It’s really been the most confusing time of my life. If I didn’t have kids I would have left already… But i decided to try ‘one last time’. The problem is I’m not sure how to define a boundary for ‘one last time’ the rude and hurtful subtle remarks aren’t like physical abuse, it’s sometimes difficult to even explain to others why I’m upset or hurt… And the hope of change is confusing me as well. X

    • Natalie Hoffman

      Kirsten, you may benefit from reading Is It Me? Making Sense of Your Confusing Marriage. It was written especially for women who are going through exactly what you’ve described. I think it will really help! If you sign up at the top of this website, I’ll send you the first chapter free.

    • Avatar

      Kristen I went through this with my husband because of a brain injury he suffered from an aneurysm. We have been through 7 years of hell and unfortunately my 19 year old daughter got into an emotionally abusive relationship that we are helping her get out of. We are also getting help for my husband’s brain injury. If your husband has no medical reason (which is the only reason I stayed) I would leave the relationship now and get therapy for you and your children. Therapy has helped so much. But I promise it only gets worse and tears down everything you think about yourself. I had a nervous breakdown late last year and that is when I knew I needed help.

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    I’ve read through numerous blog posts here and I can’t believe how accurate they portray the truth. The signs, the steps, the process. Sometimes I still feel like my mind is playing tricks because although I really do believe my soon to be ex has all the signs of NPD, I find myself questioning and wondering if he REALLY has NPD. Then I read something and it brings back the signs (he checks off a majority of them), the abuse, the fear, the anxiety, and the pain.

    I am not sure where I am in the healing process, but I have hope, I am making progress. I still have moments of feeling immobilized and fearful of the future, but I’ve learned reading God’s Word, the Psalms and praise and worship music are a huge part of my healing. I am still not done with the process of divorce and my children’s safety is still a huge concern, but God has continued to protect us (supervised visits only).

    I realize how blessed I am because the majority of my family, friends and our small church has stood by me and supported me. Only a few blamed me or treated me poorly. He went noticeably off the deep end with the abandonment of his responsibilities, addictions, adultery, and homosexuality. I was able to retain so much proof, it would have been useless for him to deny it. He still tried the smear campaign and compulsive lying, but it seems that most people have figured out the truth, having lots of proof helps. I feel for anyone going through this without support.

    I look forward to reading more of the blogs. Thank you.

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    I have been going through this cycle for 20 years.
    We have 3 children.Our 2 oldest want nothing to do with him and our youngest adores him.
    I love and adore the other him too..I f that makes sense.
    I kept trying to put up boundaries.He said he refused to respe t me. I told him if he kept speaking to me the way he was..Awful names ,insults,lies about me,he would have to leave or I would call the police.
    He left..He’s been living in his car for over a month.Its cold..in Michigan ..just snowed.
    I feel immense guilt.
    This is part of our cycle now too.For years..He has been diagnosed with a mental illness and is disabled.
    I feel sick.I wake up every night around 3 a.m.
    I tell him he can come home if he gets help/medicated.
    He choses to not get help.
    The guilt kills me.
    Thanks for listening.

    • Natalie Hoffman

      I’m so sorry. It’s horrible when people you love make choices for themselves (and others) that hurt them. This isn’t your fault. We can’t control the choices of other people or we are violating their autonomy as well as enabling them to destroy themselves and others. You are doing the right thing.

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    Cannot say enough for this website.I have gotten courage and strength to file divorce and restraining orders…after 9 years of absolute he**..now I will go to the local domestic abuse shelter as soon as the lawyer calls and
    tells me he has been served.A 21 year marriage down the tubes.He is an abusive alcoholic who refuses help..I am tired of the daily survival I go thru..trying to have plans for all his drinking and consequent abuse..so thanks for all you do.

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    I though I had extensively read on the topic of personality disorder and psychologic abuse, but I have never come across anything that so well characterized exactly what happened to me. Unfortunately I fled the abusive relationship leaving him with a desperate grip on out children. He has to have something to control, and also uses them as a tool to punish me for leaving. So no happy ending with the kids getting counseling, learning boundaries, ect…

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    Thank you for this amazing guide Natalie. I am printing a copy for reference as I reach the end of this 15 year battle so that my children will not become casualties. God bless!

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      I hope that is going well for you. I left a 17 year marriage and kids stayed with him.

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    Yep. Step by step. Divorce will be final soon. Cannot wait.

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    Wow, spot on. Awesome to be understood and affirmed. Thank you.

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    I wish I had this article 17 years ago. Just found out my husband has a concubine and a two-year-old living six miles from my house. After I put him through law school and helped him start his practice. He tells me the child was planned because I had fertility issues. Now he wants me to get over it and move on after a week. I have no access to money and I just lost my job.

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    i need HELP moving forward -boundaries and guidelines to navigate this 27 yrs of marriage (like many others it’s as though you were taking notes on my marriage ) i hear the message about the adult showing up… i gave up my job so that i could take care of my family and my husband could pursue his career and we have been “on the road” renting /moving ever since i have been a homeschooling stay at home mom of 4 and have no idea how to pullout of this marriage – kids are all teenagers – communication just makes me vulnerable ,there’s no sorting and moving forward with this man – i am nothing -especially that i don’t earn money – tell me how to get out – i tried to get our 15yr old son away and he buys him a new laptop – should have trusted my gut when they were babies …thought make your bed …i need practical advice

    • Avatar

      Make a plan. Start now. Do all you can do to educate yourself, gain training at a local technology school, find a job….piece by piece, you pick yourself up and become independent of your abuser. You have the strength inside you. God has been preparing you for this day, though you might not have recognized it. He will help you. Reach out to a women’s shelter or crisis center. I found help and support through the YCC in my community. They offer classes on domestic violence and counseling for free. It has been extremely helpful to me. Try to find something like this in your community. Educate yourself on domestic abuse. The more you know and understand it, the weaker it’s grip becomes upon you. Think about all the fears you have looking into the future. Write them down and then one by one, you make a plan of how to turn that fear into a strength. For example…How will you survive financially if you divorse? Do you need education or training in order to secure a career? Start now, talk to a college counselor. Decide what career options are best for you and your children. Take one step at a time. One tiny step a day. Don’t worry about all your fears at one. Work through them one by one taking it a tiny bite at a time. Don’t let yourself get overwhelmed. Pray, a lot. One tiny step a day, over time, becomes a great distance. And that is your goal, distance from abuse. Just think, if you take one tiny step a day, in just two days you will be twice as far away from the abuse, as you are today. You can do it. You are going to be ok. Hang in there, and just take a tiny step today. Hugs.

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    So, my husband and I have been married for 5 years. A rather short marriage, but long enough for him to destroy me down to a shell of a person. I have read every single article on this website, and every one of them paints the picture of nearly our entire marriage. I have left him twice before, coming back when he seemed to change, or promised to. This time, I’m filing for divorce.

    The thing that confuses me is this: Emotionally abusive men never take responsibility. Ever.

    My husband told me yesterday, two days after me leaving, that he recognizes he’s been wrong in the way he treats me…knows he manipulates me and hurts me, and that he’s not changed yet but he wants to be. And he said that if divorce is what it takes for him to see clearly and be saved in Christ, then it’s worth it to him, and that he’ll never stop fighting to get his wife and son back.


    He has done this before. A couple months ago, he had me broken to the point of me seeking out an emotional affair. After I cut that off (because I knew I was sinning in that) he changed. Took responsibility…everyone saw the change in him and for the first time, we had a wildly romantic marriage. But then a month into that, he changed his mind about what he wanted and started manipulating me again, and abusing drugs (which has also been an issue on and off our entire marriage).


    He seems to be humbling himself to the point where he is accepting divorce so he can be stripped down to nothing and truly lean into his need for Christ. But…………everything I listed above.


    • Natalie Hoffman

      Go back a re-read this article: https://flyingfreenow.com/seven-predictable-things-your-emotional-abuser-does-when-you-set-boundaries/

      When I say “emotionally abusive men never take responsibility. Ever.” That doesn’t mean they don’t SAY they are taking responsibility. They almost always SAY they are taking responsibility. But words are meaningless without serious action.

      When you set a boundary, one of the predictable things they do is a half-assed apology. Lots of words to confuse you and hook you back into the relationship dynamic. Hold steady. If he is serious, he will have himself tested and treated by a psychiatrist for personality disorder. He’ll regularly see a psychologist who has experience working with personality disorders and domestic abusers. He will take FULL responsibility and give you NONE of it. If you want a divorce, he will give you an AMAZING divorce and then do all of the above – and then win you back over the course of the next few years.

      I’ve never seen any abuser take a woman up on these conditions. They can’t, because the bottom line is, they don’t believe they actually have a problem. Just because he is using convincing words doesn’t mean he gets it. And if he really does, he will be EAGER to do all of the above if you suggest it. My prediction is that he will scoff at the above suggestions and say you should also get tested and get help. Try suggesting those things and watch what happens. My bet is you’ll find out he isn’t really taking responsibility, after all.

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    Wow! Thank you so much for this article! I finally dont feel like I am crazy. I am an adult, but I still live with my parents at the moment. My parents are emotionally and spiritually abusive, but I have felt so guilty to think that because as a Christian, I really do want to honor God. And my parents try to persuade me that that means doing everything their way. If I try to set boundaries, they tell me that I am not saved or even that there is demonic influence in my life. I have been so broken and confused. They call me a liar when I confront them about cruel things they have said or done to me or my siblings. And the sad thing is, as you pointed out in this article, I have not found love and solace from the church, I have had to find it in secular places. That’s a sad statement indeed, especially since the church is supposed to be showing the love of Christ to the world. As you said in this article, the church would most likely side with my parents anyway, making me out to be a disobedient or rebellious child who should honor her parents. But thank you again for this article. I know that I am not crazy or psycho now, and these things have really happened to me. I am preparing to move on, and seek healing in Christ, alone if I have to. I will leave this situation and not allow them to continue to treat me this way. Thank you for giving me hope that this will end.

    • Avatar

      Brandi, you most definitely are not crazy. I am a Christian counselor and I, too, have observed this exact scenario described in this article more times than I could possibly count.

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    Thank you for this article. I live in this situation now. I have drawn boundaries and stick to them for the most part. I care for my 101yr old father in law, so I will be in this situation until he passes. At that point I will take the final step of divorce unless God provides a miracle. Praying He does because I love my husband and he has not always been this way.

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    I am going to print this article. I am not ready for the adult to show up yet. I have been verbally and emotionally abused by a narcissistic mother and father all my life. (I am 52, never-married and never good enough despite a good job and 3 degrees.) The spiritual abuse from former churches did not help either. I had to resolve those issues and confront certain people who are worth the Matthew 18 effort. However, I will eventually have to leave my abusive, immediate family. (I will miss their new dog, not them.) I will eventually have to put on my big girl panties and refuse to see them, even on Christmas, eventually leaving the house we all own in which only I live. I am not sure if it should be this year or next.

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    I’m not in a church. But I recognize in your blog the shocking phases I am going through.
    I’m trying to separate from my husband consensually, we both wanted to, but now he is throwing lots of hurdles in the way.
    I have been financially exploited from day one and I am embarrassed that I let it happen. We have twins. The first three years were as heavy as you can imagine, no thinking space, I wanted for them to have a father and a real family, I accommodated him too much and nurtured a narcissistic monster.
    We live apart but nothing on paper yet, he dodges. Saturday was boys’ 8 birthday but my weekend with them. He was invited to the party Sunday. He spent the whole day texting vile messages and threats because he had to see them as a loving daddy. Threats of getting on the wassup page for both their classes and cancelling the party. Foul language and the use of every confidence I had ever shared with him including past alcohol problems.
    I held firm on lawyer advice but am exhausted. I see a therapist, am on medication, he doesn’t cause he is perfect, but I saw all his behaviour described in your blog.
    I’m in shock but I have to be there for the kids, and get back to me.
    Feel shame that I let it go on this long.
    Thanks for what you wrote.

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    Thank you. I just came across your website doing a google search for “healing emotional abuse”. I’ve come out the other aide of growing up in an emotionally abusive family. I have divorced my family and moved on. I think now I have to continue to heal and move forward and begin to rebuild my life from this point forward. I’m dealing with a situation right now with work which is painful, but as I read through your website, I gain the hope I need at this moment right here right now to get through this day. I am a grown man, 49 hrs old, and I want to encourage all the men out there who have suffered emotional abuse to continue to move forward and persevere. For me it took literally “divorcing” every single member of my immediate and extended family to get past the abuse. Like I said, I’m beginning to heal now. Thank you so much. Also, have you considered a support group for men only or a co-ed support group? I also understand the need for a “women only” support group. Thank you again so much and God bless. I don’t know the scripture right offhand, but basically “he who refreshes others will also be refreshed”. I hope today is refreshing for you. Thank you again so much.

    • Natalie Hoffman

      I’m glad this website has been helpful for you. All of the principles I share here can be applied to ANY type of abuse. Family of origin abuse, workplace abuse, church abuse, etc.. I hope you’ll be able to find some resources that focus on helping men, in particular, heal. I also really like the website called Little Red Survivor. It focuses on narcissistic abuse from your family of origin. You might find some encouraging stuff over there for your own healing as well.

  20. Avatar

    Thank you for your articles. I have been married 30 years to a passive aggressive manipulative man. He is the most amazing wonderful compassionate caring guy in public. At home he betittles me, mocks me, blame shifts. He is a perfectionist who gets to set the standards that I can never reach. The standards for him are never the same. When I have tried to tell Christian girls friends, many have thought I’m just being difficult because he is so wonderful. Even had a pastor tell me I just needed to try harder to be the perfect wife for him. I have just recently had 2 friends that don’t think I’m crazy & are the first ones to help me see Ihave been beat down emotionally for years. I have just started seeing a Christian counselor that u derstands what kind of husband I’m dealing with. If you ever met us at church or small group you’d think I had the most charming, godly, loving husband around.

  21. Avatar

    I’m in the phase where he is Uber Dad, 100% showing up, men’s groups, and smearing me. If there were a true heart change, I would know and feel it. I trust Jesus to direct me on this. Your story and your verses are the same ones Jesus gave me, Jeremiah 29:11, John 10:10, also Psalm 46:10 Be Still (which in Hebrew means to let go”, and Joshua 1:9 “Be Strong and Courageous, for the Lord is with you wherever you go”. He IS SO GOOD.

    • Avatar

      Michelle. Thanks for your comment. I was just touched by the hilt spirit through your Hebrew translation of the verse “be still”! I was in a 2 year holding pattern with my stbx husband who happens to be a pastor. God whispered to me for 2 years…”be still”….I followed Gods lead and was being still…it was gut wrenching…I was crying quietly when alone on a nightly bases. I had asked husband to go to marriage counseling on a monthly bases during this time. Hubby refused….long story short…Husband one day pronounces “he is leaving me because I am toxic”! I was in shock! Felt like I was punched in the face and gut at the same time. I felt so sad and mad at God at first that “how could you do this?” I was being still just as you commanded! Why didn’t you help me and get my husband to marriage counseling! It took about 6 months for me to realize that time of being still was for me…for me to “let go”! Your Hebrew translation tells me I was with the Lords help doing exactly what God wanted me to do! God is good even when it doesn’t feel good! Xo

    • Avatar

      Those are the same three scriptures the Lord gave me! The Lover of our soul is so, so good and faithful!

    • Avatar

      Michelle, Those are the same three scriptures the Lord gave me! The Lover of our soul is so, so good and faithful!

  22. Avatar

    Mine went into an abusive rage last week 3 days in a row. All over silly things that were beyond my control. He screamed, threatened to punch me (I am 8 months pregnant with our 3rd child).
    I instituted a brand new idea- a boundary. Before, I would have apologized for ticking him off and we woild have had sex and the cycle would begin again.
    This time, I told him that I would not be intimate with him until he apologized to me and agreed to treat me with respect. That has Not gone well.
    At first he simply avoided me, and I him. Then after 2 days he sort of apologized then turned around and blamed me for his rage. He told me that he will cheat on me, threatened to beat me, and refuses to show me respect until I drop the issue and return to the status quo.
    He is scary when he gets angry. Our 2 small children witness it all because he refuses to calm down or take it outside.
    I told him today that I don’t have to stay in the room while he calls me horrible names and that I wouldn’t. He blocked me in the room with our 2 toddlers present and slammed a flashlight through the wall while demanding I show him respect!
    What should I be doing differently? I have no place to go and he refuses to leave. I don’t know what to do. He told me 3 times this week that he wants to hurt me. That I am bringing this on myself by not letting it go. Now I am afraid of what he will do. He doesn’t hit me, but the threat is always there in my mind. My fight or flight mode is in overdrive and I’m exhausted from the constant tension and trying to keep a normal routine going for my kids.

    • Avatar

      Hurting or breaking objects NEAR a person is still technically physical abuse. You drew one line, now take a step and talk to domestic abuse people. I have just come out the other side with my three kids… don’t wait. Don’t waste your life. It only gets worse.

    • Avatar

      You need to get out of this. Is there a church near you that can help you or a shelter? This breaks my heart. No one should live like this. And the stress of these events will affect your children long-term. I’m so so sorry this is your reality.

    • Avatar

      Call a domestic abuse crisis line today, right now, and tell them what you just told us here. They can direct you to find help. Your safety and the safety of your unborn child and your other children need to be addressed NOW. You must do whatever you need to do to ensure that you are all safe. A crisis line can direct you to resources in your area. You need to make a safety plan. It may not be safe for you to enforce boundaries at this moment with an explosive, irrational and threatening partner. You know him best. You know what he is capable of. Trust your gut. Seek help in stealth. Make a plan to get to a safe place, maybe a women’s shelter, where you will be protected and be able to receive support and counseling. There are people who can help you, who are trained to help women find their way out of the darkness of abuse. You just need to find these people. Call the crisis line. YOUR FAMILY IS IN CRISIS. Your safety and that of your little ones are at risk. Do it for them, if not yourself. They are feeling the terror you feel. But their little minds don’t understand how to process it. It is hurting them. It is hurting you. Save YOU and THEM by seeking help now. If you wait for someone to rescue you, just know, it isn’t going to happen. You have to do it. You have to rescue yourself and your little ones, and you can. You are STRONG. You are BRAVE. I know you don’t feel that way, but you are. God knows what you are going through. He created you to overcome the darkness. He will help you find your strength, the strength he placed inside your soul as He kissed your cheek and sent you to earth. I believe in you. Today is your day. Google a crisis line and call it.

    • Avatar

      You need to call the police and get an emergency protection from abuse order or restraining order so you and your kids can be safe and feel protected. Don’t wait!!! It will only get worse. Next time it could be your face instead of a wall

  23. Avatar

    Mina just keeps up the Hoover. He is so good at playing the “good dad” and “helpful guy.” But he hasn’t admitted to anything. I find that angry man hasn’t really showed up, except for one passive aggressive comment and a note that again makes it sound like he is the victim of me, he has not been abusing. But he just pretends like I said nothing to him. He wants me to help him be a better man, but he cancelled his counseling appointment. So mine doesn’t follow the above script exactly. However once I file, I suppose “That guy” could come out to play. It is so confusing, though. Makes me feel crazy. My friends online say that he is a very good manipulator whenever I share his notes to me or episodes that have gone on.

    • Avatar

      I wish I could see the date when you posted this. Mine was extremely covert. The bully didn’t come out in the open until a few months into the custody battle when he called the police on me for a made-up reason (then justified it to our children by telling them he was advised to by a counselor and his lawyer). Thankfully, the police saw through him and suggested he stay away at least one night and that I contact his command about what he was doing (he’s military).

      He was a master at triangulation and displaced blame. It’s been five years since I filed, three years since the divorce was final. We have no contact except in writing about the children, but only by my initiative. He ignores everything that isn’t court-ordered so he isn’t “the bad guy.” Our teenagers don’t understand how he manipulates them against me. Heck, I lived with the guy for 20 years and didn’t understand the manipulation, so I can hardly blame them. But it’s so, so hard. Unfortunately, when there’s children involved, you can never really get away.

  24. Avatar

    After growing up with an abusive father, I married at 19 and married an emotionally abusive man. We then attended (for 25 years) what’s now called a spiritually abusive church. We left the church, and about 2 months ago, my husband of 34 years left the house. We are both in counseling- but so much of what you said is true! The duplicity (The Big Sneak) makes me feel like I’m the crazy one. He’s such a different man in public, and now he’s trying to say and do all the right things to gain approval- (The Smear campaign). People have only the perception of the man…not the truth. Thank you so much for being so transparent in your writing…I cannot go back to the abuse- but man, is it painful when people you thought were in your corner are snowed by his act and look at me as if I’m the abuser. Thank you….thank you!

    • Natalie Hoffman

      I’m sorry you’re going through this! It’s so mind-blowingly painful. Hang in there – you’re not alone!

  25. Avatar

    Your writing is amazing!!!! Totally spot on. While it made me want to cry- I found myself giggle. You have a gift sweetie xx

    • Natalie Hoffman

      Well, they say that laughing and crying at the same time is one of life’s best experiences. 🙂

  26. Avatar

    I’ve been really encouraged by your writings, here! Thank you!!

    Just have to say, because the trigger is so super strong, I HATE the picture of the man with the rose in the mouth. And there it is. Glad to get that off my chest. LOL! Drying and stretching these butterfly wings. I WILL rise. Feel the wind picking me up already!

  27. Avatar

    Tank you for this

  28. Avatar

    I read this and it surely fits…but the bias against men is very disturbing in this article. I am a man and my wife is the abuser

    • Natalie Hoffman

      No bias here. Just a matter of who the target audience is. If you look at the top of this blog, it states that this blog is written for women of faith dealing with or getting out of abusive relationships. If that’s not who you are, then this blog and these article aren’t going to be a good fit. I wish you the best.

    • Avatar

      Good article, I did note that one reader noted what I noted….which is that the abuser is assumed to be male. I have experienced this twice, most recently by an extremely mentally ill military veteran I’ve never actually met. Insanity. endless gaslighting and he put me on some gangstalker list because I’ve complained about the abuse.

      My mother was an emotional abuser it was really awful.

      I would never abuse anyone the way these disordered people do. I try to value people in my presence.

      • Natalie Hoffman

        Of course abusers can be either gender. Because this is a website for women of faith who are being abused, the abuser referred to here will be male. If this was a website for men who are being abused, the abuser referred to would be female. If you are looking for a website specifically for male victims, you can try http://www.shrink4men.com

  29. Avatar

    I am in awe. I just found this blog tonight. I left my husband this summer after 22 years of emotional and sexual abuse. This week I found out he already has a girlfriend and went into a major funk. The intense anger has subsided a little, but I have decided it is time to tell my own story. I have been so ashamed of myself for so long, not only because of the things he did and said, but because I then turned it all on myself. I can tell you have lived this because you are so “right on”.

    • Natalie Hoffman

      I’m so sorry for your loss – and I’m glad you’ve found this community, Julie. I hope it will be helpful as you move forward in your life and learn how to fly free!

  30. Avatar

    THIS. This is what I needed to hear. I grew up in the church, love God with all my heart, and have struggled nearly my entire 9 year marriage to understand what was happening and what I was biblically allowed to do about it without disappointing God. Over the past year, I have finally come to the full realization that I am in a covert emotionally abusive marriage. I just so desperately needed to hear someone with a Christian perspective validate my experience. The abuse is insideous and is like death by a thousand cuts. I believe in my situation it is a generational curse and the only way to break the curse over my small son and daughter is to leave the marriage. Every phase you mention is spot on! I have reached out to trusted friends and leaders but no one has been willing to hold my husband accountable. It’s time to put my big girl panties on and adult. Thank you so much!

  31. Avatar

    YES. Every last word is true! Step by step!

    The only exception is that a miracle from God got him out of the house. I then filed for divorce. LADIES- PLEASE!!- don’t slip back into old habits! It WILL get worse! “He’d never put his hands on me” you say (like I said). You – WE – are WRONG. It’s natural progression. He’s a coward and cowards will do anything to get their way. His careful facade will slip- and then CALL THE COPS.

    My church, thank God almighty, will not church discipline me for the divorce. Believe me, he’s tried to get them to do it. And as horrible as it would have been, I would have walked away. God is not the author of confusion, has good planned for us and not evil- and that includes abuse.

    Please be brave. I know it’s hard. You can do it. You may be in the furnace being burned alive by the fire, by Jesus is right there with you. Be brave. So many have walked in your shoes and they (and the kids!) are so much better for it. It WILL get better! There is life after abuse!!!

    I love you. God loves you MORE. Be brave.

    • Avatar

      Thank you so much! Your encouragement was needed and made me cry. It hits home! xo

  32. Avatar

    This is an unbelievably poignant and powerful article which oh so clearly articulates the exact nuances and experience of a relationship like this! Oh! How it pains me to have had the opportunity to learn these lessons the hard way. Justice is not served this side of heaven for sure. It will be someday though!

  33. Avatar

    Dear Natalie
    Your explanation of my husband is spot on.
    I am incapable of demonstrating God to him. I am overwhelmed with work, most often exhausted & there isn’t even time for a walk to keep the stress & weight down.
    At 68 & overweight what can I do or where can I go?
    Thank you Natalie for being so honest.

  34. Avatar

    so, if they start reading the Bible, praying, etc.. that’s always going to be fake? Are they always going to secretly blame the victim? It never means they are changing? Is there no hope by the Holy Spirit they can change?

    • Natalie Hoffman

      They CAN change, but that doesn’t mean they WILL change. The stats are not in their favor, and the past is always the best predictor of the future.

      • Avatar

        How do I know if a sudden apology for the way he treated me (when we sat down to discuss mediation and separating finances, etc) and suddenly taking responsibility for all the hurt to me and the kids is even sincere, or a last-ditch effort to get back into the house? It’s been 5 months of us separated and him continuing to not take responsibility, blame me for his actions, and not show sincere remorse… until now. So I felt like I should give him a chance to see if maybe he has changed, but I don’t feel right about it now. So confusing! He keeps wanting to be all affectionate even though I keep telling him I’m not there and he’s crossing my boundaries.

        • Natalie Hoffman

          You know because of past experience. You can give him another chance! I gave mine many “other chances” because I just couldn’t accept the fact that he was really as emotionally disconnected as he behaved. I was projecting MY empathy and commitment and compassion on him while he projected HIS disdain, anger, and controlling outlook on me. Confusing? Very.

          I finally gave him his last chance – he failed to repent and change – and I got out. Sometimes it takes a few rounds before we know for sure. HUGS!

          • Avatar

            Thank you for what you wrote, This is very validating. After 2 years of going through this cycle I finally moved him out of my house once and for all (It took 5 attempts). It has been an excruciatingly painful experience. And 6 months later he STILL attempts to contact me, manipulate and convince me to take him back. And that I am giving up the best thing ever! And he writes that he has changed. But then sends other messages minimizing his abusive behavior towards me and saying it is my fault. He has a long history of abusing women which I did not want to believe at first. And I think what is so hard to accept is that he really believes he is not an abuser, he never hurt these women. They are just disgrunted ex lovers/wives. Despite court orders keeping him from his children and reports of abuse/assault against a female he is delusional. And I am just an unforgiving, bitter vindictive woman. To me, real change does not come with denial and lack of accountability! It is mind bending and so painful but I am so grateful to be on the other side and repairing my relationships with God, friends, family I had become so alienated from. I have done the hard work of determining why I was vulnerable. I only hope it will really be possible to put this all behind me and find a partner that is worthy of me, my love and trust.

        • Avatar

          He is suddenly taking responsibility and telling you he is sorry, and yet with the same breath he is crossing your boundaries. His words and actions don’t match up. If he was truly sorry, he would want to do whatever it takes to nurture a sense of trust and security with you. It seems he feels entitled to your forgiveness, entitled to your affection, entitled to your touch, because he spoke the words that you have so desprately wanted to hear for the last 5 months. Hold your ground. You don’t owe him anything. His words are a step in the right direction, but maybe only his tongue has stepped and not his heart and mind. If he is truly sorry, then he will be patient with you, and give you the space and time you need to heal. Love is patient, it suffereth long, and is kind. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8) If there is no patience, maybe there is no love.
          Insist on respect of your boundaries.

  35. Avatar

    Thank you.. We have had a good time and my husband started again the circle..I have forgotten that he is still an abuser and that he didn’t really change. He hurt me again. He leave at home without car and go church. I was fourious. And I cry a lot.
    But after I read this article and more. I remember that I’m free. I’m worthy. I don’t need him. I know who I’m in Christo.
    Im going to enjoy my life. I don’t wait again till he want to share his life with me.
    I will continue make holiday with my kids and parents. And he is out.
    I have the soport of my new church and I will start serve God there.
    If he want to stay alone…nice.
    I don’t know now if I will divorce or not. Kids are small.
    But I’m not afraid again.
    I will enjoy my life.
    Thank you. to help me and help so many women.
    God bless you.

  36. Avatar

    I just read my life all over again :(. Wow! The similarities!

    Glad I’m not alone. Glad for the confirmations, the support :).

    THANK YOU for writing <3

  37. Avatar

    I recognize some of these things. It’s weird. Before I suspected my husband had an affair a couple of years ago( he still denies it….. I really really thought we had a happy life and marriage up to that point.

    Is it in them for that long? Can they hide it that well? I’m honestly starting to wonder. He has Never been the same since this happened.

    But of course he says it didn’t.

  38. Avatar

    Spot on! 100%. Laughing out loud at your humour….priceless

  39. Avatar

    Ohhh my word. A light just went on in my head as I read this post.

    • Natalie Hoffman

      I’m glad! I was hoping this would illuminate some things for the precious women reading it.

  40. Avatar

    This is so wonderful, Natalie. Thank you for continuing to share truth with your readers. Your thoughts are spot on. We are grateful. 🙂

  41. Avatar

    I have been through what you just described in this article. I was strong for awhile then a number of serious losses happened . I lost my parents, I had surgeries, my sister’s have some of the qualities of my x and I am being retriggered. I need to get strong and stay strong. The Bible says we are not wrestling flesh and blood but principalities and powers and rulers of wickedness in high places. You mentioned that the devil comes to kill, steal, a d destroy…. How much of this crazy behavior do think is from wounded souls and how much do you think is demonic?

    Any thoughts please?

    • Natalie Hoffman

      I don’t know, Mary. No matter where it is coming from though, it’s bad – and it’s a battle. I pray God will give you the grace and strength and hope you need to keep fighting until you are free. You are a beloved daughter of the King. He wants you safe and whole. (((HUGS)))

  42. Avatar

    All of the above. And then when you’ve been divorced for 7 years he still refuses to co-parent. Still is so damn passive aggressive and you continue to be the adult and you watch as his tantrums and hypocrisy drive his children away. And sorta feel sorry for him, but not really. 🙂

    • Avatar

      The good news in your situation is that your children will see through him and see you as the strong, consistent, loving parent. They will learn to accept him as he is (not much) but know he is not trustworthy, and your children will be healthy because you are strong and healthy. (I’m speaking out of my own experience here.)

  43. Avatar

    I wonder how often you hear from people that the victim isn’t the women or wife, but the Husband???

    Our son was seduced by an abuser, who of course wanted a quick marriage. He was only 20 then, she was a couple of years older with 2 young children in tow from another failed relationship..

    Everything written here we have seen our son be the victim of and its heartbreaking.

    Much harder for a man to escape, for many reasons. We have not had contact with our son now for a while because of his wife. Praying his eyes are completely opened & finds a way to escape.

    • Natalie Hoffman

      You’re right. This happens to men, too. It’s just as horrible for them. I’m so sorry. I can’t imagine how you ache for your son to be free and safe.

    • Avatar

      This whole page is exact what i am going through now. We hace been in counseling individually and together for 8 months, after i drew the line and said we either get into counseling or we can’t be together anymore. He did not ever understand what he was doing to me and our daughter until about two months agp when i believe the holy spirit really opened his eyes. He has loterallt veen tortured by images of what has been doinf to us for years now. He has been remorseful but at the same time as he feels i am letting my guard down a lottle bit he wants me to totally foeget about anything thay happened in the past and have sex with him (i haven’t been able to due to major physical issues for a long time). So now he is drippy sweet, apologetic, overly helpful, overly positive and encouraging….until he realizes my boundaries haven’t changed much yet, then he gets frustrated and depressed and begs for my affection etc and says i am disrespectful and says if thats how its going to be, we can’t be together. Ok, so he has been threatening this crap for at least 10 years. While also being massively narcissistic, controlling and degrading/emotionally and mentally abusive along with having massive anger and rage issues. Now he hasn’t blown up in a couple months and he is doing better i think, but i can’t tell if i should trust it enough yet. I’m still suspicious and walking on eggshells ‍♀️



  1. Nevertheless, She Persisted - No Eden Elsewhere - […] article, “Seven Predictable Things Your Emotional Abuser Does When You Set Boundaries,” by Natalie Hoffman of Flying Free accurately…
  2. Bethlehem Baptist Church Is Not a Safe Church for Women in Emotionally Abusive Relationships - - […] It was eerily like my marriage. […]

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