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How Writing Will Help You Figure Out Your Confusing and Painful Marriage

by | Mar 21, 2016 | Articles, Emotional Abuse | 34 comments

If you are tangled up in a confusing and painful marriage, one effective strategy to gain a solid footing (and eventually a voice) is to write things down. It doesn’t matter if you are a good writer or not. Your purpose isn’t to win a Pulitzer prize.

Here are three important things you can record on paper (or on your computer) that will be tremendously helpful to you over time.

1. Write down the incidents that stir your emotions.

Try to do this as soon after the incident has occurred as possible. This is important, because if the conversation triggers any PTSD symptoms, you will likely forget much of what took place shortly after it happens.

Have a notebook ready especially for this exercise, or you can use a program like Evernote (free) to keep a journal that can’t be found and accessed by anyone else.

(If you really want to get organized with Evernote, Michael Hyatt wrote a terrific article on how to do that. After reading his Evernote article, I have used it more effectively for my business, writing, and personal files. I don’t know how I would live without it now.)

You’ll want to write down everything you can remember. Body language, words used (on both sides), your emotions at the time, any background information, thoughts that were running through your head, things you suspect but don’t know for sure, as well as things you do know for sure.

Sometimes you won’t have time to write much. That’s okay. Just writing a few key things about what happened will help jog your memory in the future when you go back to look for patterns of behavior; both your patterns as well as their patterns.

You want to figure out the dance steps so you can eventually change it up. Even just writing down the date and the word “incident” will, at the very least, help you see how often these kinds of things are happening.

Although I had kept journals since I was in high school, I rarely wrote down bad incidents that happened in my marriage because I believed that the verse “love keeps no record of wrongs” meant if I loved my husband I would try to forget anything negative that happened between us.

That was probably the key reason I stayed in denial for two decades.

It was actually my excuse to avoid facing the emotional pain of what was happening. When an incident occurred, and the pain was real and present, it was like jumping into Lake Superior. An icy shock. But then I’d climb out and try to pretend it didn’t happen, or it wasn’t as bad as it felt.

I would cooperate in sweeping it under the rug and moving on. It felt better to take my mind off the pain and focus on the good things in my life. On rare occasions, I wrote something down because it was so awful, but I’d tear the pages out of my journal later because I consciously made the choice to forget the details. I thought I was doing the “Christian” thing.

I spiritualized my denial, got the support of well-meaning Christians, and that all made me feel better. But it also kept me stuck.

How Writing Will Help You Figure Out Your Confusing and Painful Marriage

Why Do This?

Putting your experiences in writing will enable you to see patterns of behavior on both sides from an objective, bird’s eye view. Obviously, things are bad. Nothing is resolved. You want to know why.

You need to figure out where the loops are and what is triggering them.

When we are in the heat of the moment, the frontal lobe of our brain shuts down. This is the part of our brain that thinks and reasons. You go into a fight or flight mode, and depending on your personality and past experience, your body either fights—or you check out and run away.

But your brain doesn’t think clearly in this mode.

This is why you may not even be able to remember much after an incident.

But if you write down as much as you can remember, next time you may remember more. You want to stimulate your brain to slow down and notice things. Writing stuff down will help you do this.

One way you’ll be able to remember more is to take deep breaths when you are in the middle of an incident. Try not to say too much. Imagine that you are floating above the situation, looking down as an observer. This will help you emotionally disconnect and have a more objective view.

This objective view will do wonders to clear up the constant fog and confusion you may feel in your relationship. As you see the patterns more clearly, you will grow more confident in your perception of things, and you will be more assertive in standing up for what you know is happening.

The goal is to eventually become so sure of what is happening, that when others try to cast doubt on you, minimize what has happened, or even tell you that you’ve maybe made it up in your head, you will not be moved. You know. You’ve got it all in writing. Lots and lots of examples.

But you need to know that you know—that you know—the truth.

2. Keep conversations with the other person and any of their allies or helpers, (i.e. Flying Monkeys) in writing.

In early 2013 I read a book called The Verbally Abusive Relationship: How to Recognize it and How to Respond. I would read it late at night before going to sleep, and I often fell asleep crying. My stomach felt like a black pit of pain, but I was beginning to recognize the fact that if I ever wanted to find a way out, I needed to pass through the oppressive process of seeing the truth, accepting it, and making the tough decisions required to deal with it.

Learning the verbal tactics of emotionally abusive individuals is extremely important. I can’t stress this enough. Once you become aware of how words are put together in subtle ways to blame, shame, dismiss, avoid, lie, rationalize, and minimize, you will be able to recognize those tactics in the person you are dealing with.

The problem is when you’re actually in a live conversation with the person and your stress level is high, it is harder to track these tactics on the fly. Especially at first.

It is best when you are in learning mode, to put all conversations that revolve around the more triggering subjects in your relationship in writing. This can be via text, email, or even a journal that you can take turns writing in. I recommend text or email simply because there is no danger of the other person deleting or changing anything.

You’ll need your own phone and email account. If you share one only because your spouse won’t let you get your own, then you are in a controlling relationship—not a mutually respectful and honoring relationship.

You are an adult.

You can have your own email account, and you don’t need permission to do that as if you were someone’s child or property.

How Writing Will Help You Figure Out Your Confusing and Painful Marriage

Why do this?

The rewards of seeing everything in writing are numerous. First of all, you get to see your relational patterns. You can analyze what you are saying that contributes to the same old destructive dance pattern. This was life changing for me.

For several months in 2015, I had a few people from my church listen in on some of our email conversations. (They were copied on all correspondence between my husband and me.) Even before this, I had experimented with having someone else read everything, and the feedback I got, again and again, was that I was too wordy, and I was assigning motives to the things he was doing. I was also trying too hard to get him to understand all the ins and outs of a subject. I was over-defending my stand on things as if it were possibly flawed.

Over the course of time, my emails changed.

They were never perfect (nor do they need to be – I am human), but they improved. I worked on eliminating unnecessary words. I tried to keep out my opinions and just state facts. I got better at not defending my viewpoint and instead stated it and stood by it.

I started using “I think” and “I feel” and “my view is” instead of, “you think” and “you are.” And then I detached from all expectations of how he might respond. I got to the point where I accepted that he could respond or not respond however he wanted. He didn’t have to respond the way I wished he would. If he empathized, great. If not, no surprise. If he responded, fantastic. If he didn’t answer, no surprise.

I began to grow up.

I found dignity for myself, and I didn’t need my husband to give it to me. God did. And God wanted me to give it to myself, too.

I also began to grow a better idea of how my husband and I were two separate people making our own choices. I used to think we were linked in that mysterious union of “oneness” just because we signed a marriage contract. His choices were somehow linked to me and vice versa.

Now I see that oneness happens when two people invest in building that kind of intimacy. That never happened in our relationship, and I had to let go of my longing for it and accept and live in reality.

Recognizing my separateness from my husband was a huge step toward better emotional and relational health.

The other amazing perk to having conversations in writing is that you get to see the other person’s tactics in black and white.

You can read them and analyze them through the grid of what you’ve learned in reading books like The Verbally Abusive Relationship, Whose Pushing Your Buttons, and Foolproofing Your Life. (All books that were pivotal in waking me up and helping me turn the wheel of the ship in the other direction.)

So phrases and words that would normally confuse me, put me on the defensive, and distract me from the original conversation, now popped out at me as specific tactics with names and definitions.

I wasn’t feeling as confused or even as defensive. I could calmly and objectively look at his words in black and white and realize: “Oh! He is minimizing his responsibility here. He is denying it here. And here he is only telling part of the story and leaving out the part I asked for. This is not a “me” problem. This is a “him” problem. It’s his problem to solve. Not mine.”

So take that last tactic—giving partial answers. Normally I would say something like, “You are trying to control me by leaving out the information I asked for and only giving me part of it. You’re confusing me.

This would then continue the negative nature of the conversation and put him on the defensive again.

Eventually, I would respond (in writing) with something more along the lines of, ” I asked you ________. I still don’t have the answer to my question. Please let me know the answer by ______ time. Thank you.

I would wonder why he was employing this tactic, and I might have even thought I knew why, depending on the circumstances. But that is only important and workable in a normal, healthy relationship where two people are invested in the care of the other one.

In a dysfunctional relationship, the only important thing is getting the answer to the question.

Someone once introduced me to the phrase,”transactional relationship.” Exactly. That means there is no two-way, mutually respectful, honoring, intimate connection, so why pretend there is?

Just get your business taken care of and move on.

How Writing Will Help You Figure Out Your Confusing and Painful Marriage

3. Journal your journey

This might sound like the first one, but it’s not. Number one above is about writing down the specific incidents you encounter with the other person. This is more about everything else in your life. But mostly it’s about what you are learning and how you are growing.

In my journal I write down quotes from books I’m reading, verses that pop out at me from reading the Bible, incidents that happen to me with other people, including my kids, that relate to things God is teaching me, “Ah ha!” thoughts that run through my head as I’m driving or getting ready for the day, etc..

Again, you don’t need to have nice handwriting. You don’t need a fancy journal. I use Evernote for this too, and many of my entries are short and sweet.

Why do this?

When I look back at past journals (pre-electronic days!), I can see the thinking patterns that kept me stuck in my situation. My motives were good – I wanted to be the best wife and mom I could be – but looking back I can see how much of an idol those things were. How much I tried to be perfect and beat myself up every day for failing. I can see the depth of fear I dealt with and how many of my choices were rooted in this fear.

If you take just 5 minutes at the end of each day to quickly jot down anything significant that you learned, thought about, or experienced— over the course of a month you will have invested 2 1/2 hours of recording your life, and you will be surprised to see what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown in just one month.

Over the course of a year, you will have invested 31 hours, and the insights will be invaluable. And encouraging!

The other beneficial thing about writing stuff down is that when it comes time to explain your story to others, you will have already processed it in various ways and will be able to clearly articulate the main points. This doesn’t mean people will listen and understand, but it does mean you will have done your best to communicate it. And that’s all you need.

I’m at the point where I no longer try to explain my story to the “locals.” I’ve done that, and I did it the best I could. What they believe is their prerogative, and really, has no bearing on the truth or what I choose to do with what has happened or what continues to happen in my life.

You are a witness to your reality, and that is enough. The only Judge that counts is your Heavenly Father. And He knows it all and remembers it all better than we ever could.

If you would like more intense support and education as you walk through your own confusing and painful marriage, I encourage you to check out the Flying Free Education and Support program. It only opens up every spring and fall, but you can learn more and get on the waiting list today!

How Writing Will Help You Figure Out Your Confusing and Painful Marriage

34 Comments

  1. CJ

    “Learning the verbal tactics of emotionally abusive individuals is extremely important. I can’t stress this enough.”

    When the light bulb went off for me regarding verbal tactics, it was, and still is, almost indescribable. It’s like I never saw anything before and then all of a sudden, complete clarity.

    I’ve had this odd reaction when I try to journal. It’s like my thinking turns to mud. Literally. And I can’t think of anything. And the more I try to write, it’s like my brain actively avoids thinking and goes into shut-down mode and I just want to go to sleep. Almost like narcolepsy or something.

    Then at the oddest times, all my thoughts will coalesce. Usually when I’m driving, for some reason. Thank goodness technology has caught up to where it is because I’ll open up a note app on my phone (or a personal email), hit the microphone button and start talking. Then, my notes covert to text and I have them in writing.

    I just looked at some notes I wrote this way a few months ago and wow. I’m so glad I did it. If you asked me today to come up what I wrote then, my mind would totally draw a blank. But those raw, gritty words I captured through speech-to-text reminded me again, like a kick in the stomach, why i’m on this journey to getting free. They’re painful to read, but I need to read them again and again.

    Thank you so much for writing this blog and persevering in getting your message out. And all your encouragement

    Reply
    • Natalie

      YES YES YES!!!! So many of us know EXACTLY what you are talking about. The convert voice to text idea is excellent. The few things I did capture many years ago in my journal are horrible. And you’re right. I would never have remembered them otherwise. I always say that emotional abuse is physical abuse of the brain and organs. And yes, it, too, can kill a person over time.

      Reply
  2. Leila

    I have been wanting to respond for quite some time and just haven’t found the time to get my thoughts together. I must say how much I have appreciated all the comments in this thread – both those directed to me and those in general.

    I do think I need to clarify one thing because I didn’t express myself very well. It is true that right now I am not seeking to try and communicate much and especially I am not trying to use a written method. However, this is not because I am wanting to avoid my husband disliking me and looking down on me. Yes, that would happen and I think I am slowly on the road to accepting that. No, the reason I am currently avoiding doing this is for a more practical reason: simply, because it won’t work. Why waste my time – and in the process have to fight the negative feelings that will come with it – for no result?

    That said, the suggestions made here were VERY helpful to me. I had already considered trying to figure out how record the conversation. I am not at all technological so it was good to hear that my phone does have a record feature – I just need to find out how to activate it.

    I also loved the suggested words of response, though I hope you will understand if I said they made me laugh. I laughed because they sounded so calm and reasoned – everything that I am *not* in this sort of circumstances. It is the fact that I am so tense that I forget everything later – and so have started trying to record it. BUT . . . I have copied these words down and I am putting them on a card and will carry it around me with and read it over and over and over and over again . . . in the hope that somehow they will work themselves into my brain and become part of me and one day I can sort of say them.

    Except . . . there is one phrase that I really struggle with. That is the sentence “The truth is, I am able to communicate fine with other people with whom I have a mutually honoring relationship.”

    I struggle with this sentence because I have been told – or at least had it conveyed to me – by my husband so many times that I do *not* communicate well with other people. He has conveyed to me that others tell him this – how poorly I communicate and how much I offend people.

    And the fact is that there is probably some truth in this. I have recently been diagnosed with Aspergers and difficulty communicating is one of the challenges those with Aspergers often face. I know inside that it is not because I don’t care to communicate, but because with the way my brain is wired, it doesn’t come naturally to me. So I have to really work on it.

    I have reached a point where I am starting to wonder if maybe I’m not as terrible as he has repeatedly suggested and that maybe the way he presented that people are coming and telling him this isn’t quite true. Maybe he just mentioned it once and someone agreed. Maybe someone really did say this. I honestly don’t know. But I think it would be very difficult for me to say to him that I can communicate with others when he has told me so often that I cannot – and said that others agree in that assessment of me.

    And I loved your description of the that place where I can accept that he is broken and unable to love. A place where I can separate myself from him emotionally and accept that what he says does not (at least totally) reflect on who I am but rather who he is. That place where I can feel empathy because he is unable to see the reality of the love I have for him and the enjoyment he could have in a relationship that even today I am still sure God had a hand in. I can’t say that I have arrived at this place yet, but I do feel that I am definitely on the road there and moving towards it. Maybe sometimes I have to stop to rest and maybe sometimes I end up taking a step or two backwards, but the overall trend is of movement towards there.

    So thanks again — both Natalie and all those who made the other comments.

    Reply
    • Natalie Klejwa

      You have made yourself vulnerable in sharing these honest thoughts here. I’m honored to get a glimpse inside. There is definitely a lot of confusion, and I think I can understand why. I pray God will continue to help you sort through all the pieces and figure them out. I know how painful it is to have your husband tell you that he isn’t the only one who views you in a negative light. That he is just one of many who think you are “the problem.” It makes you question your view of reality and wonder if you’re crazy. A normal husband wouldn’t do that. It’s a way to control you through your vulnerability and fear. A mature man who truly cares for his wife and protects her would not approach her in that way about something so serious. When it is said on the heels of your expressing pain over something he did – then it is simply an emotional retaliation meant to level the playing field and get you to back off and shut up. I was often told, “that’s just the way men are.” No. That is not just the way they are. What an insult to men, in general. Hang in there. God has you.

      Reply
    • Christine Kohler

      Leila, I have made my career out of communicating clearly, concisely, and at about a sixth grade level. I want you to know that I understood you very clearly. You are an excellent communicator. If anyone ever tells you otherwise, you remind yourself that a professional said that you communicate well, and are clearly of a sane mind. Hugs, little sister.

      Reply
  3. Michelle

    Another great article Natalie, thank you! (I have only gotten through 2/3 of the comments, but will come back when I have time.)

    I do have a quick question though, is Aspergers/High Functioning Autism at all on your radar with regards to your husband’s behavior?

    Reply
  4. Brandie

    Thank you

    Reply
  5. Desi

    Thanks for your post. Your story is very much like mine. I’ve been journaling since high school, and like you I excluded the painful parts of my marriage in my journals. I started doing so last year when I started reading posts in Christian sites on abuse.
    Immediately after major arguments, I would go to another room and write all that transpired between us. It was very helpful because by the following day, I would have forgotten more than half of what went on between us the day before.
    In January this year, I read all what I had written down the past few months, and was shocked at the frequency and enormity of the abuse. I was able to relay what had been happening to me with 99% accuracy because I had it documented.
    P.S. I just downloaded Evernote. Thanks.

    Reply
    • Natalie Klejwa

      I still can’t wrap my brain around how prevalent this is. And I used to think I was the only one. Thank you for sharing. Enjoy Evernote!

      Reply
  6. Sherry

    Hi Natalie, It’s been a while since I commented on one of your articles but I always take some wisdom from them!
    Putting things down in writing is a great idea because when I confront my husband about something he said, sometimes his questions and denials confuse me and I tend get all flustered and back down.
    I will start doing this, controlling my boundaries … thank you!
    P.S. I enjoyed your response to Leila’s comment too. Bravo!! 🙂

    Reply
  7. jeri

    I have been blessed to have a sister that I would call and rehearse an incident to. She kept the notes from that phone call. That insured they would not be “found”, and if I called again in a few days or weeks with the same type of struggle she would remind me of how many times it had happened.

    Reply
  8. Heather

    For me, I couldn’t write things down until after I left. It was too painful and scary. I couldn’t give myself any time to feel and analyze the emotions I was having. I had to stay in survival mode and purposely shut down the memories of incidents and how they made me feel, or I think I would have had a nervous breakdown and done something drastic like kill myself.

    But after I left, when I was in a safe place, a lot of specific memories came flooding back and I spent some time writing them down. I did it mainly to see for myself that I was not crazy, and to be able to share with people I trusted to help explain why I left and to enlist help. I found it cathartic and it also helped stop things from replaying in my head so often.

    The most helpful book for developing communication skills with my abuser has been “Why Does He Do That” by Lundy Bancroft. Like Natalie describes, it made me feel empowered to be able to name, label, and understand my abuser’s tactics in conversations. I’ve even named his tactics to him in the midst of a conversation. “You are doing _____ right now when you say _____. This is abusive. I will not play games with you and allow you to continue to abuse me. I’m wise to your game. If you continue, I will hang up the phone.” This has had a great effect on our conversations during separation!

    Reply
    • Natalie Klejwa

      Great book recommendation. And thank you for sharing how your experience was different. I think it is important to understand that everyone will process their experience and their pain differently.

      Reply
  9. Wanda

    Writing things down: absolutely life-saving! Writing or typing my thoughts and quotes about the crazy conversations with my husband has helped tremendously to fight through the confusion. It takes all my emotions and puts words to them so I can actually sleep. I can look back now and see the subtle manipulation and verbal and scriptural abuse. In the moment when I’m reminding myself to actually breathe, not so good. Writing is vital to seeing change, to standing up to your husband when you’re completely trembling on the inside (and also with well-meaning (but religious) Christians) until bit by bit you start to believe and see glimpses of mental and emotional freedom! Can’t stress enough how writing it all down has helped keep me sane! And allowed me to hear God in the midst of the chaos.

    Reply
  10. Christine Kohler

    Thank you, Natalie, for this honest sharing in order to help women. I have read books on verbal abuse and setting boundaries, but my end goal is to stay married, and have it be as pleasant a marriage as possible. Too many of the advice is from people who say do A+B and it will =H for harmony. And if it doesn’t, there is no alternative but D (divorce) or live in M (misery). I don’t find the advice and tone of your column that way at all. I also see you avoiding resentment, which built up over time can destroy a person. No, I see you as a woman seeking God and His best for His daughter, namely you.

    For me, the blinders didn’t drop off until menopause. My tolerance for subtle verbal abuse, manipulation ceased. My journaling changed.

    My husband and I do communicate other than verbally in person only because we often work in different cities. To Lelia, I would say that if we didn’t work in different areas, I wouldn’t push my husband to write me letters, e-mails or texts for important communication, which he would not do. Why poke the bear, as they say. For one, people who are verbally abusive and manipulative through words will not want pinned down for the words to be used against them as a weapon later. They are afraid of their own words.

    As for the journaling, your article came at a crucial time when I’ve been asking myself if I should destroy the past decade of journals. My first novel at age 13 was burned because a family member read it and was upset, so I’m sensitive to destroying my work just because it upsets people. (I’ve also had Tolerance plays banned in a school. It’s a strange feeling to know your words meant for healing can powerfully convict people who can’t face the conviction.)

    One thing I want to add to this conversation is about the mapping patterns you described. I started to do this over a decade of journals, and did it by months. (I’ve only completed 5 months so far.) My goal was to identify the person’s repetitive patterns according to holidays, seasons, etc. I believe one of the core issues is how people bring their childhood feelings based on the dynamics and rearing style of their parents into their adulthood, and can’t shake that. (“Games People Play” talks about this.) By mapping the patterns my goal was to anticipate the negative repetitions so I would not continue to react accordingly, sometimes even go into shock and deep hurt and a type of grief which caused me to lose productive time. In other words, men can be moody and cycle, too, as only women are accused of doing; it’s not a gender trait exclusive to women, such as how men blame moodiness on PMS or menopause.

    My goal in mapping repetitive patterns was to anticipate, and intellectualize what was happening, and my response. As for the last goal, I wanted to, and have done so, break my own patterns of response, which has helped my husband step back, think, and dial down what he was doing verbally. (You mentioned mixing up and changing the interactions.)

    After analyzing my journals I wrote two lists: Husband’s triggers; My triggers.

    Lelia, I suggest you to start with one trigger word, and see if you can get your husband to stop using it. Just one. For me it was the word “ridiculous,” which I found minimized any idea or opinion I gave. When I first pointed this out (long before menopause–it was one of my first awakenings of this issue) my husband responded, “I didn’t say you are ridiculous, I said the idea was ridiculous.” But I stayed calm and firm every time he used that word by reminding him that it 1.) minimized what I had to say, and 2.) shut down communication between us.

    Natalie, you did a marvelous job explaining these concepts in a concise and practical way. Thank you for your candidness, and for your heart that yearns to be complete and whole as a daughter of God.

    Reply
    • Natalie Klejwa

      Lots of good stuff here. Really. I like your specific examples, too.

      This: “people who are verbally abusive and manipulative through words will not want pinned down for the words to be used against them as a weapon later. They are afraid of their own words”

      Very true, and something to consider. I would want to add that we can’t always tippy toe around their fragility, though. I spent many years trying to protect my husband from anything uncomfortable (he would never say that), and I do think that was a mistake in some ways. That said, we want to strive to be kind and honoring in our confrontations (again, though they would never say we were being kind just by virtue of confronting) and respect their words for being theirs. But respecting that they have a right to their own opinion, and buying into it (allowing them to define us), are two different things. I think this is something that takes a long time to figure out how to do well. I’m still working hard on this. It sounds like you are further along in the game than I am, and I really appreciate the insights you’ve given here for the rest of us. I hope you’ll continue to contribute here as you feel led.

      Reply
  11. Ann

    I went to my preacher for counseling because I was very confused about the fact I supported my daughter in going to a good, Christian college, while my husband did not. I don’t want my daughter to see me as a rebellious wife. Later in the session, my preacher asked me if I ever felt cold toward my husband’s affection (he knows my husband is abusive). I told him I did, but I didn’t expound on the fact that I usually submit to the advances (my preacher told me that even after an abusive episode I should give my husband “what he wants” and simply think about something else while he’s doing his business). He told me, “You know that’s what causes men to have affairs.” Just writing this to you helps me to realize that Jesus Christ is the only one who understands.

    Reply
    • Natalie Klejwa

      This may be hard to wrap your brain around, but your pastor is actually participating in the abuse by encouraging you to enable it. That’s called spiritual abuse. He is spiritualizing the abuse. “Rebellious” is not the right word to define you. That’s their word, and it is used to shame and control you. An adult woman with a separate opinion is normative. And an adult woman unable to perform in bed with an abusive individual shows that you are healthy. Your pastor is encouraging you to deny reality and enable sin. He is communicating the message that YOU are responsible for your husband’s choices. Unbiblical misogynistic poppycock.

      I recommend two of Patrick Doyle’s videos on religious denial here:

      Reply
      • Elaine

        “An adult woman with her own opinion is normative” – what insight for some of us to realize! How do we learn to form our own opinions without constantly feeling the need to justify and defend it, even to ourselves? How do we become the individual that God made us to be after so many years of accepting blame for the relationship and trying so hard to conform to either feel accepted or effect change in someone else?

        Reply
        • Natalie Klejwa

          It takes time, and I think it is something God gradually does inside us through various means, including articles like this, books, videos, Facebook support groups, local support groups, etc.. It is a journey, but one well worth embarking on!

          Reply
    • Cindy Burrell

      Hello, Ann.

      I just want to convey my whole-hearted agreement with Natalie’s comments about your pastor’s shockingly distorted belief system where intimacy is involved. Sex is intended to serve as a reflection of the love relationship between two people, not a mere duty, or an act or an obligation. I write this knowing that some would disagree, but such physical and emotional vulnerability must be accompanied by equal measures of emotional and physical safety.

      You matter. If a man is going to have an affair because his wife feels unsafe giving herself to him because of his abusive behavior, then his failure to identify his own failings and care for his bride merely reveals the depth of his hardened heart.

      “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her…” (Ephesians 5:25)

      Reply
  12. Faith/Hope

    That Verbally Abusive Relationship book saved my life and my mind! It showed me what was really going on in my marriage and it help me see it wasnt my fault. It stoped me from hours of disecting crazy making conversations and it helped me see the tactics he was using to control me or the situation.
    Before this I had tried writing to him. I thought if I explained things better, he would understand and change – he didnt. In fact, after pouring out my heart in letter he would never even mention it – let alone reply.
    I always felt I wanted to record our conversation, because he would always deny saying things or deny the way he had said it.
    I felt just like you Natalie, that it was wrong to keep a list of his wrongs. Ever time I did it I would rip them up again. And just like you – I stayed stuck.
    I have since leaving him writen some things down, especially dreams about him – that has have been very insightful.
    Thank you so much for your posts on this subject, they are so needed by Christian women in these kinds of relayonships, because most times they will not find the help they need in church. I believe this will change though – and you are helping make that change. Thanks x

    Reply
    • Natalie Klejwa

      Thank you for sharing this! Ignoring everything you try to say/write? Yes. I can relate. And there’s nothing you can do to change that. You can only change yourself. It sounds like you took those steps and found some peace. I actually did record some conversations (got permission from him first – told him I wouldn’t have a discussion without recording it so he reluctantly agreed.) Listening to those conversations was also extremely helpful to me – to see where I was going wrong (getting confused and caught up in his traps) as well as the kinds of things he would say to sidetrack the issue or get me on the defensive rather than focusing on the issue at hand. I found out it is legal to record any conversation, even without permission, as long as you are part of that conversation. (You can’t secretly record a conversation in which you are not a key player.)

      Reply
  13. Laurie

    I can really see the value in what you’re saying. I recently found (a couple of days before my birthday), a birthday letter I had written to myself the year before that I completely forgot about. What struck me is how nothing had changed & I’m still in the same “stuck” place. While reading your article, I realized I should do the work of daily writing and keeping track of where I am emotionally & spiritually so that I can actually grow as a person & find that person God made me to be instead of the person that was told who I should be and what I should feel. Thanks for this.

    Reply
    • Natalie Klejwa

      Yes! It’s one constructive way of climbing up and out of the pit eventually.

      Reply
  14. Elaine

    Thank you for this article! During the time of my marriage, over 25 years, I only wrote things down in a notebook in the first two or three years. Then I quit because I suspected that my husband was reading my journal, and since it usually contained angst about our relationship, I felt like I couldn’t be honest in my own journal, so I quit. When all h*** broke loose, I began to earnestly write down everything dealing with our situation using a Memo app on my tablet that was lockable. I only wrote when I was alone.
    This has saved my sanity!!
    As things intensified and more truth came out over a few months, I wrote and wrote. It helped to keep my focus on the truth, or at least my perception of the truth (at times) – there was actual “evidence” so it wasn’t all just perception. I would have a confrontation and then feel so mixed up, and question myself. Did I remember it correctly? Did he really say that? Did I really misunderstand? I don’t remember it happening that way. And on and on. My notes were invaluable, and I went back often to confirm to myself what I knew was the truth. There were times he would actually admit things to me, but deny them in front of our pastor. But I knew the truth because of my journal.
    I have not thought to use it to go back and find patterns. But I have used it to evaluate where things are now. I do back and read things from a year ago, and see that not much has changed. The circular conversations are still the same. It breaks my heart.
    One thing, and some of you may think it’s weird, is that only a couple of people even know that I’ve journaled this whole terrible journey. I have almost mentioned it to my now ex-husband (who I wish would do what it takes to reconconcile) in much anger when he wass not telling the truth, but each time, the Lord had stilled my tongue. I think there is value in him not knowing that I’ve written things down, because he is such a slippery conversationalist. This helps, in some weird way, that he doesn’t know. Would he act differently if he knew I was writing it all down? I don’t know.
    I’ll just keep writing.

    Reply
    • Natalie Klejwa

      This is a GREAT example of how it works! Thank you for sharing.

      Reply
  15. Leila

    Oh, wow! This article. I loved it. So much in here that I relate to. I am a writer. I always have been. But lately I’ve started doing exactly what you’ve described here in the first category — the writing down of what happens in interactions. Because it is so true for me that in the heat of the moment I can’t think straight. I’m not a quick thinker to start with. I’d come out the end of a conversation and know I felt miserable and like I was the one all in the wrong yet part of me still didn’t accept that. But I couldn’t remember what we’d said. So in the name of “research” for the past six months or so I have been trying to record interactions. I’m trying to find patterns (maybe I’ll discover I’m unfair if I say he *always* does something — maybe I will realize it only happened two or three times out of many interactions) and also keep myself focused to be able to follow the conversation and maybe even see where I went wrong. What I’ve been writing down is much like what you describe as the first thing to write about.

    But your second topic? This is the one that hurts a lot. Because conducting conversations through writing is natural for me. Too natural. I may not be able to think straight in a conversation, but put a pen in my hand or a keyboard under my fingers and I start to figure out what I’m really thinking. And I have tried for that very reason to communicate in writing. And I of course like the advantage that if I forget something I can go back and re-read and make sure I understood correctly. But my husband absolutely refuses to do this. Not only is he not a writing person (it can take him hours to write a few paragraphs that I’d whip out in five minutes) but he actually considers my attempts to communicate through writing as more evidence of what an uncaring person I am. The fact that I prefer to write a note shows that I “don’t care about people”. If I cared I wouldn’t hide behind paper or a screen. I’d talk to them face to face. It just makes him dislike me even more. And to show him an article that suggested that there could be value in communicating through writing would just be an “excuse” on my part to avoid interacting with people.

    So, I’ve given up trying to communicate through writing with him, despite the advantages it brings — or rather it could potentially bring. Write now, as I said, to do so would only make him look down on me even more.

    I think I’m going to be reading this article over and over, though, just to remind myself that not everyone in the world sees things the way my husband does — that maybe, just maybe, I’m not insane for writing.

    Reply
    • Natalie Klejwa

      Leila, you’ve brought up something that is crucial to your ability to see things clearly and find release and freedom. You have expressed concern that if you do these things, your husband will dislike you and look down on you. You don’t want him to do that. I get where you are coming from. We want to be loved and accepted. We want them to admire and respect us for who we are. To want to communicate with us in a mutually loving, caring relationship.

      But that’s not what you’ve got. If your husband only likes you when you do what he wants you to do, that’s not what you’ve got. If he twists your motives and the things you say in a way that makes it all false and bad just so he can feel better about himself – that’s not what you’ve got.

      You can get to a place where you accept that he is broken and unable to love. A place where you can separate yourself from him emotionally. Where what he says and does no longer reflects on you, as a person, but rather reflects back on WHO HE IS. Where when he maligns you, you actually feel empathy for him, that he is so underdeveloped that he cannot see reality and enjoy the wife God gave him. Where you are a whole and complete person without his love and approval.

      Just because another person (your husband in this case) says you are an uncaring person (when you don’t do what they want you to do – manipulation), doesn’t make it true. You are not defined by his opinions. You are defined by God. So he can make his own choices about writing, but so can you. You can still write. If he wants to respond in person, you just grab your phone’s voice memo feature and have him talk into it. That way you can write it down yourself and respond in writing. When he scoffs and tells you what a stupid idea that is, you can calmly say, “Maybe. But it’s the only way I’m willing to communicate with you on these types of issues. Take it or leave it. Your choice.” Then you go and write down what he said about your stupid idea.

      When he says you are making excuses not to interact with people, you say, “That’s what you say. The truth is, I am able to communicate fine with other people with whom I have a mutually honoring relationship. But in this relationship, I feel dishonored and unheard. By having everything in writing, I can see more clearly what you are saying and respond more accurately. In person, I feel confused and get upset easily. I don’t want to do that anymore. I want to respect you and hear what you have to say. I can do that better when you put things in writing. And likewise, I can communicate with less emotion and more clarity when I put my responses in writing. Until we are in a different place in our relationship, this is how I’m choosing to do it. If you choose not to participate in the conversation, then we are at an impasse and won’t be ale to work through our issues.”

      And you may never be able to work through your issues. I never have. But at least you can do your part and try.

      Keep me posted!

      Reply
    • Monica

      Just a side note, the letter writing is also super effective way to get teens to communicate with you. My mom and I had a notebook, my 12 year old and I text. Yes, for the big things we talk too, but since texting is the language they use most, he is much more comfortable sending me a text than talking about a lot of things. And it cuts down on the bickering because it takes more effort to type or write than just blurt out.

      Reply

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