When Trying Harder Becomes Destructive — video by Leslie Vernick

Leslie Vernick is currently producing a series of short videos about her upcoming book, The Emotionally Destructive Marriage: How to Find Your Voice and Reclaim Your Hope [Affiliate link]
We are sharing part 6 of the series because we know it will speak to many of our readers.


[For those who want it, here is the direct link to the video on YouTube.]


CAVEAT:  Vernick’s book has been somewhat helpful for some victims but we have to give caveats about it.  It does not state categorically that Scripture condones divorce for domestic abuse.  And it says other things which are unhelpful and hurtful to some victims.

22 thoughts on “When Trying Harder Becomes Destructive — video by Leslie Vernick”

  1. Thank you to Leslie for continued support of better counseling for women in abusive relationships. Fortunately, I was only engaged to my abuser, but I spent over a year and a half with a couple’s counselor who kept me believing that if I just tried harder, built up his self-esteem more, acted more loving/accepting, he would stop the yelling, screaming, and bizarre outbursts. After a weird episode of jealousy, the counselor even advised me, “Just tell him that he’s the only one in the world for you…make him feel handsome and that you are only attracted to him.” All the solutions sounded so simple and achievable, but now I realize incredibly naive! This advice merely fed his sickness, and he gained more and more power over me along with increasing dissatisfaction and hate. It ended by my going with the counselor’s advice and putting on the engagement ring (so he’d feel more secure and not doubt my commitment). After I put on the ring, the bizarre behavior actually increased, and I ultimately sought another counselor who had a background on the domestic abuse council in my town. He knew what I was dealing with immediately (personality disorder), and advised me to get out that day. He told me that nothing I could do would improve the situation, and he pointed out that everything I had tried had totally backfired horribly. Abusers cannot be dealt with in the same way as a normal relationship.

    The only thing I wish Leslie would emphasize on this video is the need to end such a marriage. I fear that exposing the husband’s sins and helping him to see truth may be dangerous when dealing with truly abusive personalities (again, this is “trying” on the sake of the victim). In my case, I was stunned when my “humble, gentle” fiance pinned me down and lifted an arm to hit me. You never can anticipate what abusers will do when you shatter their delusions about themselves and refuse to participate in their sickness. I would add a caution at the end. Safety for the victim is the primary concern.

    1. UPDATE Sept 2021: I have come to believe that Jeff Crippen does not practise what he preaches. He vilely persecuted an abuse victim and spiritually abused many other people in the Tillamook congregation. Go here to read the evidence. Jeff has not gone to the people that he spiritually and emotionally abused. He has not apologised to them, let alone asked for their forgiveness.


      Having read an advance copy of Leslie’s upcoming book, I know she affirms that the victim’s safety is paramount and that there is no cookie cutter way of dealing with these situations. As far as I can remember, she says that in some cases the safest thing for the victim to do may be to seek support from a domestic violence advocate and escape from the relationship without giving prior warning to the abuser, because prior warning may just lead to him escalating, putting the victim at higher risk.

      It is difficult writing a book such as this because you are addressing women across a spectrum: women who are at different degrees of risk in their marriages, women who have not yet done much to confront their husbands because of being so steeped in submission theology; women who have already made many efforts to bring their husbands to awareness and change; and women who are at different degrees of awareness, recognition, and hopefulness or despair (or fear) about the potential for their husbands to change.

      While I would have liked Leslie’s book (and the video we linked to in this post) to say more explicitly that the Bible allows — even condones — divorce for abuse, on the whole I am so pleased with the book that I am happy to recommend it. And ditto the video. I see myself as an ally of Leslie’s and we are all on this learning curve together, not being perfect in how we are articulating stuff, but each having something worthwhile to offer. I believe Jeff C feels the same way, because I’ve talked to him about his response to Leslie’s upcoming book. And hey, it’s really difficult to articulate all the nuances and qualifications in this stuff, when you are only creating a short video. I would recommend withholding your final assessments until you’ve read the book. I hope that’s fair. Happy to hear feedback from any of you on this. 🙂

      1. I agree, Barb. There needs to be support for victims of abuse divorcing their abusers, regardless of the physical element of danger, because the emotional risk is just as high, if not higher. Women who live in constant emotional terror and trauma are at a higher risk of suicide. Most think there is only danger when there is ongoing physical violence, and that is just not true. Not minimizing physical danger at all here, just saying that there is much more to abuse than that, and many abusers hide behind the fact that they have never beaten their wives up or broken any bones. The only danger I see in books like this, are that in the hands of people already against divorce for abuse, it could become more ammunition for them to support their “no leaving and no divorce for abuse” cause. A book written by such an excellent author, who actually says that she does not advocate leaving unless it is for physical danger, is not a book that I would hand the people I know that need to be educated in this area. Just my thoughts.

      2. A book written by such an excellent author, who actually says that she does not advocate leaving unless it is for physical danger,

        I think you may be mischaracteriszing Leslie’s book, IamMyBeloved. She does not take that black and white line.

      3. Let me tell you a few things that Leslie’s forthcoming book says in the section “Is Divorce Ever A Biblical Option” (p. 174ff)
        She writes:

        There are times it is just not wise or safe to stay married if the destructive person has not had a change of heart. They would have too much power to continue to hurt you.

        She illustrates this with several examples. One is a husband who had an affair, and for two years had been lying to his wife that he had ended it and was working on reconciliation; this woman decide that she could never trust her husband again. Another was a woman who discovered that her husband had withdrawn their joint savings, their retirement fund, and her inheritance from her parents, all without her knowledge, and he owed a lot to the IRS.

        She realized she couldn’t trust her husband and didn’t believe a word he said. . . . Divorce was her only way to be protected from his ongoing deceit.

        And here’s one last quote from that section:

        For some women, divorce might be the best choice because of her or her children’s safety or sanity. I’ve already shared some stories from women who wished they would not have stayed married for the children. They see their adult children living out the same destructive patterns that they witnessed as children. How they wish it could have been different.

      4. I haven’t read this book yet, but in her other books Leslie doesn’t advocate “no divorce for any cause or just for adultery”. She says there are other reasons for separation and divorce. She does advocate using all of your resources first IF you can. Beginning to set boundaries and attempts to make change early is necessary. People who are beyond that point almost need to separate in order to at the very least regroup and then make decisions. She doesn’t try to make the decision for anyone.
        I recently talked to a Christian man who’s opinion was “one time”. A man only gets one chance. If he uses force, hits or throws something, hits his wife or speaks aggressively or threatening and he’s done. In his opinion, a man who does these things does not love his wife, has broken covenant and therefore does not deserve another chance and there is a danger or the next time being the last time for the woman. How many of the ladies here would have gone with that way of thinking. No, we are guilted into thinking that God will disown us, we are weak, we are the ones who keep the home together. One thing that John Piper said in his book that I did respect was, “If Jesus knocked on the door of our home and had issues with us, he may want to have words with my wife, but he is headed for me first.” (My paraphrasing)

      5. I think Leslie takes marriage very seriously like all of us at this blog do. She counsels in her books every avenue that should/could be taken before considering separation except in the case of physical abuse. She does consider safety first. She is right, in my opinion. If we are not so beaten down emotionally that we can make attempt to change our communication techniques that could possibly make the marriage better, we should. At no time should we feel that we cannot take steps to protect ourselves in the case of being threatened or physically injured. If we are mentally and emotionally wiped out, by all means separate for a time if you need to, then make decisions on how to proceed. Leslie’s books are one of the tools that have helped me get healthy faster. I read her books and some others to gain strength while making the decision to leave. Even the books I read that did not promote separation for any reason gave me insight in a different way. They drove me to try everything I could, until there was nothing left I could do. It was either stay and be taken away in a straight jacket or leave. I left. Thank you Leslie and Barbara. Cloud and Townsend’s Boundaries books are also very helpful.

      6. Okay. Very good. Thanks for sharing that information. I apologize if I misrepresented her in any fashion, I was just going by the “clips” that I listened to and they sounded like she was putting physical safety far above emotional safety and I thought she said in one of them, that she only recommended separation if there was a dangerous situation. Maybe it was an older clip. I have not read any of her books. Because a lot of court systems do not see violence without striking and injuring the person, as physical abuse, this changes the dynamics for lots of victims. Once you are enveloped so deeply in the emotional abuse, you become blinded to it and it makes it harder to leave. It cripples you and we all know from this blog, that it is very hard to escape. I think that portion of abuse needs to be talked about more.

        I agree, all of us here take marriage very seriously, but after what I have lived through, I could not in godly conscience, tell a woman who was so emotionally abused, that she should just take a step back and give it some thought before she considered leaving the abuse.

        “If we are not so beaten down emotionally that we can make attempt to change our communication techniques that could possibly make the marriage better, we should.”

        I just have not ever seen this type of situation in relation to abuse in the marriage. I do not define abuse as a communication problem. Just my opinion from a lifetime of abuse.

      7. I have seen some people, very few, that although the abuser makes attempts of every kind to cause harm his prey, they say “you can’t change me or hurt me”. I am sure that God is giving them His strength in order to accomplish that. I have also heard other women ask “How can you be married to a man like that”. Personally, I have gained more strength after leaving.

      8. I have not read the book but I was relieved to see she addresses separation/divorce on her blog postings, aug 5&12. I have found her material frustrating in the past because it seemed like she skirted around that part. Happy to see she is willing to have the discussion and found her perspective refreshing.

  2. I like Leslie and her videos, I just wish there wasn’t so much of this “and SOMETIMES, separation may be necessary” right after mentioning calling the police and pressing charges.
    I’m having Nancy DeMoss flashbacks
    Someday I hope that our emphasis will be on the victim’s right to flee & right to feel safe, without all these addendums about taking as much abuse as you possibly can beforehand. I know Leslie didn’t say that, it just seems to be implied.

    1. And I think, Katy, that your comment is a good illustration of how easily victims can be triggered into horrible memories by the slightest shade of emphasis, and they can infer things from what was said or unsaid, because they have been so traumatized by rotten and I mean ROTTEN teaching such as DeMoss’s. And advocates and supporters of victims need to bear in mind how much pain victims may still be carrying because of twisted theology, and how we need to be very careful in how we articulate things so as to minimise the risk of our words being heard through that filter and triggering the victim. However, at the same time, we as victims I think can use such trigger-moments to further our recovery, by re-affirming to ourselves that the rotten theology was w.r.o.n.g. — and that God rejects it so we can reject it too, and need not be ‘under’ it any more.

      1. I am becoming more aware of these triggers and “sometimes” I can even stop and thank God for His healing before I let it get me.

      2. I was slow to appreciate Leslie for many of the same reasons mentioned already. However, I have been able to get a copy of her upcoming book and I found it to be very good. She is very clear, very sensitive, very honest about how poorly the church has responded (and actually added to) the pain of those who are in abusive relationships. Her test for deciding what level of damaging relationship you are in is very enlightening and affirming.
        In recent days on her blog she has been attacked by a conservative … ” love them to repentance” kind of person and has stood her ground with grace but also strength. I’ve been very impressed by her responses and am thankful for another voice in this epidemic.
        She also mentions Barbara’s book and speaks highly of her as well as A Cry for Justice in her resources page. !!! So glad and encouraged to see that.

    2. Katy-I too see that implication, but from what Barb shared above, from Leslie’s new book, perhaps it is just old information or just something that just stood out. I tend to be very sensitive to the issue of leaving only for intense and unrelenting physical abuse, as it does leave some victims no way out. As a victim of abuse, the tendency is to diminish or minimize the abuse, so when someone says, “Well did the abuser ever break your jaw? Your arm? Then you were not really abused and have no reason to leave”, it can really put the victims of less physical and more emotional, spiritual, etc., abuse into deep confusion and despair. I’d be willing to bet if we asked 10 people on the street what they pictured in their minds when the term “domestic abuse” was presented to them, that they would overwhelmingly say something like broken bones, hospitalized with blackened eyes, etc., not broken minds and spirits. I am not saying here, that every person who has been emotionally abused in their marriage, should divorce. As we all know, everyone’s situation is different and that has to be left up to the victim and God.

      As you heal, you will find that these “triggers”, while they may not lessen, will help you learn how to handle the bad memories and the pain better, each time they come. At first, I felt like I was in a whirlwind and incredibly overwhelmed by them. Like ripping open a freshly closing wound, only to bleed again. But now I can take a step back and realize that it is the pain, fear and memories that are resurfacing, usually very suddenly, and that God is able to wash over that and bring His truth and healing to my heart, soul and mind. He has. He continues to. I remind myself that He hated what happened to me, and that He never approved of it and that He is the One Who has freed me. It helps remind me that I never want to live like that again and that I need to remember some things, in order to do all that I can to keep that from happening again. You will learn to use those triggers as an aid to yourself and with time, God will heal those wounds and when you find yourself “triggered”, you will put it in it’s rightful place and be stronger each time.

  3. For those on here who are not familiar with Leslie, this should be a real treat. All her videos have been great, and I am looking forward to her new book. She is another ally who understands well the many difficulties associated with destructive relationships.

  4. I really like her emphasis on the fantasy wife. “A blow up doll wife.” Yep. Indeed.

    And I really have to point out that this is just exactly what Debi Pearl has had to deal with in Michael, as it turns out. This is exactly what his view of her and apparently all women is and is why her teaching is so exactly wrong and opposite of Vernick’s. Debi, it seems, has drunk the kool aid and is now teaching other women to do the same. What I was thinking as I listened through this video is Debi needed to hear Vernick’s counsel many years ago.

    If you’re wondering what got me on this track, it’s this article on Michael Pearl’s book, with quotes from him about their honeymoon. Probably I should put in a trigger warning here. But if you do read it, you will see what manner of man he is and why Debi’s teaching is what it is, and how exactly Vernick’s description fits Michael. She might as well have been thinking specifically of him when she spoke.

    I think this was written by an atheist but this atheist gets it.

    CTNAHM: Anticipation (Michael Talks about Sex) [Internet Archive link]

    1. I can’t believe the marriage survived the honeymoon. That man had no conscience whatsoever. He is evil walking with a Bible in his hand. Knowing the Bible in your head doesn’t mean that Jesus is in your heart.

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