Review of Leslie Vernick’s new book: The Emotionally Destructive Marriage

Reading Ms. Vernick’s new book on abuse has been refreshing to my soul for many reasons. When I first began, I tried to read it through the eyes of the woman I once was — the woman who was hanging by a thread in an abusive marriage — the woman who was not even sure what I was experiencing WAS abusive — the woman who felt crazy and did not know why. When I took the tests at the beginning of the book that determine whether or not a woman is in an emotionally destructive marriage, it made my skin crawl. Memories came flooding back. Any doubt that may have crept into my mind over the past year or so dissipated. I even learned (through the tests) that “crazy making” was my ex’s favorite form of emotional abuse. Ms. Vernick’s book is good for all: those who are in the trenches, those who who are trying to work on their marriage, those who are breaking free, and those who have left abusive relationships.

Ms. Vernick breaks the book into three sections: (1) Seeing your marriage clearly (2) Change begins with you and (3) Initiating changes in your marriage. The crux of the work, however, is her emphasis on “developing your CORE”. Ms. Vernick believes that there is hope for destructive marriages. She wants to offer that hope. However, she is not dogmatic about this.  As hard as it is for me to believe, there are marriages that can survive emotional abuse . . . there are men and women who are willing to admit to  abuse and begin taking the long road from repentance to massive change. This was hard for me to swallow. One of the blessed aspects of this book is that Leslie Vernick is clear about what that road looks like and how difficult it is.

Ms. Vernick gives a blueprint for how a woman can approach her husband (all the while creating clear boundaries) about abuse and the needed change. But, before all of this can happen, the CORE must be developed. A woman/victim must be . . .

Committed to Truth and Reality — That is, admitting to herself that the marriage is in a bad place. No more covering, pretending or masking.

Open to Growth, Instruction and Feedback — This is where we put on humility (confessing that the old way is not working and a willingness to try a new way)

Responsible for Myself and Respectful Toward Others Without Dishonoring Myself — I especially liked this part. Writes Vernick, “If you are going to stay in this marriage, then stay well; and if you are going to leave your marriage, then leave well.”  (p. 112)

Empathic and Compassionate Toward Others Without Enabling People to Continue to Abuse or Disrespect Her — This CORE attribute maintains the dignity of the victim. A woman must protect herself from taking on any of the characteristics of the abuser.

Once these CORE values are in place, Vernick then gives the go-ahead for confrontation of the abusive spouse.

Disclaimer: I realized, as I was reading this book, that my ex-husband would not have tolerated my “building my core”. There would have been no breathing room to do so, either. If he had found a book like this one, he would have raged. I would be in hiding all the time. When he saw me displaying any sort of grace-filled or graceful conduct, he would drive me to the point of distraction. I realize that this plan cannot work for every single marriage. And the author recognizes this. But, for some, Vernick offers hope. Throughout her book, Ms. Vernick is very aware of the plight of an abused woman and her tendencies. She reminds the reader over and over again that God cares more about human beings than He does about marriage.

As I read through the author’s plan for approaching an abusive husband (which is spot-on) and the possible outcomes (good and bad) of her approach, I became more and more confident that I had done everything possible to “save” my  first marriage. It was very affirming, as I had (unknowingly) tried almost everything Ms. Vernick suggests. I feared, however, that she was not going to offer an option if it did not work. She stresses the fact that a woman cannot hold a marriage together on her own . . . but I was not entirely sure that Ms. Vernick was going to support divorce if all of these things did not “work”. Thankfully, toward the end of the book, she writes that divorce is not just permissible, but encouraged, for the sake of the protection and stability of a woman and her children (as a last resort) if things are not getting better and are only getting worse. After giving women a voice and empowering us to begin to make decisions on our own, searching Scripture and seeking out wisdom . . . after stating clearly that every situation is different and no one can tell women what to do . . . she writes this:

” . . . for some women, divorce might be the best choice because of her and her children’s safety and sanity. I’ve already shared 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 . . . ” p. 176

Particularly encouraging to my heart was Appendix B of “The Emotionally Destructive Marriage”. There, the author lists five common mistakes “people helpers” make. Among them was “Encouraging the Wife to Try Harder”. It is a fine line to try to help a wife keep herself from dishonoring herself (it is very difficult when she is being made crazy on a daily basis) without sounding like she is being blamed. Vernick states the importance of not using a counseling session to further the abusive husband’s control by pointing out what the wife “needs to work on, as well”. This was an important finding for me in the book.

Overall, I am grateful that I read it and I highly suggest this book (coming out in September) to those who are not sure if they are being emotionally abused or to those who believe there is a chance for healing in their marriage OR for those who want to be sure they have done everything they can . . . before they leave well. Vernick’s book is affirming and refreshing. Read it and be edified.

2 Replies to “Review of Leslie Vernick’s new book: The Emotionally Destructive Marriage”

  1. this is awesome, I want to read this book! Even though I am long divorced from my abuser I would like to see if I tried any of the things she mentions… although at the time I was pretty sure that I’d “done everything I could do” – i’m just curious. I am also floored that there are people who abuse their spouses this way and then actually change — it seems so uncommon!

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