Book Review: The Emotionally Destructive Relationship by Leslie Vernick

Some time ago, a counselor friend sent me Leslie Vernick‘s emotionally destructive relationship test. A relationship I was in had just ended, and what was left was big a ol’ emotional mess.

I took Vernick’s online test (which is the same as is in the book), and was shocked at the results. I knew the relationship had issues, but I was sincerely shocked at just how emotionally destructive it really was, at how emotionally damaged I was, and at how destructive I had become.

I read Vernick’s entire book, The Emotionally Destructive Relationship: Seeing It, Stopping It, Surviving It, this year, and it’s quite an amazing guide for identifying emotionally damaging behaviors in yourself and others, for determining what to do about them, and for getting past the damage.

So here’s a few things I learned:

Thing No. 1: A destructive relationship is not the same thing as a difficult one.

This is key, because while all relationships will likely have some elements of difficulty, not all relationships will become destructive. It’s important to discern the difference, and the relationship assessment does a good job at helping you identify difficult vs. destructive, using a scale of always, often, sometimes, seldom and never.

Thing No. 2: Discern the difference between your problem and your partner’s problem.

Vernick says that we often get stuck in destructive relationships because we work on fixing the other person in ways that are beyond our control. We can’t change other people, only ourselves.

Thing No. 3: Who do you, Lord, say that I am?

One of the most damaging things to come out of my destructive relationship was a shattered self-image. I was told by my partner and by my own mind that I was a liar, untrustworthy, selfish, prideful, a hypocrite, and so on. After it was all said and done, I didn’t know what was true. Was I really all of those things, and if so how, and why?

It was a very taxing mental and emotional exercise to work through what was true and what wasn’t. Vernick’s approach on this was to not to listen to others but to seek what God had to say. The Holy Spirit will convict for sins and wrongs; we don’t need other people to do the Spirit’s job. Self-image shouldn’t be based on what another person says I am, but about who God says I am.

Viewing yourself how God sees you is beautifully humbling because I know that I do not deserve to be seen that way. Scripture uses phrases like most-precious possession, without fault, and His masterpiece, and I’m like, “But God, I’m a filthy rag.” Isn’t grace wonderful??

Finally, Thing No. 4: Let It Go

Culture, society and even the church tell us that the key to healing or growing or achieving what we want to achieve is to do more. Read your Bible. Get involved in ministry. Seek counseling and wisdom. Better yourself. Etc. And all those things are good. But they will never result in the stability that only God can give if we continue to hold on to things like … unrealistic expectations, negative emotions like anger or bitterness, and lies.

The last chapters walk through how to let go –here’s a clue: it’s a choice — and methods that will help.

This book has been a huge help to me as I have tried to process all that happened and all that’s leftover in the aftermath. I highly, highly recommend it for anyone who is in a difficult relationship, currently or in the past, and needs help working through it.


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