Monday, February 28, 2005

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops stand on domestic violence

0 comments Posted by Hannah at 1:32 PM

Domestic Violence with Christian homes isn't what some feel is extreme or almost non-existent. Within my search for emotional abuse and faith articles I did come across some denominations listing the church's stands on abuse within christian marriages.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops

Link to the Catholics Stand on Domestic Abuse.

Friday, February 25, 2005

The Silent Killer of Christian Marriages by Amy Wildman White from Healing the Hurting

70 comments Posted by Hannah at 12:38 PM

This article from Safe Place Ministries was one of the first I found when I start to search the net for article on 'Emotional Abuse' and faith! I couldn't believe how hard it was to find articles with the domestic violence within the church, or verbal abuse within the faith.

I was so thankful to finally find something, and wanted to share with everyone!


"The Silent Killer of Christian Marriages"
by Amy Wildman White
from Healing the Hurting, Catherine Clark Kroeger & James R. Beck, Editors
Used by permission of Baker Book House Company, copyright Ó1998
All rights to this material are reserved. Materials are not to be distributed to other web locations for retrieval, published in other media, or mirrored at other sites without written permission from Baker Book House Company.

Emotional abuse, as well as all other forms of abuse, is on the rise in our society, and the Christian community is not exempt. 'Emotional abuse' in the marital relationship is often undetected or misdiagnosed. It is hoped that this text will be an informative tool to aid those who are in an abusive relationship or those in ministerial capacities to better counsel victims and their abusers. Effecting change is essential, as emotional abuse over time will destroy a marriage.

This text provides a diagnostic framework to help identify the victim and the abuser, includes a theological statement responding to the question of whether abuse is legitimate grounds for divorce, and offers a case study of emotional abuse. It is hoped that this material will be used to promote the growth of successful, fulfilling marriages and to provide the stimulus for further study and research. It is in no way intended to promote divorce.

Erica desperately wanted out of her marriage with Jack, but she could not connect her feelings of despair and an almost overpowering desire to escape with anything overtly destructive Jack was doing. Jack was a good father, had no problem with alcohol or drugs, did not chase other women, was a good provider, and had never harmed her physically. By contrast, Erica was aware of her own shortcomings as a wife and mother. She experienced guilt, feelings of inaquacy, and embarrassment over her inability to respond sexually to her husband.

Frequently, this is the presenting picture of a woman in an emotionally abusive marriage. In the absence of physical abuse, neither the woman nor the pastor she seeks out for help is likely to recognize that the emotional climate of the marriage is squeezing the life out of her.

There is little room for disagreement over what constitutes physical abuse, and its damaging or even lethal potential is recognized by almost everyone. The nature and impact of emotional abuse, however, is not so easily nor widely recognized. Although the signs of emotional abuse are not always clear, the abuser's behavior is not obvious, and the immediate results are not dramatic as in physical abuse, emotional abuse represents an oppressive and insidious process that strikes deeply at the hearts of its victims.

Even in cases of physical abuse, the most damaging element is not the violence that is done to the body but the violence that is done to the human spirit--a violence that is dehumanizing and leaves its victims feeling confused, vulnerable, trapped, and worthless. How then do we define emotional abuse?

It is fair to assume that in one relationship or another each of us has been emotionally hurtful but not necessarily abusive. That is, by something we have said or done, or by withholding love, we have caused emotional pain to someone. The frequency of these patterns varies among individuals. At what point do we identify a person as an emotionally abusive individual?

The Characteristics of Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse cannot be reduced to a single list of negative behaviors. One must look deeper to identify and understand the motivational factors beneath the behaviors that create the oppressive, controlling climate a woman feels destined to live in.

The Traits of an Abusive Husband

The key motivational factor that defines an emotionally abusive person is a deep-seated need to be in control. Because of the abuser's insecurities, feelings of inadequacy, and distorted beliefs about women and marriage, he feels he must control his wife or lose her. The abuser will use manipulative and heavy-handed tactics to keep his wife off balance. For example, the abuser may resort to intimidation, eliciting fear, guilt, pity, or anger making a person feel vulnerable, in danger, unprotected, or helpless put-downs, criticism, or verbal abuse causing shame or humiliation controlling another's schedule keeping another ignorant regarding herself, the world, finances, or others keeping a person in crisis, and thus occupied and off balance conspiracy and turning others away from aiding the person creating situations in which there is no way to win lying or gossip threatening self-harm or suicide possessiveness and jealousy. Although the behaviors in and of themselves are forms of abuse, it is the constant climate of destruction that leaves a woman believing she is trapped, with no confidence or hope that there is a way out. A woman in an emotionally abusive marriage does not believe she has any choices. She believes she carries the responsibility for the bad marriage and that if only she could change, her marriage would improve. No matter what she does differently, however, the marriage never gets better.

The abuser has a typical profile. Like his wife, the abusive husband has low self-esteem, and his worth is often tied to his performance, image, or personal charm. He has a strong sense of insecurity that includes a fear of losing the love and esteem of others. He is generally distrustful of others and believes he does not have a secure place in important relationships.

The abusive person is self-referenced, meaning he sees things from his own frame of reference rather than empathically looking at things from another's perspective. This is not the same as being selfish. It can be said that the self-referenced person would give you the shirt off his back, but he doesn't know you need it. The self-referenced person frequently violates the marriage partnership by acting without thoughtfully considering his partner's point of view and needs.

The abusive individual is also emotionally dependent, feeling that he is less than complete, of diminished worth, inadequate, or unable to live without the other person. The dependent person tends to assume responsibility for another, taking on the role of rescuer, enabler, or controller (e.g., "I know what is best for you."). The intent of the abuser is to prevent the loss of the partner because he is emotionally dependent on her. It is understandable, then, why possessiveness is another characteristic of the abuser. He tries to monopolize the time and attention of his wife, or claims exclusivity in areas when others move close to the object of his love.

For anyone who works with abusive men, the most frustrating characteristic is their lack of insight. When interacting with this type of individual, one is often left feeling as if he or she has just gone in circles. Issues presented are minimized, denied, or turned around to make someone else responsible, or a host of other topics are brought in to sidetrack the conversation. The process of change is most often slow or nonexistent.

The Traits of an Emotionally Abused Wife

Every woman in an emotionally abusive relationship can be characterized as having low self-esteem. Although low self-esteem is always characteristic of an abused woman, it is not always obvious. Many women with low self-esteem appear confident and in control, and many seem to "really have their act together."

Low self-esteem makes a woman vulnerable to the controlling tactics of the abuser. Because she feels she has little value, she looks to her husband's acceptance of her as the measure of her worth. Instead of mirroring to her the truth about her value and dignity, he pulls her down even further by his critical and nonaffirming posture toward her. He exercises a form of mind control that results in the victim's taking on the frame of reference of the abuser, developing feelings of guilt and inadequacy for not meeting his standards and needs. This is complicated even more by her need for the marital relationship.

A woman's identity is often based on her relationships. This is generally not true for a man. Men need relationships, but they tend to draw their identity from vocational expression, academic achievement, athletic success, or material gain. Because a woman's identity is often based on relationships, she is vulnerable to being involved in an abusive relationship. A strong part of her identity is being a wife, and she will do anything she can to maintain that identity. As a result, she forms a false sense of dependency, believing that she cannot stand emotionally without her partner. The husband reinforces this with statements such as "No one will ever love you like I do," "All you are to men is a sex object," or "You can't make it on your own financially." A victim of emotional abuse believes her husband is right, or at the least she has strong doubts about herself.

One of the most consistent characteristics of an emotionally abused woman is her inability to sexually respond to her husband. Loss of sexual desire for her partner is an inevitable consequence of the deterioration of trust and the lack of friendship and intimacy that result from long-term abuse. This loss is not voluntary on the woman's part. She hears messages from her own upbringing, her husband, or the church that accuse her of not being a good wife if she does not meet her husband's sexual needs. This causes her to experience feelings of guilt.

The wife in these situations experiences intercourse as an indignity, almost as rape, because the physical and the deeply personal, loving aspects of sex have been torn asunder. Intimacy and trust, which lay the necessary foundation for a woman to respond sexually, have been removed from the relationship. Yet, she is still expected to meet her husband's sexual needs.

In order to manage her emotions, the woman will often detach herself emotionally from what is going on, becoming more of an observer than a participant. The guilt over not being able to be more responsive can be overwhelming. Yet, no matter how hard she tries, she cannot respond. Her partner adds to her dilemma with statements such as "If you really loved me, you would do this for me," "A good wife is supposed to satisfy her husband," or "If I just wanted sex, I could get that anywhere, but I'm a faithful husband. You should take care of me or maybe I'll have to get my needs met elsewhere." She is left feeling guilty, inadequate, afraid, and helpless.

These feelings commonly result in depressive episodes alternating with reactive behavior. If a woman has no effective means for handling feelings of hurt, helplessness, fear, guilt, and anger, she may engage in self-mutilation or self-deprecating behavior, or she may find expression of her strong emotions in organic disease. At the extreme end of the continuum, a woman may plan, attempt, or commit suicide.

It cannot be emphasized enough that even if individual controlling and hurtful acts of the abuser are not extreme, the cumulative effect of his tactics is oppressive and destructive to the woman experiencing them.

Responses to Emotionally Abusive Marriages

What is the prognosis for an abusive marriage and what options are open to a woman who is a victim? When a woman begins to recognize manipulation and control and finds the resources to grow toward increasing independence, the marriage is brought to a crisis point. Most likely when the woman is no longer able to be manipulated, the husband will escalate in his abusive patterns.

It may be extremely difficult for the wife to convey what she has experienced. The community will probably be unable to see past the charming ways of the husband. People will often respond in a scrutinizing or critical manner toward the wife or reject her altogether. Many may give the husband a supportive ear instead of holding him accountable. This behavior inadvertently encourages him to continue his abuse. Abusive men draw energy and self-justification from people who listen in silence. When the crowds disappear, the wife becomes the target of his increased anger.

With the escalation of abuse and/or the response of unsupportive friends, the wife may either sink back into a depressed, helpless state or move toward separation and divorce. At this point a husband may become desperate and be willing to work toward change because he knows he will no longer be able to sustain the marriage through control. If the husband is truly broken regarding his behavior, intensive individual and marital counseling are vital for the restoration of the marriage. Some men, however, refuse to change. If a man does refuse to change, what option remains for a woman who is the victim of emotional abuse? What about separation and divorce?

These questions can be answered properly by first understanding the biblical view of marriage. Marriage is, primarily, a covenant with God to love and honor one another, to participate in partnership and mutual submission. Submission is often greatly misunderstood.

Both men and women are called to submit to God first and then to each other (Eph. 5:21; James 4:7). This submission to God and one another constitutes the biblical basis of the marriage covenant. In evangelical circles, the neglect of this teaching, or the misinterpretation of it, has led to an erroneous view of submission. The submissive role is assigned to the wife, while the husband fails to submit to Christ in his role as the head of the home. Headship is then defined as the man being in a higher position in the home, apart from the teaching of Christ, and in practice gives him the authority to rule as he desires. When a woman is not seen as being equal to her husband in dignity and is not treated with love and respect, people have distorted the scriptural view of marriage.

Biblical submission, by contrast, symbolizes the relationship between Christ and his church. We are always to look to Christ as our role model. Christ submitted willingly, in a place of strength, and for a purpose. A victim of emotional abuse submits involuntarily, out of weakness, and such submission does not glorify God. Therefore, a woman is not submitting and suffering for the sake of righteousness. She suffers because an abusive man cannot control himself and victimizes her in order to elevate his own self-esteem and sense of security.

Some people respond by saying that in Christ all things are possible and the woman should trust God to bring healing and restoration. All things are possible with God, but God, while willing, able, and wanting to do his part, leaves man to do his. God can bring healing, but both persons must be willing to do what God has called them to do or healing will not take place. No matter what a woman is willing to do or does, the marriage cannot be healed unless an abusive man changes his beliefs and his behavior, brings significant resolution to emotional pain from his own life, and grows in character.

The marriage relationship is intended to be a permanent one in which both partners are to have mutual respect, love, and knowledge of one another. This kind of relationship and abuse are mutually exclusive. When abuse occurs in marriage, the relationship becomes a setting for oppression, personal disintegration, and pain rather than a context for promoting the well-being of the partners.

To suggest that women who are being abused remain in the relationship rejects Scripture on several counts. First, God places great value on those whom he has called (1 Chron. 16:34; Pss. 6:4; 139:13-18; John 3:16; Rom. 5:8). Abuse, therefore, is in direct contradiction to how God's children should be treated. Second, by allowing an abuser to continue in his destructive patterns, a woman is not loving him. She enables him, permits him, to continue in sin. Finally, abuse places a woman in a relationship in which she is unequal to her husband. She becomes an object to satisfy the abuser's dependency and his need to continually act out unresolved hurt and pain. The victim is a means to an end.

What constitutes grounds for divorce has been an issue of debate within the Christian community. The Westminster Confession of Faith acknowledges two grounds for divorce: adultery and abandonment. Abandonment is sometimes limited to physical desertion, but this interpretation holds to the letter of the law and neglects the spirit of the law. Let us pursue this concept by way of hypothetical examples.

What if a husband chains his wife to a basement wall, freeing her only to do household chores? Has he not abandoned her as his wife? Or, suppose a man moves away physically and sends his wife enough money to live on but has no emotional or physical contact with her. Has he not abandoned her as his wife? If, then, a man is emotionally abusive, creating a new definition of marriage quite inconsistent with what Christ intended, has he not abandoned a woman as his wife?

When abuse exists, and the abuser refuses to change his attitudes and behavior, he has in fact abandoned his wife. He has chosen to serve himself instead of carrying out his marital obligations to love, honor, and cherish her. When this occurs, the marriage covenant has been broken. He has in effect chosen divorce by defiantly neglecting his marriage vows, giving the woman the right to file a legal suit.

Some people appeal to 1 Corinthians 7, saying a woman has grounds for divorce in the case of abandonment only if her husband is an unbeliever. This forces the question, Can anyone secure protection by claiming to be a believer? If a person continues in sinful patterns, the church is to treat the person as an unbeliever and send him or her out of the community. If the person discontinues the sin, then he or she may return. If someone continues in destructive patterns, it is reasonable to question whether that person is a believer. If a husband is destroying his wife by his words and behavior and refuses to change, is his heart right with God? "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks" (Matt. 12:34 NRSV).

Although we cannot know a man's heart for certain, 1 John does give us a framework for discerning if someone is a Christian. One criterion is whether a person loves others according to the definition found in 1 Corinthians 13. A second criterion is whether he obeys God's commandments. In ongoing abusive relationships, neither love nor obedience is carried out. There is reason to doubt that an abusive person who refuses to change is a Christian.

It seems that an emotionally abusive marriage can survive only if the woman breaks free from manipulative control and moves to a place of strength, thereby forcing the husband either to change or to lose the relationship. The husband is unlikely to change unless the cost of staying the same is too great.

Unless pastors and counselors can recognize the often subtle and always complex dynamics of emotional abuse, women will continue to be victimized first by their husbands and then by the church or the community. An abusive man who is not held accountable is indirectly supported and given license to continue his destructive patterns, and those around him become enablers. Women are not treated with dignity and respect, as God intended, and so God is not honored.

If the church is committed to saving marriages, understanding emotional abuse and applying proper counseling strategies are necessary conditions to make this happen. There is hope for victims and their abusers if the right steps are taken. If they are not, emotional abuse will continue to kill Christian marriages.


Since that article was written, and I first posted this 2/25/05 to date of 7/2/08 I have seen more information about emotional abuse within the church. I have seen more articles about abusive christian marriages as well. Sermons on Domestic Abuse are starting to pop up here and there as well! I hope that pastors continue to preach Domestic Violence Sermons, and people get more educated. Its still the silent killer of christian marriages, and my prayer is that the light of truth be shinning brightly on it so that others may be saved the pain and agony!

Thursday, February 24, 2005

God of the Covenant - Sermon about Domestic Violence

0 comments Posted by Hannah at 10:01 PM

Sermon speaks of 'domestic violence against women', and abuse of the 'Christian Faith'. 'The subtle power of spiritual abuse', and misuse of 'submission'.

God of the Covenant

God of the Covenant

A Sermon By
Rev. Connie Peake


Several parts of the body tried to determine who would be boss: The brain said, "Since I already coordinate every function of the body I am the logical choice to be boss." The heart objected, saying "Without my pumping blood throughout the body, none would be able to function, so I should be boss." The eyes said, "Without us the body would not know where it was going. We should be boss." The mouth said, "I speak for the body. I should be boss." One by one, each member of the body gave his reason as to why he should be boss. Finally the neck spoke up and said that he should be the boss. "You!" said the brain. "Why you? You don't do anything to begin with. "Yeah," said the heart. "We wouldn't even miss you if you weren't here." This made the neck very mad and he became tense. His muscles knotted up, and he began to exert excruciating pain. So intense was the pain, that the brain couldn't think. The eyes became blurry, and the heart had to work so hard that it became tired and began to skip a beat every now and then. After a week of this, all the parts of the body agreed that the neck could be boss. The moral of the story? You don't have to be a brain or have a heart to be boss; all you have to do is be a pain in the neck.

Who's the boss? We spend much of our lives striving to balance being in control with being controlled. Even in our faith we often find ourselves struggling against God. The Old Testament is a story of the Chosen People, trying but continually failing to keep their covenant with God. In this covenant Israel is to worship and follow God alone, and in return, they will be God's chosen people.

What do you think of when you think of a covenant? Webster says it's a solemn agreement or a promise. Interestingly, the Greek word for covenant is (diatheke), and is often translated testament. It is a word used in legal situations, such as in a treaty or a last will and testament. The equivalent Hebrew word, , also means both covenant or testament. We could legitimately refer the parts of our Bibles as The Old Covenant and the New Covenant instead of the Old and New Testaments, and in fact some scholars feel this would be a better translation. A covenant is, in a sense, a treaty or contract where each party agrees to follow a particular policy in return for the other's commitment to a particular behavior. The covenant is in effect until one party or the other fails to keep the agreement, or until it is mutually dissolved.

Jeremiah 31:27-34 prophesies that the old covenant has been so broken that it tastes of sour grapes, so a new and different covenant will be made, one that will be written on their hearts. It will be a more personal and direct relationship between God and God's people. The old covenant no longer exists because the people have destroyed it.

Several weeks ago I attended a workshop put on by our Presbytery called "Peace in the Family" about domestic violence. Although it's a problem which is far too often ignored and minimized, the statistics are indeed frightening. In our country a woman is abused every nine seconds. It's not an isolated problem, it is rampant in every community, including our own. Silence promotes the problem; when we take no stand, when we do nothing, it is tantamount to saying it is OK. All forms of violence and abuse are a sin. Each and every person is unique and special, created by God and called to enjoy God and each other. Each of us has the right to be free from abuse and harm. None of us has the right to use or abuse another person, especially not to achieve our own power or privilege.

One of the areas we explored was the church's tacit role in upholding violence. Just because a tradition has a long history does not make it right. Scripture has often been used as a club to force victims back into a dangerous and destructive situation. How often have you heard that the Bible teaches a wife is to be submissive to her husband? Frequently, I'd guess, but how often do we hear the surrounding verses? Let's look at them again. It begins, "Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ." What does being subject to one another mean? It means to accommodate, to give way to; in other words, we should all be flexible with each other, we should be as concerned for the other's welfare as well as for our own.

Another way to say it is to honor Christ and to put others first. This is speaking to all relationships for all people. Then the advice gets more specific to the marriage relationship. Wives should put their husbands first as they put Christ first, as the head of his body, the church. The idea of the church as a body is frequently used in the Bible, because no one part can function without the rest. Now, doubtless, the passage is not telling the wife she can be boss by becoming a pain in the neck! But neither is it giving any part full rein to be the boss. The wife is told to put her husband first, but the husband is told to love his wife as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it. He should love her as he loves himself, and care for her as he cares for his own body. By no stretch of the imagination can we see this mutuality of care as justification of one demeaning or abusing the other. When one part of the body destroys another part we get decay and death. It doesn't matter if that partner feels it is justified or provoked, or that the abuse is seen as "for their own good," it still destroys the body. Domestic abuse covers not only physical abuse but a wide variety of behaviors which batter and destroy a person. They include verbal abuse, sexual abuse, stalking, and emotional abuse. Any behavior which seeks to control, isolate, demean or humiliate is abusive.

As Christians, we consider marriage to be a covenant between a man, a woman, and God. In this covenant they bind themselves exclusively to each other in love. This love is a gift from God, and expression of this love glorifies God in a very special way. Love is not expressed, and God is not glorified when one or both partners become abusive. Often the church disapproves of divorce because it breaks the covenant. Yet, look at Jeremiah. God did not break the covenant, but considered it broken because of the unfaithfulness of the Chosen People. When one partner violates the other, they have in that moment, broken the marriage covenant. When we as the church attempt to shame the victim and hold them to a covenant, which has already been broken, in a sense we violate them again.

Please do not jump to conclusions! I am not advocating divorce! I truly believe in the lasting covenant of marriage. There are times and places for forgiveness, for working out problems; for trying again, but unless we are the one being abused, you and I have no right to demand anyone go back and be subjected to more abuse! There was a sobering display of a long clothesline at the Peace in the Family Conference . On this line were hung shirts decorated in memory of a person killed by domestic abuse in Minnesota during 1996. Each one had a brief description of the situation of that person's death.

If you were God, how would you feel about one of your special creations being wounded and abused? Would you look on a marriage as loving when one person battered another with words or fists or kept them from growing in any way into the person you created them to be?

"I'm lonely," Adam told God in the Garden of Eden. "I need to have someone around for company." "OK," replied God. "I'm going to give you the perfect woman. Beautiful, intelligent and gracious--she'll cook and clean for you and never say a cross word." "Sounds good," Adam said. "But what's she going to cost?" "An arm and a leg." "That's pretty steep," countered Adam. "What can I get for just a rib?"

Are you willing to spend an arm and a leg? a rib? The cost of building any good relationship is high. Building a friendship, a marriage, even a strong congregation all take hard work. It takes being willing to set aside our own needs occasionally for the sake of others. But it also takes sticking our necks out occasionally to get our own needs met. When anyone seeks to gain control of another it destroys so much of the work that has gone into building that relationship.

This is such a difficult subject, one we're much more comfortable avoiding. We can stick our heads in the sand and see nothing, but it doesn't change what's going on. The problem will not go away on its own. Too many people are hurting. Abuse triggers more abuse. An incredibly high percentage of convicts in jail have been victims of childhood abuse. An incredibly high percentage of those perpetrating abuse today have come from a home where abuse was prevalent. Where does it stop?

This is not just a woman's issue, for each time anyone is abused, we all lose. Every time we say, "It's not my business," we are turning our back on a child of God of this generation and most likely, of succeeding generations. What can we do? We can name the abuse. We can refuse to cover our eyes. We can hold people accountable for their behavior. We can study our scriptures and examine the role of the Church. We can work with shelters and refuse to tolerate attitudes of "ownership", where one person has a right to use, control, or belittle another. There is something so much more painful when the one who is injuring you is someone whom you trust, someone with whom you have forged a bond. Examine your own life to see if there are ways you are using or abusing others for your own benefit. See if you are on a power trip which is limiting your relationships in any phase of your life. Listen for cries for help and have the courage to act. I'm delighted if there has been no abuse in your life. if you are suffering abuse tell someone, do something to stop it or get away from it. God loves you far too much to allow this to continue.

Most of all, look to God's new covenant. Search out what is written on your heart. Pray. Listen to God's call for us in our lives. Relationships don't just happen; they don't come without cost, and they don't happen without work. See each person as a unique gift from God to the world. Cherish the people in your life. Treat those you love most with the greatest kindness. Friendship is a gift from God. Love is a gift from God. Praise God from whom all blessings flow.

'Abuse in religion' should not be, and it goes against the spirit of what God stands for! 'Domestic violence victims' should have a safe haven within the christian faith! People need to remember that if an abusive relationship is happening neglect of the children may be also present.

Saturday, February 19, 2005

When Words Hurt - Abusive Relationships

0 comments Posted by Hannah at 5:56 PM

The article from below speaks of the emotional abuse, and the power of words. How Christian abuse with the use of scripture is used to shut down, and humiliate others. The Effects of Emotional Abuse, and what people don't see is the emotional child abuse that can be targeted as well. At the end I referenced some books sources that the author used.

Marsha’s stomach tightened. She had innocently asked her husband Dan what he had planned for the afternoon. She wanted to make sure he wasn’t depending on her to be at home. She was still shaken from the anger Dan had expressed the day before when he found out she had gone shopping without telling him. For several long minutes in the middle of last night’s dinner he had glared and shouted, and threatened to take away the checkbook and the car if she didn’t start checking with him first. So now, the next morning, Marsha was cautiously asking him about his plans for the day.
Typically, Dan misread her motives: “Why do I always have to tell you what I’m going to do?” he snapped.

Marsha could feel her body beginning to tense more. “You don’t,” she said timidly. “I was just wondering if you might like to do something this afternoon.”

“Well, I just don’t know why you expect me to tell you everything I’m doing,” Dan said, even more angrily.

“Why are you getting so upset? I never said you had to tell me everything,” Marsha replied.

“I’m not upset. You always make such a big deal out of nothing!” Dan snarled.

“I wasn’t trying to make a big deal out of anything,” Marsha reasoned. “All I did was simply ask—” Before she could finish explaining herself, Dan cut her off and in a loud voice shouted, “Don’t try to deny it. You always do that!” After a few seconds of awkward silence, Dan slammed his fist on the table and continued, “Why don’t you just shut your big mouth and drop it! You don’t have a clue what it means to be a submissive wife, and you’re probably too stupid to ever get it!”

“Okay, Dan, I’ll drop it,” Marsha conceded.

“You’re not going to get off that easy,” Dan shouted. “You always try to get in the last word!”

Exasperated, Marsha exclaimed, “But I thought you wanted me to drop it!

Marsha continued trying to explain herself, but there was no reasoning with Dan. He persisted to twist what she was saying and to call her more derogatory names. A phone call mercifully ended the episode. But Marsha left that conversation, as she had left many others, feeling belittled, confused, and guilty. She wondered what she had said to make Dan so mad and why she couldn’t get him to understand her.

Conversations like Marsha and Dan’s illustrate how spouses can hurt their partners by what they say. No punches were thrown. There was no slapping or shoving (although there could
have been). Instead, Dan used his words to beat up his wife.

Using words as weapons is a practice that is as old as human language, but we still don’t give it the attention it deserves. While we have come a long way in understanding the damage that physical and sexual abuse can do, many of us have still not realized that we can injure others with our words perhaps even more than with our fists.

The purpose of this booklet is to call our attention to the power of words to help or to hurt. While we’ll deal primarily with the misuse of words in the marriage relationship, the principles covered can be applied to other relationships. Our chief concern is for the countless husbands and wives who need help in understanding and reacting in a proper manner to varying degrees of verbal control and harm. Together we need to think carefully about words
that violate the spirit and promise of the marriage covenant.

The author, Jeff Olson, is a licensed counselor in Michigan and works for the RBC Ministries biblical correspondence department.
Table of Contents

We cannot afford to underestimate the importance and power of our words. The New Testament writer James said that even though the human tongue is a small part of the body, it has the power to make a tremendous impact (Jas. 3:1-12). The book of Proverbs reminds us that “the tongue has the power of life and death” (18:21). The language we use to communicate with one another is like a knife. In the hands of a careful and skilled surgeon, a knife can work to do good. But in the hands of a careless or ignorant person, it can cause great harm. So it is with words.

The Power To Do Good. The Bible teaches that a kind word can uplift, nourish, and mend a broken heart. Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” A well-considered word can help to restore confidence, hope, and purpose to a spouse who feels dejected, lost, and confused. For example, a husband could lift the spirits of his wife by saying, “Honey, I appreciate your patience with me lately. I know I’ve been absorbed in my work. I’ve taken you for granted. You’ve been hurting, and I’ve been too preoccupied to realize it.”

The Power To Harm. Remember the schoolyard comeback, “Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me.” It’s a lie. Unkind words do injure—sometimes deeply. Being yelled at or called a name like “stupid” or “idiot,” especially by a spouse, can inflict a wound that will fester for years.

We often don’t take seriously the power of the tongue to assault and its ability to devastate. A few inconsiderate words can kill the spirit of a spouse or a friend. Proverbs 12:18 states that “reckless words pierce like a sword.” James described the tongue as being “full of deadly poison” (3:8). Psalm 52:2 speaks of the tongue as a “sharpened razor” that works to bring about the destruction of another.

Does this mean that we should never cause pain with our words? No. There is a time for “verbal surgery.” Some situations require the compassionate and skillful use of incisive words that may cause pain (Prov. 27:6). All of us need admonition, correction, and constructive criticism at times. Even though they are necessary, such words still hurt. But this is not the kind of pain that harms (2 Cor. 7:8-10). It is pain intended to help us grow.

Far too often, however, a loving motive is missing in the pain we cause with our words. It is more likely that we will use hurtful words in the process of attacking one another. Unfortunately, such instances of verbal warfare are all too common in most of our marriages. As regrettable as it is, almost all marriages experience the conflict and discord that occurs
when both partners use their words to control and hurt each other.

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Conflict is unavoidable in marriage. Because each partner brings his or her own perspective into the relationship, which is influenced by gender, family background, and life experiences, most marriages encounter frequent disagreements and profound differences of opinions.

In healthy relationships, most of these disagreements are resolved in a nondestructive manner. Although married couples may strongly disagree, many learn to work through their conflicts in a way that allows them to disagree with each other in a controlled and respectful manner.
It is just as true, however, that most couples go through periodic moments or seasons when they misuse their words in the midst of conflict. Occasionally, communication breaks down and turns ugly even in the best of relationships. All of us have been guilty to some extent of fighting unfairly and not trying to resolve differences as much as we are trying to manipulate, win, or at least “even the score.”

How Are Words Used To Control And Attack? Knowingly or unknowingly, all of us who are married have used our words to control and hurt our mates. Although the ways we do this can vary in intensity from one relationship to the next, the following is a brief description of the most common tactics couples use to control and attack each other.

1. Guilt trips are an effective means of controlling people or punishing people. When spouses are able to make their partners feel guilty for disagreeing with them or challenging them, they gain power over their mates. The guilt-trip vocabulary can be as straightforward as “I hope you’re happy now” or “What took you so long?” Or it can be more subtle: “It’s always my fault.” For instance, one wife got this response from her husband whenever she pointed out one of his mistakes. He was experienced at making her feel guilty for mentioning anything negative about him.

2. Faultfinding puts spouses under a barrage of criticism. From how they take care of their things, to how they manage money, to how they look, to how they drive the car, spouses can pick apart and lecture their mates. Whether it’s occasional or ongoing, faultfinding allows spouses who are dishing it out to feel superior and makes their partners feel inferior.

3. Name-calling is applying a negative word or phrase to a spouse’s deficiency. Derogatory names like stupid, lazy, idiot, jerk, dumb, or cry baby are used to make a partner feel small and worthless. Spouses may also resort to character assassinations like “You’ve never been much of a wife” or “You’ll never amount to anything.”

4. Yelling occasionally occurs in many marriages. Shouting or blowing up and screaming statements like “What’s your problem!” or “Just shut up and leave me alone!” intimidates a partner. It allows the spouse who is yelling to feel strong and makes the other feel weak, defeated, and terrified of doing or saying anything that might provoke another attack.

5. Sarcasm is another method of control, and it is often a thinly veiled attack. Sarcastic responses such as “whatever” or “sure” (especially accompanied by rolled eyes) discounts and condemns a partner’s point of view. Sarcasm obviously doesn’t set the mood for honest discussion. Instead, it frustrates partners and sabotages the conversation in a way that leaves the offending spouse in charge and on top.

6. Blaming allows one spouse to be exonerated and imposes guilt on the other. When something goes wrong, it’s the other partner’s fault. For example, one wife asked her husband to make a phone call for her and then later scolded him for doing it when the phone call created a problem with another family member. One husband blew up at his wife but then blamed her for causing his outburst. Blame-shifting leaves the innocent partner feeling confused and punished.

7. Put-downs, whether subtle or overt, are also used by some spouses to gain power over their mates. In a very calm yet condescending tone, one husband would talk down to his wife by telling her not to worry about the finances because they were over her head. Other spouses may mock their partners in public for something they did or said. In a public display of power they might say, “Why did you wear that outfit?” or “That wasn’t too bright!” to make their spouses feel foolish and small.

Why Are Words Used To Control And Attack? In one way or another, most husbands and wives have resorted to at least some of the above verbal tactics. And the problem is not just about words. It’s about personal selfishness, anger, or insecurity, compelling us to use words for any of the following purposes:

1. To Get Our Own Way. There’s a selfish streak in all of us. To some degree, we all struggle with wanting to get our own way. One of the things that made Jesus’ life here on earth so remarkable is that He wasn’t selfish. He always put the best interests of others and the purposes of God the Father before His own, even though it caused Him to suffer more than anyone else in history. As the people of Christ, we are called to follow His example of unselfishness wherever that may lead (Phil. 2:3-5). But all of us fall short. At a point of marital disagreement, even mature spouses can act childish and demand to have their own way. Controlling our mates through intimidation or guilt is an effective way to get what we selfishly want and to avoid personal loss.

2. To Get Even. Retaliation is a major reason many spouses turn to tactics such as name-calling or sarcasm. Right or wrong, some spouses feel personally attacked or let down, so they seek to punish their mates. They forget or ignore that vengeance is God’s business (Rom. 12:19). They react out of anger with the intention of “getting even.” Other spouses simply take out personal frustrations on their partners. They’re angry about certain circumstances or at other people, and they want someone—anyone—to suffer for the fact that things aren’t going their way.

3. To Hide. Openness and personal responsibility are fundamental to a marriage. Without them there can be no maturing of the relationship. It may be difficult for us to admit, but sometimes we use words to hide and protect ourselves. Like the first married couple, Adam and Eve, we get scared and try to conceal our failures from our mates and from God (Gen. 3:7-13).

When confronted with the truth of our harmful behavior toward others, we don’t want to own up. We’re often too angry over being hurt ourselves. We’re afraid that if we do own up, we will be attacked or abandoned. Like an accused criminal, we vigorously declare our innocence (Prov. 16:2). Following in the footsteps of Adam, we often become defensive and blame our spouses, and even God, for our self-centered behavior (Gen. 3:12). For example, rather than taking responsibility for how his anger had made it difficult for his wife to speak up in their relationship, one husband responded, “How can you say that about me after all I’ve done for you!”

To some degree, all of us have spoken manipulative and intimidating words to get our own way. All of us have used unkind words to “punish” our spouses. And we all have blamed our spouses to protect ourselves. When we see this in ourselves, we need to be more willing to own up to it and feel sorrow over the specific harm we do to our spouses and the problems we’ve created.

It is our ownership and brokenness that begin to repair the damage we’ve caused. Words of open and honest confession and remorse can begin to rebuild trust, and in time may lead to reconciliation and a return to intimacy.

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While we know that verbal battles happen in every marriage, reasonable and fair-minded people realize that there is a line between normal marital conflict and severe verbal and emotional abuse. It doesn’t take great wisdom to see that when a dominant spouse begins using words to habitually control and attack, a critical line has been crossed. The marriage has become a one-sided, verbally abusive relationship where love and respect have been replaced by self-centered power and control.

When the line between normal marital conflict and severe verbal abuse is increasingly crossed, the relationship becomes oppressive. Partners stand less and less on equal ground. One spouse doesn’t have the freedom to say no or to express his or her views and opinions. The other has most, if not all, of the power, and almost everything must happen on the controlling spouse’s terms—or else.

The Bible doesn’t take any kind of selfish domination lightly. Seeing the tears of the oppressed and observing that power was on the side of their oppressors, the writer of Ecclesiastes concluded that it can seem better to be dead than to be alive and oppressed (Eccl. 4:1-2).
Oppression is a terrible experience in any context, but especially in marriage. It’s certainly not the mutual love and respect that God intended between a husband and a wife (Eph. 5:21-28). Instead, it’s more like a dictatorship, one spouse lording authority over the other. To reinforce control, spouses with the most power may try to isolate their mates from family and friends. Behind closed doors they may also use a pattern of physical, emotional, financial, and even sexual control.

Who Are The Abusive Oppressors? Experience and research tell us that husbands are usually the ones who are verbally controlling, but many wives are guilty as well. While husbands commit most of the physical abuse that occurs in marriage, both husbands and wives have the potential to dominate their spouses with their words.

Not all verbally abusive spouses look alike. Some are overtly intimidating and demanding—similar to the sort of person described in Psalm 10:7 whose “mouth is full of curses and lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue.” Others are not so obviously offensive and demanding, but are extremely manipulative. They are like both of Samson’s wives who manipulated and pestered him with their words for days on end until they wore him down to the point that he finally gave them what they wanted (Jud. 14:16-17; 16:15-17).

How Do Spouses Use Words To Oppress? Spouses who regularly oppress and control their partners employ the same verbal tactics used by all spouses—they just use them more frequently and with greater intensity and malice. The names they use are generally more demeaning. The guilt trips are more subtle and confusing. The sarcasm is more biting, and the blaming is more intense. They also add a few tactics such as threatening, demanding, and invalidating.

Threatening. Threats are used to scare and intimidate their mates. They may threaten to divorce, quit a job, spread vicious rumors, take away the children, or even commit murder or suicide if they don’t get what they want.

Demanding. Ordering their spouses around and speaking to them like servants is a more obvious way to control and oppress. They don’t make a request like “Please?” or “Could you do this for me?” They make demands. They restrict and boss their partners around with statements like, “You’re not doing that!” or “We’re leaving now!”

Invalidating. Invalidation of thoughts or feelings can play havoc with a person’s mind. Controlling spouses often do this by outrightly denying what they have just said or done. They distort reality in an effort to confuse their spouses and make themselves appear superior. Such mind-games cause their partners to second-guess themselves. By negating what their partners think, they can make them doubt themselves. For instance, when a husband attempts to tell his wife that he feels disparaged by the way she lectures him, she may try to invalidate his point by accusing him of being too sensitive or by totally denying that she “lectures.” An extremely controlling husband might say to his wife, “I just don’t know what’s wrong with you. Do you really think anyone is going to take you seriously?”

How Do Verbally Abused And Oppressed Spouses Respond? An abused spouse’s outward response is based on what is taking place inside. Inwardly, most feel extremely guilty for the problems in their relationship. Not only do their controlling spouses regularly imply that they are to blame, they have a tendency to take the hit for anything that goes wrong or to feel guilty for having opinions or desires that are contrary to or that upset their spouses.

An emotion they normally don’t feel or allow themselves to feel is anger. Being relentlessly manipulated, belittled, and bossed around is wrong. Such mistreatment should cause them to feel a righteous sense of anger. Not all anger is wrong (Eph. 4:26-27). But oppressed spouses often don’t even admit their own anger to themselves. If they let themselves feel their anger, they are afraid they might say or do something that would further enrage their mates. Many live in the constant terror of being abandoned by the one they need and love.

In addition to living with fear, verbally abused women often feel that it is their spiritual responsibility to be submissive even to abusive husbands. They fail to understand that the Bible does not give husbands the right to lord their authority over their wives. Nor does the Bible tell wives that they are never to question their husbands’ abuse of authority. Fearful submission does not honor the covenant of marriage. Nor does mindless submission honor the purpose for which the Scriptures tell husbands and wives to love and respect each other.

On the outside, many verbally abused spouses wilt in the face of verbal attacks. Some will comply with their spouse’s demands and others will apologize for upsetting them. One abused wife, for instance, would always withdraw in fear when her husband blew up at her.

Eventually, she would apologize for asking him a question or making a statement that he didn’t agree with. He would then tell her that she should be grateful to have a husband like him who would forgive her for putting him through so much.

In most cases, verbally abused spouses don’t fully realize the oppression and control they are pinned beneath. It’s as though they have a sense that something isn’t right, but they can’t put their finger on it. Out of frustration, they often try to reason with their abusive spouses and attempt to explain what their abusive mates have misunderstood. They may even ask them to explain why they are so upset. But attempts to clarify are mostly useless.

Abusive spouses don’t want to be reasonable. They don’t want honest dialogue. They want to play mind-games by invalidating their spouses’ opinions or by exaggerating the truth. They pursue a strategy of verbal abuse because it works to control their mates.

Regrettably, verbally oppressed spouses may sometimes become like their partners and respond with physical violence. After years of constant manipulation, irrationality, and put-downs, a verbally cornered spouse may snap and lash out physically. But violence never resolves marital conflict. God hates violence (Mal. 2:16). In this case, however, the physical violence is not characteristic of the spouse’s reaction nor is a part of a larger system of control and oppression. The intent isn’t to reverse dominance roles. It’s usually a desperate, immature way to stop years of oppression and mistreatment.

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Verbally abusive words can hurt at any level. But we are left with damage that is more extensive when the abuse becomes extreme. You can’t see the bruises, as you can with physical abuse, but the injury is there and is just as great. In fact, most extremely abused spouses say they would prefer physical abuse over another torrent of guilt-trips, put-downs, and angry words. The misery they experience is seen in the details of the mental, emotional, and physical harm they incur.

Mental Damage. The long-term effect of living with an irrational, belittling spouse is that those who are being abused feel as if they’re going crazy. They feel as if they’re going to explode inside because they know something is seriously wrong but their partners continue to deny it. Their partners insist that nothing is wrong, and that if there is a problem it’s not with them.
One abused wife said that she would get so frustrated and confused that she felt like pulling the hair out of her head. She never knew what to expect. What wasn’t a big deal one day to her husband would upset him the next. And no matter how hard she tried to explain herself, her husband wouldn’t even consider her point of view. She knew what the truth was, but her husband was so clever and persuasive at making her think that everything was her fault or that he didn’t say what he said, that she felt compelled to believe him. But she always suspected she was betraying her own sense of good judgment.

Spouses who are married to mates who regularly abuse them with their words also struggle with extreme self-doubt. They doubt their own feelings, judgments, abilities, and perceptions. When their point of view is constantly discounted, they begin to second-guess themselves. After being so disparaged and demeaned, they lack confidence in themselves and in their ability to stand up for what they believe.

Perhaps the worst damage caused by severe verbal abuse in marriage is a loss of selfhood. This is when a spouse begins to believe that he or she has no value or voice. No one can ever truly take away an individual’s sense of being a person of unique value, but a verbally oppressive spouse can come very close. To have one’s opinions, feelings, accomplishments, and dreams regularly mocked and discounted can lead a person into thinking that he or she is nothing as an individual. Such cruel mistreatment smothers the glory and honor God has given each of us as creatures made in His image (Ps. 8:4-5).

Emotional Damage. Extreme verbal abuse makes its victims feel small and powerless. They feel weak and helpless as individuals to change their circumstances. After living in a situation where nothing changes no matter what they do, they slowly give up. They begin to stop caring and start to lose heart.

Many of us who know someone who has been verbally abused notice this shift in the person’s countenance. The person who used to be happy, outgoing, and full of energy and hope is now unhappy, withdrawn, lethargic, and depressed.

Spouses who experience extreme verbal abuse also feel the penetrating knife of betrayal. Before marriage, their partners led them to believe they were kind, thoughtful, reasonable, and flexible. Some put on quite an elaborate show of kindness and respect. Shortly after marriage, however, the dark side began to show itself. When marriage partners turn out to be completely different from what they pretended to be, feelings of betrayal can become overwhelming.

The sense of betrayal and abandonment deepens for many because they also feel let down by their church. Many women who have been victimized by extreme verbal abuse haven’t found their churches to be a place of help. Many church leaders don’t believe the Scriptures give them a basis for considering verbal and emotional abuse as serious as physical and sexual abuse. Some believe the problem will go away if the “offended” partner goes home and tries to be more submissive and loving.

The Scriptures, however, teach that while words may seem insignificant, they can do great damage. Words can degrade. Words are like fire (Jas. 3:5-6). Words can be hellish in their destructive effect (v.6). Words can be a deadly poison (v.8). Words can cripple. Words can kill. The sinful use of words can put us in danger of eternal punishment (Mt. 5:22).

Sadly, the truthfulness of these Scriptures is borne out in the lives of many who have found that the pain of demeaning words can be worse and more lasting than a physical assault. Having their marriage partner call them ugly, stupid, or good-for-nothing is a worse betrayal of companionship than a slap in the face.

Physical Damage. Eventually, what affects the soul will take its toll on the body. It’s not uncommon for spouses who have experienced extreme verbal abuse to suffer with a host of stress-related symptoms such as migraine headaches, nervous twitches, or severe stomachaches. Victims also suffer from exhaustion, TMJ disorders, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Such physical afflictions can cause needless suffering and disrupt a person’s capacity to serve and to enjoy life.

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Some might think that verbal abuse in marriage isn’t really all that serious. But those who have been on the receiving end of it know how frustrating and devastating it can be.

The sort of control and unkindness that shows up in every marriage may not require the kind of serious intervention needed in more severe cases of verbal abuse, but it does deserve more of our attention as individuals and within the church.

Whether verbal offenses merely touch or completely cover the landscape of our marriages, we need to base our response to them on some central relationship principles. Before turning our attention more specifically toward some of the particulars of how to respond to verbal abuse in marriage, let’s take a brief look at what it means to love a spouse who wounds us with words.
What Does It Mean To Love? Most of us find it difficult to love those who hurt us. To be sure, love is not simply making our spouses feel better. It is not merely appeasing our husbands or wives. It is not avoiding conflict just to get along. Put simply, to love is to seek the best interests of our spouses. This means at least two things: First, love means we care deeply for our spouses even though they have lost our trust. Second, love confronts and addresses sinful patterns in the lives of our partners, even if that upsets them or makes them uncomfortable.
Jesus, who loved perfectly, was at times confrontational. He aggressively confronted and chased the money lenders out of the temple who were cheating people with their inflated prices (Mt. 21:12-13). There were moments when He made sharp remarks to others (Mt. 23:13-36; Lk. 11:39-54).

Jesus, however, confronted not to get even with His enemies but to wake up those who didn’t realize the damage they were doing. He confronted to give offenders the opportunity to acknowledge their sin, to repent, and to find the forgiveness of God. In the same way, husbands and wives should lovingly confront each other out of a desire to see their mates come to their senses and be reconciled to God and themselves.

What Can A Wounded Spouse Do? Whatever degree of verbal harm spouses are struggling with, their response needs to include a greater awareness of the problem, thorough self-examination, a carefully planned confrontation, and a willingness to give their spouses time to change. As they look and wait for a sincere change of heart and behavior, they should be open to developing a desire to forgive.

Recognize The Problem. Verbally assaulted spouses help themselves and their mates by learning to recognize how and when their partners are using words to control and attack them. They can’t lovingly confront a problem they neither see nor understand.

One way for wounded spouses to better recognize the problem is to listen more to their own perceptions, thoughts, and feelings. They need to give their own perspectives as much weight as they are giving their spouses.

If you are in an extremely verbally abusive relationship, you aren’t as dumb or selfish or oversensitive or at fault as your spouse has led you to believe. Your opinions and perceptions are legitimate. So turn up the volume on your own thoughts and feelings. Allow yourself to hear what they are telling you. Awaken your deadened emotions and feel the anger you’ve been suppressing for so long. Feelings aren’t reliable alone as a guide to our thinking, but like one gauge among many on the dash of a car, feelings are an indicator that something is wrong.
Keeping a journal of how and when your spouse verbally dominates or assaults you can also help you understand the patterns of control and manipulation you are up against. Please understand, however, that the purpose of such a journal is for your understanding, not revenge. Record-keeping should never become a list of wrongs that you later throw back in your spouse’s face (1 Cor. 13:5).

As you keep this account, you will begin to notice patterns. These will allow you to predict how and when your spouse tries to control and punish you. Once you realize this, you are less likely to be caught off guard when it occurs. You will be better prepared to confront the problem when it happens again.

Another part of recognizing the problem is knowing when you need help. Addressing serious cases of verbal abuse often requires strong corrective measures. You may not be confident enough to do it alone. You may be facing financial or child-care issues that you don’t have the resources to handle on your own. That is why it may be important for you to seek help from those who have the experience and the resources. At the very least, you may need to talk with a trustworthy friend or enlist the help of a pastor or Christian counselor who understands the dynamics of serious verbal abuse. In some severe cases, an abused wife may need to seek help from a women’s shelter.

Conduct A Careful Self-examination. Without minimizing the pain you are experiencing as a result of your spouse’s unjustified behavior, you need to take time to look within yourself. It is appropriate for you to be angry and concerned about your spouse’s sin against you, but only after you’ve first looked to see if there is a “log” in your own eye. Jesus taught that we should focus on our own faults first before we attempt to correct someone else. Then we will be in a better position to address the faults of others (Mt. 7:3-5).

An important part of examining yourself is owning your response to the abuse. If you’ve been in an extremely verbally abusive relationship, you will find it especially difficult to take responsibility for your response because you’ve been through so much.

You are, of course, in no way responsible for your spouse’s verbal mistreatment. Despite your mate’s attempts to saddle you with blame, you haven’t in any way caused your spouse to be disrespectful, manipulative, or oppressive toward you. You may, however, need to accept responsibility for permitting your spouse to demean you and boss you around. Owning your response helps to keep powerlessness and bitterness from taking root in your heart.

Another crucial aspect of examining yourself is taking a thoughtful look at why you may have allowed your marriage partner to verbally mistreat and control you. Countless stories of extreme verbal abuse bear out the fact that a compliant, permissive response is partly due to a strong fear of abandonment, either emotional or physical. This fearful response is often rooted in a history of anxious and unsettled relationships where there was no assurance of acceptance and support.

Fearfulness often reveals a hesitancy on our part to entrust our well-being to God. Painful events in our lives may have caused us to doubt the heart of God. Does He care? Will He protect us? These questions eat away at our faith when there is reason to wonder if He will be there for us when we need Him. So it’s a struggle to trust Him with what matters most.
Although we may have doubts, God does hear our cries for help (Ps. 10:17-18). Gideon, who struggled with doubt in the midst of oppression, showed us by example that wrestling through our doubts in prayer may be a part of what convinces us that God is for us. We may not find satisfactory answers to all of our questions, but our honest struggle prepares us to see God in a way that restores an undeniable faith in Him, even though we still have doubts (Jud. 6:1-17).

If you are in an extremely abusive relationship, your fear of being left alone and your struggle to trust God make it difficult for you to respond in the right manner. If you continue to act out in fear of what your spouse might do, it will trap you in more self-protective responses that will only add to your trouble (Prov. 29:25). As you struggle with doubts, you can deal with these matters of fear and mistrust by honestly facing the truth that may be causing you to live so fearfully. You may discover a connection between your painful past and the present way you are interacting in your marriage. You may learn that you have been complying and trying to please your abusive mate out of fear. If this is true, you will need to carefully consider the effect that being controlled by fear has had on you and others. And you may need to recognize that you have tolerated abuse because you have been trying to save a relationship that has long since died.

While all of us find it painful to face our losses realistically and acknowledge the harm others have done to us, our honesty allows us to accept what we’ve lost and motivates us to turn to God to mend our wounded hearts (Ps. 147:3). At the same time, honestly facing how we’ve mishandled sinful treatment by others allows us to grieve over our own wrong responses and to know the thrill of seeing that our heavenly Father eagerly waits for us to return and put our trust in Him (Lk. 15:20-24). It is here that we can truly learn the meaning of Proverbs 29:25, which says, “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe.” Even though we might have to endure harm from others, we can know that by contrast to other relationships, our relationship with God is absolutely safe and secure, no matter how much we fail Him. In the assurance of His forgiveness, we can find the courage and desire to respond properly to a verbally controlling spouse—less out of fear and more out of love (Lk. 7:47; 1 Jn. 4:18).

Confront The Verbal Offenses. The Scriptures teach us to try to live at peace with everyone “if it is possible, as far as it depends on you” (Rom. 12:18). You may, however, be in a marriage where your spouse has made it impossible to live in peace and harmony. Your mate is either blind to his or her offensive ways, or doesn’t care. In such a case, confronting a pattern of verbal offense is necessary.

There are two options for you to consider: You can confront at the moment your spouse verbally abuses you, or you can choose a time to discuss your concern at a less emotionally charged moment. In severe cases, though, it may not be safe to confront an abusive spouse alone. You may feel legitimately afraid of a physically violent reaction. If this is the case, it is best for you to confront your spouse in the presence of a pastor or a counselor.

Regardless of when you decide to confront, the confrontation involves naming the abuse, setting limits, and following through with consequences.

First, describe the verbal offense. This involves simply putting words to how you see your spouse trying to control, punish, or invalidate you. For instance, one wife said to her husband, “You may not be aware of it, but I’ve noticed that you try to intimidate me by yelling. And you are doing it right now.” Another husband said to his wife, “Honey, I want to have a conversation with you, but it seems to me that you are trying to manipulate me to get your own way.”

In severe cases, abusive spouses will deny what they do and will often attempt to back their partners down with more verbal intimidation. It’s important to expect such efforts to control and not to get sidetracked. Stick to describing how he or she talks to you, and not necessarily the content of what has been said. Don’t try to reason or explain at this point—because your mate really does not want to be reasonable. As kindly and firmly as possible, point out that even in denial your mate is still trying to control.

Second, set limits. Naming the abuse needs immediately to be followed by setting limits. While love covers a multitude of sins, it also knows when to set appropriate constraints and limits. Telling your mate what you will no longer accept is one way to set a limit. Setting constraints may involve saying to your spouse that criticizing what you do in a degrading way, calling you a derogatory name, bossing you around, or yelling at you is wrong, and that you are not going to ignore or accept it any longer.

Third, follow through with consequences. Setting limits mean little without consequences. A consequence is something that you (not your spouse) will do if your limits are not recognized and honored. For example, one wife said to her husband, “Right now you’re being sarcastic and you’re belittling me. I’ve let you know that I’m not going to accept that kind of talk anymore. We need to resolve this issue, but if you will not give me the same respect you expect me to give you, I’m ending this conversation. When you can treat me with more respect, then we can talk again.”

Another spouse whose wife regularly yelled at him over the phone told his wife, “You are screaming at me, and I’ve asked you to stop. If you continue, I’m going to hang up the phone. When you can be more civil, I’ll be glad to talk.”

The consequences should fit the situation. The more serious the verbal offenses, the more serious the consequences. Options can range from leaving the room and ending a conversation to a temporary legal separation and the suspension of sexual relations. In severe cases, a more permanent separation is not out of the question if there is no significant repentance and change in a reasonable length of time.

Divorce is an extreme consequence that has far-reaching implications for all parties involved. There is an indication in Scripture that divorce would be allowed in an abusive marriage, but without the right of remarriage (1 Cor. 7:10-11; see RBC booklets Divorce & Remarriage [Q0806] and When Violence Comes Home [CB951]). Certainly if a verbally abusive situation reaches such an impasse, the offended party must obtain wise spiritual and personal guidance from a loving and understanding pastor or Christian counselor.

Allow Time For Change. Those who’ve been hurt by a pattern of verbal offense need to give their mates ample time to change their behavior. Just as it may have taken a long time to recognize the seriousness of the abuse, abusive spouses usually need time to understand how much damage they have done. In many cases, offenders are so self-centered that they have no clue about the destruction they are causing with their words. Many feel that as long as they haven’t laid a hand on their mates, they haven’t crossed the line into serious abuse. Often, they must be compelled to listen as their partners describe the pain they’ve suffered. Only then can they start to understand and express meaningful words of sorrow and repentance.

It’s important that your abusive partner is not let off the hook prematurely. Because of habit, self-deception, and self-centeredness, verbally abusive mates will often need time to suffer and bear the weight of the harm they have caused over a period of time before their hearts will begin to soften and change. Don’t put too much stock in quick apologies. Don’t rescue your spouse from feeling the pain of his or her sin. Proverbs 19:19 says, “A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again.” Give your spouse time to contemplate the harm he or she caused you, because that’s what it takes for your spouse to begin to feel the need for genuine change (Ps. 51:17).

Look For A Real Change Of Heart. It’s important that those who have been severely hurt by verbal abuse know what kind of repentance to look for. Tough love won’t give in to a mate who tries to make a quick apology and then follows it with a demand for forgiveness. A person who has had an honest change of heart does not say, “I said I was sorry, and now you need to forgive and forget.”

Truly repentant people don’t focus on their desire for forgiveness. That’s a continuation of self-centeredness. Instead, they express a genuine willingness to bear and focus on the pain they’ve caused. They seek help in their effort to understand how they try to control and punish. They are willing to hear what their words have done to their mates. They don’t try to blame their partner. They don’t try to make an apologetic excuse like, “I’m sorry I hurt you so badly, but . . .” Genuine repentance contains no “buts”!

Truly repentant persons recognize and take responsibility for their unacceptable behavior. They are willing to own up to the fear and mistrust they have created for their spouses. They realize that it is wrong to expect the one they have hurt to act as if nothing has happened. Instead, they give their husband or wife time to work through issues of forgiveness and trust. Even if a wounded person is able to extend forgiveness quickly, it is important to understand that such forgiveness may not mean a quick restoration of the relationship. Restoration is a process, not an event.

Learn To Forgive As God Has Forgiven You. Few subjects are more misunderstood than forgiveness. Yet few actions are more needed than that of an offended person saying, “I forgive you.” The necessary things are so often the hardest things to do.

Jesus said, “If your brother sins [against you], rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him” (Lk. 17:3). Implied in this simple statement is the need for words of rebuke, words of repentance, and words of forgiveness that truly express the love of God.

God forgives those who honestly confess their sin and entrust themselves to His mercy. He does not promise to remove all natural consequences of the wrong. Instead, He releases the offender from the guilt and the offended from the anger that would otherwise make mutual love impossible.

Jesus teaches us to love our enemies (Lk. 6:27-36), but He doesn’t demand that we forget or ignore the consequences of oppressive wrongs. He teaches us to love others even though they may have harmed us, and to be willing to forgive those who have sincerely repented (17:3).
Loving those who hurt us doesn’t come easy. We all need time to get to the place where we want to show love to those who have hurt us so much. But to continue to withhold love is to become like the one who has harmed us. To harden our hearts and deny forgiveness to someone who has had a change of heart is to return evil for evil. We don’t have the right to do this. The New Testament tells us that God alone has the right of vengeance (Rom. 12:19-21).
Releasing the right of vengeance to God is what gets the bitterness out of our hearts. Letting go of the debt that a repentant offender could never repay is showing love in a godly way. Canceling the unpayable debt of a repentant mate is what distinguishes us as a people who have been forgiven by God (Mt. 6:14-15).

If we do not have any desire to forgive our repentant husband or wife, we need to do some real soul-searching. Vindictiveness indicates that we are not experiencing the mercy and forgiveness of God for our own sins. A vengeful, hateful attitude toward others shows us that our own self-righteous hearts need to be broken by the countless wrongs that we too have committed against God and others.

Certainly, such an awareness of our own wrongs doesn’t excuse the evil others have done against us. But it does remind us that we are all on common ground at the foot of the cross of Christ. It makes us aware that if we are not willing to love others as God loves us, we ourselves are in desperate need of the mercy and love of God in our lives. Let’s be thankful that His offer of mercy is still available to us (Jn. 3:16-18).

Table of Contents

Books Reference in this article:

This article showed the signs of an abusive spouse, effects of emotional abuse. Please check out the links, and the above referenced books for additional help with domestic violence.

You will Never Be Alone by Focus Ministries

0 comments Posted by Hannah at 4:49 PM

Have you ever felt desperately alone, even though you were surrounded by co-workers, family, friends, or your Christian Faith family? It’s not always the absence of people that makes you feel alone, but the absence of understanding your needs and what you are going through.

Sometimes it may be the absence of affirmation or the shame of failure that isolates your heart from connection with other people.

There are times when you are literally alone . . . right before bedtime when the house is silent as a tomb and you long for the laughter of a child in the next room or the warm embrace of someone who loves you . . . in the middle of the night when you are wakened by a terrifying nightmare . . . in the early morning when you are greeted with the sounds of silence once again . . . in the church service as you cry silently while no one seems to notice . . . in a crowded court room where the players strategize how to rip your world apart and redistribute the pieces of your life.

In all of your lonely moments, God is there. He is there when you feel inadequate and empty. He loves you even when you can’t return His love, when you are so emotionally depleted that you don’t feel anything.

He forgives you when you fail miserably, when you try to work out your own plan instead of relying on Him to help you.

He wants you to know that you will never have to be alone again.

God has a message for you today: "Fear not, for I am with you. Be not dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. Yes, I will help you. I will uphold you with My righteous right hand." (Isaiah 41:10)

No matter where you live, whether it be in the finest mansion or in a cardboard box in a dark alley, God is with you.

Regardless of what you have done, whether you have lived a life of integrity or whether your life has been one colossal failure after another, God is with you. He loves you and wants to restore you to the life He envisioned for you when you were just a gleam in your father’s eye.

Jeremiah was a prophet in the Old Testament who struggled with despair and loneliness. When he saw the devastation, darkness, and despair all around him, Jeremiah found comfort in God’s promise to be with him. Listen to the voice of Jeremiah as he remembered God’s faithfulness:

"Through the Lord’s mercies, we are not consumed because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul. Therefore, I hope in Him." (Lamentations 3:22-24)

"I called on Your name, O Lord, from the lowest pit. You have heard my voice. Do not hide your ear from my sighing, from my cry for help. You drew near on the day I called on You, and said ‘Do not fear.’ O Lord, You have pleaded the case for my soul. You have redeemed my life." (Lam. 3:55-58)

Are you living at Jeremiah’s old address—the lowest pit? If so, God hears your most desperate sigh and says, "Don’t be afraid. I am with you. I will redeem you."

Refocus your gaze from the hopeless bottom of the pit to the strong arms of the Lord who will hold you close through the worst life storms and help you relocate to a new address (out of the pit) where you will grow and thrive.

In John 14 Jesus told his disciples (and you today), "I will ask the Father and He will give you another Counselor who will never leave you. He is the Holy Spirit who leads into all truth. I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. When the Father sends the Counselor as my representative, He will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I myself have told you. I am leaving you with a gift— peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid." (New Living Translation)

You never have to be alone again! God has provided a way for you through a relationship with Himself and other people. You do not have to stay disconnected and alone. Here are some practical ways to overcome feelings of loneliness:

•Tell God how you feel, even if you know you shouldn’t be feeling that way. When you are honest with your feelings, God is free to work in your life.

•Remind yourself of God’s presence, even if you don’t feel it, by reading scriptures (especially in Psalms) and remembering God’s faithfulness in the past. He has not moved away from you. Is it possible you have moved away from Him?

•Ask God to help you know Him in a way you’ve never known before. Develop a deeper relationship with Him through a daily time of meditation in the Word and communication in prayer and thanksgiving.

•Think of someone else who may be lonely that you can reach out to. Make a phone call, take someone out to dinner, visit a senior citizen, offer to babysit for a busy mom, volunteer at your favorite charity, etc.

•Get involved in a Bible study, support group, exercise class, or take a class that interests you at your local community center or college.

•If you have a close friend, stay in touch on a regular basis. If you don’t have a close friend, ask the Lord to guide you to someone with whom you could develop a friendship, and take the first step by inviting them to lunch or volunteering to help in some way.

God is with you . . . He loves you . . . He forgives you . . . He has redeemed you . . .
He will restore you. You never have to be alone again!


Focus Ministries has published a book:

I hope this resource helps in your education of domestic abuse and the church.

The Walls Put Up When Emotional Abuse is present!

3 comments Posted by Hannah at 4:47 PM

Focus Ministries as a piece called "Walls", and it really hits home for a lot of people that are experiencing all forms of abuse including emotional abuse and verbal abuse. I found that a lot of it pertains to most circumstances, but remember all doesn't have to apply for it to have the same effect. Some people call this detaching from their spouse due to the abuse within the relationship. It speaks to how the relationship starts, and how it continues. Its very moving!

The Walls are used to protection, and they are normal response to Emotional abuse, Verbal abuse and other types. This piece speaks about how they can be removed. Its not an easy journey, and it will require both parties to participate fully!


I have built a fortress around myself . . .
to protect my emotions
to protect my self-esteem
to protect my individualism

This fortress will not allow me to share my heart with you, or express any affection toward you. It protects me from you.

Once, before I built this wall, I trusted you completely—enough to pledge my life to you and my future. When you first wounded my spirit, I believed you when you told me it was my fault. Yes, I was naive, but I trusted you. I believed the lie—if I could look different and act different, then you would be pleased with me.

For many years I continued to believe and trust you while you continued to express your disappointment in me and made me the scapegoat for all the reasons why you weren’t happy. I was so vulnerable to your opinion of me that I accepted what you said about me as true.

I tried in many ways to please you, but you were never satisfied. You pointed out numerous areas in my life where I had failed. The talents and gifts that I had to offer were either never good enough or taken for granted.

When I tried to share my deepest feelings with you, you made fun of my sensitivity by lecturing me or making me feel stupid.

You were the one who controlled what I should think, what I should say, and who I should say it to. If I made any comments of which you did not approve, you would lecture me and question my motives. If I was too quiet, you told me I was self-centered and didn’t care about other people.

You demanded all of my time and emotions for yourself, and when I didn’t meet your expectations, you broke my spirit by constant criticism. You even justified slapping me occasionally. You assured me that if I had performed to your liking you would have had no reason to hit me, so therefore it was my fault. You placed all the responsibility of your actions upon me.

Picture me as a woman who was constantly trying to please, but could never meet your demands; one who didn’t know whether to speak or keep silent; and one who withheld her emotions and deep feelings so she wouldn’t be ridiculed and embarrassed by the one who should have understood her the best.

This defeating cycle of co-dependency had such a hold on me that my worth as a person was dependent upon your value of me as a woman and a wife. It was easy for you to use me as the reason for your problems . . . because I let you and I believed you!

As I struggled with my own feelings about myself versus the incompetent, uncaring person that you described me to be, the Lord was working through many sources, and I began to find my identity in Him. I began to realize that I had allowed you to close my spirit, and I had believed your perception of me to be true. This had paralyzed my ability to function, and several years passed by without any real growth and progress.

When I finally accepted and truly believed that my self-worth is only found in the Lord, it changed my life!

My first reaction was to put the broken pieces of myself back together, and escape from the awful control and manipulation in my life. I began rejecting your perception of me, and yes, I began rejecting you! I built walls of protection from you so that your verbal vomit and cruel attitudes would not hurt me any more.

I began to live my own life, making my own plans, and daring to dream of living free and happy without your control. I built walls so high and so thick there would be nothing you could do to penetrate them.

When we began talking with a marriage counselor, you wrote a catalog of sins—my sins that you believed had caused all our problems. Where are your sins? When have you taken the time to take a really good look at who you are?

Look at the man who screams and strikes out when he’s upset, and then denies or pretends that he’s not guilty; who manipulates the facts to make his wife look like she’s either crazy or lying.

Look at the man who frowns and sneers when he talks to his wife, and then accuses her of having a bad attitude.

Look at the man who is a master of manipulation, demanding his own way, his opinion, and then accuses his wife of controlling when she is simply assuming the responsibility he has declined to take.

You are so full of rage and bitterness that you have to blame someone, and that someone has been me. It is interesting, however, that the very things you have said about me are actually reflections of you.

You tell me not to get hysterical when you’re the one screaming and out of control. You tell me to change my attitude when you have the sneering, frowning face, and have made the sarcastic remarks.

You call me the liar when you have an ingrained habit of constantly manipulating and exaggerating the truth to meet your needs.

You call me compulsive when you are the one who rearranges the refrigerator and pantry shelves after I’ve put the groceries away.

Because you are always on the edge, I walk on eggshells around you, never knowing when something I say or do is going to set you off and cause an explosion. It’s almost like being in a war and never knowing when I’m going to step on a land mine and get blown up.

Now look at the way it could have been—my talents and abilities complementing yours, and instead of rejecting, criticizing, and destroying me because I am not like you, we could have established a wonderful friendship and partnership with each other, with each of us compensating for the lack of the other.

When you begin to care about me instead of verbally attacking and blaming me, then maybe some of the walls I have built up will come down. We can both learn how to honor and serve each other, with one of us carrying the entire load at times (giving 100%) when the other needs help, without complaining about it later or keeping a scorecard to see who is giving the most.

This is not about who cleans the house and who takes out the garbage. It is about accepting, forgiving, caring, tolerating, and loving—without deliberately hurting, controlling, and keeping score.

Let’s give up the war and begin reconciliation. The next step is up to you . . .

Focus Ministries has released a book, and I wanted to endorse it at this time!

Does any of the article hit home for you? It speaks of how emotional abuse within marriage can effect everyone! We look forward to hearing from you!

Additional Poems:
You can't
What It Means To Be A Victim
A Chosen Vessel
Will You Love me To Death
Shattered Pieces
Recycled Rose
Saturday Night Special

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