The issue of marriage abuse can be related to an “elephant in the room.” Imagine a huge elephant standing there, but no one brings up that fact. Addressing abuse can be much like that. We often talk all around abusive topics, but it’s difficult to deal with it head on. It’s even difficult for abused spouses to talk about it. There are many different reasons for that; but essentially, once they tell anyone about it, they will usually feel pressured to deal with it. And that can make things even more complicated. (It’s hard to imagine, but it’s often true.)
It’s also difficult to get abusing spouses to admit that they truly are just that—abusers. Who wants to think of himself or herself as an abuser? Instead, he/she will justify their actions, and give all kinds of excuses as to why they did what they did. As far as they are concerned, it’s their spouse’s fault. If they thought otherwise, they just couldn’t live with themselves.
But we want to stop here for a moment, before we go on any further in addressing the issue of marriage abuse. You may not think this subject applies to you. You may not be in an abusive marriage. So, why should you consider reading about this matter? It’s because you most certainly will come across marriage abuse victims at some point in your life. You will either be personally involved, or you will know someone else who is involved. And when you do, it’s important to know a few things to help you in that situation; and then perhaps you can help that abuse victim in some way.
Addressing Marriage Abuse
So first off, what is abuse?
“Abuse includes actions, words, and attitudes that oppress, afflict harm, or denigrate a partner. There is a difference between accusations and abuse. Abuse seeks to diminish or oppress another person. Some men and women feel they must emotionally pummel their spouse so they can remain in charge or dominate. There are a number of kinds of abuse: verbal, emotional, physical, mental and sexual. All of them are immature. They show that one partner is unwilling to have an adult conversation on sensitive subjects.
“If one spouse is always wrong, then usually there is some form of abuse present. If one spouse is always apologizing but the other spouse never apologizes, it is a warning sign that abuse may be present.” (Gil Stieglitz, from book, Marital Intelligence)
Anger is often involved when there are abuse issues—not always, but most often. The Bible addresses this where it is written, “Be angry and do not sin…” In other words, it is possible to not sin when we are angry. But we had best be careful. It’s too easy to step over that line into abusive anger. Be aware!
“If a person gives place to anger, and goes with it wherever it takes them, and if they say and do whatever feels good at the moment as they release that anger toward their spouse, it is abuse. There is a difference between simply getting angry about something, and letting anger become a weapon that crushes a person’s heart. This abuse beats down their spirit or hurts their physical body.” (Stormie Omartian, from the article, “When Anger Becomes Abuse“)
Beaten Down in Different Ways
And please don’t minimize the damage that non-physical abuse can cause. Yes, physical abuse is horrible; but other types of abuse can also cause a lot of damage. It’s important to note:
“Most people think abuse is just physical attacks such as hitting, punching, kicking, pulling hair, twisting limbs, pinching, slapping, biting, etc. There are many other types of abusive behavior, which hurt just as much or more than physical abuse. Just because an abuser stops hitting his spouse doesn’t mean he [or she] has stopped being abusive. (Brenda Branson, from her article, “All Abuse Hurts”)
And that doesn’t mean that the emotional scars don’t cut into the victim just as deeply as physical ones do. We cannot minimize the damage that abuse can cause. This can include a one-time incident or on-going abuse.
With that in mind:
“It’s helpful to make a distinction between an abusive incident and an abusive relationship. Since we are all sinners, we are all capable of some verbal abuse. (James 3:2) James also cautions believers that our tongue can be misused as a weapon to hurt other people. (Yes, the Bible speaks of emotional and verbal abuse.) James describes it this way. He says the tongue is ‘restless and evil full of deadly poison. Sometimes it praises our Lord and Father; and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God. And so, blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth. Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!’ (James 3:8-10) He also warns that if we ‘claim to be a believer and don’t control our tongue, we are lying to ourselves and to others.’ (James 1:26)
“Therefore, when someone who claims to be a Christian, sins and verbally curses someone out, or just says something hurtful, he or she should immediately recognize that he has crossed a line and used his tongue as a weapon for harm. James clearly says this is not right. As does Paul in Romans 13:10 when he says, ‘Love does no harm’.
“Once that line has been crossed, a sincere apology should be given, repentance before the Lord should occur and a strong effort to never repeat that kind of abusive speech should be made. However, when abusive behavior/speech happens again and again and again, then it’s not just simply crossing the line and being a sinner. It is being an unrepentant sinner who refuses to submit himself [or herself] under the authority of God.” (Leslie Vernick from her article, “Emotional and Verbal Abuse“)
Please note that; it’s important! Your emotional and physical safety is at stake here.
Marriage Abuse Help?
If you are being abused, do what you can to get help. Reach out to a “safe” person or people so you don’t walk this path alone. But be aware that most abusers are manipulative and controlling. They often work to isolate their victims away from anyone who could help them. So, ask God to give you wisdom on how and who you can talk to about this abuse. Sometimes it’s not wise or safe to talk to certain people. And it’s not always safe to leave your abuser. You can actually put yourself in more harm. Just watch the news and you’ll sadly see truth in this statement. So, make sure you are careful and prayerful. You need to put together a carefully prayed over and thought out plan.
Also, it’s important to know that there are both male and female abusers. Society focuses almost exclusively on male abusers, but don’t be fooled into thinking that there aren’t plenty of female abusers. There are.
Here’s a statement from the “Get Domestic Violence Help” web site that backs up this statement:
“When most people think of domestic abuse in marriage, they think of the male partner physically assaulting the female partner. The thing is though, it works both ways. There are many cases where it is the wife abusing the husband. Such abuse may be in the form of abusive verbal or emotionally controlling behavior, or physical aggression. Even though this is a crime that is taking place every day, all over the country, it is hidden—kept in secret.
“You seldom hear about these cases because many men fear embarrassment and ridicule for being a victim. After all, what would others think of him as a man if they knew that he was allowing a woman to beat him?”
Marriage Abuse Truth
And that’s true. We’ve heard from quite a few men that live this sad truth. Many have even said that the police sometimes ridicule them. And/or the wife turns the situation around and claims that SHE is the victim instead. And what’s sad is that they often believe her.
Now, this can go both ways. Many abusing husbands distort the truth when the police show up. Abuse and distorting the truth most often go hand-in-hand.
None-the-less, whether the wife is the abuser or the husband, it’s important to address the issue of marriage abuse as soon as it is possible. One reason is because it most often escalates. Studies on abuse support this fact. That’s the nature of this beast! And so that’s another reason to address it as soon as possible. The longer it continues, the worse it gets—even to the point where lives can be endangered.
You might balk at doing anything about the abuse “because of the kids.” You’re afraid of what effect this will have on the children. And there’s no doubt that this is horribly troublesome. But there are other considerations to consider, as well.
“Many will stay in a marriage filled with abuse ‘for the kids.’ However, if your spouse, who took vows to honor and protect you, the parent of your children, is able and willing to abuse you, the children are not too far a leap to being the next who will be abused.” (From the “Get Domestic Violence Help” web site)
Hurting the Kids
And even if your spouse won’t physically hurt the kids, what about emotionally? They will carry those pictures in their minds, and remember the sounds for the rest of their lives. That’s another reason why it’s important to address marriage abuse issues.
It’s a fact that many children who experienced abuse (either directly or indirectly) become abusers themselves. They learned their dysfunctional behavior from their growing up environment. Do you really want to let this abuse mess with their future outlook? And what about their future spouses and children? Do you want to enable this to be handed down to future generations? So, for no other reason, if you won’t address your marriage abuse issues for your own sake, do it for your children.
But how? What can a victim of marriage abuse do to change their situation? Unfortunately, there is not a “one size fits all” type of answer here. That is especially true because of the different cultural approaches, and family dynamics that are involved, concerning those who read this. So, we encourage you to prayerfully read through the Abuse in Marriage topic on this web site. It isn’t all inclusive, but it gives a lot of additional info to glean through. Pray, read, and use what will work for you in your situation. You might even need to adapt some of the advice that is given. Most likely, it will not all work for you in your marriage. But much of it will. So, prayerfully approach it from that stance.
And then from there, keep looking until you find the help you need.
It’s important to note that if possible, at a bare minimum:
“Boundaries must be drawn so that the spouse doing wrong understands that this will not be tolerated and so that the spouse begins to reap the consequences of their actions. They don’t get to have the benefits of marriage if they’re also destroying the marriage. Ideally, people can be brought into the relationship to tell the offending spouse that this will not be tolerated in their wider social circle, either. And counseling can be sought; but it primarily should be individual counseling, especially in cases of abuse, where couples counseling often provides the abuser another way to traumatize the victim.” (Sheila Wray Gregoire)
If it isn’t possible for you to get good counseling and/or set firm boundaries, look through the information provided on this web site to at least better protect yourself. Ask God, as your “Wonderful Counselor” to show you what you can do and should do. And look for additional godly counsel, as God directs.
In closing, below are a few more thoughts and important scriptures to take to heart on this matter:
• “Realize that the abuse is not your fault, no matter what your abuser says. Understand that abuse can happen to anyone, of any faith, age, economic status, race, or neighborhood. Know that you are not alone. Know that you are not stupid or worthless; to the contrary, God loves you deeply and values you highly. Realize that God does not condone abuse of any kind. Believe that His will for you is to break free of the abuse you’re suffering. Recognize your need for help and decide to pursue it.” (Whitney Hopler, from her article, Heal from Abuse)
The Lord loves you and hates violence within the home. You do not have to stay a forever victim.
Biblically, We’re Told:
• “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder,’ and ‘Whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable of judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.‘” (Matthew 5:21-23)
• “The Lord examines both the righteous and the wicked. He hates everyone who loves violence.” (Psalms 11:5)
• “He who brings trouble on his family will inherit only wind. And the fool will be a servant to the wise. The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and he who wins souls is wise.” (Proverbs 11:29-30)
This is a very relevant prayer to cry out to the Lord:
“To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God. Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me. No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame; but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse. Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.” (Psalm 25:1-5)
May God help you and bless you as you reach out to Him.
Cindy and Steve Wright
— ADDITIONALLY —
To help you further, we give a lot of personal stories, humor, and more practical tips in our book, 7 ESSENTIALS to Grow Your Marriage. We hope you will pick up a copy for yourself. (It’s available both electronically and in print form.) Plus, it can make a great gift for someone else. It gives you the opportunity to help them grow their marriage. And who doesn’t need that? Just click on the linked title or the picture below:
If you are not a subscriber to the Marriage Insights (emailed out weekly)
and you would like to receive them directly, click onto the following:
More from Marriage Missions
Filed under: Abuse in Marriage