During the past several months, from April all the way through the beginning of July, I have shared my “journey” through clinical depression, recovery and wellness. Today I am going to share my thoughts about something that I have not experienced myself, but am very concerned about. I know dear sisters in Christ who are going through this most heart-wrenching time of their lives. After living for years in a toxic environment, trying to make their marriage work, they have comes to terms with the only solution they have in regaining their identity in Christ. The toxic environment they have been living in is a marriage with a verbally abusive husband. While living with a verbal abusive day afer day after day, four years, the wife may experience stress-related physical illnesses, such as stomach or digestive problems, fibromyalgia, headaches, muscle pain, and high blood pressure; as well as emotional illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks, eating disorders, insomnia, and even suicidal thoughts.* After years of trying to make things work, these women have come to terms with the only solution they have to restore their value as a child of God and their dignity as a human being. In some Christian circles “friends” will “label“ these women as “failures” and even as “willful sinners,” but it takes courage for these women to make drastic life changes to regain who they really are. The only solution in rescuing their emotional and spiritual wellbeing is divorce.
It is true that God hates divorce. Jesus talks about divorce. One of the things He says about marriage and divorce is this:
“Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What God has joined together, let no one separate…And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” [Matthew 19:4-6, 9; also see Genesis 2:24].
Why does God hate divorce? God hates all the behaviors and circumstances that lead to divorce and He hates the emotional devastation that it leaves behind, not only for the man and wolmen, but their children and their extended families. God hates divorce because the man or woman or both are breaking a sacred covenant between themselves and God. When a man and woman marry they become one flesh. I believe in a truly Christian marriage, the husband and the wife do everything for the sake of the other. They love their partners as themselves and want to do everything, with God’s help, “to love, honor and cherish” one another. In the Ephesians, chapter 5, Paul teaches wives to “submit” to their husbands [v. 22] and that the husband is the “head of the wife even as Christ is head of the Church” [v. 23]. Paul goes on to explain how this works: “In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who love his wife loves himself…This mystery is profound…However, let each of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband” [vv. 22-23, 28, 32-33].
In a perfect world there would be no divorce. However, we live in a sinful world, with Christian marriages ending in divorce at the same rate as do marriages outside of the Church. What is happening to cause this? I believe one of the main causes of divorce among Christians [as well as outside the church] is verbal abuse and the emotional pain and mental anguish it inflicts on the recipient[s]. Most verbal abusers are men. Christian men who come from abusive homes may have never learned how to love their wives “as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her” [Ephesians 5:25b].
God wants the husband to be the leader, but a husband who verbally abuses his wife does not lead God’s way. Jesus teaches how to be a Christian leader: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” [Matthew 20:25b-28]. I have heard Ephesians 5:23 quoted many times, but I seldom have heard what “the husband [being] the head of the wife” really means. Being a leader in the home means being a servant-leader. It also means giving your life for your wife; looking out for her best interests, including her in decision making, valuing her as a person with unique gifts and talents and encouraging her to use them and appreciating all that she does.
“He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD” [Proverbs 18:22].
“For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garments with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless” [Malachi 2:16]
I believe being faithless [or unfaithful] in a marriage means more than sexual promiscuity. It also means breaking your marital vows to “love, honor and cherish” your spouse above one’s own needs or wants. Verbal abuse in a marriage is most definitely unfaithfulness.
In a truly Christ-centered marriage, the husband works to strengthen his love relationship with his wife. In a verbally abusive relationship, the abuser is only interested in control.*
According to Wikipedia:
Verbal Abuse (also known as reviling) is described as a negative defining statement told to the victim or about the victim, or by withholding any response, thereby defining the target as non-existent. If the abuser does not immediately apologize and retract the defining statement, the relationship may be a verbally abusive one.
In couple relationships, the verbal abuser response to the partner’s “separateness,” i.e., independent thoughts, views, desires, feelings, expressions (even of happiness) as an irritant or even an attack. While some people believe the abuser has low self-esteem and so attempts to place their victim in a similar position, i.e., to believe negative things about himself or herself, this is not usually the case in couple relationships. A man, for example, disparages a woman partner simply because she has qualities that were disparaged in him, i.e., emotional intelligence, warmth, receptivity, and so forth.
Typically, in couple or family relationships verbal abuse increases in intensity and frequency over time.
Despite being the most common form of abuse, verbal abuse is not taken seriously as other types because there is no visible proof, and the abuser may have a “perfect” personality around others. In reality, however, verbal abuse can be more detrimental to a person’s health than physical abuse.
Cindy Burrell, in her website Hurtbylove.com, writes, “By any name or any method, abuse is wrong. And not all abuse is physical, but all abuse is emotional. Just because he’s not hitting you doesn’t mean it’s not abuse. Abuse can be obvious or it can be subtle, insidious, even silent…Remember, an abuser will do anything to keep you, but nothing to take care of you.”
As brothers and sisters in Christ, how can we identify verbal abuse and be a “life-line” to our sisters in need?
To be continued…
*Hurtbylove.com [by Cindy Burrell]
In Christ’s Love,