“I don’t have to impress anyone anymore. I’m married.” I heard these words uttered twice in one week by two different men. On the service these words are humorous and seem harmless enough but, depending on what they really mean to the husband, these words may lead to other words and actions that are deeply hurtful and extremely harmful. When a husband uses words as weapons to daily attack his wife, he is a verbal abuser. In most cases, wives of verbal abusers become clinically depressed and the only way to reclaim their identity, worth and mental wellness [peace] is to go through a painful divorce. Sadly, this “only way out” includes Christian marriages.
In I Corinthians 7:1-16, the Apostle Paul gives followers of Christ “Principles for Marriage.” He teaches Christians to do whatever they can to stay married and not to divorce. These are very important principles to follow as believers of Jesus Christ. I know several women who have, with God’s help, tried to keep their marriage going. However, we do live in a sinful world and when the husband does not obey the Lord, but constantly devalues his wife with his hurtful words and subtle passive-aggressive behavior, to the point where she has very little self-esteem left and doubts everything she does, it’s time for her to make life changes and consider her last resort – divorce. Something jumped out of the page when I was reading I Corinthians 7:1-17 [Thank you Carol P. for pointing it out to me]. Verse 15b says, “God has called you to peace.” In Ephesians 2:14, Paul states that Jesus “Himself is our peace.” How can anyone have God’s peace while living with a husband who is not Christ-like to his wife, but instead verbally abuses her? Would you be able to live with that person? Would I be able to? As Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged“ [Matthew 7:1] and “For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers” [Luke 11:46b] and “Let him who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” [John 8:7b].
How is it possible for a Christian woman to “date” a Christian man for years and not know that he is a verbal abuser until after they are married? The answer lies with the quote at the top of this page. The verbal abuser puts on his “godly man” face while “dating” and while in public. In fact, there are Christians who “date” only in groups and never go on a “one-to-one date. Although this type of “dating” is full of good intentions [I.e., “to keep the relationship pure”], it takes away the “alone time” needed to really get to know each other. A verbal abuser’s narcissistic personality only shows up when he is alone with his wife.
“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life” [Proverbs 13:12].
“A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the sprit is crushed” [Proverbs 15:13].
Let’s compare what godly love looks like, as defined in Scripture, and what verbal abuse looks like, using a portion of an *Abuse Assessment found in Hurtbylove.com [written by Cindy Burrell]:
“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so that He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself” [Ephesians 5:25-28].
“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love” [I John 4e:18].
*When my husband is around, I feel unsettled or fearful.
*When my husband is around, I feel like I need to behave differently.
* When I come home or when he comes home, I need to quickly sense what kind of mood he is in.
*I am afraid of my husband.
*I don’t feel safe.
*Sometimes I feel like I have to walk on eggshells around him.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude” [I Corinthians 13:4-5b].
*I feel like he does things to intentionally hurt me.
*I feel like I constantly have to prove myself.
*I feel like I don’t matter.
*I feel like I’m never good enough.
*He gets angry and impatient with me over little things.
*He is critical of the way I do things.
“It [godly love] does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful” [I Corinthians 13:5b].
*It feels like he must always “win.”
*He is an expert on everything.
*I feel like he is trying to keep me from my friends and/or family.
*He puts down my friends and/or family.
*He says things that are hurtful.
*I’m not allowed to need anything.
“It [godly love] does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth” [I Corinthians 13:6].
*I feel lonely.
*I feel lost.
*I feel insecure.
*I feel confused.
*I have caught him lying to me.
*If something is wrong in his life or someone doesn’t like him, it is almost always someone else’s fault.
“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends…” [I Corinthians 13:7-8a].
*I feel like I’ve lost my identity.
*I feel like I have no value.
*If I tell him he hurt my feelings, he tells me I’m being overly sensitive.
*He likes to be in control.
*If I question something he does, he accuses me of being bossy, nosy or paranoid.
*I feel like I’ve lost my identity.
“Love must be genuine (sincere). Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good” [Romans 12:9].
*He speaks badly of me in front of the children and encourages them to disrespect me.
* Other people see him differently than I do.
*I feel guilty that I’m unhappy.
*I don’t laugh like I used to.
*I constantly feel depressed.
*My husband sometimes gives me the silent treatment.
Someone once said, “Christianity is the only army that shoots their own wounded.” This statement is so true when it comes to some Christian groups and their treatment of wives who are victims of verbally abusive husbands. Because the wife is the one, who after years of living with ridicule and fear, is seeking the divorce from her husband, she is labeled “the bad one.” “Christians are not suppose to file for divorce; especially the wife.” As brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to look deeper than the taboo of divorce. We need to understand that we do not see what goes on behind close doors. We need to recognize the signs of verbal abuse: a sister who is not laughing as she used to, a sister who is sad all the time, a sister who has lost her identity and value in Christ. In many ways the woman feels outnumbered. Christian pre-marital counseling is done by a pastor, who is usually a man. Marital counseling is also mostly done by a pastor, who is usually a man. When a woman is in tears and says she is not sure she is able to go on with her marriage, the counselor’s first response may be rebuke, instead of unconditional support and trying to go deeper into the reasons the wife feels this way. The wife may also feel deserted by mutual friends who are decidedly on the husband’s side because they never see the verbal abuse for themselves. Brothers and sister in Christ, we need to take better care of our “already wounded” sisters.
You may be thinking, “Why is an almost-sixty-year-old single Christian woman talking about marriage, verbal abuse and divorce?” It’s because I care deeply for my younger sisters in Christ; sisters who could be my nieces. I have seen the devastation verbal abuse causes in young women who think their prayers are answered in finding a godly husband, only to have their hearts dashed to pieces by verbal abuse. It is my prayer that Christians, especially those who are involved in marriage counseling, educate themselves concerning verbal abuse. It is my prayer that both a man and a woman would be involved in pre-marital and marital counseling. It is my prayer that there would be more discipling and mentoring of young men by older men, in what it means to be a servant-leader in the home, as a husband and father. It is my prayer that older women would also disciple and mentor younger women in what to look for in a godly man and what to stay away from [For example, consider how the man treats the other women in his life.]. It is my prayer that churches would develop support groups for women verbal abuse survivors. Finally, my prayer is for all brothers and sisters in Christ to look out for each other and to love each other in the Lord; to be better listeners without judging our own “already wounded” without cause.
For Further Reading:
[Look for my next blog post in September.]