Emotional Abuse in the Christian Marriage. Part 1

Compassionate Love: Displaying compassion for those who struggle with mental illness    (c)2015  Nancy Virden, Always The Fight Ministries


Have you ever been confused about the term “emotional abuse”? How about that much-maligned word, “submit”? Every now and then, something reminds me how sadly uninformed we can be with regard to marriage.

A primary reason we do not grow in wisdom is because we never did or stopped asking good questions. Fear can keep us in the dark simply because we think we may be overwhelmed if we venture into a difficult learning experience. Maybe we are afraid that what we know to be true will come unglued if we challenge it.

I will ask a good question. When is the line between “Submit to your husband” and “Endure abuse” crossed? (This series will assume women to be the abused, and men to be the abusers even though these principles apply to every emotionally abusive relationship.)

Some say (and I’ve heard these statements with my own ears),  a christian woman can rightfully leave a marriage “if he hits her,” “if he physically cheats.” “if he refuses to get saved.” Others insist marriages are to be reconciled under any circumstance. So what about emotional abuse?

In essence, emotional abuse is absence of love, yet pretends to love, and boasts that the lack of love the spouse feels is her fault. It is manipulative and leaves the victim wondering who she is, questioning her stance with God, and asking if she would be sinning to leave the marriage. She wants to hold the family together, keep up a good reputation for her husband, protect herself financially, and all the while is systematically losing who she is created to be.

She lies, “everything is fine,” “he is a good man,” and “I am submitting” while truth is “I am in excruciating pain,” “he is unkind toward me,” and “I am fiercely angry.”  I  love you and you must submit are both misused by abusers to activate and maintain control in christian marriages. Real love and its results look different.

Husbands are commanded to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. That imperative includes leaders in the church and pastors. From pew-warmers to CEOs of major ministries, what love looks like played out is described in what is better known as The Love Chapter in the Bible.*

The Love Chapter says simply that if self-proclaimed Spirit-filled believers do not have love they are just noisy and what they say is meaningless. Persons who can prophecy, and who have tons of education and understanding, have nothing to be admired unless they love. Even when a follower of Jesus sees great answers to his or her prayers and performs amazing miracles through faith but does not love, according to the Love Chapter’s description that person’s perceived life purpose adds up to a lot of nothing. If sacrificial-givers or martyrs do not have love, their actions have not pleased God.

photo-24769692-guy-in-loveWow. That’s a lot to take in. What is this all-important love supposed to act like in marriages? The Love Chapter lists what love is: patient, kind. always protects, always trusts, hopes, and perseveres.  The same chapter lists what love is not: envious, boastful, proud, rude, self-seeking, easily angered.  Love also does not hold grudges, is thrilled when truth is lived out, and never fails to achieve positive results.

Abusers do not run close to this in their actions. They may say the right things, and promise changes, and may even appear outwardly to be growing. There is always a cycle with abuse including a honeymoon period. Tears of remorse and regret are not the same as the sorrow of repentance. Ultimately, emotionally abusive behavior will continue with the silence, blaming, accusing, using, treating like dirt, neglecting, controlling, and excuse-making.

Submitting to that and maintaining secrets about it helps the abuser to ignore his grave sin. One spouse is dying inside because treatment by the other is wiping her out.Yet the elephant in the room gets bigger.

We are instructed to take up privately any relationship issues we have with other believers. Where there is sin (including abuse) and no repentance, then taking two or three witnesses and trying again is the preferred next step. However, in the case of abuse within a marriage, there are often no witnesses.

Sadly too, churches often dismiss claims of emotional abuse as a marriage counseling issue. Ultimately, the sin (abuse) is to be exposed to the church, the whole church. The abuser is supposed to be expelled. The wife needs to be safe and to find healing.

There is much to consider ont his topic. This series on Emotional Abuse in the Christian Marriage will delve into stories and much more. Expulsion of the abuser is one topic I will cover. In the meantime, if you are married, how about asking some good questions?

Do I dread him coming home?  Do I lie to cover-up my true feelings? Am I participating in image-setting? Do I feel anyone would even believe me if I told the truth?  Am I afraid of confronting him for fear his reaction will be more rejection and abuse? Do I know who I am created to be? Am I free to be that person in my marriage?

As always, I welcome your comments. Compassionate love learns, discusses in humility, and considers the other person by validating their emotions and experiences.

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” -The Love Chapter

Here are some resources:  Emotional Abuse In the Local Church, FAQs About Emotional Abuse

Healing the Wounds of Emotional AbuseA

Primer on Reformed Theology and How it Relates to the Subject of Abuse

Abuse in the Evangelical Church


NOTE: I am not a doctor or mental health professional. I speak only from personal experiences with and observations of mental illness. In no way is this website intended to substitute for professional mental health care.

If you are struggling emotionally today or feeling suicidal, or concerned about someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255). Hope and help is yours.

-pictures from qualitystockphotos.com

* The Love Chapter is 1 Corinthians 13

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