I can’t count the number of wives I’ve counseled through the years whose husbands were verbally and emotionally abusive to them. Most had never been physically struck, but many had come to the place where they had lost all bearings on how to respond in a healthy way toward their husband’s misbehavior.
Some wives actually think that it’s their spiritual duty to tolerate anything their husbands dish out, but nothing could be further from the truth. You are a person who has great value in God’s sight. It is never His plan that you submit yourself toward treatment that systematically tears you down and reduces your sense of self-worth.
Grace equips us with divine enablement for us to be all that we’ve been made to be and do all that we’ve been made to do. Sometimes the grace of God actually needs to empower a person to speak up, such as in the case where a wife is passive in the face of blatant verbal and emotional abuse.
Have you considered that you actually hurt your husband when you continually allow him to act this way? In every marriage, we are each continually either building each other up or tearing each other down. It’s obvious that when your husband says demeaning things to you that he is tearing you down, but did you know that if you allow him to continue to act that way, you are tearing him down too?
“How?” you might wonder. The answer is found in the fact that by allowing him to keep abusing you with his words and overbearing actions, you are unconsciously implying that his behavior is okay. By not speaking up for yourself, your silence actually reinforces his poor behavior.
You may have established a pattern of withdrawal when your husband acts up, but when you withdraw and allow him to continue to misbehave you aren’t helping him, yourself or this problem at all. Direct, expressed grace can bring healing to the problem, but squelched grace inside you lies dormant and ineffective.
If you’ve allowed your husband to be abusive until it seems normal to you both, this situation may not be instantly changed overnight. However, change can begin to take place overnight and continue until your husband relates to you in the proper way, if you are willing to step up in faith and deal with the situation.
How do you do that? It’s not complicated but it will require the Divine Courage that dwells within you. You’re going to need to discuss the matter with your husband and afterwards you’ll need to insist that he not disrespect you through his words and actions in the future.
Before you talk to him about the situation, it would be very helpful to privately pray for him and yourself. Pray that he will open his mind and heart to see the truth. Pray that you will know the right moment to discuss the issue with him. Pray that you’ll find the best words to express your concerns. Prayer is always the best first step in dealing with any problem.
Then, when the moment comes that you speak to your husband about the problem, resolve to talk to him in a calm way but straightforward way. Your becoming excited will only inflame the situation and increase the risk of not being heard because of the conflict. Refuse to be drawn into an argument over what you’re sharing. Your husband may immediately flare-up in anger, which is probably a conscious or unconscious attempt to control you by shutting you down. Don’t succumb to that. Just keep calmly explaining your concerns.
If he gets loud, you get quieter. If he tries to provoke you to react emotionally, just keep talking calmly. In other words, don’t allow him to set the pace of the conversation by taking it over. You maintain the pace and direction of the conversation by staying focused. Don’t allow yourself to be pulled off track by arguing with him if he tries to justify his behavior about any incident that may have already happened. Just calmly keep moving forward in explaining your concerns.
The content of your talk will likely need to include these main points. If it helps you, have your thoughts and how you want to express them written on a pad in front of you. Don’t risk the chance that your emotions might cause you to become rattled and lose track of the things you intended to say. Here are the main points that usually need to be discussed in the kind of situation we’re described here:
- State plainly that you don’t appreciate being belittled with demeaning words and that you want it to stop. Don’t accept excuses. For instance, if he were to play the your-too-sensitive or it’s-just-a-joke card, don’t let him get by with that. You might say, “Even if you think I am sensitive, I don’t want you to talk to me that way anymore” or “You may think it’s a joke, but it is not funny to me. It is hurtful and embarrassing and I want you to stop doing it.”
- State in clear language that you are not going to sit in silence and allow this type of behavior to continue in the future. But remember this: You must be willing to follow through with what you are telling him. The only way he may learn that you are serious about what you’re saying is when he realizes by your actions when he misbehaves that you meant what you said.
How can you do that? After this conversation you must confront him each and every time he repeats his bad habit. If you are inconsistent in responding to him immediately when he lapses, the likelihood that he will change in this area is very small.
- Redefine the way you and your husband relate to each other. Sometimes bad habits that have been established in a relationship must be changed in order for that relationship to begin to be healthy. If your husband has been abusive toward you with his words and attitude, don’t make excuses for him. He is wrong and you can’t help him until you recognize that fact and admit it to yourself.
However, it is also important for you to recognize and acknowledge your wrong behavior in the situation too. “How could I have been wrong? I’ve been the victim!” you might think. The reality, however, is that you have been a victim only because you’ve allowed yourself to be the victim. That is where you’ve been wrong. It’s not uncommon that when one person first tries to bully another, they are testing the water to see how far they can go. If the offense is allowed, the habit is easily established. As it continues to happen, the misbehavior becomes an unhealthy aspect of an unhealthy relationship.
As you begin to assert yourself by expressing self-respect in refusing to be mistreated, there most likely will be a transitional time in which conflict will escalate. Abusive husbands have learned to have their way in every situation through heavy-handed control and harsh or critical words. Old habits don’t die easily and you may find that your husband seems to become worse rather than better. Don’t retreat! You must be willing to pay the price to see the needed change come to your relationship. As stated previously, calmly but firmly refuse to be demeaned by confronting the misbehavior every time it happens.
The Bible teaches that we are to love others as we love ourselves. In order to keep that command, we must first love ourselves. Not in a narcissistic sort of way that stems from pride but in a way that happens because we see ourselves as God sees us. It is not prideful or wrong to see the value in yourself that God has placed on you. In fact, to the contrary, it is important to agree with your Creator and not dispute what He has said about your worth as a person.
Some wives have been so belittled that it’s hard for them to see their true value. If that’s true of you, then pray that you will learn and accept your true worth. Study Scripture and other resources that will teach and encourage you concerning your authentic identity and the love your Father has for you. Don’t give another person veto power of God’s opinion of you because what He says about you is true whether you believe it or not.
Grace is the divine enablement for you to be all that you’ve been made to be and to do all that you’ve been made to do. You weren’t created to be disrespected. To the contrary, your God made you to be loved! Don’t show a lack of love for yourself and don’t deny your Creator’s intended purpose for your life by settling for a lifetime of disrespect. Stand up and stop allowing your husband to destroy both your and his emotional and spiritual health through abusive behavior. You deserve it and, for that matter, so does he.