How to Recognize Marital Abuse

Recognizing marital abuse is not always an easy thing to do. Especially when it comes from the one person you love most in the world, your spouse. Quite often it is sporadic, unplanned, and an emotionally charged act. It can manifest itself in verbal, physical, or even sexual ways. These events are rarely the same each time, though parts of each event can have similar components. The experiences tend to escalate over time, and can be anywhere from uncomfortable to horribly frightening, if not deadly.

Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse comes in the form of behaviors that are geared to damage one’s inner self. Name calling, saying that a person is worthless or unlovable, or claiming that they deserve to be hurt is an example of emotional abuse. It can be the simple act of neglect, cruel joking, or the denial of affection. The people that endure emotional abuse wear their bruises inside.

Physical Abuse

Even some forms of physical abuse are not easily recognized. The loving slap that is just too hard. The tantrum that ended in the destruction of treasured items. The accidental push or shove that seemed purposeful. Comments about past events that are used to inspire fear. Sadly, the intimate nature of marriage can be used as a way to control or degrade, demand favors that are unpleasant or painful, or provide one-way self-gratification.

The Abuse Cycle

Often the victims are left confused and unsure if what they are experiencing is actually abuse. Sufferers are left trying to minimize the problem by thinking it wasn’t all that bad after all. Especially if their spouse acts very loving and caring afterwards. This is called the honeymoon phase in the abuse cycle. Other times, there is a disconnect between what is appropriate for a spouse to do to them as opposed to anyone else. Often in therapy I will encourage a client to put what happened to them in the context of it happening to their child or sister. Usually this gets a more realistic reaction. Sadly, most people that find themselves in abusive marriages actually grew up in homes where abuse was the norm.

Abuse in Christian Marriages

Unfortunately, abuse can even show up in Christian marriages. Worse yet the very scriptures that protect marriage are often used as tools to shame and trap the abused spouse. The Biblical teachings of Paul in putting your spouse first and caring for each other are wonderful. Within an environment of abuse, these very requests become demands of one-sided loyalty. At times there is even an expectation that one must pretend that the abuse is a God given right.

Often when a Christian seeks to escape the abuse through counseling or divorce they are shamed by their spouse, families, or even other believers as failing to have enough faith.

For I hate [a]divorce,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “and him who covers his garment with wrong and violence,” says the Lord of hosts. “Therefore keep watch on your spirit, so that you do not deal treacherously [with your wife]. Malachi 2:16 (AMP)

If a husband is supposed to love his wife like Jesus loves the Church, then take a close look at the Bible and how He treated the Church, it wasn’t with violence. Jesus healed the sick, forgave them for their sins, and took on their punishment at the cross. He inspired love, not fear.

Take Action

If you are facing abuse or violence in your marriage, please seek help today. Call 911, The National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE), 1-800-787-3224 (TTY), or visit Women’s Law for a state-by-state directory of domestic violence shelters.

If you need counseling guidance, please visit our referral page here: Counseling Referrals

To connect with Counselor Kathy Rhodes please visit her at Lacamas Counseling in Vancouver, WA.

Further Reading

Help for Abused and Battered Women

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