For most people, the idea of physically abusing one’s spouse is completely and totally reprehensible. Some people live with the belief that as long as you don’t physically touch someone, you aren’t being abusive to them. But abuse goes much deeper than just physical attacks. Any behavior that minimizes your mate’s worth as a human being or is intended to control or put him/her in a state of fear is abuse.
It is my prayer that no Christian husband or wife desires to be intimidating or abusive to his or her mate. But, in the heat of conflict a person can become so wrapped up in pride or emotions, or can default into an unhealthy pattern that he/she observed growing up, that before you know what’s happening—you are acting abusively. When conflict occurs and emotions run high, if we’re not careful, a person can slip into abusive behaviors without even realizing it. “I would never lay a hand on you!” a husband or wife may exclaim. But not every blow leaves a visible mark. Abuse happens physically, but it can also happen emotionally, intellectually, socially, and spiritually. Consider the following:
- Whether or not it leaves a red spot, a bruise, or any other mark, physically forcing your mate to do something against his/her will is abuse.
- Threatening actions even if there is no physical contact (such as “posturing” with clenched fists, puffed out chest, or intentionally intimidating stances) is abuse.
- Words that are meant to put your mate in a state of fear is abuse.
- Attacking your mate’s character, negative comments about his/her physical appearance, and hateful, hurtful name calling is abuse.
- Attempting to isolate your mate from family or friends as a means of controlling their behavior is abuse.
- Telling your mate that he/she is stupid and/or making your mate feel intellectually worthless is abuse.
- Putting your mate in fear of damnation because he/she doesn’t agree with you on a particular spiritual issue is abuse.
Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. Conflict is normal in a marriage relationship, and just because you argue with your spouse, that doesn’t mean you’re a serial abuser. Certainly individual circumstances, motivation, and other factors are critical in determining if words and actions in a relationship are truly abusive or not. But never forget, words and actions have power. What you say and do, even in the heat of the moment, will have a lasting effect. The single most important thing for us, even in the heat of conflict, is integrity and character! Jesus did not redeem us to a new way of life so we can speak or act irrationally in anger and think that is acceptable behaviour. A fight with our spouse is NEVER an excuse for unloving or abusive behavior. If you are living in a state of fear due to your mate’s actions—never knowing if or when he/she will explode next—seek immediately professional and protective help.
We are the image bearers of God; sons and daughters of the King. And as such, it is your blessing and your obligation to protect your mate from abuse. Make sure first-and-foremost that the abuse isn’t coming from within the marriage. Not every blow leaves a visible mark, but every blow leaves a mark nonetheless.