Is His Heart Battered?

Could you be emotionally abusing your husband?

I am blessed to have a husband who easily forgives and forgets. He doesn’t remember our difficult years as being quite as challenging as I remember them. Occasionally he says our situation wasn’t really that bad.

He may not remember his own anguish or the resignation in his voice when he said, “I guess I have to accept that I am going to spend the rest of my life in a sexless marriage.”

But I remember. And I remember what I did to add to his anguish.

Today I’d like to talk about something that isn’t easy to write. It won’t be easy for some of you to read, either.

It is, however, infinitely easier to live with because of my husband’s heart for forgiveness.

❦ ❦ ❦

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Corinthians 13:4-7

I spent much of my marriage expecting Big Guy to love me according to 1 Corinthians 13. I didn’t think about the fact that the scripture was calling me to love my husband well.

I was impatient and unkind. I dishonored him. I was self-seeking in that I made many decisions based on protecting my own heart. I kept a mental spreadsheet of wrongs. I did not protect, trust, hope, or persevere.

I violated most of what is in this passage.

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for a couple years. I set it aside, not quite ready to think about it. I questioned the accuracy of my memory. When Sheila Gregoire wrote about emotionally abused husbands recently, God nudged me to share my experience. So here goes.

I have a confession to make: I was an emotionally abusive wife.

I didn’t mean to be abusive, and it isn’t like I was like that all the time. But I was like that sometimes. I was so, so wrong, every single time.

Big Guy doesn’t think I was emotionally abusive (I asked him about it after reading Sheila’s article). He says he didn’t think so at the time, either. But I know my heart, and I do remember one time when he raised the issue himself. One of the burdens I now carry is the knowledge that I treated my husband the way I did.

I said things that were very hurtful to him. Intentionally. To make him hurt so he would be turned off from wanting sex with me or would feel like he was undeserving of sex. I was starting to feel guilty about saying no to sex, and I was trying to get him to stop asking. I won’t share the words I spoke, but some of them were horrible. They were intended to wound.

When I saw that my words had the intended effect, mostly I felt pretty bad. But there was a part of me that was glad. I delighted in evil, in a Cruella de Vil kind of way

Even at the time, I understood that I was lashing out from a place of my own hurt. I brought heart issues into my marriage, and Big Guy unknowingly added to it with some words and actions of his own. Sometimes I planned and calculated what I would say or do in order to maximize the hurt he would feel—not because I wanted him to feel hurt, but because I wanted for me to not feel hurt.

The only way I knew to ensure emotional self-protection was to emotionally hurt my husband.

As I think back now about some of the things I said and the way I treated Big Guy, I am appalled. I wouldn’t wish that treatment on anyone, yet I did it to my own husband.

When I look at a list of characteristics of emotional abuse, I see too many of my past actions on that list. Even at the time, I would sometimes read articles with these kinds of lists and pause, thinking, Yikes. I do that. But it’s different for me. It isn’t abuse. It can’t be abuse, because I’m a good person. I have to say those things because I feel hurt. If I were doing it because I wanted to be mean, then it would be abuse.

In my mind, I wasn’t abusing my husband. I was simply trying to protect my heart.

My desire to protect my heart was not a sin.

The sin was in how I dealt with that desire.

What is emotional abuse?

I dealt with my desire for self-protection in a way that was hurtful and abusive, rather than one that invited unity and healing.

This article (Psychology Today, 2016)gives ten typical signs of emotional abuse.

  1. Constant criticism or attempts to manipulate and control.
  2. Shaming and blaming with hostile sarcasm or outright verbal assault.
  3. The use of shaming and belittling language.
  4. Verbal abuse—name-calling.
  5. Withholding affection.
  6. Punishment and threats of punishment.
  7. Refusal to accept her part in the dynamic.
  8. Mind games, such as Gaslighting, when it comes to accepting personal responsibility for her own happiness.
  9. Refusing to communicate at all.
  10. Isolating him from supportive friends and family.

Of the ten items on this list, I’ve been guilty of about half of them. Some things I recall doing only once, but others I did on a pretty constant basis—especially during the last year before I began to make some changes. Two items were things I thought about but never did.

The reasons don’t erase the bruises.

Because my purpose was protection, I justified my words as non-abusive. But here’s the thing: My husband suffered, no matter why I was treating him as I was.

The reasons for my treatment of him had absolutely no effect on whether he felt hurt as a result of my words. At no point was he able to think, My wife must be hurting, too. Therefore, I don’t feel emotional pain.

That just isn’t how this works. If a man has a bad day at work and goes home and beats his wife just so he feels a little less powerless in the world, we don’t expect her to think, Oh, poor guy. He must have had such a bad day at work, so I don’t mind that he is beating me. No, we don’t expect her to put up with his physical abuse just because he’s feeling rotten inside. Furthermore, understanding why he is beating her doesn’t make her body any less bruised and battered.

Refusing to engage in sexual intimacy is especially hurtful to many men. Because of the hormone surges that take place, sexual intimacy is the most effective and powerful way for a man to feel emotionally connected to his wife. When a wife withholds sexual intimacy, he experiences it as a withholding of affection. It bruises his heart. It can have the effect of emotional abuse, even if that isn’t at all her intention.

Am I saying that any wife who says no to sex is abusing her husband?  Absolutely not! However, if there is a pattern of withholding sexual intimacy–especially when accompanied by some of the other items on the list–it might be emotionally abusive.

Is she a vindictive witch of a woman who enjoys hurting other people? He experiences it as emotional abuse. Is she a wounded woman who is just trying to protect her own heart? He might experience it as emotional abuse then, too. Whether she is Cruella de Vil or Cinderella, if she withholds her affection from him, it causes him to feel hurt.

What about you?

If your husband has ever indicated that you are controlling, vindictive, manipulative, or mean in your relationship, I implore you to take a good look at the list of characteristics above. Then take an honest look at yourself. How many of those things do you do?

Saying yes to even one item on the list is too much. If you find yourself responding to the items with something along the lines of but he . . . or I can’t help it if . . ., you are thinking of your own motivation. Your motivation doesn’t cancel your husband’s experience of hurt. It is self-seeking.

Think about what it is like for your husband to be married to you. Does he feel loved and honored most of the time? Or does he come away from your interactions feeling emotionally battered?

Do you honor Christ in the way you treat your husband? Do you love him in the way 1 Corinthians 13 calls you to do? I know I certainly didn’t.

What can you do if you suspect that you might be emotionally abusive?

  • Stop. Pay attention to your interactions with your husband. Notice when you do anything on the list. When it happens, take a deep breath. Say or do something else instead. If you don’t realize it until later, go apologize to your husband for your words as soon as you recognize what you said.
  • Figure out what is going on with you. Are you trying to control your husband because you grew up with a parent who was out of control? Are you trying to avoid situations that make you feel vulnerable? Are you trying to get your husband to be so unhappy in your marriage that he leaves because you feel overwhelmed? Are you too tired to think about how you are responding? The reasons for your abusive behavior don’t take the sting away from your husband’s heart, but they do help you make changes.
  • Deal with the root issues. Seek counseling. Talk with a pastor. Read and apply a self-help book related to your issues. Do something! The choice to do nothing is not going to help you break your habit of hurting your husband.
  • Learn other ways to express yourself or to cope with your difficult feelings. If you know certain things that trigger an emotionally abusive response from you, then make a plan for what to do instead of what you’ve been doing.
  • Talk with your husband about what you’ve realized. If he feels emotionally unsafe with you, he may minimize whether he’s been hurt by your words. Just because you’ve stopped doesn’t mean he can trust you yet. So be gentle and cautious. Own your actions, no matter what your motivation was. Apologize. Repent. Ask him how you can help him heal from the hurt you’ve given him. Ask for him to pray for you as you work to change your habits. Ask for forgiveness.

I don’t recall a particular moment when I suddenly realized that some of what I’d been doing was abusive. It was a slow realization. Our marriage had grown to a pretty good place before the abusive aspect of my past words seeped into my awareness. By then, Big Guy had already forgiven me of so much. He had forgotten how hard it had been to be married to me. His forgiveness was freely given.

Despite being forgiven, I still have to carry the knowledge that my heart had so little compassion and so much selfishness in it. I bear the memory of the momentary delight in hurting my husband.

I can’t change what I said or did in the past, although I wish I could. As I finally addressed the issues that were behind my hurtful words and my long-time resistance to sexual intimacy, my husband was able to heal from my emotional battering

I was able to heal from being a person who was wounded and defensive of her own words. I carry the memory of the words I spoke and the feelings I had at the time, but I know that I am not that woman anymore. I still don’t love my husband perfectly, but I love him well and his heart feels loved.

Perhaps it is too extreme to say I was emotionally abusive. Big Guy thinks I wasn’t, and maybe my memory is exaggerating. But I can’t dismiss the memory of the emotional pain in my husband’s eyes, nor can I dismiss the fact that part of me was sometimes glad to see it there.

I now walk in true repentance, given both forgiveness and grace that I don’t deserve.

❦ ❦ ❦

If you have seen yourself in these words, I am sorry. I know how dreadful it can be to realize that what you have been doing could be seen as abusive. It is heart-wrenching.

Fortunately, there is hope. You can make a better choice, starting right now. Stop hurting your husband. Seek healing and wholeness for whatever issues you have inside you. Pray for God’s peace and for the strength to change.

And know that I am praying for you.

Your husband deserves better—and so do you.

The following resources can help you understand emotional abuse. Some are for those who are abusive, and others are for those who are abused. Read them prayerfully, open to what you learn.

Could you be emotionally abusing your husband?

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12 Comments on “Is His Heart Battered?”

  1. Chris,
    I know you mean well in your post and truly believe you were emotionally abusive towards your husband in the past, but this statement is a pretty good indicator you were not abusing your husband:
    “When I look at a list of characteristics of emotional abuse, I see too many of my past actions on that list. Even at the time, I would sometimes read articles with these kinds of lists and pause, thinking, Yikes. I do that. But it’s different for me. It isn’t abuse. It can’t be abuse, because I’m a good person. I have to say those things because I feel hurt. If I were doing it because I wanted to be mean, then it would be abuse.”

    You were actually acknowledging that you were hurting your husband and questioning whether or not you were being abusive. The way you treated your husband truly hurt your heart.

    An abuser DOES NOT question what they do, they feel entitled to acting as they do towards another person, and usually are puffed up when they beat their victim down, whether with words or fists. An abuser would look at the list of characteristics of abuse and project them onto their victim saying they are the abuser and/or they act as they do because the victim made them feel angry etc.

    Leslie Vernick discusses this a lot on her blog when victims of abuse write in and ask if maybe they are abusive too because they demonstrate a lot of the same characteristics as their abuser. Leslie is always quick to point out that just the fact the victim is questioning it and acknowledging some wrongful behavior on their part typically indicates they are not abusive.

    Listen to your husband, he is right — you were not being abusive. You were acting in a wrongful way towards your husband because of hurt and wrongful thinking maybe, but your heart was also aching at how you treated him.
    And honestly, you would probably not be in this healthy place today if you were truly abusing your husband, more than likely you’d still be living in a toxic environment where both of you were still miserable.

    1. Thank you for saying this. Leslie Vernick’s blog is a wonderful resource for those in abusive marriages.

      I hesitated to publish this post because I don’t want to give the wrong impression about abuse or about what anyone has to tolerate. As I prayed about whether to post it or not, it was impressed on me that someone really needed to read this today.

      1. I’m glad you posted this, it’s important for us to share our stories to help others walking similar paths. That’s why I’ve shared my experience living for 20 years in an abusive marriage.
        My only concern was that others, possibly even husbands, would read this and then call out their spouse on being abusive just because they may act wrongfully in withholding sex, etc.
        Yet on the other hand, if it makes someone question the possibility of abuse in their marriage and therefore they seek help, then that is good.

  2. Chris – thanks for this!

    I wish more people would explore the sexual refusal and abuse dynamic.

    What I have come to understand is sexual withholding by itself is not abusive but when other forms of abuse are present in the relationship then the withholding is an extension of the abuse. For example, you say you said some horrible things verbally to your husband designed to create distance (verbally abusive) and you withheld sex (emotionally abusive) so withholding is an extension of other abuse. However, if withholding was happening by itself with nothing else abusive in the marriage I wouldn’t say the withholding was abusive. I am not sure if you’d agree with this accessment.

    Basically what you described was a mirror image of my marriage with the genders flipped as I am the high drive spouse. More recently, husband admitted that withholding was part of his abuse because withholding was designed to manipulate and control me. Other evidence of using it to control is if I brought up any marriage or relationship issues I would get ‘punished’ by having even less sex than I was already having. It made sense for me to just give him all the control and sweep our issues under the rug.

    It’s been a really long and difficult process to work through this.

    Unfortunately, I was talking to another high drive wife last night and she said she knew her husband was low drive before the married.
    I asked her straightforwardly why she had married him.
    She said it was because she loved him.

    I relayed this conversation to husband and he gave me the dirtiest look when I told him I had asked the wife why she married her husband. His reaction told me that he still doesn’t get how hurtful sex issues are in marriage. My question seemed shallow on it’s face but it really isn’t. I could ask the same question in a different context like: why did you marry him if you knew he drank too much? No eye roll there.

    I would say that a spouse’s long term and consistent refusal has the same emotional impact as a drinking problem or any other common martial/personal disfunction but then somehow the higher drive spouses are just supposed to suck it up and quietly endure because any other action makes them look sex crazed, spiritually immature and shallow.

  3. There comes a point at which withholding is abuse. There may be no malice, and the with-holder may just be busy; have other priorities; not see the need; or think because they don’t need it, the other person doesn’t really need it. Just because a child doesn’t understand that what he is doing to a small animal is cruel, doesn’t mean that he isn’t being cruel. The object or our treatment has a perception, and he/she may feel abused regardless of our innocent thinking.

  4. Chris, my heart goes out to you. You are entering a minefield! Instead of addressing it at 10,000 feet you have your boots on, humbly looking in the mirror and for the edification of others publically confessing past sin. Your purpose, to provide hope and a path for better godly relationships, is not self-serving. The maturity you are demonstrating and standing confident in your identity in Christ, and not your own works, but submitting to being his workmanship created for good works is commendable. I know this post was painful for you. But you are forcing every person who is reading your post to do something really uncomfortable: call our sin… sin. Or put into modern speak, calling our acts of emotional abuse… well, calling them abuse. That is a courageous stand and the fact you are using yourself as an example is humbling.

    I have read your blog for a while but have never commented but this topic is very real to me and wanted to give a different perspective than some of the comments disagreeing with your post. I agree with your post and I will agree with your assessment:

    The actions cited, or inactions noted, were forms of abuse. Specifically, emotional abuse.

    I am thankful you are using your platform, and your own example, to confront us fellow sinners of the truth: Just as yelling at a child is a form of emotional abuse so is rudely cutting your spouse off in a huff, irritated tone, wrinkled nose and rolling your eyes, making a rude comment, and hanging up the phone mid-sentence. Or covert inaction by withholding praise from your spouse and making yourself emotional unavailable and inaccessible. These are all emotionally abusive actions. They are all forms of control that emotionally impact the recipient. For those who take issue with identifying these actions as emotional abuse you are not disagreeing with me but with modern psychologist who have defined what emotional abuse is.

    I know this topic is a minefield because it falls into the realm of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, chapter 5). Keeping the 10 commandments isn’t so hard… until we accept God’s intent was much deeper than adultery and murder. He is speaking to the heart. To paraphrase Jesus’ condemnation of adultery: We all accept adultery is wrong, but Jesus says lust is adultery of the heart and requires extreme action and repentance.

    We need to have the same mind about abuse. (For those more Biblically minded abuse, especially emotional abuse, is works of the flesh, the absence of 1 Corinthians 13 love, and the absence of the fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5, to name some specific examples of overlap between the modern and Biblical categories and words.)

    Just as it is hard to accept God has extreme disapproval for lust he takes the same issue with acts of verbal or emotional abuse (read: Ephesians chapter 4-5 or the Proverbs for proof that God hates emotional abuse in all forms). The typical reaction is, “I am not an abuser!” or “That was a mistake, a moment of weakness, not abuse.” This is exactly how those present on the Mount felt when Jesus was equating many “minor” sins with sins that held the death penalty. The problem is, if we look with God’s eyes, we can see how our “small” sins seriously damage hearts and can grow into untamed wildfires that perpetuate more sin and death.

    Put another way: It may have been a moment of weakness or anger for you but it felt abusive to the recipient. (OR the recipient loves you so much and is forgiving that their love overlooks a multitude of sins and believes the best in you.) But screaming at your spouse or hitting your spouse are both abusive actions. In fact, a sign that someone is an abuser (and not just guilty of an act of abuse) is seeking to rationalize, justifying, diminish, trivialize, or defend the act of abuse.

    The problem when talking about emotional abuse—beyond the fact no one wants to be called an abuser and so the natural reaction is defensiveness—is there is no distinct, clear line where an abusive action, or series of actions, qualifies the perpetrator as an abuser or elevates a relationship to the status as abusive. Most would not qualify a 20 year marriage where the wife or husband yelled at their spouse once as the spouse being abusive/an abuser or creating an abusive relationship. That is clearly sin, and they clearly are a sinner in need of repentance, but when do we call this an abusive relationship or the spouse abusive/an abuser. Where is the line?

    The term “abuse” is elastic and the judgment has a degree of subjectivity. How would this topic transform if we called it sin (abuse), sinning (abusive), and sinner (abuser)? Chris, you linked to a PsychologyToday article on defining emotional abuse and that is a good start to exposing this category of sin—as emotional abuse is a modern category. I know when my wife and I studied emotional abuse we were shocked at how broad the definition was! Another summary from that website supports your definition:

    “In the case of physical and sexual abuse, though the lines may be blurred in some situations, over the past centuries and more recent decades, society has continued to refine what is and is not acceptable behavior. Physical abuse and sexual abuse, as concepts, are part of the cultural landscape. The concept of emotional abuse, however, has not advanced as far or been on the cultural consciousness as long. For many, emotional abuse remains a much murkier concept … Emotional abuse in our culture is pervasive and damaging, and it’s as relevant a topic as physical and sexual abuse. Emotional abuse undercuts a person’s foundational self-confidence and love of self and replaces them with confusion about self-worth, value, justice, mercy, and love. So what constitutes emotional abuse? Further, when and how are emotions abused? How can we quantify the damage when attitudes do the wounding or when actions leave no physical trace? … Emotional abuse can be an aggressive yell or passive silence. It is often created through a covert absence of something good instead of the overt presence of something bad.”

    The last part is startling and left me unsettled when I first studied the issue. As a student of the Bible I know the covert absence of good is sin… but it also qualifies as emotional abuse.

    The well of emotional abuse is deep, for example:

    “If you’re wondering if your relationship is abusive, it probably is. Emotional abuse, distinct from physical violence (including shoving, cornering, breaking and throwing things, etc.), is speech and/or behavior that’s derogating, controlling, punishing, or manipulative. Withholding love, communication, support, or money are indirect methods of control and maintaining power. Passive-aggressive behavior is covert hostility. The passive-aggressor is “a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”

    Yes, passive aggression is toxic, damaging, and covert form of emotional abuse. It is insidious, hard to identify by outsiders and by victims alike, and the abuser often blame shifts to their victim. Unfortunately, almost every human engages in passive aggression to some degree and this abuse itself can develop as a self-defense mechanism (sin is often cyclical). Passive aggressiveness is often used when a person lacks recourse to freely communicate or confront or has a fear of reprisal or the reaction (whether justified or not). It also can masquerade as part of normal human flaws like forgetfulness. Chronic forgetfulness is hard to nail down as emotional abuse (and thus so widely used) because everyone forgets and can I or you honestly confront someone with conviction that their chronic forgetfulness is abusive? But it is extremely damaging as it exerts control and pain, communicating the lack of importance or priority of the victim, who is left confused and no recourse. A good sign chronic forgetfulness is a tool of passive aggression requiring repentance: If the perpetrator isn’t seeking to reconcile, rectify the mistake, and take actions to cease the pattern through reminders then, “I forgot” is walking the line of covert abuse.

    Food for thought: Those who engage in passive aggressive behavior have difficulty opening up emotionally and being vulnerable which often results in intimacy issues.

    I won’t carry on about Passive Aggressiveness as a form of emotional abuse but will leave some links to consider. My point is: Emotional abuse is rampant and we often fail to recognize emotional abuse for what it is: Abuse.

    I am very thankful Chris opened up this topic as it is very common, not just in marriage but also common among the genders:

    “Research shows that women and men equally take on the role of either the abuser or the person who is victimized. Emotional abuse can occur in any kind of relationship: intimate partners; a parent and a child; two friends; siblings; a boss and his or her employee; or between colleagues. Although the emotionally abusive interplay between people can fly under the radar or be minimized or rationalized by either person, the cumulative effect takes a profound toll, particularly on one’s sense of self-worth and self-esteem.”

    Emotional abuse is a human condition engaged in by the old and young, rich and poor, and yes male and female.

    From a Biblical perspective Chris I would tell you that you sinned, repented, were forgiven and are rebuilding the tattered bonds to glorify Jesus and to honor your husband. (Btw, I am sure your acts of sin were not unilateral action, as it rarely is, but we both know as Christians we are to return good for evil at every turn (1 Peter 3) so we have no excuse!) But to accommodate the current discussion, Chris, you have confessed your sins fit the modern criteria of acts of emotional abuse. I am not sure anyone familiar with how modern psychology could disagree? (Btw, I am guilty, too, so I will stand next to you as a sinner who has engaged in emotional abuse in my lifetime.)

    I have provide the above notes because I will have to strongly disagree with Amy (sorry Amy). This is not a personal attack on you, Chris, that just because you felt remorse (for an act of emotional abuse) it disqualifies the characterization of the actions or attitude as abusive. They were sin and, using modern nomenclature, they were acts of emotional abuse. (Chris, again, I am guilty of acts of emotional abuse and I have never known a person who has never committed an act of emotional abuse by definition. I don’t think we should water down the definition of emotional abuse just because most people engage in “low” levels of such at one time or another.) Frankly, many men feel true remorse when they inflict abuse on their wives. Even if a wife committed adultery and the husband’s anger at learning such betrayal was deemed understandable any action that could be classified as abuse is still abuse, even if he later repented because he felt deep regret and remorse for acting out his anger (be it verbally, emotionally, spiritually, sexually, or physically).

    An abusive act is an abusive act.

    And there really is no excuse. Using the extreme men who physically beat their wives: While we may empathize with childhood trauma and untreated mental health disorders like depression, hitting a woman or child is an act of physical abuse. Period. Husbands, hear this clearly: Yelling at your wives is emotional abuse. Looks of disapproval, disgust, and raised toned or impatient disapproval fall into the bucket of emotional abuse. You are abusing your wife—STOP!

    This aversion to calling acts of emotional abuse what they are is troubling.

    Same goes for wives–just feeling bad or having remorse doesn’t mean a person has not sinned (abused) another. In fact, it doesn’t matter if it is male-on-male friend abuse or female-on-female friend abuse. Just because we don’t categorize it as an “abusive relationship” or abusive dynamic doesn’t mean the action was not abusive. And that is the problem: How “bad” does a single act of abuse have to be to qualifier someone as an abuser? Or how frequent of lesser abusive actions? Or how many check boxes over what time span?

    This is really hard for people to get their heads around.

    I know my next comment is going to anger many, but I am ok with that. I was raised in a home where I was verbally, emotionally, physically, and sexually abused by my father. If you call mischaracterization of God’s character to gain sympathy and manipulation of the clergy then you can add in spiritual abuse. Having lived through that and now being a middle aged man with decades in the Church it pains me to say this:

    First, words like abuse / abusive / abuser are far too often used as weapons to shame.

    Second, these words are often used to absolve one party of immediate accountability.

    Third, because society has no redemptive motive we are resisting calling emotional abuse as “abuse” because we associate the word abuse/abuser/abusive with abusive conditions we consider unredeemable (like physical abuse). The same pattern of resistance is found in refusing to identify sexual refusers in marriage as sexual abusers. Covert sin is no less sin. We also (rightfully in many ways) have a hard time putting a sexual refuser in the same bucket of guilt as a pedophile (the latter deserving an immediate death penalty). But this sense of justice—how can we label 2 sins with very different gravities of condemnation by the same label?—was the point Jesus made 2,000 years ago: Lust and hate are the deep roots of repugnant sin from the heart that blossoms in the flesh. Sin is an ugly word, as it should be. Abuse is a strong word but we should not cower from calling emotional abuse what it is, abuse, just because abuse can take on even worse forms.

    Which is the heart of my comment: Abuse is abuse, let’s not dance around that fact. But instead of lamenting if something escalates to “abuser” status we need to think like Jesus: Redemptively. Sometimes redemptive justice will result in severe punishment, even death; but for those things not leading to death we need to call out the severity of our sins and repent. From a Biblical perspective the concern is always immediate safety of the hearts, minds, and bodies of every person. Next is to see the power of true transformative grace to change the hearts of sinners.

    This will sound repulsive to many but is at the heart of the Gospel. Jesus went to sinners of the worst sorts… to save them. And not just whitewash and excuse their sin, downgrade misbehavior from “emotional abuse” to “little white lie,” but to have them confront the living God in flesh and through the Holy Spirit to be transformed to Spirit led living that flees from all forms of sin.

    I know this was a long comment but I wanted to support your post and know some of what you said runs very much counter to some of the other marriage blogs out there. John Gottman’s four horseman of Criticism, Defensiveness, Contempt, and Stonewalling are all forms of emotional abuse and are strong indicators for divorce. I don’t care what someone calls it, and I understand the resistance of being called abusive, but if you find you or your spouse engaging in this behavior GET HELP IMMEDIATELY. Talk to a pastor who has a heart for renewing hearts through Jesus. And if you landed on because you have identified your intimate relationship has issues you would like to fix seriously consider how your and/or your spouse’s unchecked and unrepeated emotional abuse is damaging your children, marriage, your heart, and the heart of your spouse—your spouse who is equally a child of God.


  5. Thank you for your blog. I wish my wife would take responsibility for her actions and realize the pain she has caused and continues to cause. We’ve been married for 19 years and I’m nearing the point where I feel I have no choice but to leave. We have a daughter who is 14, however, and I don’t want to become a “weekend dad” so I feel stuck where I am until she turns 18 and goes away to college.

    As frustrated and unhappy as I am with her, I feel sorry for my wife. She’s very co-dependent and cannot seemingly function without me (although she has admitted to being lazy and that she just doesn’t want to do things for herself). I worry about how she will fare if I leave. I’ve been the sole breadwinner for the past 20 years and I don’t want her to do without or have to struggle. That probably sounds twisted – that I want to leave my wife but I don’t want her to suffer. I don’t want to cause her any pain but, at the same time, I’m tired of being in pain all the time. She says she’s comfortable with how things are but I’m dying inside.

    For the first 10 years after our daughter was born, my wife slept in the same bed as our daughter. I slept alone for 10 years. I told her in the beginning that I was afraid we would grow apart and it turns out I was right. We talked about it recently and she explained that her plan was to raise our daughter first and then she would spend time with me after our daughter was grown and on her own. I suppose that’s admirable but her plan has caused a lot of damage. I literally begged over and over to please go out on a date with me. We could find a babysitter and spend some time together and try to stay connected. When our daughter was 3, my wife relented and we went out to dinner – just the two of us. My wife spent the entire time worried about how our daughter was doing without her and couldn’t relax enough to enjoy anything. We haven’t been on a date since.

    Our sex life is completely non-existent now. We haven’t had sex in 2 years. The last time we had sex, I didn’t get to finish because she was tired and wanted to go to sleep. She kept asking, “aren’t you done yet?” For the majority of our marriage, she has treated sex as a special gift for me – something I can have if she gets what she wants (which is mostly money or other status symbols so she can look important to her friends). It was never stated that way but I noticed after a while that if I worked really hard and brought in extra money, she became really happy and suddenly wanted to have sex. It didn’t start out that way but that’s what it became slowly over time. I was gifted every few months and so appreciative whenever it happened. Looking back, I just feel used.

    I read your other article about the hurt caused by wives withholding sex from their husbands and the feelings you described are 100% accurate. I do hurt. A lot! I feel worthless, alone, and unwanted. As a result, I’ve been battling severe depression for about 10 years. I have been through several increasing doses of fluoxetine (Prozac) and now I’m on my second increased dosage of venlafaxine (Effexor) because the fluoxetine stopped working. Not all of this pain is caused by a lack of sex but the loss of intimacy and not feeling wanted is so severe and heartbreaking. Add the other things on top of that and it’s no wonder I have to be medicated to survive. For example, she doesn’t like me to have friends so I don’t have any. She gets jealous of my coworkers because she thinks I’m talking to them about her (I’m not). She complains that we’re not saving enough money for retirement and that I’m not making enough money for her to buy the things she wants. I can’t seem to ever do enough or be enough for her. But when we’re around her friends, she tells them how wonderful I am and how hard I work. It makes me think maybe I’m insane and imagining everything.

    Reading this article made me realize that perhaps she is emotionally abusive. I don’t know if she’s doing it intentionally, though. I don’t want to believe that she does any of this intentionally. I want to believe that she loves me and that she wants the best for me – the same way I feel about her. I don’t know how to tell. I don’t feel like I can trust her to tell me the truth given our history, though.

    I’m sorry this is so long; I didn’t mean to ramble on like this. I guess I just needed to get all of this out. I’m just so tired. I grew up a very happy and seemingly well-adjusted person and now I just feel like a screwed-up mess. I’m 48 years old and I never thought I’d be this unhappy in marriage or life in general.

    I’ll end with this: To any women reading this, don’t stop dating your husbands. Be their wife but also be their girlfriend. Don’t lose the adventurous people you were together before you got married. We men may not often say it but we live for your affection. We enjoy receiving compliments as much as you enjoy receiving them. We love when you’re flirtatious. Just put a little effort into your husband and, if he’s a good man, he’ll give you a tenfold amount of effort in return. Don’t wait for the kids to grow up before you act like a married couple again because I promise you it’ll be too late. Don’t let what could be the best thing in your life slip away from you.

    1. I’m sorry you are experiencing so much pain in your marriage.

      I would like to suggest that you seek counseling. Make an appointment and invite your wife–but if she won’t go, go alone. You need support in trying to figure out how to deal with your hurt.

      Whatever is going on with your wife, it doesn’t sound to me like it comes from a healthy place. May I suggest that whatever else you do, you pray for her own healing?

      1. Thank you for your reply and considerate advice. I saw a counselor last year and it helped me somewhat with my feelings of loss. She is originally from another country and has a distrust of American counselors (she thinks they’ll be prejudiced toward her and favor me) and I haven’t yet found a counselor from her birth country. I’ll keep trying.

        Anyway, thank you again for doing what you do. I’ve read several of your posts and they’re very well-written, thought-provoking, and helpful.

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