Tom has a hidden side to his personality, a side that he doesn’t like to admit. Behind the pleasant and responsible exterior, there is another Tom. He is abusive and controlling. He hates it when Kari insists that he change and tries to manipulate her into thinking it’s all her fault. While he is always sorry for his outbursts, he never truly makes efforts to change. In addition to being Dr. Jekyl, he is Mr. Hyde. As long as he denies these character traits, they will not go away.

Tolerating Tom’s behavior only reinforces and enables it. Men, and women, have rage issues partially because someone in their world tolerates and enables them. The victim is often tempted to hide these problems because of feeling embarrassed, ashamed and even frightened. When rage reactions and verbal abuse are no longer tolerated, however, they cease. Thus, it is critical that every couple expose any form of violence in their relationship, and determine to eradicate it.

The Scriptures speak strongly against verbal abuse. Proverbs 22:24 says, “Do not associate with a man given to anger; or go with a hot-tempered man.” Ephesians 4:21 says, “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” Other Scriptures implore us to be even-minded, kind, considerate and caring. The fruits of the Spirit include self-control—not a characteristic of the verbally abusive individual.

Tom will not change without intervention. After confrontation, and in moments of apparent remorse, Tom may say he will change. As much as he insists that he can change, in all likelihood he won’t change until he must change. Being sorry for his actions isn’t enough. Promising to change isn’t enough. Changing for a short time isn’t enough. Rather, taking decisive actions that lead to true and lasting character change are necessary.

Tell Tom his verbal abuse will not be tolerated. When you set this boundary, you must be prepared to follow through. If he is verbally abusive again, insist that either he or you will leave temporarily until therapeutic change has been initiated.

If you are married to a man, or woman, who has a hidden problem with verbal violence, name it for what it is: abuse. Become informed about the symptoms of verbal abuse, and agree to end it. Then, after being clear about the destructive element in your marriage, agree on action that will lead to change—treatment. Insist that your husband, or wife, receive specific treatment that ensures change. Set a clear boundary that says violence won’t be tolerated. Not one ounce. Never.

If you are the victim of verbal abuse, seek safety. Find someone you can trust to share your information with and take steps to put an end to the violence.


Dr. Hawkins is the director of The Marriage Recovery Center, where he counsels couples in distress. He is the author of over 30 books, including When Pleasing Others Is Hurting You, Love Lost: Living Beyond a Broken Marriage, and Saying It So He'll Listen. His newest books are titled  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Healing a Hurting Relationship and  The Relationship Doctor's Prescription for Living Beyond Guilt.  Dr. Hawkins grew up in the beautiful Pacific Northwest and lives with his wife on the South Puget Sound where he enjoys sailing, biking, and skiing. He has active practices in two Washington cities.